The Speeches of Acts, Part 1: Overview

The speeches in the book of Acts are one of most distinctive and memorable features of the book; it is also the area where perhaps the largest number of critical questions are to be found. There are, by a varying count, more than twenty speeches, including eight by Peter, nine (or ten) by Paul, one each by James and Stephen, as well as other figures. Most of the orations by Peter and Paul can be categorized as sermons (or sermon-speeches), as can the great historical speech by Stephen, by far the longest in the book. I will attempt, in this series, to discuss each of the noteworthy speeches—some only briefly, others through extended exegesis—in the order which they occur in the book, beginning with the introductory speech of Peter in Acts 1:16-22 (see below).

With regard to the main critical issues surrounding the speeches in Acts, they can be grouped according to: (1) text critical, (2) source critical, (3) historical critical, and (4) literary critical.

1. Text critical. These are two, namely: (a) the overall question of the so-called “Western” recension of Acts, and (b) the form or version of the Old Testament cited in the speeches.

a. The Western Recension. The so-called “Western” text refers to a broad text-type (or textual grouping) of shared characteristics and/or readings, represented primarily (and most notably) by Codex Bezae (D) and a fair portion of Latin MSS, but which also includes (to some extent), other Greek MSS and Versions (Syriac, Georgian, Armenian). It is in the book of Acts that we see (by far) the most extensive differences between the Western text and the Alexandrian and/or Majority text, so much so that one may refer to them as separate recensions. The Western text in Acts is typically longer and more expansive, often with considerable narrative detail not found in the Alexandrian/Majority text. Scholars continue to debate the reasons for two such distinct ‘versions’ of Acts, with a variety of theories having been proposed over the years; it can be a highly technical matter, but I may introduce the topic here in a future article. Today, probably a majority of scholars would consider the Western recension to be a secondary expansion of the ‘original’ text. The differences are related principally to the narrative portions of Acts, and do not affect the speeches to the same extent; however, significant variants will be addressed, as appropriate, when discussing the individual speeches.

b. The Old Testament citations. More relevant to the speeches themselves is the question of the text/form of the Old Testament Scriptures cited within the speeches. I have addressed this to some extent in an earlier post (on the Old Testament in the book of Acts) and will discuss, in turn, individual examples within the speeches. The subject also involves historical- and literary-critical questions: is the Scripture presented as cited by the speaker (Peter, Paul, etc) or (as insertions) by the author of Acts (trad. Luke)? See below for more on this question.

2. Source critical. In past generations, critical scholars tended (at times) to find a separate “source” for each distinct element or genre in a book such as Acts—this might include, for example, a “source” for the various speeches (or groups of speeches). Today, this approach is far less prevalent, with scholars and commentators now positing a simpler, and more general, delineation of possible sources. While less adventurous, perhaps, it ends up being almost certainly a more reasonable (and realistic approach). A very simple division of commonly recognized sources would be:

    • A (loose) collection of Palestinian traditions, written or oral, primarily related to the early Jerusalem church.
    • An Antiochene source—traditions related specifically to the early church in Antioch, but possibly including Petrine, Pauline, and/or other traditions as well.
    • A Pauline source—consisting primarily of an itinerary Paul’s missionary journey, but likely including other traditions (narratives and/or sayings/speeches).

A special point of debate has been the so-called “we-passages” in Acts, where the author moves into speaking in the first person plural. Various theories involving a separate source have been argued in the past; however, in my opinion, the simplest explanation has always been that the author (trad. Luke) has modified the narrative in instances where he was personally present. Many scholars today also concur with this view.

3. Historical critical. The most significant historical-critical question is whether the speeches in Acts essentially reflect the words of the speaker, or of the author. Traditional-critical commentators would tend to take for granted (often as a basic point of dogma), or at least accept, that the speeches in Acts (as in other historical-narrative Scriptures) reflect, more or less, the ipsissima verba (i.e. the actual words) of the speaker. Critical scholars, on the other hand, often tend to view the speeches largely as the product of the author (trad. Luke), having been inserted within the narrative structure for dramatic and kerygmatic/theological effect. A moderating position among critical commentators would hold that, while ultimately the product of Luke (i.e. the author), the speeches have been, to some extent, shaped by underlying traditions (written or oral) involving the (sorts of) things the speakers would have said. A good example of this moderate critical approach can be found in J. A. Fitzmyer’s Commentary on Acts (Anchor Bible Volume 31, 1998), pp. 103-113, 124-128. A seminal (and highly influential) study earlier in the twentieth-century was the treatise “The Speeches in Acts and Ancient Historiography” (1944/49) by Martin Dibelius, published in English translation in Studies in the Acts of the Apostles (SCM Press: 1956), pp. 138-185. Scholars such as Dibelius compared the speeches in Acts with those of other Greco-Roman historians (Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Plutarch, Xenophon, Josephus, etc), on the basic premise that Luke (or the author of Acts) would have adopted an approach compatible with that used by other historians of his time. Most notably, Thucydides and Josephus have been used for comparison, since they both wrote describing events close to their own time. Thucydides offers a frequently cited explanation on how ancient authors would have approached the composition of historical speeches:

With reference to the speeches in this history, some were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one’s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said. (The Peloponnesian War I.22.1, transl. J. M. Dent, 1910).

Overall, it would seem that the moderate critical approach indicated above is the most plausible and realistic. I leave it for each reader to judge whether, or to what extent, this is compatible with a particular view of the inspiration of Scripture (and vice versa). For further discussion on this sensitive question, see my article Ipsissima Verba and Ipsissima Vox.

4. Literary critical. This has to do with how the author has crafted and included the speeches within the narrative—the form, structure and style with which they have been presented. It is best to treat this question inductively, allowing it to proceed as each speech is examined. In this regard, it will be useful to look briefly at what I regard as the first speech in the book of Acts (not including Jesus’ address in Acts 1:4b-5, 7-8)—the introductory speech of Peter in Acts 1:16-22.

