June 30: Acts 15:6-11; Gal 1:18; 2:1-11, etc

This is the second of three daily notes commemorating the feast of Peter and Paul (June 29). In the previous day’s note, I looked at several passages in the New Testament and early Christian writings which can be said to reflect opposition between Peter and Paul; today I will be examining passages which more properly represent Christian unity and harmony.

Peter and Paul as a symbol of Church Unity

To begin with, let me briefly summarize the New Testament passages which could reasonably be said to apply to the theme of unity and concord between Peter and Paul:

  • Acts 15:6-11—During the so-called Jerusalem “Council” (which Paul and Barnabas attended, cf. Gal 2:1-10), on the question of whether it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be part of the Christian Community, Peter affirms the ‘Pauline’ position in no uncertain terms. Note especially the statements in verse 9, that God did not distinguish at all between “us” and “them” (Jews and Gentiles), “cleansing their hearts by trust [i.e. faith]” (the same way); and also verse 11, emphasizing that it is through a gift (or grace) that “we trust to be saved” in the same manner that they (the Gentiles) do. In the earlier narratives in Acts (chapters 10-11), Peter had already been forced to grapple with the issue of the Gentiles coming to Christ (the Cornelius episode, cf. in the series “The Speeches of Acts”), a fact that he references to in vv. 7-8 here.
  • Galatians 1:18—Paul narrates that, several years following his conversion, he visited Jerusalem “to see” (i(storh=sai) Peter (Kefa, the original Aramaic translated by Pe/tro$/Peter, “Rock”). The verb i(store/w has the basic meaning “to gain knowledge/information” from someone; it can be used generally in the sense of “become acquainted with [i.e. get to know] someone”, but here we should probably understand that Paul visited Peter for the purpose of gaining information (such as Jesus traditions, i.e. sayings by the historical Jesus). We should probably infer this, in spite of Paul’s careful claim in v. 17 that he did not consult with anyone in Jerusalem prior to beginning his missionary work. Paul remained with Peter fifteen days, and the two men presumably would have formed some degree of mutual understanding and friendship as a result.
  • Galatians 2:1-10—Most scholars hold that Paul here is describing essentially the same Jerusalem meeting narrated in Acts 15 (above). Whether or not this is so, apparently the meeting ended with an agreement in place, recognizing that Paul was a legitimate missionary (apostle) to the Gentiles, just as Peter was for the Jews (v. 7-9). However, while the episode may have ended harmoniously, to some degree, there is considerable tension in the way Paul tells the story, especially the manner in which he repeatedly refers to the leaders of the Jerusalem Church (including James, Peter, and John) as “the ones thought/considered to be (something)” (cf. esp. verse 6)—on this, see the previous note.
  • Galatians 2:11-12—Even though Paul is describing opposition between himself and Peter in vv. 11-14ff, the context implies that previously they had been on good (or at least better) terms. Prior to the arrival of “men from James”, Peter, it would seem, had been spending time and working (harmoniously with Paul) among the Gentile believers in Antioch.
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16—The author of the epistle (indicated as Peter, 1:1) refers to Paul as “our beloved brother”, mentioning his “wisdom” and the letters (epistles) which he has written (apparently regarding these as authoritative Scripture). However, it should be noted that many commentators (including most critical scholars) believe that 2 Peter is pseudonymous, having been written some time later, after Peter’s death. Even if one were to accept the critical view, it would still be an indication of Peter and Paul being brought together in a positive, unifying manner, in early tradition.

According to Christian tradition, Peter and Paul were both put to death in Rome as martyrs for the faith. Their martyrdom is hinted at, though nowhere specified, in the New Testament—for Peter cf. John 21:18-19; for Paul cf. Acts 20:22-38; 2 Tim 4:6-8. As for the association with Rome, at the end of the book of Acts, Paul is under house arrest in the imperial city, though there is some evidence (in Scripture and tradition) that he may have been released (only to be arrested later a second time). According to 1 Pet 5:13, Peter would seem to be in “Babylon”, often thought to be a code (or cipher) in the New Testament for Rome and the Roman Empire. There is some question among scholars as to whether Peter actually was in Rome, but there can be no doubt that, by the late-first and early-second century, there was a well-established tradition associating both apostles with the imperial city. This is specified in Clement’s epistle (from the Roman church) to the Corinthians (1 Clement 5)—where mention is also made of their martyrdom—and in Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the church of Rome (Rom 4:3).

Eusebius, writing in the early 4th century, mentions Peter’s presence in Rome (Church History II.14-15) but gives us scant information about it; the tradition that he followed after Simon Magus is not especially reliable (see the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies for similar traditions, cf. the previous note). In II.25, Eusebius records that both Peter and Paul were put to death during the persecution of Christians under Nero—Paul having been beheaded, Peter crucified—though for earlier witnesses to this he cites only the presbyter Gaius (as to their memorials on the Ostian Way) and a letter from Dionysius bishop of Corinth (a general notice). In III.1, mention is made again of their martyrdom in Rome, along with the detail that Peter was crucified upside down at his own request. The Liberian catalog (list of Popes) from 354 A.D. records the deposition of the remains of Peter and Paul in the middle of the 3rd century.

Peter and Paul, joined together, proved to be a popular image of Christian unity and solidarity, especially within the Roman Catholic tradition. In Rome and its environs, a multitude of churches and monuments have been constructed over the centuries, most notably the great basilicas of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. Also in the visual arts of the Medieval and Renaissance period—in both Western and Eastern tradition—Petrine and Pauline images and themes often appear together. An especially noble and poignant motif is that of Peter and Paul standing together, or embracing, as below (and in the Note of the Day header above).


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

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:

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 able to cut off water for these (people so as) 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 priority over 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):

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; 11:1-18

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:

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.

June 29: Galatians 2, etc

June 29 is the traditional date celebrating the apostles Peter and Paul, a feast observed in both Eastern and Western tradition since the mid-4th century; it is associated with their martyrdom (in Rome), and may have been connected with the deposition of their remains (bones/relics) during the 3rd century. In commemoration of this date, over these three days (June 29, 30, and July 1), I will be presenting short notes on several aspects of the traditional relationship between Peter and Paul, as follows:

  • Opposition between Peter and Paul in Christian tradition
  • Peter and Paul as a symbol of Church Unity
  • An exegetical outline and summary of the famous passage in Galatians 2:11ff

Today’s note will look at the first of these:

Opposition between Peter and Paul in Christian tradition

There is only one passage in the New Testament which refers to any opposition between Peter and Paul—this is the second chapter of Galatians (Gal 2). The historical-critical questions surrounding the episode[s] in this chapter (in relation to those of Acts 15) are well-known and continue to be debated by scholars and commentators today; it will not be possible (nor advisable) to try to address them here. Rather, I will simply let Galatians speak for itself:

In verses 1-3, Paul refers to a session held during a visit to Jerusalem, where he and Barnabas (along with Titus, a Greek) met (privately kat’ i)di/an) with those considered (or seeming/appearing, dokou=sin) to be leaders (among the Jerusalem Christians). Though not stated here, these ‘leaders’ must have included James, Peter, and John (v. 9). According to v. 2, Paul went to Jerusalem according to a revelation (kata\ a)poka/luyin), his main concern being to set before them the “good news” (Gospel) that he had been proclaiming among the Gentiles. While he does not clearly explain the reason for doing this, he certainly was aware that his missionary approach—emphasizing that non-Jews could come to Christ and join the wider Christian Community without observing the traditional requirements of the Old Testament Law—was liable to be misunderstood (and misrepresented) even among Jewish Christians. He no doubt wished to maintain strong relations with the Jerusalem community, and to see his missionary work confirmed by them. He goes out of his way to point this out in verses 7-9.

In vv. 4-5, Paul suddenly mentions “false brothers” who were “brought in” (lit. “led along in[side]”) and “came in alongside” to “look down (at)” (i.e. inspect, ‘spy’)—it is not specified just who these people are or how they came to be a part of the proceedings, they may simply have been associates of the leaders (James-Peter-John). Here Paul introduces the freedom vs. bondage theme that will carry through the rest of the letter. The implication is that these “false brothers” wished to impose religious-legal requirements—circumcision, at least—on Gentile converts such as Titus (on the curious language in verse 6, see below). Paul concludes his narrative in vv. 7-10 by emphasizing that the meeting ended with a basic agreement—Paul was indeed recognized as an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was for the Jews [the circumcised]. However, while this distinction could be harmonious, it could also serve as the basis for division. A hint of opposition between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders runs through vv. 1-10, by his repeated use of a curious expression, using the verb doke/w:

    • “the ones thought/considered (to be…)”, v. 2
    • “the ones thought/considered to be some(thing)”, v. 6 (partially repeated)
    • “the ones thought/considered to be pillars”, v. 9

Note the way this narrows and becomes more specific: in verse 9 the expression is identified with James, Peter and John. It is possible that the earlier references could apply to a larger group of church leaders. Some commentators have argued that there is nothing derogatory or negative about the expression “the ones thought/considered to be…”, but Paul’s repeated use of it here suggests otherwise, especially when we consider what he adds in verse 6: “whatever they were carries through [i.e. matters] nothing to me, (for) God does not receive the face of man [i.e. does not take a person at face value, according to appearance].”

However, it is clear that actual opposition does not break through until verse 11-14, a separate (later) incident, narrated by Paul, which took place in Antioch. Paul states that he “stood against (Peter) according to (his) face” (in English we might say “opposed him face to face”, or colloquially, “got right in his face”). The concluding expression of v. 11 (o%ti kategnwsme/no$ h@n) is a bit difficult to translate, but could be rendered “in that [i.e. because] he [Peter] was known/recognized (to be in error) regarding (this)”. I will discuss this passage in more detail in a later note, but the gist of it seems to be that, for a time, Peter was willing to forego the dietary laws (and/or other religious scruples) to observe Christian fellowship with the Gentile believers of Antioch; but, when prominent representatives of the Jerusalem church (“men from James”) arrived, he withdrew and was reluctant to associate publicly in the same way. Paul uses this as the springboard into the main argument of Galatians (summarized powerfully in verses 15-21).

