June 9: Acts 2:36

This is the third of three daily notes, covering three Christological phrases in Peter’s Pentecost speech-sermon (Acts 2:14-41). The first note examined the phrase in verse 22, the second note the dual clause in verse 33; today I will look at the statement in verse 36. Verses 22-24 represent a kerygmatic formulation which precedes the citation/exposition of Psalm 16:8-11; a second kerygmatic statement follows in verses 32-33, along with a secondary citation from Psalm 110:1 in vv. 34-35. Verse 36 represents, in turn, the climactic statement of the speech, the importance of which is indicated by the solemn manner it is introduced—

“Therefore (let) all the house of Yisrael safely/surely know…”

Then comes the climactic statement:

“…that God (has) made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here is again, the central clause:

kai\ ku/rion au)to\n kai\ xristo\n e)poi/hsen o( qeo/$
“God made him (both) Lord and Anointed”

Believers are so accustomed to thinking of Jesus as Lord (that is, God/Divine) and Anointed (i.e. the Messiah), that the context of this declaration in Peter’s speech is easy to overlook. Indeed, it may be somewhat shocking to realize that Jesus’ identity/status as Lord (ku/rio$) is specifically tied to his exaltation/glorification following the resurrection. That is certainly the sense of Psalm 110:1 here (cited in v. 34-35), juxtaposed with Psalm 16:8-11—the statement in Ps 110:1 follows (and, one may say, is a result of) Jesus’ being raised and ascending (v. 34a) into Heaven. Contrast this with the citation of Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews 1:13, where there is a relatively clear sense of Jesus’ eternal, pre-existent status as God’s Son (cf. Heb 1:3ff).

Here, too, in Acts the use of the verb poie/w (poiéœ, prim. “do, make”) is problematic, especially from the standpoint of post-Nicene orthodoxy. This verb is that which is used in reference to God’s act of creation, and yet the Nicene creed explicitly states that Jesus was “begotten, not made” (gennhqe/nta, ou) poihqe/nta). And, although the statement in Acts 2:36 does not say that Jesus was metaphysically made (as a creature), how can he be said to have been “made” Lord after the resurrection? Was he not already Lord in eternal pre-existent union with the Father, and all throughout his incarnate life on earth? Certainly, later theologians and commentators would be extremely reluctant to use such language as we find here in Peter’s speech.

It is somewhat easier to speak of Jesus being “made” the Anointed (i.e. the Messiah) since this term applies primarily to an Israelite/Jewish religious concept—that of the king or priest who is anointed (ritually/symbolically) as God’s chosen representative among the people. By the time of the New Testament, following centuries of reflection and response to both the Scriptures (prim. the Prophets and prophetic Psalms) and historical circumstances, the Anointed/Messiah had come to be associated with a very definite sort of eschatological figure (Davidic ruler and/or Priest and/or Prophet) who would oversee (in whole or part) the restoration of Israel and God’s end-time judgment. In several Jewish writings likely contemporary with the New Testament—the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras)—this “Messiah” is more or less identified with an apparently separate figure, that of a heavenly/pre-existent “Son of Man” (certainly influenced by Dan 7:13). While there is some precedence for the idea of the Messiah as a divine/heavenly figure, more often he was understood to be a real human being. It is primarily the role he serves which is divinely ordained and empowered. One could, then, speak of Jesus as being “made” the Messiah, in the sense that, as a human being, he was divinely empowered to fulfill the Messianic role(s). In traditional Christological terms, Priest, Prophet and King, are understood as the three “offices” of Christ.

(For more on this, see the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and esp. Part 12 on the Messiah as “Son of God”.)

Yet, how exactly should one understand the idea of Jesus’ being “made” Lord here in Acts 2:36? The Greek word ku/rio$, in a Jewish and early Christian religious context, is used primarily as a reference to YHWH, the one God. Even in the earliest period of the New Testament writings and traditions, to refer to Jesus as ku/rio$ was tantamount to affirming his divine nature/status. There are of course passages in the Gospels where ku/rio$ is applied to Jesus in the narrative in a diplomatic or honorific sense, such as the use of “Sir” in English, but this is hardly the case in passages reflecting actual early Christian belief. More difficult to interpret are those sayings of Jesus where he appears to use the word applied to himself; perhaps most tantalizing of all is his citation of Psalm 110:1 (Mark 12:36-37 par), which might provide a decisive interpretation to the verse (see above), however the exact meaning and thrust of Jesus’ question remains a matter of considerable debate among commentators. The most explicit statement of Christian belief in this regard (identifying Jesus as Lord in the sense that God/YHWH is Lord), within the Gospel narrative, is certainly the declaration by Thomas in Jn 20:28 (“my Lord and my God!”). But if ku/rio$ is meant to indicate Jesus’ divine nature or status—identifying him in some meaningful way with God/YHWH—in Acts 2:36, how can he be said to have been “made” ku/rio$? I would suggest three main possibilities for interpretation, none of which are without difficulty:

  1. The statement fundamentally reflects an “adoptionistic” view of Christ—that is to say, he was only elevated to divine status (at the right hand of God, v. 33) upon his being raised by God from the dead and glorified/exalted. Prior to this, Jesus was simply a human being, though one specially appointed/gifted by God (v. 22ff). This would be the most straightforward reading of the statements in Peter’s speech, though of course, it contradicts much of the overall New Testament witness, and would be flatly rejected by (later) orthodox Christology. For more on this, see my article on Adoptionism.
  2. The statement—whether understood as being strictly from Peter, the author of Acts (trad. Luke), or some combination—shows a limited awareness of Jesus’ true nature. In other words, what was known for certain (at the moment) involved Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and the sending of the Spirit (from God the Father), and was expressed within a traditional Jewish conceptual framework. Only subsequently, in the following years, would an understanding of Jesus’ eternal and pre-existent divine nature develop, to be expressed within the Gospels and Epistles, etc. This view of the matter reflects the principle of progressive revelation—that only gradually, did the New Testament writers, the apostles, and other believers come to a full realization of Jesus’ nature (in the orthodox sense). This view is somewhat easier to accept if Acts 2:14-36ff represents the actual words of Peter (c. 30-35 A.D.) rather than that of the author of Acts (c. 70-80?); it would be a strong argument that, at the very least, 2:14ff records early apostolic kerygma.
  3. The statement reflects a kenotic view of Christ. By this is meant that Jesus Christ, in some meaningful (though admittedly mysterious) way, forsook his pre-existent divine nature/status, and “emptied” himself to become a human being (the so-called kenosis, from Grk. keno/w kenóœ, “[make] empty”). Upon his death and resurrection, Jesus was then elevated and restored to (an even greater?) divine status, now united with humanity, at God’s right hand. While generally attractive, there are two main difficulties with such a view: (a) it is largely dependent on a single passage (the “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11), and (b) there are several other passages (such as Col 1:19, cf. also 2:9) which have been taken as confirmation of the orthodox belief that Jesus was in some sense “fully God” even during his earthly life. Applying this view to Acts 2:14-36 also requires reading much into Peter’s speech, which as it stands, better fits an adoptionistic, rather than kenotic, viewpoint.

Clearly there are significant critical and interpretive questions involved in this verse which admit of no easy solution. On the one hand, we should guard ourselves against reading developed (orthodox) Christology back into the New Testament; on the other hand, we must be cautious about reading too much into a single passage. Peter’s speech must first be understood and interpreted in its historical and literary context:

  • The historical context—this is the first public sermon delivered by believers following the resurrection of Christ (and the sending of the Spirit); one should expect just what we find here: rough, simple, dramatic kerygmatic statements (focusing on the immediate message of the resurrection and promise of salvation), rather than a developed and systematic Christology. Throughout the Gospels and here in Acts (cf. 1:6f), there are numerous examples where even Jesus’ closest disciples (Peter and the Twelve) demonstrated that they possessed a limited awareness of exactly who he was.
  • The literary context—this is also the first major Christian speech-sermon recorded in Luke-Acts; it follows directly after the resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost: the events which Peter makes reference to in his speech. Even if the author had wished to express the deity of Christ more clearly, it would have been rather out of place in context here. The overall portrait of Christ will be expanded in the subsequent speech-sermons in Acts.

Both of these observations would tend to support the “progressive revelation” view (#2) above, as well as being the most compatible with orthodox Christology.

June 7: Acts 2:22ff

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:

    1. In verse 22a&ndra a)podedeigme/non a)po\ tou= qeou=
    2. In verse 33, a dual phrase—th=| decia=| ou@n tou= qeou= u(ywqei\$, th\n te e)paggeli/an tou= pneu/mato$ tou= a(gi/ou labw\n para\ tou= patro/$
    3. In verse 36kai\ ku/rion au)to\n kai\ xristo\n e)poi/hsen o( qeo/$

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.