Acts 1:16-22: The Introductory Speech of Peter

I have discussed Acts 1:15-26 in an earlier article related to the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13)—there I regarded the principal theme of the episode as the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles, part of a wider theme involving the restoration of Israel (the Twelve apostles symbolizing the Twelve tribes). In verses 12-14 we find a sequence of motifs pointing to unity/restoration:

    • The disciples return to Jerusalem (v. 12)
    • They come together into a single (upper) room where they remain (the Eleven apostles are listed) (v. 13)
    • They are firmly together, with one mind/impulse (o(modumado/n), in prayer—joined with the other disciples (including women and Jesus’ relatives) (v. 14)
    • The apostles are to be restored to Twelve in number (vv. 15ff: “it is necessary…”)

In the midst of the disciples—all together (e)pi\ to\ au)to/) about 120 (12 x 10)—Peter stands up and speaks (v. 15). This speech (apart from the author’s parenthesis in vv. 18-19) can be treated as a kind of examplar, or pattern, for many of the subsequent speeches in Acts (especially the major sermon-speeches). Here is the basic sermon-speech pattern:

    • Narrative introduction—this may be a simple introduction or include an extended narrative
    • The speech itself:
      • Introductory address, often with kerygmatic elements, leading into the Scripture passage
      • Citation from Scripture
      • Exposition and Gospel kerygma
      • Concluding exhortation
    • Narrative summary

This pattern fits, in seminal form, Peter’s initial speech to the disciples, which I divide as follows:

  • Narrative introduction (v. 15), to which could be added the transitional narrative of vv. 12-14 (with its list of the Eleven apostles)
  • The Speech (v. 16-22):
    • Introductory address (v. 16-17): “Men, brothers! it is necessary (for) the Writing to be fulfilled, which the holy Spirit spoke before(hand) through the mouth of David, about Judas the (one) coming to be the one who leads the way for the (ones) taking Jesus with (them), (in) that he was (one) numbered down among us and obtained the lot of this service…”
      {Verses 18-19 are the author’s aside, describing an historical tradition involving the fate of Judas}
    • Citation from Scripture (v. 20): “For it has been written in the paper-scroll of (the) Songs [i.e. Psalms]…”—here two short Scripture verses are cited, from Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 (see below).
    • Exposition and Gospel kerygma (v. 21-22)—because of the brevity of the speech, these two sections have essentially been combined, the Gospel proclamation being embedded within the exhortation (see below)
    • Concluding exhortation (v. 21-22)—indicated primarily by the frame of the sentence: “Therefore it is necessary (for)… one of these (men) to become a witness with us”
  • Narrative summary (vv. 23-26), which actually contains the central core narrative of this passage—the selection by lot of the twelfth apostle.

In conclusion, I will discuss briefly two of the sections of the speech—the citation from the Psalms, and the expository kerygma:

The citation from Psalm 69:25; 109:9. Here, as with most such Scripture citations in Acts (and elsewhere in the NT), there are two main issues: (1) the extent to which the quotations conform or differ from either the LXX or Hebrew, and (2) the ways in which the quotation differs in application/interpretation from its original historical meaning and context. Both of these have been discussed in my prior article on the Old Testament in Acts. With regard to the first question, the Scripture quotations in Acts tend to follow, with some modification, the Greek of the Septuagint (LXX). This could be taken as an argument in favor of the citations coming primarily from the author (rather than the speaker), since here at least one might assume that Peter (like James in Acts 15) would more likely cite Scripture from the Hebrew rather than the Greek. Usually any obvious modifications are simple adaptations to the new context of the speaker/author. Here are both citations presented for comparison:

Hebrew MT (Psalm 69:26)

bv@y{ yh!y+Ála^ <h#yl@h(a*B= <t*r*yf!Áyh!T=
“Let their rows (of stones) [i.e. buildings] be destroyed,
let no one be sitting/dwelling in their tents”

Greek LXX (Psalm 68:26)

genhqh/tw h( e&pauli$ au)tw=n h)rhmwme/nh kai\ e)n toi=$ skhnw/masin au)tw=n mh\ e&stw o( katoikw=n
“Let their encampment become deserted/desolate, and let there be no(one) putting down house [i.e. dwelling] in their tents”

Acts 1:20a

genhqh/tw h( e&pauli$ au)tou= e&rhmo$ kai\ mh\ e&stw o( katoikw=n e)n au)th=|
“Let his encampment (be) deserted/desolate, and let there be no(one) putting down house [i.e. dwelling] in it

Hebrew MT (Psalm 109:9)

rj@a^ jQ^y] otD*q%P! <yF!u^m= wym*y`ÁWyh=y]
“Let his days be small [i.e. few], let (one) following [i.e. another] take his appointment/overseeing”

Greek LXX (Psalm 108:8)

genhqh/twsan ai( h(me/rai au)tou= o)li/gai, kai\ th\n e)piskoph\n au)tou= la/boi e%tero$
“Let his days come to be little/few, and may another take his (office of) overseeing”

Acts 1:20b

th\n e)piskoph\n au)tou= labe/tw e%tero$
“(and) let another take his (office of) overseeing”

In both instances, the LXX is a reasonable faithful translation of the Hebrew, and the citation in Acts has been simplified (with slight modification) presumably from the LXX. More significant is the way both passages have been taken out of their original context and applied to the current situation. Psalm 69 is a rather lengthy lament (ascribed to David) detailing the author’s suffering and continued faithfulness to God. Verses 22-28 are an imprecation against the psalmist’s enemies and a call for God to unleash his anger and judgment against them. Early on, this Psalm was understood and interpreted in light of Jesus’ Passion, so the malediction in vv. 22-28 naturally applied to Jesus’ enemies (including the betrayer Judas). Psalm 109 is a similar (personal) lament by the psalmist (again ascribed to David), with verses 6-15 as an extended malediction (or curse) like that in Ps 69:22-28. In Acts, just the short second half of verse 8 is cited, the portion which fits best with the idea of the office/appointment (e)piskoph/, lit. “looking upon, overseeing”) of Judas as an apostle. It was typical for early Christians—including the inspired New Testament authors—to focus on a single word or phrase, or other detail, and use it to apply the entire passage to their own time and to the Gospel message which they were proclaiming. It is important to keep this mind when faced with the apparent freedom with which the Old Testament is cited and applied in the New.

The Expository Kerygma. The kerygma simply refers to the Gospel proclamation as it took place in the early Church. Whatever else one wishes to say about the historicity of these sermon-speeches in Acts, they clearly do preserve early/primitive kerygmatic statements—basic Gospel formulae which are vivid and memorable, easy to preserve and transmit down to others. Here in Acts 1:21-22, we find a Gospel formula embedded within the exhortation:

“Therefore it is necessary (that) of these men, having gone together with us in all (the) time in which the Lord Yeshua went in and went out upon [i.e. about/among] us

…beginning from the dunking/dipping by Yohanan until the day of which he was taken up (away) from us

…one of these (men is) to become a witness of his standing-up [i.e. resurrection] together with us.”