There is only one other passage in the New Testament which could reflect some sort of opposition between Peter and Paul; this is 1 Corinthians 1:12, part of a discussion on divisions among believers in Corinth:

“each one of you says: ‘I am of Paulus’, and ‘I (am) of Apollos’, and ‘I (am) of Kefa [i.e. Peter]’, and ‘I (am) of (the) Anointed [i.e. of Christ]’—has the Anointed (One) been divided (into parts)?…”

Kefa (the original Aramaic of Pe/tro$/Peter, “Rock”) is mentioned again in 1 Cor 3:22 and 9:5. The reference in 1 Cor 1:12 (and perhaps also 3:22) would not be a direct personal opposition, but could imply emphasis on a more “Jewish” style of Christianity associated with Peter. That such a distinction of “Jewish” vs. “Gentile” Christianity, represented by Peter and Paul, persisted in Christian tradition, may perhaps be indicated by the so-called Pseudo-Clementine Literature (the Homilies and Recognitions). These works, typically dated to the early-3d century, are pseudepigraphic (see on Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy), associated with Clement, a prominent figure of the early sub-apostolic period, and traditionally one of the first bishops of Rome. The Homilies are prefaced by (pseudonymous) correspondence between Peter and James, in which Peter presents books of his preaching (the Homilies) and gives instruction regarding their use and distribution. In the letter to James (2:3-4), Peter complains (and warns) that:

“some among the Gentiles have rejected my lawful preaching and have preferred a lawless and absurd doctrine of the man who is my enemy. And indeed some have attempted, while I am still alive, to distort my words by interpretations of many sorts, as if I taught the dissolution of the law and, although I was of this opinion, did not express it openly. But that may God forbid!” (transl. Johannes Irmscher and George Strecker in Hennecke-Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, vol.2 ).

According to the books of Homilies which follow, the “lawless” “enemy” is Simon Magus; however, many critical scholars hold that Simon is actually a kind of code (or cipher) for Paul and his teachings. In Hom. II.17.3-5, Simon is described specifically as one who went (ahead of Peter) to the Gentiles and proclaimed “a false gospel”. The narrative of the Homilies works on two levels: (1) Peter pursues Simon and challenges/opposes him as a false teacher and wicked magician, much in the manner of other legendary, extra-canonical “Acts” of the Apostles; and (2) Peter pursues and corrects a specific sort of false teaching that has been spread out into the Gentile world.

The theological outlook of the Homilies is strongly Jewish Christian, having much in common with the language and thought-world of the Sermon on the Mount; indeed, it draws heavily on the “Two Ways” motif (see also Didache 1-5; Barnabas 18-20), which was itself no doubt influenced by sayings of Jesus such as in Matt 7:13-14ff. The “easy way” that leads to destruction involves ignoring or disregarding the Law of Moses and/or the corresponding commands of Jesus (Hom. VII.7.1-2ff; VIII.5-7, etc). The dualism of the Homilies is even more pronounced, as we see in book 2, culminating in the juxtaposition of Simon and Peter—Simon with the false Gospel comes first, then follows Peter with the true Gospel—an inversion/perversion of the proper order of God (and Creation) which the true Gospel is meant to correct. However, the Homilies (as reflecting the purported teaching of Peter) do not simply require Gentiles to obey the Law of Moses; rather, its theological outlook is expressed well in book 8, where in chapters 4ff an argument is laid out akin to the modern-day “Two Covenants” theory—Jews who faithfully observed the Law of Moses will not be condemned, even apart from Jesus, and (Gentile) Christians who faithfully observe Jesus’ commandments (as in the Sermon on the Mount) too will be accepted, even apart from the Law. It is the “lawless” pseudo-Christians (i.e. followers of “Simon”) who certainly will be condemned.

There are rough similarities to the Homilies in the epistle of James, a much earlier compendium of Jewish-Christian instruction which has also been greatly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. In James 2:14-26, there is the famous passage on “faith and works”, often thought by many commentators to have been written in response to Paul’s teaching. Of course, much depends on the date of composition and authorship of the letter (perhaps better described as a sermon-tract). Dating varies considerably, from early (40s) to late (90-100); I am more inclined to accept an earlier dating, at least prior to the Jewish War of 66-70. Did ‘James’ know Paul’s teaching on “faith and works” such as we see in Galatians, and is he writing to contradict it? At least one statement (verse 24) almost seems to be an explicit contradiction, as does the very different use of Genesis 15:6 in vv. 21-23 (cf. Gal 3:6; Rom 4:3). On the other hand, it can be argued (rather convincingly) that James and Paul use e&rga (“works”), pi/sti$ (“trust/faith”) and even dikai/w/dikaiosu/nh (“justify”, “justice/righteousness”) somewhat differently; certainly the context is different—in James 2 the main issue is the importance of “good works” (acts of mercy) to the poor and needy, whereas in Galatians Paul is addressing the question of whether Gentiles (and believers in general) are still required to observe the Old Testament Law.

Notes on Prayer: Jn 17:24-26 (continued)

This note is supplemental to the recent “Monday Notes on Prayer” series, in which I went through the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. In the last study of that series, we examined the concluding verses 24-26, but it remains to go into a bit more detail on the final vv. 25-26, to see how Jesus’ words serve to bring out and summarize many of the themes that run throughout the Discourses.

Verse 25

One important point to make is that there is a strong eschatological context to verses 24-26, even though that may not be immediately obvious to the average reader. To begin with, let us consider again the first address and petition to God the Father in verse 24:

“Father, (for) that which you have given to me, I wish that where I am those also [i.e. believers] would be with me, (so) that they would look upon my honor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. founding] of the world.”

In the setting of the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17, Jesus is about to depart and return back to the Father; the fundamental emphasis, then, of the wish that believers “would be with” him, is eschatological—i.e. that they/we would be with him in heaven, alongside the Father. This heavenly (and eternal) dimension is described two ways:

    • The Divine glory (do/ca, honor/splendor) which Jesus, as the Son, shares with the Father, and
    • Divine pre-existence, understood, as in verse 5, in relation to the creation of the world (ko/smo$)

When Jesus returns to his disciples (believers) again, it will be to take them with him to the Father (14:1-3). This is a basic early Christian belief, attested at numerous points in the New Testament (cf. especially Mark 13:26-27 par, and 1 Thess 4:16-17). However, in the Gospel of John, and in the Discourses in particular, this traditional eschatology is enhanced (and supplemented) by a distinct kind of “realized” eschatology, in which the things to be experienced by the righteous at the end-time are already realized now, in the present, for believers in Christ. This “realized” eschatology is central to the message of the Last Discourse, and is rooted in the idea of the coming (and presence) of the Paraclete/Spirit (discussed further below).

If this two-aspect eschatology relates to what believers experience—including eternal life (lit. “Life of the Age”) and the vision of God (emphasized here in v. 24)—it also applies to the Judgment which believers must pass through. This Judgment separates the righteous (believers) from the wicked (the “world”, ko/smo$); while traditionally, this occurs at the end-time, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Johannine Discourses, believers already experience the reality of it in the present—i.e. they/we have already passed through the Judgment. How has this occurred? It is stated most clearly in 5:24:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$] and trusting in the (One) having sent me holds (the) Life of the Age, and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across out of death (and) into Life”.

This is very much what Jesus refers to in the conclusion to his Prayer (v. 25) as well. The manner of his address (“Just/Righteous Father”, Path\r di/kaie) suggests God the Father’s role as Judge and administrator of Justice, and that the idea of the Judgment is in view. The petition serves to bring to a climax the dualistic theme of contrast between Father/Son/Believers and the World (ko/smos). The traditional concept of God judging the world here is re-interpreted in relation to trust in Jesus, an emphasis we find repeatedly in the Gospel, going all the way back to the Prologue (1:5, 10-13). It is stated perhaps most succinctly in 3:17-21, a passage which can be compared with the close of chapter 17; note several points of comparison:

    • God the Father sends Jesus (the Son) so that the world might be saved through trust in him (3:16-17)
      • Disciples/Believers are sent by Jesus so that the world might come to know and trust (17:20-23)
    • The salvation of the world = “all those who trust”, i.e. all believers (“every one [pa=$] trusting in him”) (3:16)
      • Similarly the “world” trusting and knowing = the elect (believers) who are “in the world” but have not yet come to trust/know; once they come to faith, then the believers will “all” be one (17:20-23)
    • Judgment takes place in relation to trusting in the Son (Jesus); those who do not trust are (already) condemned because they cannot see (i.e. know) the truth (3:18-21)
      • The separation between believers and the “world” (now understood as the wicked/unbelievers) occurs on the basis of knowing (i.e. seeing) the Son, and through him, God the Father (17:25)

The last point, in particular, is a key theme in the Last Discourse, beginning with the dialogue in 14:5-10ff—one sees God the Father through the Son—and the same point is made in v. 24 of the Prayer (cf. above). We should pay attention to precise way the Judgment theme is brought out in verse 25:

“Just/Righteous Father, indeed, the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these [ou!toi, i.e. believers] knew that you se(n)t me forth”

The dualistic contrast, between Believers and the World, here takes the form of a chiasm:

    • the world did not know [ou)k e&gnw] you
      • but I knew [e&gnwn] you
    • believers (“these”) did know [e&gnwsan]…

Embedded in this very structure is the key theological point of the entire Gospel: that one knows God the Father through trust in Jesus (the Son). This is emphasized again in terms of what the believers (“these”) know. Jesus does not say “these knew you” (par. to “but I knew you”); rather, he says “these knew that you sent me forth“. In other words, what believers “know” is centered in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, as is clear from the theological formula included in the opening of the Prayer (v. 3). It also confirms the distinctive sense of the word ko/smo$ (“world”) in vv. 20-23, where, as I argued in an earlier study, it means the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) living “in the world” who have not yet come to trust in Jesus. Throughout the Johannine writings, ko/smo$ refers to a realm of wickedness and darkness that is opposed to God, which characterizes the current “world-order”. In vv. 21, 23, the focus is on believers dwelling in this wicked realm, while in v 25 it is the wicked (unbelievers) themselves who are in view.

