Sola Scriptura: Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35

Sola Scriptura

In our previous studies in this series, we examined the early Christian view of Scripture as represented within the Gospel Tradition. In particular, the core of that view can be traced back to sayings and teachings by Jesus himself. For the early Christians, as for Jesus, the Old Testament Scriptures can be summarized by the two-fold categorization “the Law and the Prophets”. By this is meant the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), with the latter category also including the Psalms. The extent to which the other Old Testament books were similarly regarded as authoritative Scripture remains uncertain.

The Torah continued to be authoritative for early Christians; however, increasingly, its authority came to be rooted in the teaching of Jesus—that is, the Law as interpreted by Jesus. With regard to the Prophetic writings, their authority was expressed primarily in terms of the various Messianic prophecies recorded, which were applied to the person of Jesus as the Messiah (including all of the Messianic figure-types). There were some unique difficulties surrounding the application of the Messianic prophecies to Jesus—related principally to his suffering and death, which were not at all part of the Messianic expectation by Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Moreover, though Jesus was raised gloriously from the dead, he departed from earth (to heaven) without fulfilling many of the end-time Messianic expectations. All of this was sensed keenly by the first Christians (cf. Acts 1:6ff, etc), and, if they were ever to convince their fellow Jews of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, they would need to demonstrate, through the authority of the Scripture prophecies, that the suffering and death (and resurrection) of the Messiah was prophesied in Scripture.

As we saw in the previous study, the seeds of this line of interpretation go back to the words of Jesus himself, and are firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition. In particular, the Gospel of Luke gives special emphasis to the importance of the Messianic prophecies (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), and this continues as a key theme in the book of Acts. All throughout the narrative, there are key references to the work done by the early missionaries to prove, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the Messiah—cf. 3:18ff; 5:42; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23. A clear example is found in the episode of Philip and the Ethiopian official (8:26-40), where the prophecy in Isa 52:13-53:12 (vv. 7-8) is interpreted and applied to Jesus (vv. 32-35).

Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35

Such Scripture citations also feature prominently in the sermon-speeches of Acts—especially those in the first half of the book (chaps. 1-15) presented as being preached or spoken in a Jewish setting. I have treated these speeches at length and in detail in a separate series (“The Speeches of Acts”). Here, to give a representative example of the early Christian use of the Old Testament Scriptures (the Prophets), and how the authority of the Scriptures was treated (and utilized) in a missionary context, let us turn to the famous Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-41, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of “The Speeches of Acts”).

The speech itself may be divided into three main sections, each of which begins with a (vocative) address to the crowd, according to three parallel expressions:

    • a&ndre$  )Ioudai=oi—Men, Yehudeans [i.e. Judeans, men of Judea]!… (v. 14)
    • a&ndre$  )Israhli=tai—Men, Yisraelis [i.e. Israelites, men of Israel]!… (v. 22)
    • a&ndre$ a)delfoi/—Men, Brothers!… (v. 29)

The variation may be merely stylistic, but it is also possible that a progression is intended—from geographic (Judea) to ethnic-national (Israel) to a more intimate familial designation (Brothers). Here is an outline of the three sections, according to the pattern of the sermon-speeches of Acts:

Section 1 (verses 14-21)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Judeans…” (vv. 14-16), leading into the Scripture citation. There is no direct kerygma other than to turn the attention of the crowd to the current phenomenon they are experiencing, that it is a fulfillment of Scripture. But note also the concluding citation of Joel 2:32a in verse 21.
    • Citation from Scripture: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 in Hebrew] (vv. 17-21); the specific citation will be discussed in more detail below.
    • {There is no specific exposition given or concluding exhortation in this section—application of the Scripture is implicit}

Section 2 (verses 22-28)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Israelites…” (vv. 22-24), leading into the Scripture citation. It contains a clear kerygmatic statement, which I have already discussed in a prior note, but will treat again in the context of the Scripture passage (below).
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11] (vv. 25-28), to be discussed in detail.
    • {Again there is no specific exposition or concluding exhortation in this section—the exposition is picked up in the next section}

Section 3 (verses 29-36)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Brothers…” (vv. 29-33). This introductory portion contains an exposition of Psalm 16:8-11 in vv. 29-31, along with a kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33, which leads into the Scripture citation.
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1] (vv. 34-35), to be discussed.
    • Exposition and Gospel kerygma: This is contained within a single, solemn declaratory statement (v. 36)

As the Scripture citation is central to each section of the speech, it is important to examine each in turn; this will be done according to:

    1. The Text
    2. The Exposition/Application (as understood or expressed by the speaker and/or author)
    3. Kerygmatic statement or formulae