The central clause in bold is similar to that in Acts 1:1-2, which might suggest here a Lukan origin for the speech. On the other hand, it is just as likely that Luke may have patterned the introductory wording in 1:1-2ff after the early kerygma.

February 9: Word study on “Gospel” (conclusion)

Today’s note concludes the series of word studies on the eu)aggel- (“gospel”) word group in the New Testament. I will begin with a summary of the results, followed by a short survey of how the word group was used in other early Christian writings in the late-first and second centuries. The results of our study may be presented as follows:

1. The original context of the eu)aggel- word group had to do with the delivery of (good) news, lit. a “good message”, especially that which involved the outcome of military action or other important events related to the public welfare. Since the public good was often connected with the action of the ruler, thought (according to the ancient mindset) to be appointed and/or gifted by divine power, the idea of the “good message” was extended to the ruler himself—esp. his birth and accession, his own health and welfare, etc. This was specially so in the case of the Roman emperors of the first centuries A.D., who, as “Caesar” and successors to Augustus, were understood to be divine (“son of god”). The peace, protection (i.e. “salvation”), and prosperity brought about by the emperor’s rule, was “good news” for the population, and, as such, the eu)aggel- word group became associated prominently with the imperial cult. This certainly would have affected the early Christian use and understanding of eu)aggel-, though there is relatively little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself. The contrast, between Jesus and the Emperor, in terms of the “good message”, is most apparent in the Gospel of Luke (esp. the Infancy narrative), and, less directly, in Luke-Acts as a whole. Neither the common noun eu)aggeli/a (“good message”) nor eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) occurs in the New Testament. The neuter noun eu)agge/lion is used, but only in the singular, never the plural (eu)agge/lia). Originally, the neuter noun referred to the response to good news—i.e., the reward given to the messenger, or an offering of celebration and thanks, etc. It is this aspect that was notable in connection with the Roman imperial cult—offerings and celebration for the good news of the emperor’s accession, etc.

2. The verb eu)aggeli/zw (Koine middle eu)aggeli/zomai), “bring/declare a good message”, also occurs a number of times in the New Testament, largely under the influence of the Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament Scriptures. The verb translates the Hebrew rc^B* (“bring [good] news”), just as eu)aggeli/a/eu)agge/lion translates the derived noun hr*c)B=. The theological significance of the verb is more or less limited to its use in the Prophets, especially several key passages in (Deutero-)Isaiah, all of which came to be interpreted in a Messianic and eschatological sense—40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and (most notably) 61:1. It is Isa 61:1 which exerted the greatest influence on the New Testament, rooted in the Gospel tradition. According to Lk 4:18ff and 7:22 par, Jesus identified himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald of the passage, especially in the context of the teaching and healing miracles performed during his ministry in Galilee. Indeed, this may well define Jesus’ own use of eu)aggel- (Aramaic rcb), recorded in several important sayings within the Synoptic tradition. It clearly influenced the frequent use of the verb in the Gospel of Luke (and the book of Acts). Luke virtually never uses the noun (only the verb); the opposite is the case in the core Synoptic tradition (of Mark-Matthew, cf. below).

3. With the Gospel and earliest Christian tradition, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, i.e. the announcing of good news to God’s people, came to be understood in two primary (and related) senses: (a) that one may obtain forgiveness of sin, and (b) will thus be saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon humankind. The Gospel message was thus originally (and primarily) eschatological in orientation. Both forgiveness and salvation were experienced only by believers who repented and trusted in Jesus. This was the essence of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus and his first followers, and represents the core of the apostolic preaching. However, in both the Pauline letters and the early sermon-speeches preserved in the book of Acts, this was expanded to form a core message proclaimed by missionaries and preachers during the first century. The announcement of the opportunity for salvation (in Jesus’ name) came to include a brief narrative outline of Jesus’ life—from John the Baptist, through to Jesus’ own ministry, and his death and resurrection. To this was added a pair of fundamental theological/Christological statements: (i) that Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah) prophesied in the Scriptures, and (ii) that God exalted him (as Son of God) to a divine position/status in heaven, from whence he will appear (as a heavenly savior-figure) at the end time to rescue believers and usher in the Judgment. This is the “good message” proclaimed by Peter, Paul, and other early missionaries.

4. In Paul’s letters (c. 49-60 A.D.), this use of both the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and, in particular, the noun eu)agge/lion, took on still deeper theological significance. Already in the earliest surviving letters (1-2 Thessalonians), Paul was using the noun in three distinct expressions, each with an important point of emphasis:

    • “my/our good message”—Paul and his fellow ministers have been specially appointed by God to proclaim the message
    • “the good message of God”—God is the source of the message, having brought it about for believers in Jesus
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}”—the message is about the person of Jesus, who he is and what God has done through him

It is in Galatians and Romans that Paul expounds and explains what he means by the word eu)agge/lion. In Galatians, it is central to the conflict (with certain Jewish Christians) over the religious identity of believers. Paul argues forcefully for the central doctrine that it is through trust in Jesus alone that human beings are justified (“made right” in God’s eyes) and saved from Judgment; adherence to the Old Covenant and its Torah plays only a negative role in this process. In Romans, Paul adds to this an exposition of the nature of salvation (see esp. chapters 5-8). The twin ideas of forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the coming Judgment are deepened in Paul’s thought, being expressed now in terms of the belief that, through trust in the Gospel, human beings are delivered from the power of sin that is dominant in the current world-order. In the mode of thought and expression by Paul, eschatology truly has become soteriology. Moreover, we find the important point that trust in Jesus (i.e. the good message) activates and makes effective the saving power of his sacrificial death and resurrection. This is central to Pauline theology and is expressed more clearly in his letters than perhaps anywhere else in the New Testament. We can thus begin to glimpse in Paul’s letters a wider and more expansive meaning of the word eu)agge/lion, so that it very nearly becomes synonymous with the Christian faith itself.