Verse 26

The key Johannine motif of knowledge, knowing, in verse 25 is expanded upon by Jesus in v. 26; at the same time, the traditional future eschatology (first aspect, cf. above) gives way to a present “realized” eschatology (second aspect). The idea of believers separating from the world, and passing through the Judgment (implied) to see the glory of God in heaven, now shifts to the union believers have with God in the present. It is worth examining each component, or phrase, of this verse in some detail. To begin with, v. 26 is part of a single sentence with v. 25, marked by the conjunction kai/ (“and”):

“and I made known your name to them” (kai\ e)gnw/risa au)toi=$ to\ o&noma/ sou)—On the surface, this simply restates what Jesus already said earlier in the Prayer (v. 6, also 11-12), that, through his work on earth (as the incarnate Son), he revealed the Person and Presence of God the Father to the Elect/Chosen ones (disciples/believers), a process that will continue as those believers, in turn, proclaim and reveal the message of Jesus to others. However, it is the positioning of this phrase which is distinctive here—first, in relation to the previous phrase in v. 25:

    • “these knew that you sent me forth,
      and I made known to them your Name”

We might have expected a reverse sequence—i.e. they came to know because Jesus made the Father known to them—but this is contrary to the basic theological outlook of the Gospel of John, in which believers come to know because they are the Elect,  they already belong to God. And, because they belong to God, and God the Father gives them to the Son, they are able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is; and, as they become disciples (believers), Jesus then is able to reveal the Father to them.

Secondly, we must read it in connection with the phrase that follows:

    • “and I made known to them your Name,
      and I will (yet) make (it) known”

“and I will (yet) make (it) known” (kai\ gnwri/sw)—Here we have implicitly a key theme from the Last Discourse: that of the coming of the Paraclete/Spirit, who will continue Jesus’ work after his departure back to the Father. I have pointed out several times in the prior studies that, though the Spirit is not specifically mentioned in the Prayer, the idea is certainly present, and is to be inferred throughout. Note this revelatory aspect of the Spirit’s work from the statements in the Last Discourse:

    • “this is the Spirit of Truth which the world is unable to receive, (in) that it does not look upon him and does not know; but you know him…” (14:17)
    • “…(he) will teach you all (thing)s and will place under memory (for) you all (thing)s which I said to you” (14:26)
    • “…that (one) will witness about me, and you also will witness…” (15:26-27)
    • “…he will lead the way (for) you into all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but what (thing)s he hears he will speak…” (16:13)

Through the Spirit, Jesus himself will be speaking to believers, and that it is ultimately God the Father’s word that he speaks, making the Father known:

“…he will receive out of (what is) mine, and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you. All things what(ever) that the Father holds are mine; through this I said that he will receive out of (what is) mine and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you.” (16:14-15)

“(so) that the love (with) which you loved me would be in them” (i%na h( a)ga/ph h^n h)ga/phsa/$ me e)n au)toi=$ h@|)—The particle i%na here indicates the goal or end result (“[so] that”), and, indeed, it may be justly said to be the desired purpose and result of the entire Prayer. It essentially restates the request for unity that dominated the earlier vv. 20-23, combining two basic motifs:

    • The Son being “in” (e)n) believers
    • This unity reflects the relationship (union) between Father and Son

The final phrase of verse 23 further defines the unity/union believers have with Father and Son in terms of the Johannine theme of love (a)ga/ph):

“…that the world [i.e. the elect/believers in the world] would know that you sent me forth, and (that) you loved them just as you loved me.”

There Jesus asks that believers would know this Divine Love; now he requests that the Love be “in” (e)n) them. While the Spirit is not associated with love, particularly, in the Gospel of John, it is certainly an association that is part of the Johannine  theology, and is more prominent in the First Letter (see esp. 4:7-21). Love characterizes one who “comes to be (born)” of God, which is very much in accord with the language Jesus uses in relation to the Spirit in Jn 3:3-8 (cf. also 1:12-13). The words of Paul in Romans 5:5 seem to echo, independently, the language in v. 26 of the Prayer:

“…(in) that the love of God has been poured out in(to) our hearts through the Holy Spirit th(at is) given to us.”

“and I in them” (ka)gw\ e)n au)toi=$)—Just as the Love of God is present in us (believers) through the Spirit, so also is Jesus himself personally present in us. The parallelism is precise:

    • “the love…in them”
      “and I in them”

Ultimately, this is the central theme of the Last Discourse: that Jesus (the Son) will remain united with believers, dwelling in and among us, through the presence of the Spirit. It is also the climactic message of the Prayer, and, indeed, ought to be the central focus of every prayer we make to God the Father. In this regard, and in closing, consider the Lukan context of the Lord’s Prayer (teaching on prayer, 11:1-13), which begins with the Prayer itself (vv. 2-4), but ends with an emphasis on Jesus’ disciples asking God the Father specifically for the Holy Spirit (v. 13).

The Speeches of Acts, Part 12: Acts 7:1-53ff (concluded)

Due the length and complexity of the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53ff), I have discussed it over three parts (9, 10, 11) of this series on the Speeches of Acts; in this part I will address several key critical and interpretive issues which have thus far been mentioned only in passing:

    1. The Narrative framework—the Sanhedrin trial setting
    2. The actual Speech in relation to the charges against Stephen
    3. The view of the Temple in the Speech (and in the book of Acts), and, finally
    4. The Speech in the overall context of Acts

1. The Narrative framework—the Sanhedrin trial setting

A number of factors have led critical scholars to question the historicity/factuality of the Sanhedrin setting:

    • it follows a general (narrative) pattern already encountered in chapters 4 and 5; and, while certainly it is plausible that the Apostles would have had multiple run-ins with the religious and Temple authorities, the pattern is distinct enough (esp. comparing 5:17-42 with 6:8-7:1, 54-60) to suggest a literary device.
    • the Sanhedrin trial setting, especially here in chs. 6-7, is suspicious due to the clear parallels drawn with the trial/death of Jesus (outlined at the end of part 11); while this may simply represent an historical synchronicity, it is likely that conscious literary patterning is at work here (at least in part).
    • the speech, and the narrative as a whole, in some ways, makes more sense without the Sanhedrin setting (removing portions of 6:12-15 and 7:1):
      (a) the long historical summary better fits a public sermon than a (defense) speech before a tribunal
      (b) Stephen nowhere in the speech directly deals with the charges against him—more to the point, he does not address the question asked to him directly by the High Priest in 7:1
      (c) the shift between the public dispute in 6:9-10 and the appearance before the Council (6:12ff) is rather abrupt and suggests a narrative adaptation
      (d) the reaction of the audience (to the speech) and the subsequent action in 7:54-60 is more consistent with a mob “lynching” than an official action by the Council—in some ways it better fits the (popular) reaction to a public sermon given by Stephen than the Council’s reaction to a defense speech
      (e) this is perhaps confirmed by the fact that the Council is not mentioned in vv. 54-60; apart from the detail mentioned in v. 58b (possibly), there is nothing to suggest that this is an official action

Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, are more inclined to accept the narrative at face value; while some literary shaping is certainly present, with omissions and simplifications of detail, none of the events described are implausible per se. Probably the most difficult (apparent) discrepancy, recognized by nearly all commentators, is the fact that Stephen’s speech really does not answer (nor even address directly) the charges against him (according to 6:13-14; 7:1). It is to this question that I now turn.

2. The Speech in relation to the charges against Stephen

As mentioned previously, nearly all commentators have noted that the speech does not seem to address the charges brought before the Council in 6:13-14 (and see v. 11) and, correspondingly, the question of the High Priest in 7:1. Indeed, the most implausible detail in the narrative is that the Council would allow Stephen to talk for several minutes, without interruption, delivering the long (and seemingly irrelevant) historical digression we find in vv. 2ff. It must be admitted that, at least through verse 34, there seems to be no clear purpose to the speech; it is just what it appears to be—a straightforward summary of Israelite history (focused on Abraham, Joseph and Moses), with a significant degree of rhetorical development in the section on Moses (vv. 17-34). This changes in verse 35, and it is to verses 35-53 that we need to look for an answer to the charges against Stephen. I offer the following expository conclusions, based on prior exegesis (cf. parts 10 and 11):

    • Moses is presented as one who receives special revelation from God (through Angelic mediation) at Sinai (vv. 30-34), which leads subsequently to:
      (i) receiving the “living words/oracles” of God at Sinai (again through Angelic mediation, vv. 38, 53)—the Law
      (ii) receiving the type/pattern for the “tent of witness” (vv. 44f)—precursor to the Temple
    • A parallel is drawn between Jesus and Moses; both are: (a) sent by God, (b) made to be a leader and redeemer/savior for the people, (c) a Prophet, and (d) ultimately denied/refused by the people
    • A parallel is also drawn between the Temple and idolatry (the Golden Calf, etc)—both are works “made by (human) hands”
    • Just as Moses was denied/refused by the people, so was Jesus—this ultimately meant a rejection of the words of God, i.e. of the Law and the Prophets

These can be distilled down to two basic accusations leveled by Stephen in this section of the speech, that the people:

    1. acted according to a mistaken conception or idea of the “house” (dwelling) of God—the Tent/Temple
    2. refused to follow the Law-giver and Prophet (Moses/Jesus), and so rejected the Law itself

The first conclusion is stated in vv. 48-50, the second especially in v. 53 (and earlier in vv. 35, 39f). These do, in fact, address the two charges against Stephen, though somewhat obliquely; he has actually turned them around into charges against his accusers! Let us revisit the original claims (according to 6:13):

    1. he speaks words against this Holy Place (the Temple), and thus speaks evil “against God” (v. 11)
    2. he speaks words against the Law (also in v. 11)

In verse 14 this is further described according to teaching that:

    1. Jesus would destroy/dissolve this Place (the Temple), cf. Mark 14:58; John 2:19
    2. Jesus would alter the (religious) customs delivered by Moses

The first claim is partially supported in Gospel tradition, and it is certainly possible that Stephen had made statements (related to Jesus and the Temple) which could be interpreted in this way (cf. below). It is hard to know what to make of the second claim, which better fits the accusations made against Paul (see Acts 21:28, etc). If there is any substance to it at all, perhaps Stephen had taught to the effect that the new (eschatological) age inaugurated by Jesus meant that strict observance of the Law was no longer required. This is only guesswork, for we have nothing by which to assess Stephen’s teaching except for the speech in 7:2-53; and, in the speech itself, he makes no statements which could be in any way understood as anti-Law. It is a rather different matter regarding the Temple, as we shall see.

