The Speeches of Acts, Part 4: Acts 3:11-26

Acts 3:11-26 represents the third speech in the book of Acts, and the third given by Peter. Just as the speech in Acts 2:14-40 follows the Pentecost narrative (with the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit) in 2:1-13, so this speech follows the narrative in 3:1-10: the healing of the lame man at the ‘Beautiful Gate’ of the Temple precincts. In analyzing the previous two speeches, I laid out a basic pattern for these sermon-speeches—Peter’s speech in 3:11-26 shows some variation, but it can still be outlined according to the same pattern:

    • Narrative introduction: verse 11, which joins the narrative in vv. 1-10; it is phrased somewhat awkwardly, and the Western recension (Codex D) is noticeably different. The majority text reads:
      “And (with) his [i.e. the healed man] holding firmly (onto) Peter and John, all the people ran together toward them upon [i.e. in/at] the columned porch called “Solomon’s”, (in extreme) wonderment”
    • Introductory Address (verses 12-16), which includes:
      (a) A kerygmatic statement, vv. 13-15 and
      (b) An application to the current situation, v. 16
    • Citation from Scripture (verses 17-18)—there is no central Scripture quotation, though two passages will be cited in the Exhortation below; here, however there is reference to the fulfillment of Scripture, which also serves to open the Exhortation.
    • {Exposition and Application—there is no exposition of a central Scripture citation}
    • Concluding Exhortation (verses 19-26), with kerygmatic elements (vv. 20-21) and two embedded Scripture citations:
      (a) Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 + Leviticus 23:29 (vv. 22-23)
      along with a joining verse emphasizing the fulfillment of prophecy (v. 24)
      (b) Genesis 22:18/26:4 (v. 25)
      Followed by a concluding declaration (v. 26)
    • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)—this leads into a second narrative block (4:5ff)

There are thus two main sections to the speech: the Introductory Address (vv. 12-16 + 17-18) and the Concluding Exhortation (vv. 19-26). Each of these will be examined in detail.

Introductory Address (Acts 3:12-16)

The Address (v. 12)—Peter uses the same vocative form as in the Pentecost speech: “Men, Israelites!” (cf. 2:22, also v. 14, 29). This is followed by a pair of rhetorical questions:

(For) what [i.e. why] do you wonder upon this? or
(for) what [i.e. why] do you stretch (to look) [i.e. look intently] to us?
—as though by (our) own power or good reverence/respect [i.e. religious conduct, piety] we have made this man to walk around

Peter starts from the crowd’s wonderment at the miracle and seeks to shift the focus away from he and John (the workers of the miracle) to the power behind the miracle. This leads right into a—

Kerygmatic statement (vv. 13-15)—here I will break out and comment on each element:

o( qeo\$ “The God of Abraham, [the God] of Yitschaq [i.e. Isaac], [the God] of Ya’akob [i.e. Jacob]—the God of our Fathers”—this is a solemn, fundamental way of referring to God (YHWH) in an Israelite/Jewish context (v. 12), cf. Exodus 3:6, 15 etc.

e)do/casen “has given esteem/honor (to)”—the verb doca/zw is typically rendered “give glory, glorify”, and is used in the New Testament almost exclusively in the traditional religious sense of giving glory/honor to God. It is also used of believers being honored/glorified (Rom 8:30; 11:13; 1 Cor 12:26), but, somewhat surprisingly, is almost never applied directly to Jesus (cf. 1 Pet 4:11; Heb 5:5; Rev 15:4 for qualified references). It is used of Jesus only in the Gospel of John (Jn 7:39; 12:16; and by Jesus himself in 8:54; 11:4; 12:23; 13:31-32; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, also 14:13) and here in the book of Acts. Outside of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ glorification is tied specifically to his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father in heaven (cf. Lk 24:26, 1 Tim 3:16, etc)

to\n pai=da au)tou=  )Ihsou=n “his child Yeshua”—pai=$ is fundamentally a child, but often specifically refers to a servant (who would typically be young). It is used of Jesus only in the early Gospel preaching in Acts (3:13, 26; 4:27, 30), being derived from the Old Testament (LXX), especially the “Servant Songs” of (Deutero-)Isaiah, e.g. Isa 42:1; 49:6; 50:10; 52:13. The specific idea of the child/servant being “glorified” likely comes via Isa 52:13.