5. First Peter was probably written c. 60 A.D., roughly contemporary with the latest of Paul’s letters. In this work too we find a theological expansion (and exposition) of the meaning of eu)agge/lion. It is identified with the living and eternal word of God, with its creative and life-generating power, as also with the living Spirit of God (and Christ) that comes to dwell in the believer (1:23-25). The eschatological aspect is also sharpened, so that acceptance of the “good message” becomes the entire basis for deliverance from the coming Judgment and inheritance of eternal life through the Spirit (4:6, 17, and the surrounding context). The eu)aggel- word group does not appear in the Gospel or Letters of John at all, but does occur several times in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, where the early/traditional eschatological aspect is emphasized, much as we see elsewhere in the New Testament. Other NT occurrences are rare, and generally follow the usage and semantic range detailed above.

6. The Gospel of Mark, probably written some time in the 60’s A.D., represent the earliest usage of eu)agge/lion to refer to a written work. The author (trad. John Mark) identifies his literary work specifically as eu)agge/lion, virtually serving as its title (1:1). At one other point—the declaration by Jesus in 14:9 (par Matt 26:13)—the noun appears to be used in the same context, whereas elsewhere it seems to refer to the message and teaching of Jesus in a comprehensive sense (8:35; 10:29; 13:10). The noun is less frequent in Matthew, which generally follows the Synoptic (Markan) usage.

By about 150 A.D., roughly a hundred years later, the earlier meaning of eu)agge/lion had largely disappeared from use. The relatively rare occurrences of the word group in writings of the mid/late 2nd century demonstrate a rather clear shift in meaning—from an oral proclamation about Jesus to an authoritative written record. We can see this, for example, in the writings of Justin Martyr. In the rare instances where the word eu)agge/lion occurs, it clearly refers to written works, most likely corresponding to some (if not all) of the canonical Gospels. In his First Apology 66:3, the “memoirs of the Apostles” (ta\ a)pomnhmoneu/mata tw=n a)posto/wn) are specifically called eu)agge/lia, the plural of eu)agge/lion. The word a)pomnhmoneu/mata literally means “(thing)s given/coming from memory”; that written works (i.e. written/recorded from memory) are meant is relatively clear from the context, and is confirmed by the use of the singular eu)agge/lion in the Dialogue with Trypho (twice, 10:2; 100:2). The Letter to Diognetus (author unknown), probably written around the same time, uses the plural eu)agge/lia to refer to written Gospels (11:6). Two or three decades on, Irenaeus, in his famous work Against Heresies (c. 180), has gone a step further: not only does eu)agge/lia refer to authoritative written works, it is used specifically for the four canonical Gospels—these four and no other (III.10-11, etc).

Concluding note on the Apostolic Fathers

An examination of the so-called “Apostolic Fathers”, a collection of Christian writings surviving from the period c. 90-150 A.D., allows us to fill in the gaps a bit, to see how the use of the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament developed to the point that the “good message” became defined in terms of authoritative written documents (“Gospels”).

It is a bit surprising that, in the lengthy letter-treatise of Clement (1 Clement) to the congregations in Corinth, written c. 95 A.D., the eu)aggel- word group is so rare. The author clearly is familiar with Paul’s letters, and is writing to congregations founded by Paul, yet this important Pauline terminology is absent. In 42:1, 3, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in the older, traditional sense of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus in his ministry, and which was subsequently declared by the Apostles (cf. also the Letter of Polycarp, 6:3; Barnabas 5:9; 8:3; 14:9). At 47:2, where the noun eu)agge/lion occurs, the author is citing Paul (cf. Phil 4:15).

The noun also is used several times by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters (c. 110)—to the Christians of Philadelphia and Smyrna. In Philadelphians 5:1-2 he appears to use eu)agge/lion as synonymous with the Christian faith and one’s religious identity (as a believer in Christ). He describes the eu)agge/lion of Christ as being manifest or embodied in the Eucharist. Elsewhere in the letter, however, the term seems to refer to an authoritative record (oral and/or written) of Jesus’ teaching and saving work (8:2; 9:2; also Smyrneans 5:1; 7:2). This is in accord with the later strands of the Synoptic tradition (c. 60-70 A.D., cf. above). Passages such as Smyrn. 5:1 seem to imply a written record.

The work known as the Didache (“Teaching”), and attributed to the Twelve Apostles, is properly called a Church Manual, composed sometime before 150 A.D., but containing traditional material that may go back to the late 1st century A.D. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs four times (8:2; 11:3; 15:3f), signifying an authoritative body of teaching by Jesus (and the Apostles), and perhaps intended to correspond to one or more of the canonical Gospels. In tone and approach it is closest to the Gospel of Matthew, yet even where the Lord’s Prayer (close to the Matthean version, 6:9-13) is cited (at 8:2ff), eu)agge/lion probably is not meant as a reference to Matthew per se, since the expression is “in his [i.e. Jesus’] eu)agge/lion“, i.e. the teaching of Jesus which is recorded in Matthew. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written c. 155-165), the noun is used repeatedly, where it similarly refers to an authoritative record of Jesus’ teaching and life-example (including his suffering and death), without necessarily intending any particular written Gospel (or Gospels).

In the work known as 2 Clement, on the other hand, eu)agge/lion does refer to a specific written work; however, interestingly, the saying of Jesus cited (8:5) does not correspond precisely to anything in our canonical Gospels (cp. Lk 16:10-12). It may be a reference to the so-called “Gospel of the Egyptians”, or a similar extra-canonical work. Another extra-canonical saying of Jesus is cited by the author in 12:2.

The custom of referring to the canonical Gospels by the title [to\] eu)agge/lion kata\ … (“the Good Message according to…”), which may have been established by the middle of the 2nd century, was probably inspired by the Markan title (Mk 1:1). Given Luke’s reluctance to use the noun, it is highly unlikely that he would ever have referred to his own work that way (he uses the noun dih/ghsi$ in 1:1). Matthew is more likely to have followed the Markan usage. The title appears to have the sanction of Jesus himself, at least in the Synoptic formulation of the tradition in Mk 14:9 par, which implies the existence of an account more or less corresponding with 14:3-9 as part of a larger narrative. Such a narrative is represented by the Gospel of Mark, and followed, with certain additions and modifications, in the Gospel of Matthew. The author of the latter may well have understood Jesus’ statement in 24:14 as encompassing the publication and distribution of his own work narrating “the Gospel of the Kingdom”. In the centuries since, the New Testament title “Gospel according to…” has become so familiar that there is little thought given as to how this custom was established in the first place. I hope that this series of notes has helped you to appreciate better the rich heritage surrounding the eu)aggel- word group as it was used and developed by believers in the first two centuries.