Scripture Citation #1: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5, Hebrew]

The Text.—The quotation from Joel closely follows the Greek (LXX) version, with the following notable variations:

    • “in the last days” (e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$) instead of “after these things” (meta\ tau=ta) [verse 17 / 2:28]
    • the positions of “young ones/men” (oi( neani/skoi) and “old ones/men” (oi( presbu/teroi) are reversed
    • the addition of “my” (mou) to “slave men” and “slave women” [i.e. male and female slaves] (dou=lo$/dou/lh) [verse 18 / 2:29]—indicating that these are slaves/servants of the Lord.
    • the addition of “and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy]” (kai\ profhteu/sousin)—this repeats what is stated in verse 17 [2:28], and gives added emphasis on the theme of prophesying (see below).
    • the addition of “up above” (a&nw) and “down below” (ka/tw) [verse 19 / 2:30]
    • the last portion of Joel 2:32 [3:5] as been left out: “so that in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be the (one) being saved, according to that (which) the Lord said, and they are (ones) being given the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)” (translating from the LXX; eu)aggelizo/menoi is a misreading of the Hebrew <yd!yr!c=b^ [“among the survivors”])

In some manuscripts the quotation conforms more precisely with the LXX (as in the Alexandrian text represented by codex B), but this is likely a secondary ‘correction’; the version of the quotation which has been adapted to the context of the speech (especially in vv. 17-18) is almost certainly original. Overall the LXX here reflects a fairly accurate translation from the Hebrew. At the historical level, one would expect that Peter might rather have quoted from the Hebrew—if so, it is understandable that the author (trad. Luke) might simply substitute in the LXX (with some modification). On the (critical) theory that the speech is primarily a Lukan composition (set in the mouth of Peter), adapting the Greek version would be a natural approach.

The Exposition/Application.—No exposition is given by Peter, other than the statement that events of the moment are a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (v. 16). It is interesting to consider how Peter (and/or the author of Acts) applies this prophecy to the current situation. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, though the principal occasion of the crowd’s amazement, appears to be only marginally connected with the prophecy. I would say that there are three main points of contact which are being emphasized:

    • God’s sending his Spirit upon the believers, and their being filled with the Spirit
    • That believers—both men and women—will prophesy
    • This pouring out of the Spirit specifically indicates it is the last days

In many ways, this passage represents (along with Jeremiah 31:31-34) the keystone Old Testament prophecy regarding the “new age” (the New Covenant) inaugurated by the work of Jesus Christ. Consider the elements which are combined in this passage:

    • That God is doing a new thing, pouring out of his Spirit upon all people—young and old, men and women, slave and free alike (cf. Gal 3:28).
    • That God’s people will now be guided directly by the Spirit (on this theme, cf. Jer 31:34; 1 John 2:27).
    • Even the least of His people will be able to prophesy—that is, speak the revelatory word or message of God (in this regard, note the interesting passage Num 11:24-29).
    • This signifies that it is the “last days” (i.e. the end times)
    • Salvation (in Christ) is being proclaimed to all people

This is also an instance where the New Testament speaker/author has been relatively faithful to the original historical context of the prophecy. Consider the place of this prophecy in the book of Joel:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted. Regardless, in Acts, it is clearly the spiritual side of Israel’s future restoration that is emphasized, being applied to believers in Christ—a theme which is found throughout the early chapters of the book. What is perhaps overlooked by many modern interpreters is the prominence of the eschatological motif. This is indicated here by:

    • The alteration of the LXX meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”, Hebrew “after/following this”) to e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$ (“in the last days”) of Joel 2:28 [3:1] in v. 17, specifying clearly that this is the last-days/end-times.
    • The natural phenomena described in Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4], included in vv. 19-20 are eschatological/apocalyptic images which came to be associated quite distinctly with God’s end-time Judgment—cf. especially in the Synoptic tradition (Jesus’ Olivet/Eschatological Discourse), Mark 13:14-15ff par.

Even though the natural wonders of Joel 2:30-31 are not technically being fulfilled at the time of Peter’s speech, they clearly signify that, in the mind of Peter (and, to some extent, the author of Acts), the end-times are definitely at hand. This belief in, and expectation of, the imminent judgment of God (and return of Christ), found in nearly all the New Testament writings, may trouble some traditional-conservative commentators (wishing to safeguard a view of Scriptural inerrancy); however, it is an important aspect of early Christian thought which cannot (and ought not to) be ignored or explained away.

