Supplemental Note 2 on Revelation: Symbols in the Book

Symbols in the Book of Revelation

More than anything it is the vivid and striking imagery in the book of Revelation which has given it a lasting place in the Christian consciousness. It is at the heart of the expressive power of the book. And yet, so rich and varied is the symbolism that it has been possible for readers and commentators to find just about anything one wishes in it, subjecting the images and symbols to a wide range of interpretation. However, the correctness and accuracy of any interpretive approach depends on properly understanding the nature and character of the symbols themselves. As symbols, one may isolate specific objects, personages, details, and the like; at the same time, these are built up within larger symbolic matrices. Each visionary scene or episode in the book represents a matrix of connected symbols; the larger vision-cycles are even more complex, each with its own symbolic marker—seal, trumpet, offering-dish.

When approaching the visionary symbols and images of the book, I would maintain that there are three important principles that must be observed, if one hopes to obtain a sound understanding of what is being communicated through this symbolism:

    1. The symbolic, figurative character of the imagery must be recognized throughout and consistently applied.
    2. Most of the symbols carry multiple layers of meaning, being drawn from multiple strands of tradition
    3. There is a fundamental dual-aspect to a number of the major symbols (and lines of symbolism) in the book

1. The Symbolic character of the imagery

In referring to the images in the book of Revelation as symbols, and symbolic, we mean that the image is a specific sign which represents another idea or thing—that is, something other that what is typically understood by the image itself (i.e. the sign vs. what it signifies). As a rather obvious example, the image of a lamb (a)rni/on), used repeatedly in a number of visions, does not simply refer to the animal (i.e. an ordinary lamb), but symbolizes the person of Jesus Christ, in his exalted position and state in heaven following his death and resurrection. Even a casual reading by someone unfamiliar with early Christian symbolism would likely lead to this conclusion, based on how the lamb-image is used in context. It becomes all the more clear when one is aware of the various strands of tradition that go into this association of Jesus with a lamb. Indeed, for early Christians, there was no real need to explain the symbolism; for most believers, it would have been readily apparent.

A basic problem with much interpretation, especially among more traditional-conservative commentators, is the inconsistent way these symbols are treated, with a tendency to understand them in a ‘literal’, concrete way whenever possible. As an example, the Temple in 11:1-2 is actually the Jerusalem Temple complex, but the Prostitute in chapter 17 is not an actual prostitute; similarly, the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel are actually 144,000 Israelites, but the seven-headed Sea-creature is not an actual seven-headed hybrid animal coming out of the sea. In my view, this distorts and misreads the symbolism of the book—if the seven-headed creature from the sea is symbolic and figurative, then almost certainly the image of the 144,000 from the twelve tribes is symbolic as well.

That these images are all substantially symbolic seems to me to be without question; however, there may be some difference in the degree or extent of the symbolism. For example, a seven-headed monster is more clearly figurative than other images; and, while the specific detail of 3½ or 1000 years is symbolic, it still relates to a period of time. Moreover, the symbolism may be rooted in a particular aspect of the imagery, or may relate specifically to how different images are connected. In this regard, the visions of Revelation are comparable to the Gospel parables of Jesus—the basis of the (figurative) illustration lies more in the overall scenario and portrait than in the meaning that is attached to each individual detail.

In the notes, I have made every attempt to analyze the symbolism for each vision carefully, with the guiding premise that, in every case, the imagery is symbolic, and not to be understood in a concrete, literalist manner.

2. Multiple Layers of Meaning

In many instances, the symbols in the visions carry multiple layers of meaning, based on their manifold derivation, drawing upon different strands of tradition. It is often possible to demonstrate this (and I have done so at many places in the notes), isolating the distinct strands, which tend to come from three broad lines of tradition:

    • The Old Testament Scriptures, along with subsequent Jewish (eschatological and Messianic) tradition
    • The surrounding Greco-Roman world—its literature, culture, manner of expression, et al.
    • The life experience of believers, both in community and in relation to the wider (Greco-Roman [pagan] and Jewish) world; obviously, it is the experience of believers in Asia Minor, in the late-first century A.D., that informs the imagery.

The first line of tradition is perhaps the most notable. The visions in the book are packed full of references and allusions to Old Testament and Jewish tradition; it may be possible to distinguish these further:

    • Historical references, especially to passages and episodes which relate to the idea of God’s Judgment upon the wicked—Moses and the Exodus (i.e. the plagues on Egypt), Sodom and Gomorrah, the prophetic oracles (in Joel, Ezekiel, Zechariah) depicting the collective Judgment on the Nations, etc.
    • Eschatological and Messianic references—these are replete throughout, but may be seen as including the many references to the book of Daniel
    • Images specifically related to the idea (and identity) of Israel as the people of God—regularly applied to believers as the people of God in the New Covenant (and New Age)
    • Cosmological mythic/archetypal images, including motifs from the Creation narrative (Paradise, river, tree of life, etc); a prominent line of Near Eastern mythic tradition is associated with the Dragon/Sea-creature imagery in the second half of the book (chapters 12-13ff), and other examples could be cited as well.

With regard to the second area, it is the traditional imagery of the imperial cult that is most to be noted, with many details and motifs in the visions alluding in various ways to Roman imperial iconography. It is hard to know how readily the Greek-speaking readers/hearers at the time would have picked up on these allusions, but I suspect that the visions communicated this aspect to them clearly enough, so immersed as they were within the surrounding Roman culture.

The same Roman (imperial) environment relates to the third area—the life-experience of believers in Asia Minor. It was their sense of common identity, in the face of the surrounding pagan (and Roman imperial) culture, which establishes the fundamental conflict that runs through the visionary narrative. The experience of actual persecution at the time, to varying degrees, informs the depiction of the more intense and widespread persecution to come, during the period of distress. The community life and identity of believers informs the symbolism in many other ways as well; I have attempted to bring out this aspect at a number of points in the notes.

3. A Dual-Aspect to the Symbolism

In addition to the multiple layers of meaning to the symbols, it is possible to recognized a wider dual-aspect to the major strands of symbolism. Generally speaking, this may be defined as a dualism consisting of an earthly and heavenly aspect. It does not apply so much to individual symbols as it does to the larger symbolic matrices. I would note three areas where it is most prevalent, and where it is important to recognize its application to the meaning of the symbolism:

    • Believers as the People of God—in their heavenly aspect, they are shown existing in an exalted state, in heaven, along with multitudes of heavenly beings; at the same time, in their earthly aspect, they face oppression and persecution from the forces of evil at work in the world. Only in the closing chapters, during the New Age, when the heavenly “Jerusalem” descends to earth, are both aspects united.
    • The Forces of Evil—involving the various symbols of the Dragon, Sea-creature, the “Great City”, Prostitute, etc.; there is similarly a ‘heavenly’ and earthly aspect. Most of the visions focus on the manifestation of evil on earth, but throughout there is a transcendent, cosmic aspect, evident most clearly in the symbol of the Dragon, who, in chapter 12, is depicted in conflict with the People of God both on earth and in heaven.
    • The Judgment—again, there is both an earthly and heavenly aspect to the end-time Judgment; for the most part, the visions (esp. the Trumpet- and Bowl-cycles) focus on the earthly aspect, but, during the later chapters especially, the heavenly aspect is more clearly in view.

 

Birth of the Messiah: Micah 5:2

Micah 5:1 [2]:
The Messianic Bethlehem Tradition

The strongest passage in the New Testament regarding the birth of the Messiah is the treatment of the Bethlehem tradition in the Matthean Infancy narrative (2:1-12)—in particular, the citation of Micah 5:1 [2] within the narrative (vv. 4-6). The tradition regarding Jesus‘ birth in Bethlehem is quite strong, on objective grounds; it is one of the few elements of the Infancy narrative shared by Matthew and Luke (though presented quite differently). Only Matthew relates it to the prophecy in Micah 5:1 [2], and in such a way as to indicate that it was regarded as a Messianic prophecy prior to its application to Jesus. Here is how the Gospel writer frames the citation:

And (hav)ing brought together all the chief sacred officials and (expert)s on the writings [i.e. scribes] of the people, he [i.e. Herod] inquired (from) alongside of them where the Anointed (One) comes to be (born). And th(ey) said to him, “In Beth-Lehem of Yehudah—for so it has been written through the Foreteller: ‘And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah, not even one (bit the) least are you among the leaders of Yehudah; (for) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader who will shepherd my people Yisra’el'”.