February 8: 1 Peter 4:6, 17, etc

In the previous note, I discussed the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in 1 Peter 1:12, 25; today, I want to look at two more occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in chapter 4 of that letter, before surveying briefly the remaining occurrences in the New Testament.

1 Peter 4:6, 17

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in verse 6, part of a section of ethical instruction and exhortation with a strong eschatological emphasis. For the author (Peter), like nearly all early Christians, it was believed that the end was imminent (“the completion/end of all [thing]s has come near”, v. 7a), and the Judgment by God close at hand. The final Judgment is certainly in view in verse 6, as we read in verse 5: “…(they) shall give forth an account to the (One) holding readiness to judge the living and the dead”. We find in verse 6 the difficult phrase “the good message was brought even to the dead”, which has tripped up many commentators (cf. the earlier notice in 3:19). The main point to note, however, is that the Judgment of all humankind is to be based on the (Gospel) message of Jesus. Even more significant is that life (for the dead) in the Age to Come (i.e. eternal life) is dependent on the Spirit, which can only be bestowed on persons following reception of the Gospel message. Note the me\nde/ contrast:

    • “(on the one hand) they should live in the flesh according to man [i.e. as human beings]”
    • “(on the other hand) they (should live) in the Spirit according to God”

The same Judgment context, and implicit contrast between those who do and do not accept the message of Jesus, is present in verse 17, were the noun eu)agge/lion occurs:

“(it is) the time of the beginning of the Judgment from the house of God; and, if it is first from us, what (then) is (its) completion for the (one)s unpersuaded by the good message of God?”

The expression “good message of God” is familiar from Paul’s letters, where it occurs several times (Rom 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9), and was doubtless traditional by the time this letter was written (c. 60 A.D.?). What is unique about this usage in chapter 4 is how thoroughly the eu)aggel- word group is identified with trust in Jesus within the specific eschatological context of the last Judgment.

The Remainder of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group is entirely absent from the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), but it does occur twice in the (Johannine) book of Revelation—the verb in 10:7, and noun and verb together in 14:6. In 10:7, it is possible that the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is being used more or less in the general sense of bringing good news—in this case, the “good message” involves, not the Gospel per se, but the final eschatological mystery of how/when God will bring the current Age to an end. The dual use of noun and verb in 14:6 is especially dramatic, as would be appropriate for the scene:

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing [i.e. flying] in the middle of the heaven(s), holding the good message of the Ages, to deliver as a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, and upon every nation and offshoot and tongue and people…”

Probably the technical sense of eu)aggel- as the (Christian) preaching of the Gospel is more in view here; however, the message is still primarily eschatological (not evangelistic), which can be obscured by translating the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion as “eternal Gospel”, rather than more literally as “good message (of the) Age(s)”—i.e. the good news that the Ages of humankind are coming to an end, and that the New Age of God is being ushered in.

The occurrence of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in Hebrews 4:2 and 6 is interesting in the way that the Christian meaning is read back into the more general sense (i.e. bringing good news). This is done in the context of paraenesis—ethical/religious teaching—involving the interpretation and application of Scripture (a common preaching technique, then as now). Believers in Christ had the “good message” of Jesus proclaimed to them, and yet are being warned of the danger of falling away. To emphasize this point, the example of the Israelites in the time of the Exodus is brought forth:

“indeed we are (one)s having the good message (declar)ed (to us) even as it also (was) to those (person)s; but the account [lo/go$] (which was) heard did not benefit those (person)s, not having been mixed together with trust/faith by the (one)s hearing.”

The rather complicated syntax in the second half of the verse is a roundabout way of saying that hearing the Gospel preached has to be accompanied by genuine trust from the person hearing in order to have its saving effect. The verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used again in the same context in verse 6.

Finally, we should note three occurrences of the noun eu)aggelisth/$. The common Greek noun eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) does not occur in the New Testament at all, but only eu)aggelisth/$, which is derived from the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and thus means “one bringing/declaring a good message”, emphasizing the action of bringing or announcing the message. Even so, this noun is rare, being used just three times, and in relatively late writings: Lukan narration in the book of Acts (21:8), 2 Timothy 4:5, and Ephesians 4:11. Second Timothy and Ephesians are often considered to be pseudonymous by commentators; whether or not this is correct, it is unlikely that either letter was written prior to the early-60’s A.D. The book of Acts was probably written c. 70-80 A.D.

In all three passages, eu)aggelisth/$ appears to be used in the established Christian sense of a specific ministry role, or position, within a group of believers (or congregation)—i.e., one who is specifically devoted to, and gifted in, preaching the Gospel message. The absence of this noun in the undisputed letters of Paul, and in the rest of the book of Acts, makes it unlikely that it was widely used prior to the 60’s A.D. It is possible that 2 Tim 4:5, if genuinely Pauline, represents the earliest surviving use of the noun, which was a word essentially coined by Christians. I am not aware of any occurrence prior to the 1st century, nor in any contemporary non-Christian context.

February 7: 1 Peter 1:12, 25, etc

Having discussed Paul’s use of the eu)aggel- word group in the previous notes, it is necessary to supplement that discussion with a brief survey of occurrences in the letters where authorship is disputed. After this, we will survey the remainder of the New Testament evidence.

Usage in the disputed Pauline Letters

Colossians and Ephesians are often regarded as pseudonymous by many critical commentators. For my part, I consider Colossians to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), without any real reservation; however, I must admit to a little doubt in the case of Ephesians, where there appears to be more evidence for unusual wording and the development of (Pauline) thought and expression. In any case, the noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in Colossians, in expanded expressions:

  • Col 1:5—”the account of the truth of the good message” (o( lo/go$ th=$ a)lhqei/a$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…through the hope th(at is) being laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the account of the truth of the good message th(at is com)ing to be alongside unto you, even as it also is bearing fruit in all the world…” (vv. 5-6)
  • Col 1:23—”the hope of the good message” (h( e)lpi\$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…if (indeed) you remain (well-)founded upon the trust and settled (down), and not being stirred over (away) from the hope of the good message which you heard, th(at) is being proclaimed among every (creature) formed (by God) under the heaven…”