I am currently in the midst of a series on the Speeches in the Book of Acts; and, as several of these sermon-speeches contain language regarding the person of Christ which does not entirely fit the standard orthodox terminology, it may be helpful to define and explain the specific label Adoptionism. This label denotes the view that Jesus was only God’s Son “by adoption” and not “by nature“—in this respect it is somewhat inaccurate, since it is not at all clear that those who held “adoptionistic” views specifically thought of Jesus as being adopted. The term is also anachronistic, in a sense, as being understood from the standpoint of Nicene Orthodoxy—with the clear idea that Jesus Christ is by nature (and in substance) identical with God, being eternally generated (or “begotten” [gennhqe/nta]) by God the Father, as enshrined in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene formulation was the product of nearly three centuries of Christological reflection, interpretation, and debate; there are serious difficulties when one tries to read this orthodoxy back into the sub-apostolic and New Testament periods. Be that as it may, when one speaks of “adoptionism” in the early Church, there are two main viewpoints which ought to be distinguished:

    1. That Jesus (a human being) was in some way chosen or designated by God as the Messiah (and/or Son of God), most commonly at the Baptism. This ‘appointment’ was accompanied by miracles and powerful (salvific) actions performed by God (through Jesus), culminating in the death and resurrection.
    2. That Jesus (a human being) was exalted by God following the resurrection, being given a divine status and position in Heaven (at the right hand of God the Father)

The first view better fits the label “adoption[ism]”; the second is closer to the actual language used in the New Testament (on this, see below). Some scholars would apply the label “Adoptionism” more narrowly, to specific ‘heretics’ from the second- and third-centuries, such as Theodotus, Artemon, and so forth (cf. below). On the other hand, for many [proto-]orthodox Church leaders and writers of the time, the issue was drawn in simpler, general terms—of Jesus as God incarnate vs. being a “mere man” (yilo\$ a&nqrwpo$). Interestingly, while I do not know that this stark juxtaposition actually fits the reality of early Christological disputes, it does fit the situation today! In the twentieth (and early twenty-first) century, there appears to be little interest or inclination toward Christological thought and expression beyond the simple question of whether Jesus was “divine” or “just a human being”.

Unfortunately, we have little reliable information as to what supposed “Adoptionists” in the early Church genuinely believed or taught; there is little, if any, first-hand information, and what is recorded by ‘orthodox’ authors such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius and Epiphanius, is of varying degrees of reliability. Certain Jewish Christians (such as the so-called Ebionites, or “Poor Ones”) are indicated as holding viewpoint #1 above. In the late-2nd and early 3d centuries, there were “Adoptionists” in Rome, associated with Theodotus [the cobbler]; apparently several bishops of Rome at this time were influenced by these views. In the mid/late-third century, Paul of Samosata (condemned at a Church council in Antioch in 268) gained a notorious reputation as a prime “Adoptionist”, but this association is highly questionable. Not surprisingly, heretical Adoptionists were accused of manipulating (altering) Scripture to accomodate their views (cf. Eusebius’ Church History V.28.13ff). While little evidence of this survives, there is actually indication of the opposite—that ‘orthodox’ scribes may have introduced changes to combat such heretical views. For a detailed discussion of the issue, specifically related to Adoptionism, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford: 1993), pp. 47-118; some of the examples he gives are more convincing than others as instances of possible intentional changes. Such modifications were not so much for the purpose of altering the text of Scripture, as to clarify the text and avoid misunderstanding/misinterpretation of key passages, such as we might find done in translations today. An obvious example would be changes meant to safeguard the idea of the Virgin Birth in verses where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” (or Joseph and Mary together as his “parents”).

The text of Scripture certainly was central to early Christological disputes, and it raises the highly controversial question as to whether there is any manner of “adoptionistic” Christology present in the New Testament itself. Upon any careful and objective study, it must be admitted that there are certainly passages, and language, which could be interpreted that way, and Adoptionists in the early Church presumably would have done so. If we consider the main question—”in what sense can Jesus be understood as God’s Son?”—and recall the two main strands of “adoptionistic” thought isolated above (#1 and 2), it becomes clear that the principal point of controversy centers on the eternal pre-existence of Jesus. Adoptionists presumably denied this point; for the [proto-]Orthdox, it was vital to the reality of both the Incarnation and the salvation brought about by God in Christ (cf. for example, Irenaeus Against Heresies IV.33.[4ff]). And, while the pre-existent divine status of Jesus is assumed in orthodox Christology, it is important to note that relatively few passages in the New Testament state or affirm this with clarity. It is attested primarily in the Gospel of John (and other Johannine writings), several places in the Pauline and Petrine Epistles, and in Hebrews; but it is hard to find, for example, in the Synoptic Gospels or Acts. In fact, one could read the Synoptic Gospels from an “adoptionist” viewpoint without much difficulty; even the Matthean/Lukan Infancy narratives, which affirm the Virgin Birth, do not necessarily indicate a belief in pre-existence.