The Matthean Infancy narrative in chapter 2 may be divided into two halves—the second having a tri-partite structure:

    1. The visit of the Magi (vv. 1-12)
    2. The Flight to Egypt—a triad with a Scripture citation in each part:
      • The Dream of Joseph, warning of Herod, and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
        “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1)
        • Herod’s killing of the infants in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
          “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jeremiah 31:15)
      • The Dream of  Joseph speaking/warning of Herod, and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
        [“He shall be called a Nazarene” (citation uncertain)]

It is also possible to separate it into two halves, each with a bi-partite structure (containing a main and secondary Scripture passage):

    • The visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem, in the threatening shadow of Herod (vv. 1-12)
      “And you O Bethlehem…” (Micah 5:2)
      • The Dream of Joseph and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
        “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1)
    • Herod, ‘tricked’ by the Magi, slaughters the children in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
      “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jer 31:15)
      • The Dream of Joseph and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
        [“He shall be called a Nazarene”]

One might also add 1:18-25 to create three-part structure for the entire Infancy Narrative, each with a central Scripture passage and dream ‘visitation’:

The Scripture citations are central to the narrative, as also to the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of Israel. Unlike the other citations (1:22-23; 2:15, 17-28, 23), here the Scripture is quoted by a character (priests and scribes together) in the narrative, rather than as an aside by the author. Critical scholars would still view this as a Matthean citation, little different from the others in the Gospel; however, if we are to accept the narrative at face value, along with the underlying historical tradition, then Micah 5:1 [2] would have been understood as having Messianic significance at the time of the events recorded (end of the 1st century B.C.), prior to being applied by early Christians to Jesus decades later. To be sure, the original context of the passage (cf. below) is much closer to having an actual ‘Messianic’ connotation than the other Scriptures cited by Matthew (Isa 7:14; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15; and those underlying Matt 2:23). Even so, there is (as yet) no direct evidence for a Messianic interpretation of Micah 5:1 [2] in the first centuries B.C./A.D., outside of the New Testament itself.

If one looks honestly at the original historical context of Isa 7:14 [see the previous note and earlier articles on this passage]; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15, etc., it must be admitted that they have little to do with a future Messiah-figure. It is conceivable that Isa 7:14 could have been understood in this way, but there is no real evidence for it in Jewish literature contemporaneous or prior to the New Testament. The case may be somewhat different for Micah 5:1 [2], based on the following factors:

    • Unlike the oracles of Isaiah 7:10-17 and 9:1-7, which are presented in a relatively precise historical context (the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis and impending invasion by Assyria, c. 740-701 [esp. 735-732] B.C.), Micah 5:1-6 [MT 4:14-5:5] has a rather more general setting of coming judgment (military attack implied) followed by restoration. The themes (as well as language and style) of the these oracles in Micah are quite similar to those of Isaiah, but without some of the accompanying historical detail.
    • Assyrian invasion is mentioned in 5:5[4], and is presumably the source of judgment to hit Judah and the Northern kingdom (there is no clear indication Samaria has yet fallen, 722-721 B.C.); however, there is nothing like the precise (imminent) timing found in the predictions of Isa 7:15-17; 8:4. The implication of Micah 5:5-6 would seem to be that the Davidic ruler of 5:2 will lead (Judah’s) troops against the Assyrian invasion, which will lead to the gathering in of the remnant of Jacob (the Northern kingdom?). There is thus a closer parallel to the oracle in Isa 9:1-7, which is also more plausibly ‘Messianic’ (in its original context) than Isa 7:10-17.
    • The reference in Micah 5:3 [2] that God will give Israel/Judah up to judgment “until the one giving birth has given birth” is far more general (and symbolic, cf. the reference in 4:10) than that of the virgin/woman of Isaiah 7:14 (or Isa 8:3); this fact, in and of itself, makes application of the passage to an archetypal or future ruler much more natural.
    • The reference to Bethlehem (in Judah), while possibly intended (originally) to refer to a specific coming ruler in Micah’s own time, also makes likely an archetypal reference to the Davidic line (cf. also references to the “house of David” and “throne of David”, Isa 7:13; 9:7, etc).
    • While one can consider the language in 5:2b as similar to the exalted honorific titles given to ancient Near Eastern rulers (see my notes on Isaiah 9:6-7 in this regard), there is a dynamic, almost ‘mythological’ quality to the phrasing, which, when removed from the immediate context, would certainly suggest divine origin. Once the specific ritual sense of king as God’s “son” (cf. Psalm 2) has ceased to be relevant in Israelite history, the way is paved for the idea of a future/Messianic ruler as “son of God”.

Matthew’s citation of Micah 5:2 differs in several respects from both the Hebrew (MT) and Septuagint (LXX) versions:

Hebrew (MT) [5:1]

And you, House-of-Lµm {Bethlehem} of Ephrath,
Small to be (counted) with the ‘thousands’ [i.e. clans] of Yehudah {Judah},
From you shall come forth for/to me
(One) to be ruling/ruler in Yisra°el {Israel},
And his coming forth is from ‘before’ [<d#q#]
—from (the) days of ‘long-ago’ [<l*ou]

LXX

And you, Beth-lehem, house of Ephrathah
Are little to be in/among the thousands of Yehudah;
(Yet) out of [i.e. from] you will come out for/to me
The (one) to be unto (a) chief [a)rxwn] in Yisra’el,
And his ways out are from (the) beginning [a)rxh]
—out of [i.e. from] (the) days of (the) Age

Matthew 2:6

And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah,
Not even one (bit the) least are you in/among the leaders of Yehudah;
(For) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader
Who will shepherd my people Yisra’el

There are three major differences (and one minor) between Matthew’s citation and that of the LXX and Hebrew MT:

      • Instead of the reference to Ephrath(ah), Matthew specifies “land of Judah”; this may be an intentional alteration to avoid mention of an unfamiliar clan name (though the place name Ramah is retained in the citation of Jer 31:15 [Matt 2:18]).
      • Instead of calling Bethlehem small/little [LXX o)ligosto$], Matthew uses the expression “not even one (bit the) least” [ou)damw$ e)laxisth, i.e. ‘not at all’, ‘by no means’]—in other words, Bethlehem is actually great. Is this a variant reading (from a lost Hebrew or Greek version), or an intentional alteration (by the Gospel writer)?
      • Instead of the ‘thousands’ [or clans] of Judah, Matthew reads “leaders [h(gemwn]” of Judah. This is a relative minor difference, and may conceivably reflect a different reading of the consonantal Hebrew text; or it may be an attempt to emphasize rule (rather than the constitution) of Judah.
      • Matthew has omitted the final bicolon (“and his coming forth…”), inserting at the end of the prior line (replacing “of Israel”): “who will shepherd my people Israel”. This appears to be a quotation from 2 Samuel 5:2 (LXX): “you will shepherd my people Israel”, joined to Mic 5:2. The inclusion of this Scripture would strengthen the citation as a reference to the Davidic ruler figure-type.

Messianic Interpretation of Micah 5:1 [2]

The historical tradition in Matt 2:4-6 evinces a belief, or expectation, by Jews of the time, that the Anointed One (that is, the Davidic Messiah) would be born in Bethlehem. There can be little doubt that this underlies the core Gospel traditions in the Infancy narratives. Both the Matthean and Lukan narratives emphasize the association with David, though this is stronger and more pervasive in Luke (cf. Matt 1:1ff, 17, 20; Lk 1:27, 32-33, 69ff; 2:4, 8ff, 11). The historical detail of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is part of this Davidic Messianic tradition. The fact that the Bethlehem tradition is presented so differently within the two narratives demonstrates that it pre-dates both of them.

Indeed, there is evidence that the Bethlehem tradition (and also Micah 5:1 [2]) had been independently applied to the Messiah, in Judea, prior to the writing of the Gospels. This can be inferred fairly from John 7:41-42:

“Others said [i.e. regarding Jesus], ‘This is the Anointed (One)’, and (yet) others said, ‘No, for the Anointed (One) does (not) come out of the Galîl {Galilee}, (does he)? (Has) not the Writing said that out of the seed of Dawid and from Beth-Lehem the Anointed (One) comes?'”

The historical context in John at this point is ambiguous enough to virtually guarantee that we are dealing with a Jewish (rather than early Christian) tradition. It could be derived simply from the historical details surrounding David’s life, but more than likely the reference in Micah 5:2 is assumed as well. The tradition of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem is established in the subsequent Rabbinic literature—most notably, Jerusalem Talmud Berakot 5a [2:4], and the Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations §51 (on Lam 1:16). However, these passages are considerably later than the first century, and evidence from the first centuries B.C./A.D. is scant indeed. Sadly, the surviving fragments of the Qumran Commentary (Pesher) on Micah (1Q14) do not cover the relevant portion of the book (4:14-5:5 [5:1-6]). A separate text, 4Q168, with two small fragments, may be a similar Micah pesher (the surviving portion deals with 4:8-12), but too little is preserved to provide much by way of interpretation.