It is possible that this reflects a development of the Pauline mode of expression. Certainly it is a more expansive kind of statement than we typically see in Paul’s letters, though rooted in his own style and vocabulary. For the expression “truth of the Gospel”, see Gal 2:5, 14; “hope of the Gospel” does not occur elsewhere in the letters, but cf. Rom 5:2ff; 8:24-25; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 1:3, etc. The phrasing in Col 1:5 is quite close to Eph 1:13, and involves the critical questions of authorship and the relationship between the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion itself occurs four times in Ephesians (1:13; 3:6; 6:15, 19), and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai twice (2:17; 3:8). Even scholars who believe Ephesians is pseudonymous must admit that it is derived and inspired by authentic Pauline tradition and expression:

  • Eph 1:13: “the account of the truth, the good message of your salvation”; cf. Col 1:5 (above). Vv. 13-14 represents a more systematic theological formulation.
  • Eph 2:17: “he [i.e. Jesus] brought the good message (of) peace to you the (one)s far (off), and (also) peace to the (one)s (who are) near”. This statement utilizes traditional language (cf. Acts 10:36 and the prior note), and does not reflect the technical Christian meaning of eu)aggeli/zomai as “preach the Gospel”.
  • Eph 3:6 and 8. The first half of chapter 3 (vv. 1-13) presents a detailed summary of Paul’s view regarding his role as minister of the Gospel (to the Gentiles), fully in keeping with what is expressed in his other letters, though not in such a clear and systematic manner as we find here. Verse 6 states concisely the Pauline doctrine that Gentile believers are heirs together (and equally so) to the promises God made to Israel, which are fulfilled for believers in Christ. This takes place “through the good message” (dia\ tou= eu)aggeli/ou). In verse 8, Paul declares once again that he was appointed by God “to bring the good message”.
  • Eph 6:15 and 19, where we find two developed Pauline expressions: “the good message of peace” (v. 15) and “the secret [musth/rion] of the good message” (v. 19, cf. Rom 16:25; Col 1:26-27, and earlier in Eph 3:6.

The Pastoral letters are also generally considered to be pseudonymous by critical scholars (and even some traditional-conservative commentators). The greatest doubt surrounds 1 Timothy (which has the largest concentration of unusual vocabulary and expression), while, in my view, 2 Timothy appears to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds). The noun eu)agge/lion occurs 3 times in 2 Timothy (1:8, 10; 2:8) and corresponds entirely with Paul’s usage of the word. The expanded expression in 1 Timothy 1:11 is more unusual: “…the good message of the splendor of the blessed God”.

1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group occurs 12 more times in the New Testament: the noun eu)agge/lion twice (1 Pet 4:17; Rev 14:6), the verb eu)aggelizomai seven times (Heb 4:2, 6; 1 Pet 1:12, 25; 4:6; Rev 10:7; 14:6), and the derived noun eu)aggelisth/$ three times (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5). The largest concentration (4) occur in two passages of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:12, 25

1 Peter 1:3-12 is essentially a single long introductory sentence, climaxing in verse 12, with the key declaration that the death and resurrection of Jesus (and its saving effect) was first revealed to the Prophets, and then subsequently made known to people (believers) through the Gospel:

“…the(se thing)s which now were given up as a message to you through the (one)s bringing the good message to you [in] the holy Spirit…”

The parallel between Prophets and Apostles (i.e. preachers of the good message) was traditional in early Christianity, with both groups seen as uniquely inspired, moved by the Spirit. There is similar traditional language used in the next section of the letter, the exhortation in vv. 13-25, which concludes with an important expository sequence:

  • The declaration in verse 23:
    “your trust and hope (is) to be unto God {v. 21}…having come to be (born) again, not out of decaying seed, but (out of seed) without decay, through the living word [lo/go$] of God (that is) also remaining (in you)”
  • The paraphrased quotation from Isa 40:6-8 in vv. 24-25a, which ends with a similar statement:
    “…but the utterance [r(h=ma] of the Lord remains into the Age” (cf. Isa 40:8b)
  • The statement in verse 25b identifying the eternal “word of the Lord” with the “good message” proclaimed by the apostles:
    “and this is the utterance being brought as a good message unto you”

In the previous note, I argued that the words lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were more primitive, earlier terms for the Gospel message than eu)agge/lion. In Acts 10:36-37a, where the early message (kerygma) is proclaimed during Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, both of these words are used in tandem, along with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, just as we see here; indeed, the declaration in vv. 36-37a introduces the Gospel. The use of eu)aggeli/zomai there does not refer to the preaching of the Gospel in the technical sense used by early Christians. We are, perhaps, closer to that here; certainly, there is distinct theological (interpretive) development at work. We may be able to trace this development by working backward in the syntax of this passage:

    • the eternal, undecaying seed which brings new life for the believer; this “seed”, which dwells and grows in the believer is elsewhere identified with the Spirit (of God and Christ)
      • this seed is identified as the living “word” [lo/go$] of God
        • it is part of the eternal creative power associated with the spoken word (“utterance”, r(h=ma) of God
          • lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were both terms used by the first Christians to refer to the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma)
            • the early/first preaching of the message of Jesus by the apostles, bringing “good news” (vb. eu)aggeli/zomai)

The occurrences in 1 Peter 4:6, 17, and the rest of the New Testament, will be discussed in the next daily note.

Birth of the Son of God: Acts 13:26-41

In the previous note, I looked at Acts 2:29-36 (the last section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) from the standpoint of the earliest Christian view of Jesus—focusing on the Christological statement in verse 36 and citation of Psalm 110:1 in vv. 34-35. Today, I turn to another major sermon-speech in Acts: that by Paul in Acts 13:16-41. As I have discussed earlier, in my series of articles on the Speeches in the book of Acts, these sermon-speeches by Peter and Paul are remarkably similar in many respects, both in terms of structure and content. Verses 26-41 form the major Christological/kerygmatic section of the speech, parallel to 2:29-36; similarly, this section contains a principal Scripture passage from the Psalms, Ps 2:7, parallel to Ps 110:1—both of which represent key “Messianic” prophecies applied to Jesus.

