The Speeches of Acts, Part 15: Acts 13:13-52

Acts 13:13-52 represents one of the longest speeches in the book of Acts, and the first delivered by Paul—it is the centerpiece of Paul’s “First Missionary Journey” (Acts 13-14). It is also the last of the major sermon-speeches in the first half of the book, and serves as a veritable compendium of all that has gone before.

One should perhaps mention again here the critical theory that the speeches in the book of Acts are essentially the product of the author (trad. Luke), rather than reflecting the actual words of the putative speakers. There is some evidence in confirmation of this basic viewpoint here in Acts 13:13-52, as we shall see, but also certain details which appear to reflect authentic Pauline thought. The ‘Pauline’ elements will be discussed in their place below.

In this first Missionary Journey, Paul and Barnabas set out from Antioch (13:1-3), traveling to Cyprus (vv. 4-12), then sailing up to the southern/central coast of Anatolia (‘Asia Minor’), journeying first to Perga in the district of Pamphylia (v. 13), then north through Pisidia until they reached Antioch in Phrygia (v. 14). This Antioch was on the border facing Pisidia, and so is referred to as “Pisidian Antioch” (sometimes, inaccurately, as “Antioch in Pisidia”). From there, Paul and Barnabas traveled east through Lycaonia (13:51-14:23), before journeying back, apparently along the same route from whence they came (14:24-26ff). The speech of Paul in Acts 13:13-52 is set during the missionary work in Pisidian Antioch. It may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 13-15)
    • Introductory Address (vv. 16-25), with two main sections:
      (a) Historical Summary (vv. 17-22) and
      (b) Kerygmatic Summary (vv. 23-25)
    • Central Section (vv. 26-37)—a developed form of the Scripture citation and exposition (with kerygma) from the earlier sermon-speech pattern, divided into three sections:
      (a) Kerygmatic Introduction (vv. 26-32)
      (b) Scripture Citation (v. 33)
      (c) Exposition (vv. 34-37), with two other Scripture citations
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-41), also with a Scripture quotation
    • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 42-43), which leads into a second narrative section (vv. 44-52) with a central Scripture citation

Special attention should be given to the way that the three-fold structure of the speech proper (vv. 16-41) parallels almost precisely that of Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:14-36), each section beginning with a vocative address (“Men…”). I present them side by side for comparison:

Acts 2:14-36

  • vv. 14-21: “Men, Judeans…” ( &Andre$  )Ioudai=oi…)
  • vv. 22-28: “Men, Israelites…” ( &Andre$  )Israhli=tai…)
  • vv. 29-36: “Men, brothers…” ( &Andre$ a)delfoi/…)

Acts 13:16-41

    • vv. 16-25: “Men, Israelites ( &Andre$  )Israhli=tai) and the ones fearing God…”
    • vv. 26-37: “Men, brothers ( &Andre$ a)delfoi/), sons of Abraham and the ones fearing God among you…”
    • vv. 38-41: “Men, brothers ( &Andre$ a)delfoi/)…”

It is hard to believe that this is simply an historical coincidence. Critical scholars would perhaps regard it as evidence for Lukan composition of both speeches; at the very least, some form of intentional adaptation or patterning by the author seems likely. It may also reflect a basic sermon format or technique in common use, by the apostles and/or in Luke’s time. In discussing Peter’s Pentecost speech, I argued that there is a definite progression in the three addresses—from geographical (Judeans) to ethnic/religious (Israelites) to an even closer familial tie (Brothers). I would argue for a similar kind of progression in Paul’s speech, especially in the qualifying phrases he uses:

    • “Men, Israelites and the ones fearing God (oi( fobou/menoi to\n qeo/n)”—this connects the (Gentile) ‘Godfearers’ (such as Cornelius, cf. chapters 10-11) with the people of Israel.
    • “Men, brothers, sons of the lineage of Abraham (ui(oi\ ge/nou$  )Abraa\m) and the ones fearing God among you (oi( e)n u(mi=n fobou/menoi to\n qeo/n)”—this draws an even closer connection between Israelites and (Gentile) Godfearers, and labels them both as “brothers”.
    • “Men, brothers”—here the address is to brothers, inclusive, without any qualification.

Though Paul is primarily addressing Jews (in the Synagogue), the inclusion of “Godfearers” is surely significant (and intentional), presumably by Paul himself (as the speaker), but certainly by the author of Acts. In this first mission, Paul and Barnabas begin to “turn to the Gentiles” (vv. 46-47ff), and the narrative of the mission (chs. 13-14) is positioned between the Cornelius episode (chs. 10-11) and the Jerusalem ‘Council’ of chap. 15—both of which deal specifically with the question of the acceptance and inclusion of Gentile converts. This thematic emphasis will be strengthened by an examination of the speech in detail.