According to Origen, in his work Against Celsus (1.51), Jewish scholars in his time (and prior) had removed or suppressed the Bethlehem tradition—i.e., the expectation that the (Davidic) Messiah would be born in Bethlehem—to avoid giving support for the Christian belief in Jesus as the Messiah. However accurate this bit of apologetic may (or may not) be, it could be seen as providing independent confirmation of the Bethlehem tradition by perhaps the mid-2nd century A.D. Around the same time may be dated the Aramaic Targum (Jonathan) on the Prophets, which glosses/paraphrases Micah 5:1 [2] to say specifically that the Messiah comes out of Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the Jewish evidence cannot be dated, reliably at least, any earlier than this. Even within the later Rabbinic writings, the Bethlehem tradition is not very widespread; there is, for example, no reference to Bethlehem in the Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52a where the Messiah’s birth is alluded to. This may be partly because of the complex character of the Messianic figure-types, alternating between ordinary human and supernatural/heavenly figures, sometimes even suggesting a (re)incarnation of David or Elijah himself. In the New Testament we actually have more detail regarding the birth of Jesus as the Messiah than we typically find elsewhere in Jewish tradition regarding the Messiah.

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 2)

This study continues our discussion last week on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, a passage that is often regarded as an interpolation, due to: (a) the way that it apparently disrupts the flow of the letter between 6:13 and 7:2, and (b) the significant number of unusual words, expressions and concepts present in the section, many of which are rare or not otherwise found in Paul’s letters. I outlined five approaches or theories regarding the passage:

    • It is Pauline (i.e. authored by Paul) and in its proper place as part of single unified letter—whether defined as 2:14-7:4, all of 2 Corinthians, or something in between  [View #1]
    • It is non-Pauline, but used by Paul and in its proper location [View #2]
    • It is Pauline, but from a separate letter or writing, and has been inserted into its current location secondarily (i.e. an interpolation) [View #3]
    • It is non-Pauline, and an interpolation [View #4]
    • It is anti-Pauline (i.e. contrary to Paul’s own thought, in certain respects) and an interpolation [View #5]

The previous study examined 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of textual criticism, especially noting 11 rare or unusual words which, taken together, make a serious argument against Pauline authorship. However, before this can be evaluated entirely, we must look at the passage from the standpoint of source criticism and form (or genre) criticism.

Source Criticism & Form/Genre Criticism

Source criticism primarily examines a passage in terms of whether it may be derived from a separate source (document) to be included within the larger literary work, and what the nature and characteristics of such a source might be. The high incidence of rare/unusual vocabulary increases the likelihood that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is, in some manner, derived from a separate source. This does not necessarily preclude Pauline authorship, since many commentators believe that Paul may have adapted previously existing material, using it for his own purposes—a possibility that will be discussed in due course.

The source-critical question is especially complicated, in the case of 2 Corinthians, since a good number of commentators hold that the letter itself, as we have it, is composite—a compilation of more than one letter, i.e. genuine letters (or parts of letters) written by Paul. These theories will not be discussed here (consult any reputable critical commentary for a survey), except to mention several representative views, which would divide the letter as follows:

    • 2-document—(1) chapters 1-9, and (2) chapters 10-13; this is the simplest such theory, and is held even by a number of more traditional-conservative commentators.
    • 3-document—(1) chapters 1-8; (2) chap. 9, a letter regarding the financial collection for Jerusalem; and (3) chaps. 10-13.
    • 5-document—(1) 1:1-2:13; (2) 2:14-6:13 + 7:2-16 (some would join 7:4-16 with 1:1-2:13); (3) chap. 8 and (4) chap. 9 as separate letters (perhaps sent at the same time) regarding the collection; and (5) chaps. 10-13.

Most commentators who hold the above theories (or a variation of them) regard 6:14-7:1 as a (non-Pauline) interpolation. However, before proceeding to an examination of source-critical theories, it is necessary to consider just what kind of material we are dealing with.

Form (Genre) Criticism

Form criticism analyses the shape and structure of a passage independently, as a unit, especially in terms of the common techniques, literary devices and approaches, style of writing, etc, used by authors of the time. This relates to what is called Genre criticism, analysis of the type or kind (genre) of writing represented by a particular section or passage, often expressed according to a set of standard categories. For example, a personal letter is itself a literary genre (and form), for which there have been identified a number of sub-genres. A sermon is another kind of genre, as is poetry, etc. Quite often a literary work, including letters/epistles—especially lengthier, complex letters such as Romans and 1-2 Corinthians—contain a variety of forms and genres utilized by the author.

Let us consider specifically the form of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; last week I provided an outline of the structure of this section:

    • Initial statement (injunction)—V. 14a
    • Poetic exposition, concluding in a Scripture citation—Vv. 14b-16
    • Catena (chain) of Scripture citations—Vv. 17-18
    • Concluding exhortation—Ch. 7:1

I noted how this gives it the character of a mini-sermon or homily. Specifically, it appears to be a homiletic treatment of a particular injunction from the Torah—the prohibition(s) against the joining together of different kinds of animals (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:10). Though neither Scripture is cited explicitly, the injunction in v. 14a clearly implies the former, applying it to the life situation of believers:

You must not come to be yoked with (those who are) different, (to one)s without trust!
M¢ gínesthe heterozygoúntes apístois

The key word is the verb heterozygéœ (“join together with [something/someone] different”), one of the 11 rare/unusual words in the passage I noted last week. Almost certainly, it is drawn from the related adjective heterózygos in the Greek version (LXX) of Lev 19:19, and thus suggests that marriage and sexual intercourse (i.e. breeding of animals) is the principal association used in the application, rather than simply being under the same “yoke” (Deut 22:10). Clearly, however, the rare word heterozygéœ is fundamentally derived here from the (Greek) Old Testament. Similarly, three other rare/unusual words (all compound nouns) appear to have been introduced to express the same basic idea: (1) metoch¢¡ (“holding [something together] with [another]”), (2) sumfœ¡n¢sis (“giving voice together [i.e. agreement] with [another]”), and (3) sungkatáthesis (“setting down together with [another, i.e. in agreement]”). All three nouns essentially serve to expound/explain the idea contained in the verb heterozyg霗of being “joined together with (someone) different”.

Returning to the structure of the section, the exposition in vv. 14b-16 is unquestionably poetic, and really ought to be presented as such when the text is quoted or translated. It follows ancient and traditional conventions for Semitic (i.e. Hebrew and Aramaic) poetry, which utilizes a bicolon (couplet, 2-line) format, with consistent parallelism (i.e. the second line restates and reinforces the first). This poetic exposition in vv. 14b-16, though given in Greek (translation?), reflects this same basic pattern. There are three couplets (6 lines), concluding with a Scripture citation; to illustrate this, I give the first line of each couplet in bold:

“For what holding (is there) with [i.e. between] justice and lawlessness,
or what common (bond is there) with [i.e. between] light and darkness?
15And what voice (sounding) together (is there) of (the) Anointed (One) toward Belîal,
or what portion for (the one) trusting with (the one) without trust?
16And what setting down together (is there) for the shrine of God with images?
for you are the shrine of (the) living God, even as God said that
‘I will make (my) house among them and will walk about among (them),
and I will be their God and they will be my people.'”

As is readily apparent, the parallelism runs through all three couplets; but in the first two couplets the parallelism is specifically synonymous (i.e. second line restates the first), while in the third couplet it is synthetic (i.e. second line builds upon the first).