3. The View of the Temple in the Speech

I have already discussed parallels drawn in vv. 35-50 connecting the Tent/Temple with idolatry. Actually, this negative assessment is generally reserved for the Temple itself, the Tent of Witness (Tabernacle) in the wilderness period being treated more positively. Still, there can be no mistaking the implicit claim, regarding the (semi-)idolatrous nature of the Temple as a work (like the Golden Calf) “made with hands”. It is possible, of course, that Stephen (along with many Jews and early Christians) was not objecting so much to the Temple itself, but rather to the way it had been used and administered. This is the essence of the opposition to the Temple in the Qumran texts—it was being run by an invalid (and corrupt) priesthood. To a lesser degree, one can detect a similar emphasis in Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple (as recorded in Gospel tradition), both in the action itself and the saying which cites Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 together. However, the use of Isa 66:1-2, in the context of expounding/applying Amos 5:25-27 (along with the summary of Israelite history from the Golden Calf to the building of the Temple), strongly suggests a more fundamental opposition to the actual Temple (and the idea/conception of it). If so, this in many ways contrasts with the positive view of the Temple elsewhere presented in Luke-Acts; note:

    • The role and setting of the Temple in the Infancy narratives (Lk 1-2)
    • Compared with the other Gospels, Luke curtails the Temple “cleansing” scene (Lk 19:45f), and gives extra emphasis to the fact that Jesus was regularly teaching in the Temple precincts (19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38)
    • Luke does not include the Temple-saying reported at Jesus’ “trial” (cf. Mark 14:58 par)
    • After the resurrection, the disciples worship God in the Temple (Lk 24:53), and early Christians continue to frequent the Temple in the early chapters of Acts (2:46; 3:1-10; 5:20-25, 42)
    • Acts 6:11-14 describes the claim that Stephen spoke against the Temple as a “false” charge
    • In Acts 21:17-26, prior to Paul’s arrest in the Temple precincts, the author takes great care to depict that the claim that Paul teaches against the Law and religious ritual is false or unsubstantiated

The presentation in Luke-Acts presumably accords with the historical reality—that the early (Jewish) Christians continued to frequent the Temple, probably until the time of its destruction (70 A.D.), though the emphasis may have been more on the Temple as place for prayer, teaching and fellowship, rather than the sacrificial cult/ritual. Many of the New Testament writings (even Paul’s letters) say little or nothing specifically about the Temple. Eventually in early Christianity, a theology of “replacement” developed, which taught that Jesus (in his own person and work) fulfills (and effectively replaces) the Old Testament religious forms—including the Temple and all of its sacrificial ritual. This is best seen in the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the book of Revelation, all writings which likely post-date the destruction of the Temple. Luke-Acts probably also stems from this period (c. 70-80 A.D.), but, as indicated above, it demonstrates a more positive view of the physical/historical Temple.

Apart from Stephen’s speech, the nearest parallel to Acts 7:48-50 (with its citation of Isa 66:1-2) is found in Revelation 21:22, which states that there will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem. Rev 21-22 draws heavily upon the eschatological/idealized “New Jerusalem” described in Isa 65-66, and in the later prophecy the Christian theology of replacement/substitution could not be more explicit: “for the Lord God the All-mighty (One) is its shrine, and [i.e. along with] the Lamb”. For believers, ultimately, God (the Father) and Jesus Christ are the Temple. To what extent does Stephen (and/or the author of Acts here) hold such a view? At the very least, the clear use of Isa 66:1-2 in this context would point in that direction. However, the association between the Temple and idolatry probably has more to do with polemical rhetoric (after the manner of the Prophets) than with a developed theological position. Also, one should not ignore the place of the speech in the overall context of Acts, as representing the last great episode of the early Jerusalem Church, prior to the mission into the wider (Gentile) world (see below). Acts records Paul using similar language in regard to Greco-Roman (heathen, polytheistic) religion (cf. Acts 17:24).

4. The Speech in the overall Context of Acts

As indicated above, Acts 6:8-8:1 (which includes the speech of 7:2-53) is the final episode recorded of the early believers in Jerusalem, the first major division of the book (1:128:3). The themes (and style) of Stephen’s speech then would be expected to draw upon the prior chapters, as well as to look forward to what follows. I propose these points for consideration:

    • the sequence of appearances before the Sanhedrin, from a literary/narrative point of view, serve several purposes:
      (a) they provide an effective dramatic setting for proclamation of the Gospel
      (b) they depict early believers fulfilling the pattern and example of Jesus, who also faced opposition from the religious leaders and faced a similar “trial” before the Sanhedrin
      (c) they demonstrate the increasing division/separation between the (Jewish) followers of Jesus and the rest of the (Jewish) people
    • the speech, while it may not entirely fit the Sanhedrin “trial” setting, is nevertheless appropriate here in the narrative:
      (a) it offers a definitive statement as to the place of Jesus and (by extension) early Christians within the Old Testament and Israelite history, and as the fulfillment of it
      (b) the corruption/deterioration depicted through history (leading from true revelation to idolatry) emphasizes the idea that a “new age” has dawned, reflecting the important theme of the “restoration of Israel” found in the early chapters of Acts
      (c) just as Gentiles would need to be instructed in Old Testament history, so here a summary of that history is presented prior to the inauguration of the wider mission (to the Gentiles) as recorded in chapters 8-12ff
    • the climactic position of the narrative makes a longer, dramatic speech fitting, in several respects:
      (a) it records the death of Stephen, the first Christian “martyr”, in terms somewhat similar to Jesus’ own death in the Gospels
      (b) it inaugurates a period of intense persecution, which leads to the dispersal of believers outside of Jerusalem (and Judea) and ultimately into the wider Gentile/Greco-Roman world
      (c) it marks the initial separation between Christianity and Judaism

In conclusion, it may be useful to revisit a basic critical question regarding the speeches in the book of Acts, which is especially acute in the case of Stephen’s speech—that is, the source and nature of their composition. There are two main components to Acts 6:8-8:1: (i) a traditional narrative involving Stephen (reflected in 6:8-15; 7:54-60), and (ii) the speech in 7:2-53. Nearly all scholars would, I think, agree that the core narrative stems from authentic tradition, with some degree of editing or adaptation having taken place. Opinion varies much more greatly regarding the speech; there are four main views:

    1. The speech more or less records Stephen’s actual words (with minor modification), delivered just as the narrative context in Acts suggests—this would be the traditional-conservative view.
    2. The speech is an (authentic) tradition, preserving the substance of what Stephen said (or preached) publicly prior to his death, though much of the actual wording (and style) is probably Lukan (i.e. from the author of Acts); according to this view, the Sanhedrin setting may (or may not) be authentic.
    3. The author (trad. Luke) has set an authentic Christian speech/sermon (or the substance of it) into the mouth of Stephen, inserting it into the traditional narrative and creating the seam at 6:15; 7:1 and 7:54.
    4. The speech is essentially the creation of the author of Acts, though perhaps drawing upon tradition and examples of early preaching, being inserted into the narrative much as in view #3.

Most critical scholars would hold some version of view #3 or 4; my own (personal) view of the matter is closer to the moderate critical position of #2 above. Fortunately the power and effect of Scripture here in Acts (as elsewhere) does not depend on a particular view of historicity and composition, though these are important questions to address; rather, the narrative as it has come down to us—reflecting both historical tradition and inspired creative expression—speaks as a whole, the marvelous end product unique and unparalleled as a work of Christian history, and requiring no defense.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 11: Acts 7:1-53ff (continued)

In the previous two parts of this series (9 and 10), I examined the background and setting of Stephen’s speech, the Narrative Introduction (Acts 6:8-15; 7:1), and the Introductory Address (7:2-42a) which includes the lengthy summary of Israelite history (and the last section of which [on Moses] I discussed in some detail). In this part, I will treat the remainder of the speech, beginning with the citation from Scripture in verses 42b-43.

Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)

Though the length of the prior historical summary might suggest otherwise, the Scripture citation (from Amos 5:25-27) here is as central to Stephen’s speech as that of the prior sermon-speeches in Acts, for it begins to address (somewhat more directly) the charges against Stephen regarding the Temple and the Law. The version of Amos 5:25-27 more or less matches that of the Greek LXX, with two minor differences, and two more significant ones:

    • v. 42 has reversed the order of “in the desert” [e)n th=| e)rh/mw|] and “forty years” [e&th tessera/konta]
    • MSS B D (and several others) read “of the god” instead of “of your god” in v. 43, omitting the pronoun u(mw=n
    • v. 43 read “to worship them [proskunei=n au)toi=$]” instead of “yourselves” [e(autoi=$]
    • the conclusion of the citation, “upon those (further parts) of…” [i.e. beyond, past], Acts reads “Babylon” instead of “Damascus” in Amos 5:27, making it relate more directly to the Babylonian exile (which involved the destruction of the Temple)

The Greek version itself appears to be corrupt, having misread (and/or misunderstood) the twin references in Amos 5:26:

    1. <k#K=l=m^ tWKs! (sikkû¾ malk®½em), “Sakkut your king”
      th\n skhnh\n tou= Molox, “the tent of Moloch”
    2. <k#yh@ýa$ bk^oK /WYK! (kiyyûn kô½a» °§lœhê½em), “Kaiwan, star of your god”, or “Kaiwan your star-god”
      to\ a&stron tou= qeou= u(mw=n Raifan, “the star of your god Raiphan”

In the first expression, (a) MT twks was read rel. to hK*s% (s¥kkâ), “woven-shelter [i.e. hut, booth, tent]”, whereas it should almost certainly be understood as the Assyrian-Babylonian deity Sakkut [vocalized tWKs^, sakkû¾]; and (b) “(your) king”, where the MT ilm was vocalized/read as the proper name “Moloch”. In the second expression, it is generally assumed that an original transliteration Kaifan (Kaiphan) became Raifan/Refan (Raiphan/Rephan); in some (Western) MSS of Acts it reads Remfan (Remphan), while in B a3 it is Romfa–n— (Rompha[n]). “Sakkut” and “Kaiwan” are names of Assyrian/Babylonian astral deities (the latter [kayawânu] being the name for the planet Saturn). In the original Hebrew of Amos, the word <k#ym@l=x^ (ƒalmê½em), “your images”, despite its positioning, probably meant to refer to both deities; it is possible, of course, that there is also corruption in the Hebrew MT. Amos 5:26-27 is quoted, more or less following the MT vocalization, in the Damascus Document [CD MS A] 7:14ff, but applied in a very peculiar way (in connection with Amos 9:11).

Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50)

Also unusual is the interpretation which Stephen (and/or the author of Acts) gives to these verses, for it differs significantly from the original context (though far less markedly than that of CD). Amos 5:18-24, 25-27 is part of a series of Woe-oracles pronouncing judgment against Israel (primarily the northern kingdom, under Jeroboam II, centered in Samaria). Verses 18-20 speak of the day of YHWH, how it will come suddenly and unexpectedly—hitting God’s own people right where they live. Verses 21-24 emphasize that God’s judgment extends even to Israel’s religion: He will not accept their worship and sacrificial offering—a theme found elsewhere in the Prophets, most famously in Isaiah 1:10-17. The implication, indicated by the exhortation in Amos 5:24, is that the people are not living and acting according to justice/righteousness. This is expressed most strikingly in Jeremiah 7:1-26, where condemnation is especially harsh against those who act wickedly and yet continue to participate in the religious ritual (esp. vv. 9-11). The current corruption of religion, according to the prophet, is apparently contrasted with the wilderness period (Amos 5:25): at that time Israel did not present sacrificial offerings (those began only when the people arrived in the promised land)—a much better situation than the corrupt (and idolatrous) worship currently being offered up (v. 26)! It is not entirely clear whether or not we should take v. 26 literally: were the Israelites actually worshiping these Assyrian deities, or are the expressions meant to symbolize the idolatrous character of the ritual (corrupted by unrighteousness and injustice). Either is possible—Jeremiah 7:9-10, for example, mentions actual idolatry (Baal worship) together with moral corruption, whereas Isa 1:10ff emphasizes the ethical side.

In Stephen’s speech in Acts, a rather different point of view is implied: during the wilderness period, the Israelites did not offer sacrifices to God (even though they should have!), and instead actually practiced idolatry during those years. This idolatry began with the Golden Calf (7:40-41), whereupon God “gave them over” (v. 42) to worship the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars, etc). However, it would seem that this interpretation is not so much historical as it is rhetorical (and didactic); note the pattern, which I extend to the verses (vv. 44-47) which follow:

    • Failure to obey Moses in the wilderness—idolatry (the Golden Calf), vv. 39-41
      • The (portable) tent of witness (Tabernacle) in the wilderness, following God’s words to Moses, vv. 44-45
      • David and Solomon seek instead to build a (fixed) house (Temple) for God, vv. 46-47
    • The people are “given over” to more serious and persistent idolatry (leading to the Exile), vv. 42ff

The history of Israel, then, is depicted according to two different progressions—one involving idolatry and corruption of religion (the outer pair above), the other involving the building of a house (temple) for God (the inner pair). That these are meant to be understood in parallel (and corresponding terms) becomes even more clear if one includes the Scripture citation (of Isaiah 66:1-2) that follows in vv. 49-50 and present them in sequence:

    • Failure to obey Moses’ words—beginning of idolatry, vv. 39-41
      • The people are given over to more serious idolatry, v. 42a
        • Citation from Amos 5:25-27, in vv. 42b-43
    • A portable Tent, according to God’s instruction to Moses—beginnings of a “house”, vv. 44-45
      • Construction of a more permanent (fixed) house for God, vv. 46-47
        • Citation from Isaiah 66:1-2, in vv. 49-50

The interpretative key to all this is found in verse 48, which summarizes the Isaiah passage that follows:

“but the Highest does not put down house [i.e. dwell] in (buildings) made with hands…”

Isa 66:1-2 is part of an eschatological/idealized vision of a “new Jerusalem” in 65:17ff, where the people live in peace and harmony in relationship with God. Verses 1-4 of chap. 66 shift the focus to religious worship, questioning the very purpose and value of the Temple and its ritual. Acts cites vv. 1-2a precisely according to the LXX, except for ti$ to/po$ (“what place”) instead of poi=o$ to/po$ (“what sort of place”). The two principal nouns in v. 1—oi@ko$ (“house”) and  to/po$ (“place”)—are commonly used of the Temple. Verses 3-4 identify the ritual sacrifices (offered at the Temple) with outright wickedness, to the point of referring to the (prescribed) ritual as a “miserable” (/w#a*) and “detestable” (JWQv!) thing—both words can be euphemisms for idolatry. This echoes a regular prophetic theme that religious worship is worthless (even detestable) in God’s eyes if it is not accompanied by (personal and communal) righteousness and justice, or if it is similarly corrupted by idolatrous behavior; Jeremiah 7 provides perhaps the most striking example (see above). Isaiah 66:1-5 has a clear parallel earlier in the book (Isa 1:10-17), only here we find a more direct declaration of true worship (in 66:2b):

“This (is the one) I will look on [i.e. give attention to]—to (the one who is) humble/lowly and stricken of spirit/breath and trembling upon my word”

This very much prefigures the language of Jesus in the Beatitudes (and elsewhere in his teaching), and it is significant that Jesus himself says very little about the Temple and its ritual—the few statements which are preserved in the Gospels tend to be critical, such as the citation of Hos 6:6 in Matt 9:13; Mark 12:33 par and the sayings associated with the “cleansing” of the Temple in Mark 11:15-17 par (citing Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). Keep in mind that in John’s account of the Temple “cleansing”, Jesus uttered a saying similar to that reported during his ‘trial’: “loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)” (Jn 2:19). Of course, such a claim was also part of the charge against Stephen (Acts 6:13-14).

This brings us to a key motif in Stephen’s speech: the idea of the Temple as something “made with hands”; note the references:

    • the charge against Stephen in Acts 6:13-14 echoes the saying of Jesus reported at his trial (and partially confirmed by John 2:19); the Markan version of this saying has an interesting detail (italicized):
      “I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made with hands [xeiropoi/hton] and within three days I will build another house made without hands [a)xeiropoi/hton]” (Mk 14:58)
    • in the speech (7:41), the Golden Calf (and, by extension, any idol) is cited as “the works of their hands” (ta e&rga tw=n xeirw=n au)tw=n)
    • the Tent of Witness (v. 44f), i.e. the Tabernacle, is viewed positively (much moreso than the Temple) in the speech, yet it too is something “made” (poie/w); in the Life of Moses II. 88, Philo refers to the Tent with the same expression “made with hands” (xeiropoi/hto$)
    • in verse 48, the Temple is specifically referred to in terms of a house “made with hands” (xeiropoi/hto$)
    • the citation of Isa 66:2a [LXX] in verse 50, by contrast, refers to God as the one whose hand (xei/r) has “made (e)poi/hsen) all these things [i.e. all creation]”

The statement in verse 48 was a truism actually well-understood by ancient people—that the invisible, transcendent Deity did not “dwell” in human-built shrines in an actual, concrete sense. This was admitted by king Solomon at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, as recorded in 1 Kings 8:27 (cf. 2 Chron 2:6; Jos. Ant. 8.107). A physical temple or shrine represented a religious accommodation toward human limitations, a way for human beings to relate to God in time and space, by ritual means; however, like any human institution (even one divinely appointed), it was prone to corruption and abuse. Temple priests (and/or the religious-political leaders who controlled them) were often powerful (even wealthy) persons who exercised considerable influence over ancient society. Jesus’ harshest words were directed toward the religious leadership, and the fiercest opponents of Jesus (and early Christians in Jerusalem) were the “Chief Priests” who controlled much of the Temple establishment. Beyond this, however, we do find here, to some degree, strong criticism against the Temple itself, which I will discuss in the next (concluding) part of this series on Stephen’s speech.

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53)

Instead of the exhortation in the sermon-speech pattern, we have here a harsh and vehement accusation toward those in the audience (the Sanhedrin), which proceeds along three points (still drawing upon the historical summary):

    1. they “fall against” [i.e. resist/oppose] the holy Spirit—as their fathers did (v. 51)
    2. they became ones who betrayed and murdered the “Just One” [Jesus]—as their fathers pursued and killed the prophets (v. 52)
    3. they received the Law (as a divine revelation), but did not keep it—along with their fathers (implied) (v. 53)

Several of the expressions in verse 51 are taken straight from the Old Testament:

The particle a)ei (“always”, i.e. continually, regularly) connects the current people (esp. their leaders) with those in the past who rebelled against God. Opposition to the Holy Spirit (by persecuting the Christians) is the most prominent, immediate transgression—from this, Stephen works backward:

Verse 52—their role in the death of Jesus (“the Just [One]”, di/kaio$, cf. 3:14), which has led them to become “betrayers” (prodo/tai, [ones] giving [Jesus] before [the Roman authorities]) and “murderers” (fonei=$)
Verse 53—even prior to this, by implication, they had not kept the Law (of Moses); it is not certain just what is meant by this: from an early Christian standpoint, rejection of Jesus was tantamount to rejecting the Law and Prophets, but whether he is charging them otherwise with ethical or ritual transgressions is hard to say.
For the idea of the Law having been delivered by heavenly Messengers (Angels), cf. Deut 33:2 LXX; Jubilees 1:27-29; Jos. Antiquities 15.136; Galatians 3:19; Heb 2:2 and earlier in Acts 7:38.

Narrative Summary (7:54-8:1a)

The reaction is similar to that in Acts 5:33, with the same phrase being used:

and having heard these things, they were cut/sawn through [diepri/onto] in their hearts…”

In the earlier narrative, Gamaliel is able to prevent the crowd from taking violent action (5:34ff); here the hostility builds as they “grind/gnash their teeth upon him”. Verse 55 picks up from 6:15, emphasizing that Stephen was under the power of God (“full of the holy Spirit”), and stretching (to look) [i.e. looking intently] into heaven, he saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right-hand of God. The image of Jesus having been raised and exalted to the “right hand” of God in Heaven was an important piece of early Christian preaching (influenced by Psalm 110:1), as seen previously in Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31. It is hard to say whether there is any special significance to Jesus standing (normally he is described as seated), but it certainly adds to the dramatic effect, and may draw greater attention to the “Son of Man” connection.