Acts 13:26-41

Here there is a similar identification of Jesus as Savior and (Messianic) descendant of David in verse 23:

“of this (man)’s [i.e. David’s] seed [tou/toua)po\ tou= spe/rmato$]… a Savior, Yeshua [swth=ra  )Ihsou=n]”

Verse 26 emphasizes again the Gospel as the message of salvation (“the account/word of salvation”, o( lo/go$ th=$ swthri/a$). The centrality of the resurrection is also clear, in vv. 30ff, but also (perhaps) within verse 23:

“of this (man)’s seed, God, according to (His) announcement/promise, led/brought (forth) to Yisrael a Savior Yeshua”

There are two elements which are italicized above:

  • kata\ e)paggeli/an (“according to [his] announcement/promise”)—which should be understood according to three aspects in early Christian thought:
    • God’s promise(s) to Abraham and “the Fathers”, i.e. to Israel—the covenant, including the promised land
    • The (Messianic) promise of salvation/restoration—realized in the person and work of Jesus
    • The Holy Spirit specifically as the “promise of God” (cf. Acts 1:4; 2:33; Gal 3:14)
    • —all three aspects come together in Acts 2:39; 13:32; Rom 1:2; Gal 3:14ff, etc
  • h&gagen tw=|  )Israh/l (“he led/brought [forth] to Israel”)—this primarily refers to the appearance of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry; however, a number of manuscripts read h&geiren (“he raised”) instead of h&gagen, perhaps influenced by the presence of this verb in v. 22.

In verse 32, the promise of God (to the Fathers) is connected more specifically to the resurrection, as indicated by the Scripture citations which follow, beginning with Psalm 2:7:

“…that God has fulfilled this to us [their] offspring, making Yeshua stand up (again) [i.e. raising Jesus], even as it has been written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, I have caused you to be (born) this day'” (v. 33)

The chain of references helps to illustrate how the speaker/author understood Ps 2:7:

  • “Son” of God (“My Son”)
    —Davidic heir (v. 34, Isa 55:3)
    —Holy One (of God) (v. 35, Ps 16:10)—connection with David (the Psalmist)

There is a similar associative matrix in Acts 2:29-36 (drawing upon the earlier citation of Ps 16:8-11 in vv. 25-28):

  • “Lord” (ku/rio$)—connection with YHWH, God the Father (vv. 25, 34, Ps 16:8; 110:1)
    —Descendent/offspring of David (v. 30)
    —Holy One (of God) (v. 27, Ps 16:10)

With the use of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:32ff, there is evidence of a transition having taken place between:

  1. The original context of Psalm 2, and
  2. Its application to Jesus as an exalted/divine figure

Originally, the 2nd Psalm referred to the (human) king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense, the setting of the Psalm (as with Ps 110) being the coronation/inauguration/enthronement of the (new) king. Israel shared this basic idea as part of the thought-world of the Ancient Near East, where exalted/divine imagery and epithets were frequently applied to rulers; at times, kings were thought to achieve a divine status, at least after death. Only in the royal theology of Egypt do we find anything like Divine Sonship ascribed to rulers in the metaphysical sense. Certainly in ancient Israel, this “sonship” was only symbolic, tied to the idea of God’s covenantal protection of the ruler; even so, reference to it in Scripture is rare, limited mainly to several key passages—especially Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:8-16. In the latter passage, the context is a promise (by God) regarding the Davidic line and kingdom, which we also see expressed in Psalm 89. These two elements—the king as God’s “son” and promise of kingship for David’s descendents—coalesced into a “royal Messiah” concept, such as we find coming into prominence within Jewish tradition and literature in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. Jeremiah 33:14-26 is the main prophetic passage which influenced the idea. There is no special comment on Psalm 2:7 in the surviving texts from Qumran, but 4QFlorilegium(174) does provide a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:10-14 (cf. lines 10-13). Acts 13:33 is probably the oldest surviving “Messianic” use of Psalm 2:7, with the possible exception of the variant reading at Luke 3:22 (cf. below).

Orthodox Christians may be accustomed to reading Ps 2:7 in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent Deity, and this does seem to be assumed in Hebrews, where Ps 2:7 is cited (along with 2 Sam 7:14 and Ps 110:1) in Heb 1:5ff and 5:5f. However, in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, the context is clearly that of Jesus’ resurrection. After the resurrection, Jesus is exalted and made to sit at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH) in heaven—this is the setting for the citation of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:33 (as well as of Ps 110:1 in Acts 2:34-35). Almost certainly, then, the focal point of the conceptual transition regarding Ps 2:7 (cf. above) was not a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity, but rather his resurrection and exaltation. Only subsequently, as the result of further thought and (progressive) revelation, was this Christological connection widened. Interestingly, if Ps 2:7 is applied to the resurrection in Acts 13:33, and (it would seem) to Jesus’ divine pre-existence in Hebrews, there is a kind of ‘intermediate’ application—to Jesus’ baptism—attested in certain manuscripts and textual witnesses for Luke 3:22 [D a b c d ff2 etc and a number of Church Fathers], where, instead of the generally accepted reading—

su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi\ eu)do/khsa
“You are my Son the (be)loved (one) [i.e. my beloved Son], I think good in [i.e. think well of, take delight in] you”

the voice from Heaven quotes Ps 2:7:

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

In such a context, the implication might be that Jesus “becomes” God’s Son during the baptism (with the descent of the Spirit upon him). Whatever the origins of the variants in this verse, it clearly demonstrates that early Christians were beginning to apply Ps 2:7—along with the idea of Jesus as the “Son of God”—outside of the traditional Messianic (Davidic) setting. However, as I have indicated in these notes, the early preaching preserved in Acts 2 and 13 still maintains a vital connection with the earlier setting, emphasizing Jesus as a descendant of David (“son of David”). This will be explored further in the next article of ths series.

I have consistently translated the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) in the transitive/causative sense as “caused to be (born)”. It hardly need be said that the precise, technical meaning in context differs slightly depending on whether the subject is male or female. In conventional English expression (and from a biological standpoint), only the female (mother) bears and gives birth, while the male (father) contributes toward conception. Older English had a convenient verb for rendering genna/w from the male standpoint—”to beget“—but, unfortunately, this no longer part of the regular vocabulary. Instead, we have to use inaccurate and awkward phrasing such as “become (the) father”, etc. It is indeed tempting to translate Psalm 2:7 along the lines of the old KJV (“…this day I have begotten thee”), still maintained in translations like the ESV (“…today I have begotten you”); however, I have tried to keep my (glossed) translations excessively literal, preserving, as far as possible, the fundamental meaning and etymology of each word.