The Scripture citation in verse 16 leads into a chain (catena) of citations, such as we find frequently in Jewish (and Christian) writings of the period. It was a common technique, used in both preaching and teaching (and as a memory device), bringing together various Scripture passages seen as related to the subject at hand. Paul himself used this catena technique a number of times in the undisputed letters, especially in Romans (3:10-18; 9:25-29; 10:15-21; 11:8-10, 26, 34-35; 15:9-12). However, some would claim that the citation style here is foreign to Paul. The specific Scriptures cited appear to be:

Finally, we have the concluding exhortation in 7:1—a message by the preacher applying the exposition more directly to the life situation of believers. How does the form and genre of the section—a homiletic exposition using poetry and a Scripture chain (catena) device—relate to the question of source/authorship? I would make the following points:

    • The structure of the section fits that of a self-contained mini-sermon or homily, which does not obviously relate, either in language or theme, to the surrounding context. However, Paul was certainly capable of, and adept at, applying passages from the Pentateuch/Torah, in a homiletic (midrashic) fashion, to fit the circumstances of believers in Christ—see esp. the notable examples in 1 Cor 10:1-13 and Galatians 3:6-18; 4:21-31. These examples are more extensive (and obviously Pauline) than that of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1.
    • Much of the rare/unusual vocabulary is tied to author’s citations and allusions to the Old Testament Scriptures (Greek LXX), especially the verb heterozygéœ in the opening injunction (drawn from Lev 19:19), and the divine title Pantokrátœr in the citation of v. 16 (from 2 Sam 7:8ff). As noted above, three other rare compound nouns appear to have been introduced specifically to expound the verb heterozygéœ in the poetic section of vv. 14b-16. As a point of information, it may be noted that Paul does not make use of any of these particular Scriptures elsewhere in his letters.
    • The unusual vocabulary and manner of expression is also due to the poetic character of the exposition in vv. 14b-16, which continues, in part, into the Scripture chain of vv. 17-18. Paul typically does not write in poetry, and, where it does occur in his letters, it would seem to be largely due to: (1) quotation and allusion to Scriptural poetry, or (2) inclusion of pre-existing (early Christian) hymn or creedal forms. The last point may be debated, but it is the view of many commentators regarding, for example, the Christological statements in Romans 1:3-4 and Philippians 2:6-11 (see also Col 2:15-20; 1 Tim 3:16).
    • Moreover, the style of poetic, comparative expression in vv. 14b-16 is traditional, examples of which can be seen in a number of Jewish writings of the period. An interesting parallel may be seen in the deutero-canonical book of Sirach 13:2, 17ff:
      “What common (bond) does an earthen (pot) share toward a (metal) basin?” (v. 2, cp. 2 Cor 6:14c)
      “What common (bond) does a wolf share with a lamb?…” (v. 17)
      “What peace (is there for) a hyena toward a dog?…” (v. 18)
      On parallels in the Qumran texts and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, see below.

With this in mind, let us turn again to the question of 6:14-7:1 as deriving from a separate (non-Pauline) source.

Source Criticism

Considered on its own merits, what we can say about 6:14-7:1 is that it represents an early Jewish-Christian homiletic exposition of a command from the Torah. It was written/composed by someone familiar with Jewish preaching/teaching techniques and devices, and the conventions of Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) poetry. It is not entirely certain whether it was originally composed in Hebrew/Aramaic (and subsequently translated), or in Greek, the latter being more likely. Even for a native Greek speaker, the conventions of Semitic poetry could be learned through familiarity with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Old Testament. When we come to examine the literary style and content of the section more closely, it will become even more clear that the orientation of 6:14-7:1 is fundamentally Jewish—i.e. Jewish Christian. The theme of ritual purity in the section confirms this, and is one of the aspects that makes commentators question authorship by Paul. However, in most respects, Paul, as author/composer of the section, would fit the criteria indicated above. Thus, we can consider the following source-critical theories:

    1. 6:14-7:1 represents traditional Jewish (Jewish Christian) homiletical material adapted and included by Paul in his letter (either 2 Corinthians itself or a separate letter of which it is comprised).
    2. It is from an entirely separate (Jewish Christian) document, or literary work, which has been included as part of 2 Corinthians, presumably under the (mistaken) belief that it was part of his Corinthian correspondence.
    3. It is purely Paul’s own (inspired) composition and reflects no separate ‘source’ at all.

The last theory would be the standard traditional-conservative view, one held by very few critical commentators. Given the unusual vocabulary of the passage, its self-contained poetic-homiletic character, and other Jewish-Christian points of emphasis (to be examined in the next study [cf. below]) which seem at odds, to some extent, with Paul’s thought and manner of expression in his other letters, the existence of a distinct source seems more likely. For many scholars, there are extensive parallels to be found in other Jewish writings of the period—especially certain of the Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) texts, and a collection of writings known as the “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”—and that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 evinces at least as close an affinity to these as it does to the letters of Paul. This evidence will be examined in the next study, as well as in a supplemental article. In preparation, I would ask you to consider carefully the following points (and questions):

    • The motif of ritual purity that runs through the section, and which is applied to the separation of believers from non-believers. It is expressed most directly in the closing exhortation of 7:1. Does this agree with what Paul teaches, and how he communicates it, in his other letters? Why or why not?
    • This separation/purity theme is part of a strongly dualistic (Christian) worldview. To what extent does this fit Paul’s own view and manner of expression? In particular, does the use of the contrasting nouns dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) here accord with Paul’s thought and theology?
    • The name Belíal (here in the variant spelling Belíar) is not used anywhere else by Paul in his letters (nor anywhere in the New Testament at all), even in similar contexts where he might have had occasion to use it; but it does occur frequently in Jewish writings of the period, such as the Qumran texts and the “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” (for more on this, read my supplemental article). If 6:14-7:1 comes from Paul, how is this to be explained?

August 15: Mark 4:10-12 (Isa 6:9-10)

The use of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mark 4:10-12 par

For a detailed study of the saying of Jesus in Mark 4:11 (par Matt 13:11; Luke 8:10), see the previous two daily notes (Aug 13 & 14). Today I will look the Old Testament passage (Isa 6:9-10) used there in the context of the Synoptic narrative.

Isaiah 6:1-13 serves as the introduction for the division of the book spanning chapters 6-12, and, in particular, the context of the Syro-Ephraemite War in chs. 6-8. It may also be intended to represent the visionary experience of Isaiah the Prophet. The section can be outlined as follows:

    • Vv. 1-7—The vision of God (YHWH) on his throne
      • v. 1: Setting and statement of the vision
      • vv. 2-4: Description of the Divine manifestation (Theophany)
      • vv. 5-7: Isaiah’s response culminating in a symbolic purification of the Prophet
    • Vv. 8-13—Commission of Isaiah and the Prophetic message
      • v. 8: Statement/narration of the commission—God’s request and Isaiah’s response
      • vv. 9-10: Description of the Message (Divine oracle)
      • vv. 11-13: Isaiah’s response culminating in a message regarding the ‘purification’ of the land and its people (through judgment)

There is a similarity in outline (and content) to the visionary experience of the Prophet Micaiah, described in 1 Kings 22:19-23:

    • A vision of God (YHWH) on his throne, surrounded by heavenly beings—1 Ki 22:19 / Isa 6:1-4
    • God’s request for a Messenger to be sent forth—1 Ki 22:20 / Isa 6:8
    • A Messenger volunteers:
      Heavenly messenger (“I will [go out]…”)—1Ki 22:21-22a
      Human messenger (“See, I [am here], send me”)—Isa 6:8b
    • At God’s command, the messenger is to obscure the understanding of human beings:
      To be a lying/enticing spirit for Ahab—1 Ki 22:21-23a
      To thicken/harden the hearts and minds of the people—Isa 6:9-10
    • The purpose is to bring about God’s Judgment on the land and its people—1 Ki 22:23 / Isa 6:11-13

The tendency has been for readers and commentators to focus on the positive part of Isaiah’s vision and commission (in verses 1-8), rather the negative portion of the message he is to speak (vv. 9-13). The most troubling aspect is the way that God seems to express the wish (or, at least, the purpose) that the Prophet, through his message, should harden the hearts and minds of the people so that they might not repent—at least not until the ordained Judgment comes (by way of the Assyrian invasions/conquests during the years 734-701 B.C.). In this regard, it is important to study closely the Hebrew text of verses 9-10, which I give here in a rather literal rendering:

“Go!—and you shall say to this people:
‘Hearing you must hear, and (yet do) not understand!
and seeing you must see, and (yet do) not (come to) know!’
Make fat(ty) the heart of this people—
their ears make heavy, and their eyes smear shut—
lest they see with their eyes,
and with their ears hear
and with their heart distinguish,
and there be turning and healing for (the)m!”

In some ways the key expression is found in the particle Á/P#, typically translated “lest” (for lack of a better option in English); however, the basic idea is something like “so as to avoid/remove (the possibility) that…”—i.e., “so that they do not see with their eyes,” etc. This combined with the causative (Hiphil) verb forms in v. 10—”make fat(ty)”, “make heavy”, “smear/glue (them) shut”—clearly indicates God’s intention regarding the effect of the Prophet’s message on the people. I regard only the portion marked by single quote marks (in v. 9) to represent the actual message; the remainder (v. 10) describes what the result of the preaching will (and should) be. This way of understanding human events and decisions as being foreordained and determined by God, according to his will and purpose, is generally foreign to our way of thinking today; however, it was quite common (and fundamental) to ancient (religious) thought. If a people suffered some disaster—plague, earthquake, invasion, etc—this was brought about by the divine powers; and, similarly, if people refused to repent or change their behavior, this too was the result of divine influence. It is really only in recent centuries that this basic worldview has undergone considerable change; and now the question of divine sovereignty vs. human freedom creates enormous difficulty and challenges for thoughtful persons, including believers in Christ. The problem was only generally (and vaguely) sensed by people in the time of Jesus; this, perhaps, may be glimpsed in the way that Isa 6:9-10 was rendered into Greek. Here is the LXX version:

“Go/travel (forth) and say to this people:
‘Hearing you will hear, and (yet) you should not put (it) together [i.e. understand]!
Looking you will look, and (yet) you should not (come to) see [i.e. know]!’
The heart of this people will be made thick/fat,
and they hear heavily in their ears, and close shut their eyes,
(that) they should not ever see with th(eir) eyes
and hear with th(eir) ears
and put (it) together [i.e. understand] with th(eir) heart,
and turn (back) upon (me), and I will heal them.”