In describing his vision (v. 56), Stephen refers to Jesus as the Son of Man (ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), the only use of this title in the New Testament by someone other than Jesus himself. This is curious, and may reflect authentic historical detail, however, it is just as likely that the reference is primarily literary—to enhance the parallel between the trial/death of Jesus and Stephen; note:

    • the setting before the Sanhedrin
    • the (false) charges, and their similarity—6:11, 13-14; Mark 14:55-58 par
    • mention of the Son of Man at the right hand (of God)—v. 56; Luke 22:69 par
    • the prayer, after Psalm 31:6—v. 59; Luke 23:46
    • the loud cry before death—v. 60; Luke 23:46
    • the prayer for forgiveness—v. 60; Luke 23:34

There certainly would seem to be some degree of conscious patterning here. The dramatic moment leading to the execution (by stoning) is described vividly in verse 57:

“and crying (out) with a great voice, they held together their ears and with one impulse [o(moqumado/n] rushed (ahead) upon him…”

The adverb o(moqumado/n was used repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; cf. also 8:6; 15:25) as a keyword to express the unity and solidarity of believers in Jerusalem; here it is used in an entirely opposite sense—to depict a (unified) opposition against Christ (cf. also 18:12; 19:29). Here, opposition has finally broken into open violence against Christians. The mention of Saul in 7:58 and 8:1a sets the stage for the intense, if short-lived, persecution which follows (8:1-4; 11:19a).

By way of conclusion, I will discuss some key points of criticism and overall interpretation of the speech in the next part of this series.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 10: Acts 7:1-53ff (continued)

In Part 9 of this series, I examined the overall setting and background of the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53ff), as well as the Narrative (Introduction) which precedes it in 6:8-15, according to the outline:

    • Narrative Introduction—the speech follows upon the main narrative (or first part of it) in 6:8-15, with the question of the High Priest to Stephen in 7:1.
    • Introductory Address (7:2-42a)—instead of Gospel kerygma, we find here a lengthy summary of Israelite history, from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf.
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)—from Amos 5:25-27.
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50), including a second Scripture citation (from Isa 66:1-2) which is parallel to the prior passage.
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53), with a faint kerygmatic detail in v. 52b.
    • Narrative Summary—the narrative continues/concludes in 7:54-8:1a.

In this part I will continue with the speech proper.

Introductory Address (7:2-42a)

Stephen begins with a vocative address, similar to that of Peter (e.g., in Acts 2:14, 22, 29; cf. also the beginning of Paul’s address in Acts 22:1):

 &Andre$ a)delfoi\ kai\ pate/re$, a)kou/sate
“Men, Brothers and Fathers—hear!”

Instead of the kerygmatic phrases and statements found in the prior sermon-speeches, Stephen here delivers a lengthy summary of Israelite history in “deuteronomic style”, extending from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf; for Old Testament parallels to such an historical summary, cf. Joshua 24; Psalm 78, 105; Ezekiel 20:5-44; Nehemiah 9:7-27, and also note the historical treatment given in the Damascus Document [CD] 2:14-6:1 (Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 364).

Nearly all commentators have noted that this is a curious way to address the question posed by the High Priest in v. 1; it also hardly seems an appropriate way for an accused man to offer defense (apologia) in a ‘trial’ setting. This has served as an argument in favor of the view that the Sanhedrin setting and framework to the speech is a secondary (and artificial) construction by the author of Acts (trad. Luke)—for more on this, see further below.

There is perhaps a tendency to gloss over this lengthy recital of Old Testament history; it can seem rather tedious, even irrelevant, in context. It may be tempting, indeed, to skip on ahead to verse 43ff, or even verse 54ff; however there are several reasons why it is important to include this section (and to read it carefully):

First, there is a rhetorical and narrative structure to the speech (see above) which is disrupted if one omits (or ignores) the historical summary; it is vital to a proper understanding of the speech as a whole.
Second, it is important to recognize the place that the Old Testament narrative had for early Christians and in their Gospel preaching; the way Paul references the Scriptures in his letters makes it clear that even Gentile converts must have been made familiar with the Old Testament and Israelite history as part of their basic instruction. Early Christians also saw themselves as fulfilling the history of Israel along with the promises God made to her, and so the Old Testament narrative was, in many ways, fundamental to Christian identity.
Third, the cumulative effect of the speech is lost if one ‘skips ahead’; in particular, the Scripture citation and exposition in vv. 43ff are climactic to the historical summary and really cannot be understood correctly outside of that context.

There are a number of ways one may outline this section; for a useful five-part outline, see Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 365. I have opted for a tripartite structure, as follows:

    • Abraham—the promise made by God to his people (vv. 2-8)
    • Joseph—the sojourn/exile of God’s people in the land of Egypt (vv. 9-16)
    • Moses—the exodus out of Egypt toward the land of promise (vv. 17-42a); this portion can be broken down further:
      (a) {the first forty years}—Moses in Egypt (vv. 17-22)
      (b) forty years—Moses visits his people in Egypt (vv. 23-29)
      (c) forty years—Moses receives revelation from God, with a promise to deliver the people from Egypt (vv. 30-34)
      —”This Moses”… who led Israel out of Egypt (vv. 35-37)
      —”This (Moses)” is the one who was with the congregation (of Israel) in the wilderness (vv. 38-39a)
      ** The Israelites refused to hear/obey (Moses) in the wilderness—turned to idolatry (the Golden Calf, vv. 39b-42a)

Abraham (vv. 2-8)

The first two sections (on Abraham and Joseph) are relatively straightforward summaries of passages from Genesis, with simplification and compression of detail. The summary of Abraham is taken from Genesis 11-12, with quotations or allusions from Psalm 29:3 and Deut 2:5, followed by references to Gen 17:8; 15:13-14 (LXX); Exod 3:12; Gen 17:10; 21:4. The key verse is v. 5, emphasizing God’s promise to Abraham’s descendents—Gen 17:8 (and 48:4); also Gen 12:7; 13:5; 15:18-20; 24:7. This theme of promise already appeared in Peter’s earlier speech (Acts 3:25), and will also be mentioned in Acts 7:17; 13:32; 26:6; the covenant promise to Abraham would play a key role in Paul’s writings (Galatians 3-4; Romans 4; 9:1-9ff). Verse 7 cites Exodus 3:12 (LXX), with one small difference: instead of “in/on this mountain” (e)n tw=| o&rei tou/tw|) we find “in this place” (e)n tw=| to/pw| tou/tw|), which better fits the Temple context underlying the speech.

Joseph (vv. 9-16)

The section on Joseph draws on portions of Genesis 37-46, along with allusions to Psalm 105:21; 37:19; there are also references to Deut 10:22 and Exod 1:6 in verse 15, along with a conflation of Gen 23:16-20 and 33:19 in verse 16. The overall setting of Israel in Egypt naturally fits the theme of exile and the dispersion (Diaspora) of the Israelite/Jewish people—a motif which could already be seen with Abraham leaving his homeland, and sojourning to the land of promise.

Moses (vv. 17-42a)

This section (on Moses) is by far the most developed, demonstrating a clear rhetorical (and didactic) structure. Verses 17-34 adopt the (traditional) scheme of dividing Moses’ life (of 120 years) into three equal periods of 40:

    • forty years—Moses in Egypt (vv. 17-22) [drawn from Exodus 1-2]
    • forty years—Moses visits his people in Egypt (vv. 23-29) [from Exodus 2]
    • forty years—Moses receives revelation from God, with a promise to deliver the people from Egypt (vv. 30-34) [Exodus 3:1-10, direct quotations and paraphrase]

Vv. 23 and 30 begin with similar Greek expressions:

“and when/as forty years’ time was filled (up) [e)plhrou=to] for him…” (v. 23)
“and forty years having been filled (up) [plhrwqe/ntwn]…” (v. 30)

It is also worth noting some key extra-biblical and/or traditional details mentioned in this section:

    • Moses’ beauty—Exod 2:2 [LXX]; Philo, Life of Moses I.9, 18; Josephus, Antiquities II.224
    • Moses’ learning—Philo, Life of Moses I.20-24; II. 1; Jos. Antiquities II.236
      and eloquence—Philo, Life of Moses I.80; Jos. Antiquities II.271 (cf. also Sirach 45:3)
    • The Angel (of the Lord) in the burning bush—Exod 3:2 [LXX] (MSS D H P S 614 of Acts 7:30 read “of the Lord”)

The revelation by theophany (manifestation of God), i.e. His Presence—even if understood in Exod 3:1-10 as occurring through ‘Angelic’ mediation—is an important theme, as it closes this section on Moses’ life and leads into the forceful section in vv. 35-38ff with its emphasis on false worship and idolatry. Even so, it must be admitted (along with many commentators) that the precise point of the speech (taken through verse 34) is hard to see; it certainly does not answer the charges against Stephen, and appears on the surface to be a long (even irrelevant) digression. The tone of the speech, however, changes suddenly and dramatically with verse 35, with the repeated use of the demonstrative pronoun (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton, “this [one]”).

“This (Moses)…” (vv. 35-38)—the speech moves from historical summary (in vv. 17-34, similar to the sections on Abraham/Joseph), to a series of statements extolling Moses’ role in the Exodus and wilderness period, drawing attention especially to the person of Moses by the repeated, staccato-like use of the the demonstrative pronoun (“this”). This not only represents forceful rhetoric, but also serves to draw a clear and unmistakable parallel between Moses and Jesus, as we shall see. Keep in mind a similar use of the demonstrative pronoun in referring to Jesus already in Acts 1:11; 2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31 (“this [one], this Jesus”; also “this name”, Acts 3:16; 4:17; 5:28); the Temple also has been referred to as “this place” (cf. Acts 6:13-14; 7:7).