Narrative Introduction (vv. 13-15)

Verses 13-14a briefly narrate the arrival of Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch; verses 14b-15 establish the Synagogue setting of the speech. In his missionary work, Paul customarily began by speaking to Jews (and proselytes) in the local synagogue (Acts 9:20; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7-8; 19:8; cf. also Apollos in 18:26), a practical approach, if nothing else—in the synagogue one might find, among those gathered together, a number of persons who would be interested in the Gospel, familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures and Israelite/Jewish history. Here in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas are invited to take part in the service of worship, to offer a possible “word of comfort/exhortation [lo/go$ paraklh/sew$]” for the people. Paul’s sermon-speech is presented as a response to this invitation.

Introductory Address (vv. 16-25)

“Men, Israelites and the ones fearing God…”—this is the first of the three vocative formulas which begin the three major sections of the speech (cf. above). This particular section is perhaps to be considered as the first clear presentation of “Salvation History” in the New Testament; certainly, as an authentic speech by Paul (at least in substance), it would have to be regarded as such. It can be divided into two parts:

(a) Historical Summary (vv. 17-22)—This brief summary of Old Testament (Israelite/Jewish) history naturally brings to mind the earlier speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53); though Stephen’s historical presentation is much lengthier, it similarly covers the period from Abraham and Joseph (“the Fathers”, 13:17) down through the reign of David (13:22). More significant is the different purpose and tone of the historical summary in Stephen’s speech, a defense speech (given before the Sanhedrin), with a severe rhetorical and polemical thrust, especially in the latter sections (7:35-53). Paul’s speech, on the other hand, is intended to convince interested Jews of the truth of the Gospel, and the historical summary is preparatory for his proclamation of Gospel history (kerygma). The historical summary concludes in v. 22b, with a composite citation of Psalm 89:20 and 1 Sam 13:14 (cf. also Isa 44:28): “I have found David the (son) of Jesse, a man according to my heart, who will do all my wishes”. If the comparison in Stephen’s speech was between Jesus and Moses, here it is between Jesus and David.

(b) Gospel Summary (vv. 23-25)—This short summary is really just the first part of the kerygma (Gospel proclamation) in the speech, the second part begins the central section (vv. 26-32). Verse 23 joins (and completes) the prior statement regarding David: “from the seed of this one [i.e. David] God has led forth to Yisrael a Savior, Yeshua” (cf. Acts 2:30). Verses 24-25 transition to the baptizing by John, which had become a key touchpoint for beginning the Gospel narrative (cf. 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 19:4, and in the Gospel tradition). V. 25 is an interesting blend of traditions (sayings) otherwise attested separately in the Synoptics and John (cf. Jn 1:20-21; Mk 1:7 par).

Central Section (vv. 26-37)

The sermon-speech pattern I have recognized (and been using) in these studies on the Speeches of Acts typically contains: (a) kerygmatic elements, (b) a central citation from Scripture, and (c) and exposition/application of the Scripture, in something of that order. The same components are present here as well, but more clearly and precisely brought together within a single section. This second section begins with a similar vocative address as the first: “Men, brothers, sons of the lineage of Abraham and the ones fearing God among you—to you this word/account [lo/go$] of salvation has been sent forth [lit. set out from {God}]” (v. 26). On expressions comparable to “word/account of salvation”, cf. Acts 5:20; 6:2, 7, etc; 4:12; 16:17; 28:28.

(a) Kerygmatic Introduction (vv. 26-32)—For those who have followed these studies on the Speeches of Acts, or are otherwise familiar with the speeches themselves, the phrases and details in these verses will be recognizable from the prior speeches, including that of Peter in Acts 10:34-48 (cf. vv. 37-42 and the discussion in part 14). I will isolate these kerygmatic elements, citing similar occurrences, and with occasional comments:

    • V. 27—for the role of the rulers (a&rxonte$) of Jerusalem in the death of Jesus, cf. 3:17; 4:26-27 (and vv. 5-11); 5:30; 7:52; on the motif of ignorance and unknowing, cf. 3:17 (and note Jn 16:3; Lk 23:34); for the Prophets’ witness to Jesus, cf. 3:18, 21-25; 8:34; 10:43; for a similar emphasis as in this verse, see also 2 Cor 3:14ff.
    • V. 28—on Jesus’ innocence (i.e. no crime requiring an interrogation or trial), and Pilate’s role in his death, cf. 3:13ff; 4:27, also 7:52; 8:32ff, and the Gospel tradition; on the use of the verb a)naire/w for putting Jesus to death, cf. 2:23; 10:39.
    • V. 29—on the death of Jesus specifically as the fulfillment of what is written in the Scriptures, cf. Lk 24:25-27, 33, 44-48; Acts 1:16, also 3:18, 21-25; 8:34; 10:43; on the mention of Jesus’ death by hanging on a tree, cf. 5:30; 10:39; here is the first reference to Jesus’ burial in Acts (cf. the Gospel tradition).
    • V. 30—Jesus’ resurrection is stated briefly, cf. 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40.
    • V. 31—on the resurrection appearances of Jesus, cf. 1:3-4; 10:40-41; on the apostles/disciples as witnesses, cf. 1:8, 22; 2:32, 40; 5:32; 10:39, 41; Lk 24:48; on the geographical detail (Galilee–Jerusalem), cf. 1:8, 11-12; 10:37; Lk 24:47.
    • V. 32—the pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) connects Paul and Barnabas with the other apostles/disciples (cf. 14:14; chap. 15) as ones called to proclaim the good message; on the ‘promise’ (e)paggeli/a) made to the Fathers, cf. 3:25; 26:6, note also 1:4; 2:33, 39; 7:17; 13:23.