The Greek wording, in verse 10, has altered the tone and tenor somewhat. First, the Hiphil imperatives have been changed into indicative forms, simply stating what has been (or will be) occurring; it also seems to put the responsibility on the people themselves. Second, the subjunctive forms make it at least possible that the people might (yet) see/hear/understand. The Greek particle mh/pote (“not ever, never”), corresponding to Hebrew /P# (see above), governing the subjunctive, could (conceivably) be read as a conditional statement—i.e., “unless they should see…” The last verb in v. 10 has also been changed into a first person future (indicative) form, where God says “I will heal them”. There are two ways v. 10 can be understood (in the LXX):

(a) “so that they might never see… and turn back (to me) and I would heal them [i.e. if they had turned to me, which they will not]”
(b) “unless they should see… and (then) turn back (to me) and I will heal them [i.e. if they do turn to me]”

The second of these is really not tenable, grammatically; for those readers who would like to shift the emphasis away from God’s purpose and over to the people’s response, it is necessary to infer a particle of result (rather than purpose)—”…they close shut their eyes so that [i.e. as a result] they won’t ever see…and turn back (to me), and (if they did turn) I would heal them”.

Matthew 13:14-15 cites the LXX rather closely; in Mark’s version, Jesus’ quotation is an abridgement (cf. the portion in italics above), with a few differences (marked by italics below):

“Looking they should look, and (yet) they should not see!
Hearing they should hear, and (yet) they should not put (it) together [i.e. understand]!
(that) they should not ever | turn (back) upon (me), and it be released [i.e. forgiven] for them”

The use of the third person (instead of the second) fits the application of the passage in context—i.e. as a fulfillment of the message God gave Isaiah to speak in Isa 6:9; and the use of the subjunctive throughout also fits the context, as an action/condition which eventually will be fulfilled. Here also the use of mh/pote + the subjunctive indicates more clearly a negative purpose—”so that…not ever…” Luke’s version has omitted any reference to verse 10, including just a (simplified) form of the Prophet’s message of v. 9: “Seeing they should not see, and hearing they should not understand” (Lk 8:10b). However, the author clearly realized the significance of the entire passage, since it is cited (by Paul) at the end of the book of Acts (Acts 28:26-27). In that context, its use holds somewhat closer to the original Old Testament setting, as an explanation (based on prophecy) for why many Jews refused to accept the Gospel. All through the second half of the book of Acts (chapters 1326), Paul experienced considerable Jewish opposition to his missionary work, in the midst of which he began to turn to the Gentiles (13:46-47; 18:6; 28:28). The tone of divine judgment, central to Isa 6:9ff, would not have been lost on Paul (cf. 1 Thess 2:14-16). The failure (and/or unwillingness) by many of his fellow Jews to accept Christ was an issue dear to his heart, and one which he ultimately gave considerable attention to in Romans 9-11. There the basic theme of Isa 6:9-10 is developed and expounded—God has (temporarily) blinded/hardened Israel so that the Gentiles might come to salvation; when this has fully come to pass, Israelites and Jews will come to faith in Christ and be saved as well.

A similar use of Isa 6:9-10 (close in form to that in Mark 4:12) is found in John 12:40. There it relates more directly than in the Synoptics to the lack of trust/belief in Christ by the people (v. 37), influenced, it is stated, by the fear of persecution, etc., from the religious authorities (vv. 42-43). That section in John is bracketed by two powerful and provocative statements, which, according to the creative logic of the Gospel, are certainly related:

    • “Yeshua {Jesus} spoke these (thing)s and, going away from (there), hid (himself) from them” (v. 36b)
    • “For they loved the esteem/glory of men, more than the esteem/glory of God” (v. 43, alluding to the “glory” of God in Isaiah’s vision [v. 41; Isa 6:1-4])

This “hiding” of Jesus is connected, generally speaking, to the idea of the “secret” of his identity (as Messiah and Son of God), and, as I have argued in the prior notes, to the “secret(s) of the kingdom of God” of which he speaks in Mk 4:11 par. However, it must be admitted that the use of Isa 6:9-10 in the Synoptic context, is really only connected directly with the parables by which Jesus expresses the secret [musth/rion] of the Kingdom. Here, contrary to conventional opinion (and interpretation), the clear implication is that parables are used to hide the secret of the Kingdom from people at large; only to his disciples does Jesus explain the meaning and significance of the illustrations. Through Jesus’ parables, as with the preaching of Isaiah, God blinds/hardens the minds and hearts of the people—what they see and hear is a simple illustration based on everyday life details; but what they miss (and what many continue to miss today) is the profound depth of spiritual meaning that underlies the illustration. There are few clear examples of this in the Synoptics, but it comes to be a prominent theme in the Gospel of John. Over and over again, Jesus’ audience (including the disciples) hears his words in a superficial manner, and misunderstands or misconstrues their real, deeper meaning. Often this takes place through a simple play on words, as in John 3:3-8—the word a&nwqen fundamentally means “from above”, but also is commonly used in the sense of “from the first,” i.e., “as at first, again“; Nicodemus hears Jesus say “you must come to be (born) from above [or ‘again’]”, that is, by the Spirit, and misunderstands this to mean that one must be born a second time (naturally) from the mother’s womb.

That Jesus’ closest disciples failed to understand the meaning of his words, at least initially, is indicated numerous places in the Gospels. One especially interesting example, with similarities to the language in Isa 6:9-10, comes from the Lukan version of the second and third Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:43b-45; 18:31-34). On both occasions, it is stated that the disciples did not understand; but note the wording:

“But the (disciples) did not know [i.e. understand] this utterance (by Jesus), and it was covered along (away) from them (so) that they should not perceive/discern it [i.e. its meaning]…” (9:45)
“And they put together [i.e. understood] nothing of these (word)s, and this utterance was hidden from them, and they did not (even) know the (thing)s being said/related (by Jesus)” (18:34)

The passive verb forms are examples of the so-called “divine passive”—i.e. indicating action (effectively) performed by God. The truth of Jesus’ words was (intentionally) covered/hidden from the disciples (by God), at least until after the crucifixion and resurrection had taken place (according to what may be inferred from the Gospels).

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 1)

Romans 3:21-5:21

This is the second of the four main sections of the probatio in Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39, cf. the Introduction). The first, on Rom 1:18-3:20 (cf. the previous article), I have summarized as the Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment on humankind, according to the Law (of God). The second, on Rom 3:21-5:21, I describe (and outline) as:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). I will be dividing this article into two parts, according to these section-pairs, the first being on Rom 3:21-31 and the argument from Scripture in chapter 4.

Romans 3:21-31

This section can be further divided into two sections, vv. 21-26 and 27-30, followed by a concluding declaration in v. 31.

