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.

March 18: Mark 8:27-30 par

Mark 8:27-30 (par Matt 16:13-16ff; Luke 9:18-21)

The scene of Peter’s confession can be found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:13-16, 20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21), in a very similar form, certainly derived from a common tradition. In analyzing such instances of the “triple tradition” (a tradition occurring in all three Gospels), the general prevailing critical view is that Matthew and Luke both made use of Mark as a common (written) source. Be that as it may, there remain important differences between the accounts, most notably the expanded narrative in Matthew which includes Jesus’ response to Peter (verses 17-19), a saying (or sayings) found no where else in the Gospels. This portion of Matthew (especially v. 18 and 19a) is most famous (or infamous) in the West due to the role it has played in disputes between Roman Catholics and Protestants—relating to episcopacy, apostolic succession, and the authority of the Papacy. In heat of debate, partisan commentators (on both sides) were in danger of distorting the original meaning and purpose of the text beyond all recognition. While there are still major difficulties for interpreting these particular verses (relating to Peter), the passage as a whole held much different emphasis in the early Church.

The revelatory, Christological nature of the scene was, from the beginning, paramount. It is no coincidence that Peter’s confession occurs almost precisely at the mid-point of Mark’s Gospel, for it clearly is a moment of central importance. In the basic narrative framework of all three Gospels, it occurs in the context of Jesus’ first announcement of his coming suffering and death (Mark 8:31 par.), just before the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-10 par., another revelatory scene), and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem (see esp. Luke 9:51). Jesus poses the question to his disciples, first (Mark 9:27b):

Ti/na me le/gousin oi( a&nqrwpoi ei@nai;
Who do the men count [i.e. consider] me to be?”
that is,
“Who do men [i.e. people] say that I am?”

(Luke [9:18b] has “Who do the throngs [oi( o&xloi] (of people) count me to be?”; Matthew [16:13b] has “the son of man” instead of “me”, reflecting a common Semitic circumlocution which may [or may not] have a Christological nuance originally in this instance)

And, secondly, the question (Mark 8:29a par., all identical):

 (Umei=$ de\ ti/na me le/gete ei@nai;
“And who do you count [i.e. consider] me to be?”
that is,
“Who do you say that I am?”

The two-fold question involves Jesus’ identity, with which his disciples are immediately confronted. So significant is the question, that we should examine carefully the three versions of Peter’s answer, as they are found in each Gospel:

Mark 8:29b:
Su\ ei@ o( Xristo/$
“You are the Anointed (One)”
Luke 9:20b:
To\n Xristo\n tou= qeou=
“(You are) the Anointed (One) of God”
Matthew 16:16b:
Su\ ei@ o( Xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$
“You are the Anointed (One) the son of the living God”

From a critical perspective, one may be inclined to see the shorter statement in Mark as more likely original, with Luke and Matthew adding to it (Luke adds “…of God”, Matthew adds “… the son of the living God”). From a traditional-conservative point of view, one would perhaps view the longer statement in Matthew as the original (historical) text, which Mark and Luke each simplified. Either way, the statement as it occurs in Matthew is more developed, reflecting a view of Christ much closer to that of the (orthodox) early Church. And, while critical scholars may wonder if the apostles, during Jesus’ ministry, could have formulated such a statement, it is this (developed) statement that confronts us as we read the Gospels. Its inspired nature would seem to be confirmed by Jesus’ own response (as recorded in Matthew [16:17]):

sa\rc kai\ ai!ma ou)k a)peka/luyen soi a)ll’ o( path/r mou o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
“…flesh and blood did not uncover (this) to you, but my Father the (One who is) in the heavens”

It is this revelation which is the basis for the subsequent (controversial) declarations to Peter in vv. 18-19. Two separate, but related, titles are involved: (1) the Anointed [Xristo/$, Christ = Messiah], and (2) the Son of God. We tend, at times, to ignore, or take for granted these titles; but, in the early Church believers were forced to grapple with them mightily. It is hard to appreciate just how potent these names and titles were to the mind of ancient believers. On the one hand, there is the ancient royal concept of (God’s) anointed priest or king, stretching from the earliest religion of Israel down to messianic aspirations of Jews in the time of Jesus (on  this, cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed“). On the other hand, an even more ancient religious symbol—the ruler of the people as Divine “son”, chosen by God, and representing Deity on earth. Both of these titles now take on new meaning in the person of Jesus Christ; for, in the ancient way of thinking, names had a “magical” quality—they encapsulate and represent something of the very nature and essence of a person.

It is therefore not surprising that we should find variant readings in this passage, involving the names and titles of Jesus. These are quite common throughout the textual tradition, but take on greater significance in Christological passages. An interesting such variant occurs at the end of the portion in Matthew [verse 20], where it states that “…he charged (lit. sent through) the learners (i.e. disciples) that no one (should) say that he is the Anointed (One)”. In quite a wide range of witnesses (a* B L D Q f1 f13 28 565 700 it syrc, p copsa et al) “Jesus” ( )Ihsou=$) was added either before or after “the Anointed” (o( Xristo/$). At first glance, this appears to be an instance of scribal carelessness or habit; certainly, the tendency was always to expand or add names and titles of Christ. However, it is at least possible that the widespread occurrence of the dual name here is due to its theological significance. Church Fathers of the second and early third centuries were keenly aware of aberrant or heterodox Christological views which treated the divine Christ as a separate entity from the man Jesus—to use the two names together was a way of indicating the incarnate person of Christ (in the orthodox sense). A similar variant also occurs in verse 21: in a* B* copsa mss, bo we find “Jesus (the) Anointed” ( )Ihsou=$ Xristo/$) instead of “Jesus” ( )Ihsou=$).

If the Church Fathers, on occasion, perhaps read too much into the names and titles of Jesus, I suspect that we today tend to find too little in them. Let us study these names and titles carefully, so that they might live anew and fresh in our prayer, praise, and confession (for more on the importance of names and naming, cf. the Christmas series “And you shall call His Name…“).