o^n u(mei=$ me\n paredw/kate kai\ h)rnh/sasqe “whom you gave along and denied”—the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along, give over”) is the used typically of Jesus’ betrayal—he is “given over” into the hand of wicked men (the Jewish/Roman leaders)—and marks the beginning of the process that would lead to his death. Ironically, in the context of Jesus’ Passion, the verb a)rne/omai (“refuse, deny”) is primarily used for Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus—is this an indication that the speech is authentically Petrine?

kata\ pro/swpon Pila/tou kri/nanto$ e)kei/nou a)polu/ein “according to the face/presence of Pilate (in) that one having judged to loose him from (bondage) [i.e. set him free]”—Pilate’s role was preserved in the early kerygmatic formulae, as can be seen in Acts 3:13; 4:27; 13:28 (cf. also 1 Tim 6:13), and was retained even into the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. Pilate’s desire (or willingness) to free Jesus became a particular point of emphasis in Christian tradition over time, a development which, perhaps, can already be glimpsed in the Gospels (cf. especially Lk 23:4, 14-15, 22, 25).

u(mei=$ de\ to\n a%gion kai\ di/kaion h)rnh/sasqe “but you denied the holy and just One and asked (that) a murdering man be given (as a) favor/gift to you”—the particle de/ relates to the particle me/n in verse 13, i.e.: “on the one hand, you gave over and denied…before Pilate…, on the other hand, you denied the holy and just One and (even) asked that a murder be given to you (instead)!” Barabbas is not mentioned by name, but simply referred to (probably for dramatic effect) as a “killing/murdering man”. The substantives “Holy One” (o( a%gio$) and “Just/Righteous One” (o( di/kaio$) are relatively rare titles for Jesus, here indicative of the very earliest Gospel preaching. The same pair of adjectives was used of John the Baptist in Mark 6:20. For relevant examples from the LXX, see Gen 6:9; 2 Kings 4:9; Psalm 106:16; Sirach 44:17, etc.

to\n de\ a)rxhgo\n th=$ zwh=$ a)pektei/nate “and the leader of life you killed off”—the expression a)rxhgo/$ th=$ zwh=$ is somewhat difficult to translate, a)rxhgo/$ (arch¢gós “one who leads first”) either in the sense of originator (sometimes rendered “author”) or pioneer (i.e. one who leads the way). The latter is almost certainly meant here—not so much “author of life” (i.e. one who causes or brings it about) but rather one who leads the way (“into life”). That the genitive construction is intended to be understood this way, compare e.g. Jn 5:29; 2 Macc 7:14 (LXX), where the context is resurrection, as here. The idea that Jesus is the “first to rise” (i.e. the “firstfruits”) is well attested in early Christian proclamation (cf. Acts 26:23; 1 Cor 15:20-23; 1 Clement 24:1). There is likely also a connotation of “chief” (or “ruler”) in the term a)rxhgo/$ as well, judging by its use in Acts 5:31. In Hebrews 2:10 and 12:2, the word there may be more properly understood as “author/originator” (“author of salvation”, “author of our faith”); and note also the reference in 2 Clement 20:5.

o^n o( qeo\$ h&geiren e)k nekrw=n ou! h(mei=$ ma/rture/$ e)smen “whom God raised out of the dead (ones), of which we are witnesses”—a fundamental piece of Gospel proclamation, here in climactic position. The importance of the apostles and other contemporary believers as witnesses of the resurrection (that is, of the resurrected Jesus) is emphasized in Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 5:32; 10:41; 13:31.

Application to the current situation (v. 16)—the Greek syntax of this verse is extremely awkward, leading to any number of theories such as mistranslation or variant translation from an Aramaic source. C. F. D. Moule, according to the theory that Acts was left in unfinished form, offers the interesting suggestion that drafts of several different sentences were present and (accidentally) combined (cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] pp. 270-2). Rendered literally, the majority text reads (explanatory gloss in braces):

“And upon trust/faith in his {Jesus’} name, this one {the healed man} whom you behold and know—his {Jesus’} name has made firm/strong, and the trust/faith which through him {Jesus} has given to him {the healed man} this wholeness in front of you all”

Central Reference to Scripture (3:17-18)

This short passage joins the introductory address to the main Exhortation in vv. 19-26. With two pieces:

(a) An appeal to the crowd in response to the kerygmatic statement of vv. 13-15. The emphasis is on the people’s ignorance—they did not realize what they were doing in their opposition to Jesus:

“And now, brothers, I see [i.e. realize/know] that according to lack of knowledge [i.e. ignorance] you acted even as your leaders [oi( a&rxonte$] (did)”

For this theme of ignorance, see also Acts 13:27; 17:30; 1 Cor 2:8, and also the logion (missing from key early MSS) in Luke 23:24.