(b) Scripture Citation (v. 33)—Verse 33 concludes the kerygma by emphasizing (a) the resurrection of Jesus (v. 30) as the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel (the Fathers) in v. 32, and (b) the Jews (and Godfearers) of Paul’s day as the offspring (heirs/children) of the Fathers. For the idea of believers as ‘children of the promise’, cf. 3:25-26, and e.g. in Galatians 3-4. This leads into the central citation from Scripture in v. 33b, a precise quotation of the LXX of Psalm 2:7b—

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

which is also an accurate rendering of the Hebrew. This verse holds much the same position as Psalm 110:1 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:34-35). Ps 2:7 and 110:1 come from royal Psalms, with the setting of the coronation/inauguration/enthronement of the (new) king, and both were understood by Christians early on as related to Jesus (as the Messiah [and Son of God]). Ps 2:7 is cited in Hebrews 1:5 and by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism in the ‘Western’ text of Lk 3:22. Hebrews 5:5-6 quotes Ps 2:7 and 110:1 together.

(c) Exposition of Scripture (vv. 34-37)—In subsequent Christology, Ps 2:7 and 110:1 were generally understood in terms of Jesus’ divine nature and status as the (pre-existent) Son of God (this also appears to be the sense of Heb 1:5). In Acts, however, these verses relate the Sonship/Lordship of Jesus specifically with (and as a result of) his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Here in Paul’s speech, Ps 2:7 is clearly interpreted in the context of the resurrection, emphasized right before and after the citation in vv. 33a, 34a. For more on early Christological thought compared with (Nicene) orthodoxy, see part 3 of this series, along with several supplemental notes and the article on Adoptionism. The citation of Ps 2:7 is followed and expounded with quotations from two further passages of Scripture, as follows:

    • An allusion to Ps 16:10 in verse 34a—”(God) made him stand up out the dead, no more about to turn under into (complete) ruin/decay [diafqora]”
      • Reference to Isa 55:3 in v. 34b (see below)
    • Citation of Ps 16:10 in v. 35—”you will not give your holy/righteous [o%sio$] One to see (complete) ruin/decay [diafqora]”

The association between Isa 55:3 and Ps 16:10 is based on the substantive adjective o%sio$ (Hebrew dysj); here is the relevant portion of Isa 55:3, in the three versions (MT/LXX/Acts) side by side:

Isa 55:3 MT

<yn]m*a$n# dw]d* yd@s=j^ <l*ou tyr!B= <k#l* ht*r=k=a#w+
“…and I will cut for/with you a lasting agreement,
the (well) supported loving/loyal things of David”

Isa 55:3 LXX

kai\ diaqh/somai u(mi=n diaqh/khn ai)w/nion ta\ o%sia Dauid ta\ pista/
“…and I will arrange for/with you an arrangement of-the-ages,
the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”

Acts 13:34b

dw/sw u(mi=n ta\ o%sia Daui\d ta\ pista/
“…and I will give you the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”

The Greek verb diati/qhmi has the fundamental meaning of setting (or arranging) things through, i.e. in order, or for a specific end purpose. The noun, of course, is related, i.e. an “arrangement”—in basic English, the Greek expression could be fairly rendered “I have arranged with you an arrangement…” (as above). The noun diaqh/kh often had the more technical sense of a “disposition (of goods/property)”, “testament”, or the like, and was also regularly used to translate the Hebrew tyrb (“agreement, covenant”). It is this latter sense (from the Old Testament) that diaqh/kh is typically carries in the New Testament. Paul’s quotation does not mention the agreement/covenant, but only the final phrase, “the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”, which is synonymous with the covenant (promises). The Hebrew adjective dysj has a wide and diverse semantic range, but perhaps could be summarized as “good, kind/loving, loyal”. The corresponding Greek adjective o%sio$ more properly relates to the religious sphere—that which is proper, good and right (“pure, whole, holy, sacred”, etc); in the LXX and New Testament it is largely synonymous with di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”).

Verses 36 and 37 apply Psalm 16:10 to the death and resurrection of Jesus in a manner very similar to that in Peter’s Pentecost speech—cf. Acts 2:29-32 and the notes in Parts 2 & 3 of this series.

(The remainder of the discussion is continued in Part 16)

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