Verses 21-26 form one long, complex sentence, beginning with an announcement similar to that in Rom 1:18 (cf. also the propositio in 1:17):

“But now, separate from (the) Law, (the) justice/righteousness of God has been made manifest [lit. made to shine forth], being witnessed under [i.e. by] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]…”

In Rom 1:18, the verb used was a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”, lit. “remove the cover from”); here, it is fanero/w, “(make) shine forth” (note the use of the related adjective fanero/$, “shining” in 1:19). These two verbs represent twin aspects of revelation—(a) uncovering that which was hidden, and (b) making it known, apparent, as of light “shining forth”. Note the ironic wordplay here: that the righteousness which is separate/apart (xw/ri$) from the Law, is witnessed by the Law—the first use of no/mo$ (“Law”) should be understood specifically of the Torah commands, the second, of Scripture (the Pentateuch, which embodies the Torah). The preposition xw/ri$ implies a separation, in terms of space between two objects (i.e., they are not connected); note the use of the related verb xwri/zw, in an opposite sense, in Rom 8:35ff. The remainder of vv. 22-26 is a tapestry of Pauline phrases and concepts which build upon the opening declaration (italicized words and phrases glossed with the Greek):

V. 22: “and (the) justice/righteousness of God [dikaiosu/nh qeou=] (is) through (the) trust [dia\ pi/stew$] of (the) Anointed Yeshua unto all [pa/nta$] the (one)s trusting [pisteu/onta$]—for there is no setting through [diastolh/ i.e. setting apart, distinction]—”

V. 23: “for all [pa/nte$] (have) sinned and are last of [i.e. behind, lacking] the esteem [i.e. glory] of God”

V. 24:being made right [dikaiou/menoi or, declared just] freely [dwrea\n, without charge] by His favor [xa/riti], through the loosing from (bondage) [a)polutrw/sew$] th(at takes place) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] Yeshua”

V. 25: “whom God set before (Himself as) a conciliatory gift [i(lasth/rion], through [the] trust in his blood, unto the showing forth of [i.e. to show forth] His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] through the sending along [i.e. passing over, remission] of the sins th(at) had come to be before, in God’s holding up [i.e. that God put up with]”

V. 26: “toward the showing forth of His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] in th(is) time now, unto His being just/right [di/kaio$, i.e. that He might be just] and (the One) making just/right [dikaiou=nta] the (one who is) out of trust [e)k pi/stew$] of Yeshua [i.e. the one who trusts in Jesus]”

The density and complexity of the sentence should be abundantly clear from the extremely literal (glossed) rendering above; in conventional English, and to be readable, vv. 21-26 would be broken up into a number of shorter sentences. Even in Greek, however, the syntax is quite convoluted. Yet, this is one of those classic long sentences in Paul’s letters which deserves to be read and studied carefully, with close attention to the flow of ideas and phrases; they are not strung together randomly, but do form an inspired concatenation, a network of relationships expressing the truth of the Gospel in powerful and unmistakable terms. I offer a possible outline diagram of vv. 21-26 in a separate note, along with a brief discussion of the key phrase in this passage—”the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=).

Verses 27-30—If verses 21-26 represent the principal declaration regarding the justice/righteousness of God apart from the Law, in verses 27-30 there is a reaffirmation of two basic points Paul has made previously: (1) that human beings are made (or declared) just/right, i.e. “justified” by trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, and not by performing/observing the commands of the Law, and (2) that this applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. These verses can be divided into four shorter statements, according to the following pattern:

    • V. 27—No boasting (for the Jew)—it is the Law of faith/trust, not the written Law
      • V. 28—Statement of “justification by faith”, without works of Law
    • V. 29—Equality of Jew and Gentile before God
      • V. 29—Declaration that Jews and Gentiles are “justified” through faith

Verse 27—All human “boasting” (kau/xhsi$) is excluded (“closed/shut out”); this relates to all natural, “fleshly” aspects of one’s religious-cultural identity—status, attitude (pride, etc), knowledge, pious practice, devotion in ritual or ethical matters, etc.—all of which are bound “under the Law” and the “elements of the world”. The contrast is familiar from Galatians—”works” (e&rga) of the Law vs. faith/trust (pi/sti$); however, here Paul frames the matter differently, referring to the “law of works” (no/mo$ tw=n e&rgwn) as opposed to the “law of faith/trust” (no/mo$ tou= pi/stew$). The “Law” (no/mo$) has been generalized, and the contrast is specifically between “works” (i.e. deeds) and “trust” (in God and Christ). It is the fact that “justification” comes through trust (dia\ pi/stew$) that “boasting” is excluded—i.e., it is not the result of doing anything. There is an attractive vibrancy and buoyancy to the rhetorical question Paul uses to express this point.

Verse 28—”for we count a man to be made right [or, declared just] by trust, separate/apart from works of (the) Law“. Here we have one of Paul’s clearest statement of “justification by faith”. Note each of the underlined expressions above:

    • logizo/meqa (“we count”, i.e. reckon, say/claim)—this is the same verb used in the citation from Gen 15:6 (cf. below): “…it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to him [i.e. Abraham] unto justice/righteousness”.
    • dikaiou=sqai (“to be made right”, “to be declared just/right”)—i.e., a person is made/declared just/right (by God)
    • pi/stei (“by trust”)—i.e., in (God and) Christ; there is no preposition in the Greek, it has to be filled in.
    • xwri/$ (“separate/apart [from]”)—implying a clear separation (i.e., space between)
    • e&rgwn no/mou (“works of [the] Law”)—i.e., deeds, performance/observance of the commands and regulations in the Law (Torah, but also including the wider “Law of God”)

Verse 29—”or is (He) the God of Yehudeans {Jews} only? is (He) not also (God) of (the) nations? yes, also of (the) nations!” The equality of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) before God is an important, and fundamental, principle for Paul (cf. Gal 3:28; Rom 2:9-11, 12ff; 3:9ff, etc). Here it is stated by way of a rhetorical (and real) question, parallel to that in verse 27.

Verse 30—”if indeed (there) is one God [or, God is one], who will make right [or, declare just] circumcision out of trust, and (having) a foreskin through the (same) trust“. As in verse 28, we have here a clear and decisive statement regarding “justification by faith“—that it applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. Paul defines the distinction between Jew and Gentile, again, according to circumcision (cf. 2:25-29), using the terms “circumcision” (peritomh/, lit. “cut around”) and “foreskin” (a)krobusti/a, “closing [over] the extremity”) as a shorthand (and stereotypical) description. Note the underlined words and expressions:

    • ei&per (“if so, if indeed”)—though this is a conditional particle, by implication, it indicates that a proposition or supposition is assumed to be true; in English, this may be expressed according to result (“because, since…”), and, certainly Paul accepts as true both the declaration in v. 29b and that “God is one”.
    • ei!$ o( qeo/$ (“one [is] the God”, or “God is one”)—a fundamental tenet of Israelite/Jewish (and Christian) monotheism (Deut 6:4, etc); however, for Paul, it also is a declaration of unity, i.e. the same God for both Jew and Gentile. Paul frequently emphasized that there is only one—one Gospel, one faith, one Spirit, one body, et al; of many references, see Gal 1:6-9; 3:16, 20, 28; 5:14; Rom 5:12-21; 12:4ff; 1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:8ff; 6:16-17; 8:6; 10:17ff; 12:11, 12ff; 2 Cor 11:2-6; Phil 1:27; 2:2; Col 3:15; Eph 2:11-22; 4:1-7.
    • dikaiw/sei (“he will make right” or, “will declare just”)—Paul typically uses the verb dikaio/w in the passive, as a “divine passive”, with God as the implied agent; here, it is used actively of God (“He will…”).
    • e)k pi/stew$ (“out of trust”)—Paul frequently uses this expression (with e)k, “out of”, i.e. “of, from”) to indicate either: (a) faith/trust as the means by which people are saved/justified, or (b) as the source by which one comes to believe, and to which the believer belongs. The first sense is generally synonymous with the expression dia\ pi/stew$ (“through trust”).
    • dia\ th=$ pi/stew$ (“through the [same] trust”)—almost certainly, there is no real difference of meaning between the use of the prepositions e)k and dia/, as indicated above; the definite article likely implies “the same” faith/trust (in Christ), again emphasizing the unity (and equality) of Jews and Gentiles before God.

Verse 31—In this concluding verse, Paul asks a pointed (and most interesting) rhetorical question:

“Do we then make the Law useless/inactive through th(is) trust? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make the Law stand!”

All through chapters 2 and 3 of Romans, Paul has been arguing that faith in Christ and acceptance by God is completely separate and apart from the Law (esp. the Old Testament/Jewish Law [Torah]). Jews, including many Jewish Christians, doubtless would object to this line of reasoning, and might well claim that Paul was undermining and destroying the Law by his teaching. Paul anticipates such an objection, much as he does in Gal 3:21 (cf. also Gal 2:17, and earlier in Rom 3:3-5). His response says a good deal about his view and understanding of the Law; because of its importance in this regard, this verse will be discussed in a little more detail in a separate daily note.

Romans 4:1-25—Argument from Scripture (Abraham)

This passage is an expansion of the argument in Galatians 3:6-18, centered on the example of Abraham. Here it will be most important to examine the significant differences and points of development, compared with Gal 3:6ff (for a discussion of the verses in Galatians, see my earlier article in this series). The basic outline is:

Rom 4:1-3—The example of Abraham [Gal 3:6]

Paul begins with a (rhetorical) question regarding Abraham: “what then shall we declare Abraham to have found…?”—whom he qualifies with the phrase “…our forefather according to (the) flesh?” Here he uses the expression kata\ sa/rka (“according to [the] flesh”) in the normal physical/material sense; kata\ sa/rka presumably is to be taken with “our forefather” (to\n propa/tora au)tw=n), rather than with the verb eu(rhke/nai, i.e. “to have found according to the flesh”, though possibly there is a bit of wordplay involved. In verse 2, Paul emphasizes the point that Abraham was not considered by God to be right/just (e)dikaiw/qh, “made right/just”) by his works (e)c e&rgwn)—in contrast to the discussion in James 2:21ff. In verse 3, just as in Gal 3:6, there is a citation from Genesis 15:6 [LXX]:

“Abraham trusted [e)pis/teusen] God and it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to/for him unto justice/righteousness [ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn]”
The construction e)logi/sqhei)$ in typical English has to be rendered something like “counted…as“, with the preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) indicating the intended or effective result.