    • V. 35—”this [tou=ton] Moses, whom they denied/refused… this (one) [tou=ton] God set forth (as) a leader and redeemer…”
    • V. 36—”this (one) [ou!to$] led them out, doing marvels and signs…”
    • V. 37—”this [ou!to$] is Moses, the (one) saying to the sons of Israel…”
    • V. 38—”this [ou!to$] is the (one) coming to be in/among the called-out (people) in the desolate (land)…”

Verses 36-37 specifically emphasize Moses’ role in the Exodus—the deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt; in verses 38-39, the emphasis is on Moses’ role with the congregation (e)kklhsi/a) of Israel in the wilderness. Verse 39 (beginning with the relative pronoun o%$ [dat. w!|]) is transitional, stressing the disobedience of the people and leading into the section on the Golden Calf (vv. 40ff). The following details clarify the parallel drawn between Moses and Jesus:

    • the people denied/refused [h)rnh/sato] Moses (v. 35, cf. also 39ff) just as they denied Jesus (Acts 3:13, same verb)
    • “leader [a&rxwn] and redeemer [lutrwth/$]” (v. 35) are titles similar to those applied to Jesus in Acts 3:15; 5:31 (cf. also 2:36)
    • Moses and Jesus are both “sent” by God (vb. a)poste/llw) in v. 35; 3:20, 26
    • “wonders and signs” (v. 36) are parallel to the miracles of Jesus (2:22, cf. also 4:30)
    • Jesus as fulfillment of the “Prophet (to come) like Moses” from Deut 18:15 (cited v. 37, and in 3:22-23)
    • Moses was with the “called-out” people (e)kklhsi/a) of Israel in the wilderness (v. 38), just as Jesus is with the “called-out” people (e)kklhsi/a), i.e. the believers in Christ, the “church”—the word is first used in this latter sense in Acts 5:11, and occurs frequently from 8:1 on; it was used in the LXX in reference to the people gathering/assembling (to receive the Law, etc), esp. in Deut 4:10; 9:10; 18:16.

The central theme of the theophanous revelation of God at Sinai (already emphasized in vv. 30-34) is brought out again here in verse 38—the closing phrase is especially significant, as it relates to one of the main charges against Stephen; it is useful, I think, to look at it in context with verse 39a:

“(this [Moses])…
who [o^$] received living lo/gia to give to us,
to whom [w!|] our Fathers did not wish to become as (ones) who listen under [i.e. {are} obedient]…

The neuter noun lo/gion (lógion), related to the more common lo/go$ (lógos, “account, word”), more properly refers to something uttered, i.e., “saying, announcement, declaration”; in a religious context especially it is often translated as “oracle”. For the idea of “living words/oracles” see Lev 18:5; Deut 32:46-47; note also a similar expression “the words/utterances of this life” in Acts 5:20.

The Golden Calf (vv. 39-42a)—the second half of verse 39 leads into the episode of the Golden Calf:

“…but they thrust (him [i.e. Moses]) away from (them) and turned in their hearts unto Egypt”

Verses 40-41 are taken from the account of the Golden Calf incident (Exod 32:1-6), emphasizing unlawful/inappropriate sacrifice (qusi/a, [ritual] slaughtering) and idolatry (worship of an image, ei&dwlon). Most important are the closing words of verse 41:

“…and they were happy [lit. of a good mind] in the works of their hands [e)n toi=$ e&rgoi$ tw=n xeirw=n au)tw=n]”

This last phrase introduces the idea of things “made with hands” (tied specifically to idolatry), which will play a vital role in the remainder of the speech.

In verse 39, it is stated that the people turned [e)stra/fhsan] in their hearts (back to Egypt, and idolatry); now, in verse 42a, God turns [e&streyen, same verb] and gives the people over [pare/dwken] for them to do (hired) service [latreu/ein, in a religious sense] to the “armies of heaven” (i.e. sun, moon, stars and planets). Of the many references warning against the consequences of image-worship, see, e.g. Hos 13:2-4; for a fundamental passage warning against worship of the celestial bodies, see Deut 4:16ff. On this idea of God giving/handing transgressors over to an even more serious form of idolatry, see Wisdom 11:15-16 and the famous passage in Romans 1:24-28; often there is the sense that the result (and punishment) of idolatry will resemble the very thing that was being worshipped (cf. Jer 19:10-13, etc).

The main Scripture citation (from Amos 5:25-27), along with the remainder of the speech, will be discussed in the next part of this series.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 9: Acts 7:1-53ff

The great sermon-speech of Stephen in Acts 7 is by far the longest in the book and serves as the climax of the first division (Acts 1:1-8:4)—the story of the early believers in Jerusalem. The persecution recorded in 8:1-4 sets the stage for apostolic mission outside of Judea and the mission to the Gentiles. Stephen’s speech is part of a larger narrative arc, from 6:1 to 8:4:

    • Introductory Narrative (6:1-7)—Stephen and the Seven “deacons”, with summary in verse 7
    • Main Narrative (6:8-15)—the story of Stephen: his arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin, which serves as a narrative introduction to the speech
    • The Speech of Stephen (7:1-53)
    • Continuation of the Narrative (7:54-8:1a)—the crowd’s reaction and the death of Stephen, which serves as a narrative summary/conclusion to the speech
    • Concluding Narrative (8:1-4)—onset of persecution and the dispersal of believers out of Jerusalem and Judea

There are several details in this narrative which indicate that it is transitional between the story of the early Jerusalem believers (centered around Peter) in chapters 1-5 and the missionary outreach which follows:

    • Stephen is a member of a second group of (seven) men who serve a ministry and leadership role in the congregation, separate from the (twelve) Apostles (6:2-3ff).
    • Though not Apostles, men such as Stephen still share in the miracle-working gift and power of the Spirit (6:8); more than simply waiting on tables (v. 2ff), Stephen was capable and empowered to teach and preach. It is specifically said of him that he was “full of trust (in God) [i.e. faith] and (the) holy Spirit” (v. 5) and “full of favor (from God) [i.e. grace] and power” (v. 8), and that he spoke “with wisdom and (the) Spirit”. Philip, another member of the Seven, has a similarly prominent role in Acts 8.
    • Stephen (and apparently the rest of the Seven) are connected with the “Hellenists” (6:1). Though its precise meaning is disputed, here the term “Hellenist” (transliteration of  (Ellenisth/$, “Greek” or “one who speaks Greek”) probably refers to Jews (i.e., Jewish Christians) who primarily (or entirely) speak and read in Greek. Most likely this includes many Jews from the surrounding nations (the Diaspora) who came and dwelt (“put down house”, 2:5) in Jerusalem and were among the early converts (2:6ff, 41).
    • In verse 9ff, Stephen is shown in close contact with other Hellenistic Jews (from the Diaspora), indicated as being members of several different groups—Libertini (free Roman citizens in Italy), and people from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia (i.e. in Asia Minor). Here “synagogue” (sunagwgh/) refers not to a building, but to a congregation that meets together for worship and study. Probably five different congregations (along national/ethnic) lines are meant; though it is possible that the last four groups were all part of the Libertini. This detail echoes the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2, as well as foreshadowing the upcoming dispersion (“diaspora”) of Christians into the wider mission field.

Stephen’s speech, though familiar, is probably not so well-known as one might think. It is actually highly complex, especially when looked at within its context in the book of Acts. Despite its length and complexity, it still fits the sermon-speech pattern I have been using in discussing the speeches of Acts:

    • Narrative Introduction—the speech follows upon the main narrative (or first part of it) in 6:8-15, with the question of the High Priest to Stephen in 7:1.
    • Introductory Address (7:2-42a)—instead of Gospel kerygma, we find here a lengthy summary of Israelite history, from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf.
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)—from Amos 5:25-27.
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50), including a second Scripture citation (from Isa 66:1-2) which is parallel to the prior passage.
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53), with a faint kerygmatic detail in v. 52b.
    • Narrative Summary—the narrative continues/concludes in 7:54-8:1a.

 Narrative Introduction (6:8ff; 7:1)

The main narrative is divided into two parts: (1) the arrest of Stephen with his appearance before the Sanhedrin (6:8-15) and (2) the death of Stephen (7:54-58), with the speech occurring in between. 6:8-15 effectively serves as an introduction to the speech. Much as in chapters 3-4, 5, the miraculous, Spirit-filled ministry of the early Christians (vv. 8-10) provokes a hostile response from the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Stephen, like Peter and the Apostles, is seized and brought before the Council (the Sanhedrin) for interrogation (v. 12; cf. 4:1-6; 5:17-18ff). Stephen’s opponents, it is said, “threw (in) men under(neath)” (i.e., acted underhandedly, in secret) to make claims against him; this, in turn, “moved [i.e. stirred/incited] the people together” to act, as well as the religious leaders (elders and Scribes) who had him arrested, and brought (“into the [place of] sitting togther”, i.e. the Sanhedrin) to face additional charges. Three specific claims or charges against Stephen are mentioned:

    1. “we have heard him speaking words of (abusive) slander uttered unto [i.e. against] Moshe [i.e. Moses] and God” (v. 11)
    2. “this man does not cease speaking words uttered down on [i.e. against] [this] holy (Place) and the Law” (v. 13)
    3. “we have heard him recount/relate that this Yeshua the Nazarean will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this Place and will make different [i.e. change/alter] the customary/usual things that Moshe gave along to us” (v. 14)

The dual charge in vv. 13-14 is said to have been made by “false witnesses”—this, along with the mention of dissolving/destroying the Temple, establishes a clear and obvious parallel with Jesus’ “trial” before the Sanhedrin as narrated in the Synoptic Gospels (see Mark 14:56-59 and the par Matt 26:59-61); there is also an echo of the High Priest’s question to Jesus (Mark 14:60 par) here in Acts 7:1. These correspondent details have led many (critical) scholars to the conclusion that the author of Acts (trad. Luke) has consciously patterned the narrative framework after that of Jesus’ trial (note the similar framing in chs. 4-5), and that the Sanhedrin setting is secondary (and artificial) to the basic narrative and the speech of Stephen. I will address this point further on.

It is possible to summarize and simplify the charges against Stephen:

    1. he says harsh and evil things against Moses and God
    2. he speaks against the Temple and the Law of Moses (i.e. the Old Testament / Jewish Law)
    3. he says that Jesus will abolish/destroy the Temple and alter the religious customs (rel. to the Law of Moses)

The first claim should probably be viewed as a vulgarized or simplistic form of the last two, which themselves appear to be parallel versions of the same idea—the abolition of the Temple and the Law. But what exactly is involved? Elsewhere in early Christianity, we find two related claims made (against Jesus and Paul):

    • In Synoptic tradition, as indicated above, witnesses at Jesus’ ‘trial’ before the Council claimed that Jesus said:
      “I will loose down [katalu/w, i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine ‘made with hands’ and through [i.e. within] three days I will build another ‘made without hands'” (Mk 14:58)—the Matthean version is simpler:
      “I am powered [i.e. able] to loose down [katalu=sai] the shrine of God and, through [i.e. within] three days, to build the house (again)” (Mt 26:61)
      Mark and Matthew say that these were “false witnesses” (as in Acts 6:13); however, Jesus is recorded as saying something similar in John 2:19:
      “Loose [lu/sate] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it”
      I have discussed this saying at some length in an earlier article.
    • In Acts 21:27-28, upon the occasion of Paul’s arrest in the Temple precincts, the claim is made against him that:
      “This is the man (the one) teaching every(one) everywhere against the People and the Law and this Place…”
      The reaction to Paul may simply be due to the way he dealt with Gentiles (in relation to the Law); however, his complex (and controversial) arguments in Galatians and Romans, especially, could certainly be viewed by many Jews (and Jewish Christians) as speaking against the Law.