Kerygmatic statement or formulae.—As there is no exposition of the passage from Joel, neither is there any clear kerygma, except, I should say, for the concluding citation from Joel 2:28a [3:5a] in v. 21:

“and it will be (that) every (one) that should call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”

In its original context, of course, it refers to calling upon the name of God (YHWH) for salvation, etc; however, in an early Christian context, it takes on a new meaning in reference to the risen/exalted Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$, cf. Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12.

Scripture Citation #2: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 16:8-11 matches the Greek (LXX) version [15:8-11], which is itself a reasonably accurate translation (into Greek idiom) of the Hebrew (MT). It may be useful, however, to compare (literal/glossed) renderings of the Hebrew MT and LXX/Acts side by side (translation of such ancient poetry being truly just an approximation):

MT Psalm 16:8-11

“I have set YHWH to (be) in front of [i.e. before] me continually,
for (indeed) from my/his right-hand I will not be made to slip/swerve.
For thus is my heart joyful, and my liver twirls/leaps for joy;
(yes) even my flesh dwells unto safety/security.
For you will not leave/deliver me unto Sheol,
you will not give your good/faithful (one) to see (the) Pit.
You will make me know the path of life,
(and the) filling/fullness of joys (at/by) Your face,
the pleasant (thing)s by Your right-hand constantly.”

LXX Psalm 15:8-11 / Acts 2:25-28

“I saw the Lord before in my eyes [i.e. in my presence] through all (things/times),
(in) that he is out of [i.e. from/on] my right-hand (so) that I should not be shaken.
Through this my heart was of a good mind [i.e. was merry] and my tongue jumped for joy,
but yet also my flesh will put down (its) tent [i.e. dwell/rest] upon hope,
(in) that you will not leave my soul down in Hades and will not give your Holy (One) to see thorough ruin/decay.
You made known to me (the) ways of life,
(and) you will fill me of a good mind [i.e. with happiness/joy] with your (presence) before my eyes.”

The Exposition/Application.—Here we must consider two portions: (a) the kerygmatic statement in vv. 22-24 which leads into the quotation, and (b) the exposition which opens the next section of the speech (vv. 29-31). I will treat the kerygma of vv. 24 below; here note the exposition from the next section (vv. 29-31)—Peter makes three points which can be grouped together as a triad:

    • The Psalmist (David) died (i.e. completed/finished his life) and was buried—indeed his tomb is still known (v. 29)
    • David was a prophet (literally, a foreteller) and knew that “out of the fruit of his loins” an heir will come to sit on his throne (v. 30)—primarily a reference to 2 Sam 7:11b-14, which came to be a prime Messianic passage.
    • As a prophet, David foresaw the resurrection (lit. standing up [again]) of the Anointed [i.e. Messiah, Jesus] (v. 31)—here specifically Psalm 16:10 is cited again.

Originally Psalm 16 was a (personal) lament by the Psalmist (trad. ascribed to David), expressing trust in the faithfulness of Yahweh (identified with El)—in contrast to Canaanite gods/idols—with a strong affirmation of his own devotion to God. Verses 8-11 represent the conclusion of the Psalm—the Psalmist finds continual joy and security in God’s presence, even to the point of trusting that YHWH will not abandon him to the grave (i.e. the ‘Pit’ or Sheol). This latter reference is somewhat ambiguous, but it does seem to express the idea that the author of the Psalm will not experience death, at least not permanently. Subsequently in Judaism and early Christianity, this would have been understood in terms of resurrection.  And it is the resurrection of Jesus that is primarily in view for Peter (and the author of Acts), as indicated by the repeated citation of verse 10 in Acts 2:31. In this interpretation, the Psalmist (David) speaks not of himself, but prophetically of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Notably, the Greek verb e)gkatalei/pw (literally, “leave down in…”, but also understood generally as “leave behind, abandon, forsake”, etc) was uttered by Jesus on the cross in Mark 15:34 / Matt 27:46; and this no doubt helped establish the connection between Psalm 16 and the death/resurrection of Jesus.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements to note: (a) in verses 22-24, part of the introductory address which leads into the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, and (b) verses 32-33, which are part of the introductory address of the next section (leading into the citation of Psalm 110:1). Verses 32-33 are addressed below; here let us examine briefly verses 22-24, which begin with the exhortation “hear these words…”:

    • V. 22: “(of this) Yeshua the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you with works of power and wonders and signs which God did in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”
      • V. 23: “this one, by the marked will/purpose and foreknowledge of God, given out through the hand of lawless (ones), fastening (him) to (the stake) you took (his life) away”
      • V. 24: “whom God made stand up (again), loosing the pains of death, according to (the fact) that there was not power to hold him firmly under it”

I regard these verses as an example of early Christian kerygma (Gospel proclamation), using formulaic phrases, terms, and images which would stand out and be easy to remember and transmit. Here they are still rough and fresh, but over time such statements would take on a cleaner form (which could be used in early hymns and liturgy; for possible examples, cf. Romans 1:2-4; 1 Tim 3:16). I discussed some of the Christological aspects of the language and terminology here in an earlier article.