(b) A statement that the sufferings of Jesus were the fulfillment of Scripture revealed by God beforehand through the Prophets. This is a common and popular theme in Luke-Acts—cf. Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 17:3; 26:23.

Concluding Exhortation (3:19-26)

Verse 19: “Therefore change (your) mind/understanding [i.e. repent] and turn (back) upon (God) unto [ei)$, but pro$ in some MSS] the wiping out/away of your sins”

The two verbs metanoe/w (“change [one’s] mind/understanding”) and e)pistre/fw (“turn [back] upon, return”) appear frequently in the early Gospel preaching in Acts (2:38; 5:31; 9:35; 20:21; 28:27), and are used together in Acts 26:20; cf. also Acts 11:18, 21; 14:15; 17:30. The verb e)calei/fw (“wipe out”) is unusual in this context; the much more common expression is “release [a&fesin] of sins” as in Acts 2:38.

Kerygmatic/Eschatological declaration (vv. 20-21)—note the parallelism, with emphasized phrases in italics:

    • How as [i.e. so that] seasons of refreshing might come from the face/presence of the Lord,
      • and he might set forth from (himself) the (one) prepared/appointed beforehand to you, (the) Anointed Yeshua,
    • whom it is necessary (for) heaven to receive until the times of restoration of all (things),
      • which God spoke through the mouth of his Holy Ones from (the) Age, (the) Prophets

It is also possible to view vv. 20-21a as a chiasm:

    • Seasons of refreshing
      • from the face/presence of the Lord
        • Jesus to be sent forth
      • present in heaven (at the right hand of God)
    • Times of restoration

Let us examine the parallel expressions (in italics above):

kairoi\ a)nayu/cew$ (kairoi anapsy¡xeœs). The first word is the plural of kairo/$, which seems to relate fundamentally to the idea of measure—i.e. of a particular or definite point, either in a spatial or temporal sense. Temporally, it came to have the meaning of “the proper time”, “the right/decisive moment”, “an opportune time”, and so forth. A general match in English is the word “season”, and so it is often translated. However, it is partially synonymous with xro/no$ as well (see below). The noun a)na/yuci$ is derived from a)nayu/xw (“make cool again” or “breathe again”), often with the sense of “recover, refresh (oneself), find relief”, etc. The noun usually translated “soul” (yuxh/) is related to yu/xw (“cool, blow, breathe”). The noun a)na/yuci$ only occurs here in the New Testament (also in the LXX Exod 8:11), with the verb used in 2 Tim 1:16; a similar noun a)na/pausi$ (“rest [again]”) appears in Matt 11:28-29, etc. The expression kairoi\ a)nayu/cew$ could be rendered attractively (and fairly literally) in English as “time to breathe again”.

xronoi\ a)pokatasta/sew$ (chronoi apokatastáseœs). Xro/no$ is a common word for time, often, as here, a fixed measure or point in time (similar to kairo/$, “[opportune] time, occasion, season”); the plural xro/noi can also refer to a long period of time. The noun a)pokata/stasi$ is derived from a)pokaqi/sthmi, “to set (something) down [or make it stand] from (where it was [before])”, i.e. “restore, re-establish”; hence the noun is typically rendered “restoration, restitution”. Occurring only here in the New Testament, a)pokata/stasi$ (along with the related verb) became a technical eschatological term in early Christianity, at least partly due to the use of the verb in the LXX of Malachi 4:6 [3:24] (cf. Mark 9:12; Matt 17:11). The verb also is used in reference to the restoration of Israel/Judah (from exile) in the Prophets (Jer 16:15; 24:6; Ezek 16:55; and cf. Acts 1:6).

Interesting is the idea of the imminent but clearly future sending of Jesus as the Messiah (“Anointed”). This may help explain the use of xristo$ earlier in Acts 2:36—there it is stated that God made Jesus to be “Anointed” (Xristo$), following the resurrection. We are accustomed to think of Jesus as the Messiah/Christ in a more general sense, related to his divine nature (as Son of God) and role as savior (through his atoning death); here, however, we may see preserved an earlier (Jewish Christian) emphasis—of Jesus as the Anointed One who will (soon) come at the end time to restore “all things” and usher in the Kingdom and Judgment of God. The concept of the restoration of “of all things” (pantw=n) is probably derived from eschatological passages such as Isa 65:17; 66:22; cf. also 1 Enoch 45:4b-5; 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 7:75, etc; and New Testament passages such as Rom 8:19-22; Rev 21-22.

