This Sunday marks the octave of Pentecost, traditionally known as Trinity Sunday—commemorating the doctrine of the Trinity. Both historically and theologically, the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine—as formulated in the Apostles’, Nicene, Constantinopolitan and Athanasian Creeds—is derived primarily from questions about the person of Jesus Christ. The principal question is two-fold: (1) in what sense is Jesus to be understood or regarded as the “Son of God”, and (2) in what sense, or to what extent, is Jesus to be considered both divine and human? It is interesting to note the gulf that exists between the orthodox Christological formulae and much of the New Testament language used in reference to Jesus—language which could be, and has been, interpreted in a heterodox manner (see the note on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy).
Consider, for example, the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts. According to the traditional-conservative view, these reflect the actual words (allowing for a modicum of translation and/or editing) of early believers such as Peter, Stephen, James, and Paul. Many critical scholars, on the other hand, see them as largely the creation of the author (trad. Luke), which may, to a greater or lesser extent, preserve earlier (oral) tradition as well. Either way, they represent some of the earliest kerygmatic statements (i.e. Gospel proclamations) regarding the person of Christ.
In light of the recent commemoration of the day of Pentecost (as narrated in Acts 2:1-13), it is worth looking at the great Pentecost speech/sermon of Peter in Acts 2:14-41. I will be discussing this in detail as part of a series of the “Speeches in the Book of Acts”, but for the moment allow me to isolate three Christological phrases:
Each of these will be examined briefly over a series of three daily notes, beginning with the first today.
Acts 2:22: a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou=
This phrase is part of the key kerygmatic statement in 2:22-24, which begins as follows:
&Andre$ )Israhli=tai, a)kou/sate tou\$ lo/gou$ tou/tou$: )Ihsou=n to\n Nazwrai=on a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou= ei)$ u(ma=$…
“Men, Israelites! hear these words/things—(of this) Jesus the Nazarean, a man a)podedeigm/enon a)po\ tou= qeou= unto you…”
The participial phrase in Greek is the central concern, and is to be translated with care:
a)podedeigme/non (apodedeigménon) is a participle form of the verb a)podei/knumi (apodeíknymi), a compound of the preposition a)po (apo, prim. “from”) and dei/knumi/deiknu/w (deíknymi/deiknúœ, “show, display, present”). The prefixed particle a)po is primarily an intensive, though here it is repeated as a preposition in the phrase. The entire expression a&ndra a)podedeigm/enon a)po\ tou= qeou= could be rendered literally “a man presented from God…” However, the compound verb a)podei/knumi often carries a more specialized meaning, such as: (1) “present (someone) in an office or position” (i.e., designate, appoint, etc) and (2) “present by evidence or argument” (i.e. demonstrate, prove, etc). Here the sense would seem to be that the special status of Jesus was demonstrated or legitimated publicly by God (a)po can indicate agency, better rendered in English as “by”), with the added nuance that Jesus was also from (a)po) God. With this in mind, verse 22 can be translated as follows:
“Men, Israelites! hear these words/things—(of this) Jesus the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you (with) works of power and wonders and signs which God did/made through him in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”
Verses 23 and 24 continue with clauses (modifying “[this] Jesus the Nazarean…”):
“23this (one), by the marked-out will [i.e. purpose] and foreknowledge of God, given out through (the) hands of lawless ones, fastening (him) toward (the stake) you took him up/away [i.e. put to death]
24whom God made stand up (again), having loosed the pains/anguish of death, according to (the fact) that [i.e. because] there was no power to firmly hold him under it”
This leads into the exposition of Psalm 16 in verses 25ff. The language and syntax of vv. 22-24 is colorful and rather awkward (as I hope the literal rendering above makes clear); later theologians and commentators certainly would use more consistent and systematic phrasing. For one thing, there is little in vv. 22-24 to distinguish Jesus from, for example, other prophets and chosen figures (such as Elijah), who, by the power of God, worked miracles (and even raised the dead). Consider again the phrase particularly in focus here, which states that Jesus was:
“a man presented by God [or from God] unto you (with) works… which God did through him…”
There is no suggestion of any “divine” status (in the orthodox sense of Jesus’ deity) prior to his death. Such language could be read in an adoptionistic sense. Adoptionism is a label applied to a range of early Christian beliefs and opinions whereby Jesus was an “ordinary” human being who was only “deified” (or, elevated to a divine status) after the resurrection. Another strand of thought held that Jesus was actually appointed/anointed/gifted as God’s Son at his baptism (cf. for example the variant reading [citing Psalm 2] in Lk 3:22). The view emphasizing the exaltation of Jesus upon his resurrection appears to have been more widespread and better accords with the depiction of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (cf. also, for example, in Romans 1:3-4). What then of the orthodox view of the Deity of Christ, in the more absolute, ontological, existential, or metaphysical sense? This will be addressed specifically following a discussion of the second and third kerygmatic phrases (from Acts 2:33, 36) in the next two notes.