Birth of the Son of God: Acts 2:29-36

In this series of Christmas season daily notes on the theme “The Birth of the Son of God”, I now turn to examine what the earliest Christian preaching may have said about Jesus as the “Son of God”. Based on the assumption that the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts, to a greater or lesser extent, genuinely reflect early preaching and Gospel proclamation (kerygma), I will be looking at passages in two of the most prominent sermons in the book—the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-41) and the speech by Paul in Acts 13:16-41. I discuss both of these, each in considerable detail, as a part of a series on the Speeches in the book of Acts (soon to be posted); here I will focus only several elements related to early Christological belief. I begin with one section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.

Acts 2:29-36

This is the last of the three sections, or divisions, of the sermon—vv. 14-21, 22-28, and 29-36—each of which includes a central citation from Scripture (Joel 2:28-32 and Psalm 16:8-11 in the first two sections). The concluding statement in verse 36 offers a concise and effective summary of early Christology:

“…let all (the) house of Yisrael know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed, this Yeshua whom you put to the stake”

The key phrase is indicated by italics—God made [e)poi/hsen] Jesus to be both Lord [ku/rio$] and (the) Anointed [xristo/$]. What is most important to note here is that this statement is centered (and predicated) clearly upon the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus. God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead is even more prominent in the kerygma of the second section (vv. 22-28), with its climactic quotation (and application) of Psalm 16:8-11. Apart from the association with Jesus’ resurrection (especially in the interpretation of verse 10 of the Psalm), there are several key details which carry on into the next section of the sermon, and which should be noted:

  • Being in the presence of the Lord [o( ku/rio$], i.e. YHWH (v. 25)
  • The appellation “Holy (One)”—the adjective o%sio$ as a substantive (v. 27)
  • The connection with David (the Psalmist)

Let us now examine the two titles used in verse 36:

“Lord” (ku/rio$)—The Scripture cited in this section (in vv. 34-35) is Psalm 110:1, a key “Messianic” passage in early Christian tradition. Jesus himself cites it (Mark 12:36 par) in the context of a Scriptural discussion regarding the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) as the “son of David” (cf. below); the precise interpretation of this discussion, as it has come down to us in Gospel tradition, remains difficult and much debated. Later, v. 1b is cited in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:13; cf. also 10:12-13 and the use of Ps 110 in chapters 5, 7). The first “Lord” (ku/rio$) in v. 1, of course, is YHWH (hwhy); originally, the second “Lord” (ku/rio$, Heb. /oda*), referred to the (human) king—the original context of the Psalm being the king’s coronation/inauguration/enthronement. However, early on, Christians understood the second “Lord” as a reference to Jesus, in his divine status and/or nature; this was made possible as soon as the distinction between the original Hebrew words was lost, and the same Greek word (ku/rio$) was used twice—ku/rio$ being the typical word used to render hwhy/YHWH (see the earlier article on the Divine name). Eventually, Christians would come to interpret Ps 110:1 in the light of Jesus’ divine pre-existence—a belief already assumed, it would seem, in Hebrews 1:13 (where Ps 110:1 is cited, but note the rather different context of Heb 10:12-13). In Acts, however, Psalm 110:1 is applied specifically in relation to Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation; the interpretive setting clearly is that of the exalted Jesus sitting at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). This status/position next to God the Father (YHWH) means that Jesus is able to carry the same divine name (“Lord”, ku/rio$), cf. Phil 2:9ff. It may also be the basis for understanding Jesus as God’s Son—note the reference in v. 33 to Jesus receiving the “promise of the Spirit” from the Father (lit. “alongside [para/] the Father”, cf. Jn 1:14, discussed in an earlier note). Also related, perhaps, to the idea of Jesus as God’s Son is the use of o%sio$ (as a substantive title, “Holy One”) in verse 27 [Ps 16:10], parallel to the substantive a%gio$ (also typically render “holy”) in Luke 1:34—”(he) will be called Holy, the Son of God”.

“Anointed” (xristo/$)—This particular title, in context, relates to Jesus’ role as descendant of David (vv. 29-34, esp. v. 30). From the standpoint of Jewish tradition, this means, especially, the “Messiah” (jyvm = xristo$, “Anointed”)—i.e., the eschatological (Davidic) ruler who would bring about the salvation/restoration of Israel. This “messianic” expectation is clearly indicated in a number of New Testament passages (e.g., Luke 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). It is within this same background that we should understand the title “Son of David”, which is applied to Jesus on a number of occasions. This particular title will be discussed in more detail in upcoming notes, but I would point out here that, within the Gospel tradition, it seems to come to the fore in the Passion narratives, beginning with the entry into Jerusalem. However, in the Infancy narratives Jesus as “Son of David” takes on special significance, in connection with his birth. To judge from contemporary Jewish material, we would not necessarily expect an immediate identification of the “Anointed” (Christ/Messiah) with the title “Son of God”, except in light of Psalm 2; 2 Sam 7, and the ancient ritual/symbolic tradition of the king as God’s “son” that underlies the Messiah concept—this will be discussed more in upcoming notes.

Both of these titles—”Lord” and “Anointed”—are brought together in the Lukan Infancy narrative at the birth of Jesus: “…produced [i.e. born] for you today a Savior which is (the) Anointed, (the) Lord [xristo/$ ku/rio$] in the city of David” (Luke 2:11; cf. also Psalms of Solomon 17:36 for a similar conjunction). Note the way that these two titles qualify Jesus as the Davidic savior:

  • A Savior (swth/r), who is
    —(the) Anointed (xristo/$)
    —(the) Lord (ku/rio$)
  • in the city of David

Interestingly, we find this same sort of combination in Philippians 3:20, only there the reference is more properly to Jesus as an eschatological Savior who will come from the ‘heavenly city’ (i.e. Heaven).

Fundamentally, of course, it is the message of salvation that is central to the Gospel proclamation, such as we see in Peter’s Pentecost speech in Acts 2. In conclusion, I would note the elements here that can be found, generally, in the announcement of Good News to Mary and Joseph in Lukan/Matthean Infancy narratives:

  • Salvation from the coming judgment, involving repentance and forgiveness of sin
  • The name of Jesus (note the traditional etymology in Matt 1:21, cf. the earlier note in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”)
  • Receiving the Holy Spirit—cp. Acts 1:8 with Luke 1:35, where the Holy Spirit will “come upon” [e)pe/rxomai] believers just as the Spirit will “come upon” [e)pe/rxomai] Mary

This last point of comparison is especially important—ultimately the birth of the Son of God (Christ) cannot be separated from the birth of believers (in Christ) as sons/children of God.