Scripture citations (vv. 23-25)—Here the Scripture is not central to the kerygma, but rather is at the heart of the concluding exhortation. Note the interesting way these are combined and interconnected in short space:

    • Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 (+ Lev 23:29?)—Jesus as the Prophet to Come
      • All of the Prophets announced these days beforehand
      • You are the offspring (“children”) of the Prophets and the Covenant
    • Genesis 22:18/26:4 (also 12:3)—promise to Abraham that through his offspring (“seed”) all the families of earth will be blessed

The first citation is drawn from Deut 18:15-19 (also quoted in Acts 7:37), identifying Jesus as the Prophet “like Moses” whom God will raise up. In Judaism at the time of the New Testament, there was the expectation of an eschatological (end-time) Prophet who would appear before the great day of the Lord; there were two patterns to this figure—(1) Elijah (based on Mal 3:1; 4:5-6) and (2) Moses (based on Deut 18:15-19). Later Christians have tended not to think of Jesus in terms of an (Anointed) Prophet of the end-times, but it was much more prominent in early belief and tradition (on this, see Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The second citation, with the emphasis on Jesus as the promised “seed” of Abraham, is more familiar to us today, by way of Paul’s writings (cf. Gal 3-4).

The Jews in the audience are referred to as: (a) “sons of the Prophets”, and (b) “(sons) of the Covenant”. The first expression was used as a technical term in the Old Testament (<ya!yb!n+h^ yn@B=) to describe someone who was a member of the Prophet class or order (1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15). Peter, however, uses it in an ethnic and spiritual sense—Jews will truly be sons of the Prophets if they hear and accept Jesus (the Great Prophet), v. 23. The second expression (“sons of the Covenant”, in Hebrew tyr!B=h^ yn@B=) does not occur as such in the Old Testament (cf. Ezek 30:5), but the underlying idea is present throughout, with the emphasis of faithfulness, of belonging to the Covenant God made with Israel and the Fathers (especially Abraham, v. 25). For the equivalent of this expression in Judaism of the period, see the Qumran texts 1QM 17:8; 4Q501; 4Q503 7-9; also CD 12:11 and Ps Sol 17:15.

Concluding declaration (v. 26)four kerymatic elements are repeated here: (1) God having raised (a)nasth/sa$) Jesus from the dead, (2) Jesus as the child (or servant, pai=$) of God, (3) turning back to God (here turning away from [a)postre/fein] sin), and (4) the release/forgiveness of sin (here implied). The unique detail in this verse is the idea (echoed from vv. 20-21) that God will send forth Jesus to bless (eu)loge/w) his people (that is, those who hear and accept the Gospel proclamation). This blessing, of course, is connected back to the citation from Genesis 22:18/26:4.

Previously in this series I have mentioned the critical view that the speeches in Acts are largely the creation of the author (trad. Luke); I also observed that is better (and more accurate) to hold that, while the speeches as we have them are part of a literary work (and so reflect much Lukan style and vocabulary), they certainly preserve core features of the early apostolic preaching. This can be seen in Peter’s speech in Acts 3:11-26 by the use of numerous expressions, as well as terms and titles for Jesus, that are not at all common in later Christian writing. In summary, I cite some notable examples:

  • Terms and titles for Jesus—child/servant (pai=$), holy one (a%gio$), just/righteous one (di/kaio$), leader of life (a)rxhgo\$ th=$ zwh=$), prophet (profh/th$), and also Anointed (xristo$, i.e. of the future/coming Messiah).
  • Other unusual or significant expressions—God “glorifying” Jesus (v. 13), the formula of the disciples as witnesses of the resurrection (v. 15b), faith specifically related to the name of Jesus (v. 16), forgiveness of sin expressed as “wiping out” (v. 19), that God will send forth Jesus (as end-time Messiah, v. 20, 26), the expressions “seasons of refreshing” and “times of restoration” (vv. 20-21), the citation of Deut 18:15-19 applied to Jesus as end-time Prophet (v. 22-23), the expressions “sons of the Prophets”/”sons of the Covenant” (v. 25), Jesus as the “seed of Abrahram” (v. 25).

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