This clearly was a seminal verse in Paul’s thought, through which he was able to grapple with the relationship between Jewish and Christian religious identity.

Rom 4:4-12—The blessing to (and through) Abraham [Gal 3:7-14]

In Galatians, Paul emphasizes the blessing that comes, through Abraham, to the nations (Gentiles), that it is through trust in God (the same trust demonstrated by Abraham); this is contrasted with the Law (and its curse), which Christ fulfills. In Romans, the emphasis is rather on the nature of the blessing (or blessedness), which is described through a series of explanatory and illustrative statements:

  • Vv. 4-5—it is not a wage [misqo/$] earned by (or, properly, owed to) the one who works [o( e)rgazo/meno$]; instead it is a favor [xa/ri$], or “gift” (i.e. “grace”).
  • Vv. 6-8—it is understood in terms of forgiveness of sins, i.e. of sinful acts [ai( a(marti/ai] and acts of “lawlessness” [ai( a)nomi/ai] or violations of the law, in the general sense of wickedness. This is stated by way of citation of Psalm 31:1-2 in vv. 7-8, and brings out three different aspects of “forgiveness”—sins are:
    • “released” (a)fe/qhsan)—the related noun a&fesi$ is the word usually translated “forgiveness” in English
    • “covered up/over” (e)pekalu/fqhsan)—i.e., a covering is laid over/upon them
    • “not counted” (mh\ logi/shtai)—the double negative ou) mh\ adds emphasis, “not at all, certainly not, by no means,” etc
  • Vv. 9-11a—it was pronounced prior to circumcision (and the Law/Torah); Paul makes the same point in Gal 3:15-18. Even more important in the context of Romans is the equality of Jew and Gentile—this blessedness (justification) comes upon those with “circumcision” (peritomh/) and “a foreskin” (a)krobusti/a) equally (v. 10).
  • Vv. 11b-12—it is for all who trust, apart from circumcision and the Law. The upshot of Paul’s argument is that Abraham trusted God, and was counted as just/righteous, while he was still uncircumcised; by way of application, Gentiles who walk in line (stoixou=sin), following in the tracks (toi=$ i&xnesin) of Abraham (v. 12), i.e. in the same faith and trust, will, like him, be “counted as just/righteous” by God (11b).
Rom 4:13-25—The promise to Abraham (his seed–descendants) [Gal 3:15-18]

As indicated above, the argument in Gal 3:15-18 is effectively repeated by Paul in vv. 9-11; here in vv. 13ff he takes a different approach, which deals more directly with the Abraham narrative in Genesis. The principal statement is in verses 13-15:

  • V. 13—this is the main declaration, which is framed, in familiar fashion, by Paul: “not through (the) Law… but through (the) justice/righteousness of trust”, contrasting the Law with trust (in Christ). In between these contrasting terms, he sets the elements of the Abraham narrative:
    • h( e)paggeli/a (“the message upon”), esp. a declaration or announcement upon (someone or something), which can be taken in the sense of a promise to do something, etc., and so is often applied, as here, in relation to God—His declaration or promise that he will do such-and-such.
    • tw=|  )Abraa\m (“to Abraham”)—of a son (and heir) to Abraham, including the promise of many future descendants; cf. Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7.
    • h* tw=| spe/rmati au)tou= (“or [rather] to his seed”)—for Paul’s special emphasis on the “seed” [sg.] of Abraham, cf. Gal 3:16.
    • au)to\n ei@nai (“his being”, i.e. “that he would be”)—that Abraham’s child—ultimately, his descendants—would truly be (or become)… .
    • to\ klhrono/monkosmou= (“the [one] receiving the lot [i.e. heir]… of [the] world”)—this touches back on the idea of the blessing which would come to the nations (Gen 12:3), as well as the inheritance of the (promised) land in Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:7, 18; 26:4; 28:13; 35:11-12; 48:16; Exod 32:13; Num 26:52-56, etc). This land (as “earth”) came to expanded, in subsequent Israelite/Jewish tradition, as “the (whole) world” (cf. Jub 19:21; 2 Baruch 14:13; 51:3, etc). The concept would be spiritualized in early Christianity, or related more properly to the idea of believers “inheriting the kingdom of God”.
  • Vv. 14-15—Paul expounds the statement regarding inheritance according to his familiar contrast between the Law and faith/trust (v. 14). Note the wordplay which characterizes his argument in these verses:
    • V. 14: if inheritance comes by way of the Law (e)k no/mou), then the promise is made inactive (kath/rghtai, kat¢¡rg¢tai)
    • V. 15: when, in fact, the Law actually works out (katerga/zetai, katergázetai), i.e. produces, accomplishes, the passion/anger (o)rgh/, “wrath”, associated with the judgment) of God against sin and wickedness.
      This is followed by the statement that “where there is not (any) Law, there is also no stepping over [i.e. violation/transgression]” (cf. Rom 3:20; Gal 3:19).

Verses 16-17a are transitional, with a point that is two-fold:

    1. That the promise is according to the favor of God (kata\ xa/rin), which qualifies the expression of faith/trust (e)k pi/stew$)
    2. That it is to all the offspring of Abraham (panti\ tw=| spe/rmati), by faith/trust (and not by the Law)

As a result, Abraham is the father of all who believe in Christ, Jews and Gentiles both (“who is the father of all of us“). In vv. 17b-25, Paul returns to the Genesis narrative, and to the specific example of Abraham—that is, of his trust in God. The summary exposition is in vv. 17b-21, culminating with the declaration that Abraham carried fully (plhroforhqei\$) the belief that God was powerful enough to do (poih=sai) that which He had promised (o^ e)ph/ggeltai). The narrative is further interpreted and applied in the concluding verses 22-25. In particular, Gen 15:16 (v. 22) is applied to believers (vv. 23-24a)—those who trust in what God has done in Christ, especially the resurrection (v. 24b, 25b, cf. Rom 10:9), but also his sacrificial death which took place through (dia/, or for/because of) our transgressions (paraptw/mata, “[moment]s of falling along [the way]”).

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 6)

Section 6: Galatians 4:21-31

The final argument Paul presents takes the form of an allegory (a)llhgori/a, v. 24). It is one of the more familiar portions of the letter, but, as with Paul’s other statements regarding the Law in Galatians, the full force and significance of his argument are often ignored or softened by commentators. The section may be outlined thus:

    • V. 21—Opening question (challenge)
    • Vv. 22-23—Summary of the story from Scripture
    • Vv. 24-27—The (allegorical) interpretation: Two Covenants
      —Vv. 24-25: Jerusalem below—the earthly Jerusalem (Sinai)
      —Vv. 26-27: Jerusalem above—the heavenly Jerusalem
    • Vv. 28-31: Believers as children of the promise & freedom—conflict

Verse 21—Paul uses the interrogatio rhetorical method, as he questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. See Gal 3:2ff for a similar use of this technique. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians:

“Relate to me [i.e. tell me], (you) the ones wishing to be under (the) Law [u(po\ no/mon], will you not hear the Law?”

The expression “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon) has been used repeatedly (Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, also 5:18; Rom 6:14-15; 1 Cor 9:20), along with the parallel expressions “under (the) curse” (3:10), “under sin” (3:22), “under a paidagogos” (3:25, cf. also 4:2), “under the elements [stoicheia] of the world” (4:3). It refers, of course, to Jews (and Jewish Christians) who are (or who feel) obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah; but, as the parallel terms indicate, Paul uses it as a shorthand for the bondage human beings are under prior to faith in Christ. The expression “hear the Law” has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

Verses 22-23—In these two verses, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidi/skh) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This sets the stage for the theme of freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff. The Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac contrast is also expressed by the me\nde\ (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some MSS (Ë46 B f vg) omit me\n]. As we shall see, the juxtaposition of these characters is ultimately meant to show the contrast/conflict between “promise” (e)paggeli/a) and “flesh” (sa/rc); and, of course, the promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). The expression “according to (the) flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) is used elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3].