The charges against Stephen seem to be a combination of these—i.e., (a) he was repeating a saying/teaching of Jesus similar to that of John 2:19 (cf. also Mk 13:1-2 par), and/or (b) he was teaching that the ‘new age’ in Christ meant that it was not necessary to observe the Law and/or Temple ritual. There is no way of knowing for certain whether either of these were fundamental to Stephen’s own argument—Acts 6:10 provides no information; all we have to go by is the speech in 7:2-53. This is most significant, since the High Priest asks Stephen directly whether these charges are true: ei) tau=ta ou!tw$ e&xei, “if these (things) thus hold (true)?” (7:1) One might expect that Stephen would address the charges in defense; but his response provides a most interesting answer, as we shall see.

A final detail in the narrative here is in 6:15:

“And stretching (to look) [i.e. looking intently] unto him, all the (one)s sitting down in the (place of) sitting-together [i.e. council, Sanhedrin] saw his face—as if the face of a (heavenly) Messenger!”

This precedes the High Priest’s question and heightens the drama greatly; it also foreshadows the conclusion to the narrative in 7:54ff, with Stephen’s vision of the exalted Christ (Son of Man) in Heaven at God’s right hand.

The remainder of Stephen’s speech will be discussed in the next part of this series.

Saturday Series: Deuteronomy 32:1-43 (continued)

Deuteronomy 32:1-43 (continued)

This week we turn to the areas of source- and historical-criticism. In the case of a passage like Deut 32:1-43 it is useful to include both of these points of reference together in our study. Source criticism deals with the sources which may have been used in the composition of the book (or passage within the book); these sources can be of various kinds, including written documents and oral tradition. Historical criticism involves: (a) the historical background/setting of the events in the book (and its composition), as well as (b) the historical accuracy or reliability of events, words, and traditions recorded in the book, in relation to its composition. Broadly speaking, there are two main approaches to these areas of study, which may be summarized as:

    1. Traditional-conservative, and
    2. Critical

While study and analysis of the Scriptures can be referred to as “criticism” generally, the term “critical” is also used in a more specialized sense—to a mode of criticism which tends to ignore or exclude religious and doctrinal assumptions regarding the nature and character of the Scriptures. Let us examine each of these approaches (see my earlier article for more on the terms) as they apply to the Song of Moses (Deut 32), realizing that many commentators adopt a position somewhere between these two “sides”, combining elements of each approach.

1. The traditional-conservative approach tends to take the text, as it has come down to us, at face value, along with many of the well-established traditions regarding its authorship, etc. In the case of Deuteronomy, the book is seen as coming essentially from the time of Moses, and, indeed, from Moses himself. Many commentators would accept Moses as the author of the book, allowing for a small amount of later editing; but, at the very least, the core sections of Deuteronomy are viewed as an authentic discourse (or series of discourses) given by Moses as speaker. In this regard, the historical setting for the Song of chapter 32 is established simply in 31:19-22ff:

(YHWH to Moses:) “And now you must cut [i.e. inscribe/write] for them this song and make the sons of Israel (to) learn it; you must set it in their mouth(s), for the purpose [i.e. so] that this song may be for me a witness to the sons of Israel” (v. 19)
“And (then) Moses opened (his mouth and) spoke the words of this song in(to) the ears of all the assembled (people) of Israel unto their completion [i.e. the completion of the song]” (v. 30)

Thus for many traditional-conservative readers and commentators, there is no real question regarding the source of the Song—it is an inspired poem, composed and (originally) recited by Moses himself, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy more or less as he composed it. For those who admit that Deuteronomy has been translated into a more recent form of Hebrew (see below), the Song would then preserve language closer to Moses’ own (i.e. his actual words, the ipsissima verba). The purpose of the Song is also made clear in chapter 31: it was meant to bring to mind for future generations the teaching given by Moses (in the book of Deuteronomy), in relation to the covenant established with them by God (including their covenant obligations). A poem would make this easier to commit to memory and transmit from one generation to the next. Indeed, there is evidence that the Song of Moses was part of the liturgy from ancient times, as indicated by Jewish sources such as Josephus (Antiquities 4.303), the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 31a) and Talmud (j. Meg. 3:7, 74b). It is possible that one of the Deuteronomy manuscripts from Qumran (4QDeutq) contained no more than the Song, in which case it might suggest a special use for reciting or learning/teaching the poem.

2. The critical approach attempts to examine the text objectively, without reliance upon tradition (regarding authorship, etc) or doctrinal suppositions (regarding the inspiration of Scripture, etc). When taken in its best, or ideal, sense, this approach is most valuable as it avoids religious preconceptions which can distort the original context and meaning of Scripture. In practice, however, it carries many serious flaws, since it tends to neglect or disregard important aspects of the text—namely, the unique and divinely-inspired character of Scripture—which have been accepted by those who read and transmitted the text over thousands of years.

The critical approach does also take the text of Scripture at face value, but in a different sense. In the case of Deuteronomy, scholars note that, on the whole, the language of the book differs relatively little from, for example, the books of Kings, which were written during the monarchy, down to the end of the period (c. 7th-6th centuries B.C.). Thus, if Deuteronomy genuinely comes from the time of Moses (13th century, or even the 15th century, depending on one’s chronology), it would have been significantly modernized and translated/updated into a more recent form of Hebrew. Many critical commentators believe, however, that the book, while perhaps drawing upon traditions which may extend back to Moses, was actually composed much later—i.e. in the time reflected by the language, the period of the monarchy. The similarities in thought and wording with the historical books (esp. Kings) suggested a definite relationship of some kind (see the note on the “Deuteronomic History” below).

A traditional key was found in the notice regarding the discovery of the “Book of Instruction (Torah)” found in the Temple during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8ff; 23:24-25), which most commentators today identify with some form or version of the book of Deuteronomy. A rather skeptical (even cynical) critical explanation held that the book was composed during Josiah’s reign, in order to support his program of reform, and was then “found” in the Temple. A more honest analysis recognizes the book discovered in the Temple as an older version of Deuteronomy, or, perhaps, an ancient document which served as the source of the later book. On this basis, a moderating critical view, held in some fashion by a good number of scholars today, posits that an initial version of Deuteronomy, drawing upon the “Book of Instruction” as well as other sources, was composed in the 7th century, at a time corresponding to the reign of Josiah; the book was further edited/updated during the exile or around that time.

The critical approach toward the Song of Moses is, understandably, a bit more complex than the traditional-conservative view. A careful examination of the language and style of the poetry has suggested a date corresponding to the early monarchy, or even the Israelite confederacy (i.e. period of the Judges), perhaps the 11th or 10th century B.C., making it, on the basis of the preserved language alone, one of the earliest portions of the Old Testament. The surviving Canaanite poetry from Ugarit (14th-13th century), along with poetic (and prosodic) elements in other early Semitic texts and inscriptions (Phoenician, Moabite, etc), allows scholars to make extensive comparisons with various segments of Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament. Poetry tends to preserve older and archaic elements, even when transmitted to later generations speaking/writing in a more recent form of the language, and as a result, undergoes less modernization during transmission, or when included as a source in composition.

The critical view might be summarized as follows: the Song of Moses, as we have it, could conceivably go back to the 13th century and the time of Moses, but more likely was composed in a later period (11th-10th century?), before being included as a source in the book of Deuteronomy as written in the 7th century. As a source, it is clearly distinct from the discourses which make up the core of the book; it is often thought that these chapters (4:4129:28) relate more directly to the older strata of the book (and to the “Book of Instruction”), while the introductory portions (1:1-4:40), and chapters 30-34 were added at a later point, drawn from separate lines of tradition.

Having summarized the two distinct approaches to the book of Deuteronomy (and the Song of Moses), it is easy to see the ways in which they differ, and also how both are valuable and useful for a proper study of the text. Questions and difficulties raised by the critical approach ought to be considered carefully, and not ignored or disregarded on a priori doctrinal grounds. In all of the notes and studies on this website I have tried to balance the available evidence and analyses to provide a fair and accurate picture of the issues involved for believers studying the text today. In the next session, I will try to demonstrate how the various areas of biblical criticism we have examined—text-, form-, source- and historical-criticism—relate to a careful and in-depth study of the Scripture as it has come down to us. It will not be possible here to go through every verse in detail; instead, we will focus on a number of selected verses and lines, to demonstrate how criticism relates to interpretation.

Note on the s0-called “Deuteronomic History”

In light of the discussion above on the source and historical criticism of Deuteronomy, it is worth mentioning here a common (critical) theory regarding the composition of the book. Many scholars and commentators today hold that the book of Deuteronomy, as we have it, is actually just one part of a much larger work—a great history of Israel, extending from the time of Moses to the exile. It is usually referred to as the “Deuteronomic (or Deuteronomistic) History”, and is thought to be comprised of Deuteronomy–Judges and Samuel–Kings. The older version (or core) of Deuteronomy served as the inspiration for the work, often believed to date from the time of Josiah (see above), and updated to cover the period ending in the Exile of Judah. This critical theory was effectively introduced and popularized in the mid-20th century by German scholar Martin Noth, whose work is best accessed (in English) as The Deuteronomistic History, JSOT Supplement (Sheffield Academic Press: 1981 [subsequent editions 1991, 2002]). F. M. Cross has a valuable summary, along with his own modification of the theory, in the now-classic Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History and Religion of Israel (Harvard: 1973), pp. 274-89.

For a good moderate critical treatment of the book of Deuteronomy, and the Song of Moses in particular, see Jeffrey H. Tigay, JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy (Jewish Publication Society: 1996), pp. xix-xxviii, 508-18.