Scripture Citation #3: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 110:1 is virtually identical to the Greek (LXX) version [109:1]:

Ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou
Ka/qou e)k deciw=n mou,

e%w$ a*n qw= tou\$ e)xqrou/$ sou
u(popo/dion tw=n podw=n sou.

“The Lord said to my lord,
‘Sit out of [i.e. from/by] my right-hand,
until I should set your enemies
(as something) under-foot [i.e. a ‘foot-stool’] for your feet’.”

The only difference is the first definite article (o() for ku/rio$ (i.e. “[the] Lord”), which is omitted in some manuscripts.

The Exposition/Application.Psalm 110:1 follows on the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, with a definite continuity of thought: just as Ps 16:8-11 refers to God not leaving his Holy One down in Hades to see ruin/corruption—implying the resurrection—so with Ps 110:1 we see the result and after-effect of the resurrection—Jesus exalted (as Lord) to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. This is stated clearly in the kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33 (see below), but decisively in verse 36, which serves as both exposition and kerygmatic declaration. In its original context, Psalm 110 was probably connected with the coronation or inauguration (enthronement) of the king. Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship. In Hebrew, it reads: “(An) utterance of YHWH [hw`hy+] to my lord [/wda* i.e. the king]…”; translations which render both hwhy and /wda by “Lord”, as in the Greek, obscure the sense of the original. Of course, this very ambiguity lies at the center of the early Christian view of Jesus as “Lord” [ku/rio$] (see below). I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH—”Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH—”You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret. However, there can be no doubt that early Christians saw in this Psalm (as in Psalm 2) a reference to Jesus’ exalted/divine status. The fact that verse 1 was already cited by Jesus in early Gospel (Synoptic) tradition (Mark 12:36-37 par) may have contributed to the association, even though the exact meaning and force of the question Jesus asks is not entirely clear (and continues to be debated). Hebrews 1:13 apparently cites Ps 110:1 in the context of Jesus’ pre-existent nature and status as God’s Son (Heb 1:2-3ff), according to orthodox belief. But here in Acts, Ps 110:1 is applied specifically to Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven following the resurrection, which is somewhat problematic for orthodox Christology, for it could be taken to mean that Jesus had a position at God’s right hand only after (and as a result of) the resurrection/exaltation. This was discussed in an earlier note; and see also my article on Adoptionism. For more on this idea, cf. below on Acts 2:36.

Mention should also be made of the obscure and highly enigmatic reference to “Melchi-zedek” in Ps 110:4—the entire verse, in context, is extremely difficult to interpret, with a wide range of scholarly suggestions available. Be that as it may, Christians applied this specific reference from the Psalm to Jesus as well—most famously in the seventh chapter of Hebrews (Heb 7). For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a related study on the idea in Hebrews.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements which should be noted: (a) verses 32-33, following the exposition of vv. 29-31 and prior to the citation of Ps 110:1 in vv. 34-35, and (b) the climactic declaration in verse 36. Here is the statement in vv. 32-33:

“This Yeshua God made to stand up (again)—of which we all are witnesses—(and) therefore he was lifted high to the right [lit. giving] hand of God, and receiving the announcement [e)paggeli/a, i.e. promise] of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father he poured this out—(of) which [also] you see and hear.”

In some ways this continues the kerygmatic statement from vv. 22-24, which summarizes Jesus’ earthly life and ministry up to the moment of resurrection; now is described the resurrection (and post-resurrection appearance[s], “of which we all are witnesses”), the exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven, and the sending of the Spirit (which Jesus receives from the Father). There can be little doubt that such credal summaries were an important part of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). The climactic declaration in verse 36 is, however, especially striking:

“Therefore let all the house of Yisrael safely/certainly know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here we have the two titles most widely used and applied to Jesus in the early Church—”Lord” (ku/rio$) and “Anointed” (xristo/$, i.e. Messiah/’Christ’). It would seem the implication here is that both titles apply to Jesus as a result of the resurrection and exaltation, which, again, is somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology. Also difficult is the statement that God made (e)poi/hsen) Jesus Lord. I have discussed these points in some detail in an earlier note.

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