When we examine examples of (what appears to be) some of the earliest kerygma (Gospel proclamation) in the New Testament, one is struck by a certain ambiguity of expression, judged by later ‘orthodox’ standards—it is vivid and concise (often hymnic/poetic), full of dynamic immediacy, but lacking the kind of systematic clarity so eagerly sought after in later formulae. Note the following examples, which I believe, preserve early kerygmatic formula:

    • References where it is indicated that Jesus was “presented/designated/appointed” to special/divine status—cf. the use of the verbs o(ri/zw (“mark [out], limit, determine”, sometimes in the sense of “declare, decree, appoint”, etc) in Acts 10:42; 17:31; Romans 1:4, and a)podei/knumi (“show forth, present”, often in the sense of “demonstrate” or “designate, appoint”) in  Acts 2:22. The latter reference especially could be taken in the sense of Adoptionist view #1 above.
    • In Romans 1:3-4; Acts 2:33ff; 13:32-33, and other key passages, Jesus’ designation to divine status is connected with and follows (or is a result of) the resurrection. This could be seen as corresponding to Adoptionist view #2 above. In even more striking language, note Acts 2:36, where it is stated that God “made [e)poi/hsen] him Lord and Anointed [i.e. Messiah]”, as the climactic statement in Peter’s Pentecost speech. Later Christology would be most reluctant to suggest that in any way Jesus had been made Lord [ku/rio$].

Similarly, consider the manner in which Psalm 2 [verse 7b] was used in the early Church. In Greek the key portion reads:

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

Orthodox Christology would apply this to Jesus in terms of his pre-existent Deity, of being eternally born/begotten by the Father (as the use of genna/w in the Nicene Creed); and it is presumably meant in more or less the same way in Hebrews 1:5 (and 5:5?). However, note that:

    • In Acts 13:32-33, Paul applies it to Jesus explicitly in the context of the resurrection. In a similar way, Hebrews 1:13 cites Psalm 110:1 (apparently) in the “orthodox” sense of Jesus’ pre-existent divine status (cf. Heb 1:2-3), but in Acts 2:33ff, it is cited in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. This could be taken to imply that Jesus was ‘born/begotten’ as God’s Son only after the resurrection [Adoptionist view #2 above].
    • In several Western MSS, in Luke 3:22, the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism cites Ps 2:7b; a few scholars have argued that this is the original reading, and may have been altered (to the Synoptic parallel in Mark/Matthew) because of the possibility of misunderstanding. After all, the Western variant could be taken to mean that Jesus was (only) appointed as God’s ‘Son’ at the Baptism [Adoptionist view #1 above].

That passages such as these had an Adoptionistic ‘ring’ to them is demonstrated by the fact that a number of important variant readings can be found in the surviving manuscripts (see examples in Ehrman, pp. 54ff). How are they to be reconciled with orthodox belief affirming the (pre-existent) Deity of Christ? The best (and soundest) solution lies in the concept of progressive revelation—the idea that God only reveals truth to believers by a gradual process. This means that even the early Apostles did not necessarily have a full and complete understanding of the nature and person of Jesus Christ. The immediate emphasis in early Gospel preaching and proclamation was not a clear and consistent picture of Jesus’ mysterious nature, but rather the salvific impact of his sacrificial death, the reality of the resurrection, and his exaltation to heaven at the right hand of God (from whence he will come again to judge the World). By the time we come to the Epistles of John (c. 80-90?), for example, there is a much stronger emphasis on the need for a correct confessional formula regarding the person of Christ.

There are two other, somewhat related, terms which are perhaps worth mentioning here (I may address them in more detail in upcoming articles):

  • Subordinationism—by this is meant that Jesus Christ, in his divine person (as Son of God), is in some way—whether in terms of divine nature, power, or position—subordinate (and/or “lesser”) than God the Father. The term could also be applied to the person of the Holy Spirit, and is sometimes addressed as a proper theological, rather than Christological, question—related to the Christian view of the Godhead and the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • Kenosis/Kenotic Theory—this view is derived primarily from the “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11, and would hold (with some variation) that: (a) Jesus Christ was eternally pre-existent with God the Father, but that (b) in some mysterious way, he emptied himself of deity in his Incarnation as a human being, becoming totally dependent on the Father and the power of the Spirit, only to (c) receive the divine nature/status again (with greater glory) following the resurrection and exaltation.