Verses 24-27—Paul interprets the Genesis story as an “allegory” (a)llhgori/a), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another; the verb a)llhgore/w (in v. 24) in this context means to speak/interpret by way of allegory. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18. The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (sustoixe/w, v. 25) as follows:

Slave-girl vs. Free (woman) [v. 22b]

Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]

(Old) Covenant vs. (New) Covenant [v. 24]

Jerusalem (on earth) vs. Jerusalem above [v. 25-26]

Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac [v. 28-29]

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diaqh/kh) is literally something “set through (in order)”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew tyr!B= (“agreement”), that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new—are contrasted syntactically by way of another me\nde\ formulation (see above):

    • me\n: one (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [ei)$ doulei/an]… (vv. 24-25)
    • de\: (the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [e)leuqe/ra e)stin]… (vv. 26-27)

Paul establishes this line of association first by equating Sinai with the (current) earthly Jerusalem in verse 25; he does this by way of (allegorical) correspondence, even though he recognizes that Mt. Sinai is actually in “Arabia” (presumably the Sinai peninsula). This equation has the following interpretive relationship:

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [doulei/a]
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleu/ei]

The last point could be taken either in a socio-political (i.e. under Roman occupation) or religious-spiritual (bondage under the Law and sin) sense, or both. This contrasts sharply with the traditional Jewish self-understanding of freedom related to the Torah and the covenant with God (cf. m. Abot 6:2, also e.g. John 8:33), which Paul reverses completely. Here is the associative logic as a whole:

    • The Old Covenant (the Law/Torah) given at Mt. Sinai
      • Sinai = earthly Jerusalem
        • The Jerusalem below | Slavery
        • The Jerusalem above | Freedom
      • Jerusalem (above) = believers in Christ
    • The New Covenant (the Spirit/promise) realized in Christ

Verses 26-27 describe the “Jerusalem above” (h( a&nw  )Ierousalh\m), which is clearly to be understood in a spiritual sense; for similar examples of Jewish identity being appropriated/fulfilled by believers at the spiritual level, cf. Rom 2:28-29, and previously in Gal 3:7-9, 14, etc. This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (cf. Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2; for an interesting ‘Gnostic’ interpretation, along the same lines as Paul in Galatians, see in Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies 5.7.39, 8.37. Cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 246-7.

Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (cf. the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

Verses 28-31—These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom:

V. 28: “But you {some MSS read “we”}, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

Verses 29-30 stand in between, and are descriptive of conflict for believers:

V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), cf. t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects:
(1) Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts.
(2) The dualism of kata\ sa/rka (“according to the flesh”) vs. kata\ pneu=ma (“according to the Spirit”). Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.

V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; cf. also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (cf. 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

In summary, I would illustrate the thematic structure of these verses as follows:

    • V. 28—Believers are children of the promise
      • V. 29—Conflict for believers: Flesh vs. Spirit
      • V. 30—Action for believers: “Cast out” the son of the slave-girl (i.e. slavery)
    • V. 31—Believers are children of the free woman

There is an interesting (and moving) history associated with the interpretation of verse 29:

“Even as then the one coming to be (born) according to the flesh pursued [i.e. persecuted] the one (born) according to the Spirit, so also now.”

As indicated above, Paul is drawing upon historical Jewish tradition (related to Ishmael and Isaac) and applying it (primarily) in terms of Jewish persecution of the early Christians, but also, in a secondary sense, of the Jewish Christian opposition to Paul and his work. Later on in Church history, it also came to be applied definitely in this context of the persecution of Christians by other Christians. The supposed Christians doing the persecuting were thus acting “according to the flesh” (and not the Spirit). This was a popular verse among Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and other dissident (independent) believers during the Reformation period, who found themselves frequently under (often intense) persecution by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. It was also a key verse by those few who dared to speak out (and write) against the practice of persecuting and executing supposed heretics—most prominently, Sebastian Castellion, who wrote vehemently against Calvin and the Reformed of Geneva for their role in the execution of Michael Servetus.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Genesis 15:6 in Galatians and James

The famous contrast between the discussion of “faith and works” in the Epistle of James and by Paul in Romans/Galatians finds its greatest point of difference/disagreement in the use of Genesis 15:6

  )Abraa\m e)pi/steusen tw=| qew=| kai\ e)logi/sqh au)tw=| ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn
“Abraham trusted (in) God and it was counted to/for him unto justice/righteousness”

as rendered in Greek by the LXX and in the New Testament. Paul expounds this verse in the fourth chapter of Romans (Rom 4), but this treatment largely follows that in Galatians 3-4 (Galatians usually admitted as being written some time before Romans). It is also in Galatians that Paul presents a more forceful rhetorical and theological argument against “works of the Law”, as contrasted with trust/faith in Christ; therefore, it is more appropriate to use Galatians as the primary basis of comparison with the epistle of James (Jas 2:14-26).

In Galatians, Paul cites Gen 15:6 (in Gal 3:6) just prior to the Scriptural arguments, centered on Abraham, in Gal 3:7-29; cf. the articles on Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians These two arguments involve the blessing (3:7-14) and promise (3:15-29) to Abraham, emphasizing that the blessing comes by faith (not the Law) and that the promise comes to believers through Jesus Christ (not by observing the Law). Romans 4:4-25 provides a similar discussion.

In the letter of James, the citation of Gen 15:6 (in Jas 2:23) comes at a climactic point toward the end of the (ethical) instruction in 2:14-26. The central proposition (and declaration) is that faith “apart from works” is dead and cannot save a person (2:14-17). There would seem, on the surface at least, to be several significant differences between the claims made by Paul and the author of James (trad. James, the brother of Jesus), which were often emphasized in prior commentaries and works on New Testament theology. However, today scholars and commentators (of all stripes) tend to downplay or dismiss the idea of any real (direct) conflict between these passages, though often for different reasons:

    • Traditional-conservative commentators have generally sought to harmonize Paul and James, under the basic doctrinal assumption that the inspired Writings would not (or could not) be in disagreement
    • For critical scholars, on the other hand, among the more important factors are:
      (1) A tendency to look at individual New Testament writings, without feeling the need to compare/harmonize with others, and to focus more precisely on the specific context in each book
      (2) A tendency to soften or qualify Paul’s arguments in Galatians regarding the Law, limiting their rhetorical and theological scope, in light of what is (often) assumed as Paul’s more positive view of Judaism and the Law elsewhere in his life and writings

I am less willing than many to dismiss all conflict between the interpretive approaches of Paul and ‘James’ on this question of “faith and works”, as there do seem to be several substantive differences. In order to highlight these, it will be necessary to look briefly at the salient points of comparison:

e&rga “works”—It is sometimes said that James and Paul are using the term “works” (e&rga) in a fundamentally different sense, and, as such, are not really talking about the same things. This is not quite accurate; rather, it would seem that James is using the term in a general way, as “action”, while Paul is referring to specific types of religious action. The examples James offers are reflective of (a) charitable giving (esp. to the poor and needy) and/or (b) sacrificial giving (offering from oneself), but otherwise describe various sorts of action. Paul uses the expression “works of (the) Law” (e&rga no/mou) to refer specifically to the performance/observance of the commands and regulations in the Law (Torah), especially that of circumcision. Based on 2:8-13, James would presumably include “works of the Law”—at least the ethical aspects of the Law, as interpreted by Jesus (as in the Sermon on the Mount)—among the “works” described in vv. 14-26. There is no definite indication, anywhere in the letter, that James would include the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law (such as circumcision); in that respect, James and Paul are probably in agreement.

pi/sti$ “trust/faith”—Again, it would appear that James uses the word pi/sti$ in a more general sense than Paul does in Galatians, etc. It is likely that, despite the reference in 2:1, pi/sti$ in vv. 14-26 means “belief” without a specific object of belief necessarily being indicated (in v. 19 it is belief in God, generally). On the other hand, in Galatians, Paul typically, when contrasting “faith” with “works”, refers specifically to faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 2:16) or, more precisely, faith in response to hearing the Gospel message (Gal 3:2, 5).

xwri/$ “apart from”—Several times (in 2:18, 20, 26), James uses the expression “faith separate/apart from [xwri/$] works”, to emphasize the importance of faith/belief being expressed in action—the two (faith and action) go together, and cannot be separated. Paul never uses xwri/$ in Galatians, but does so notably in Romans, emphasizing that:

    • The justice/righteousness of God has been manifest [lit. has shone forth] “apart from [xwri\$] the Law” (3:21)
    • A man is made just/righteous by faith/trust “apart from [xwri\$] works of (the) Law” (3:28)
    • (Ps 32:2) Happy is the man for whom God counts justice/righteousness “apart from [xwri\$] works” (4:6)

The last reference matches the expression in James, and also shares the context of quotation from Gen 15:6 (cf. below). However, Paul’s use of “apart from works” could not be more different from that of James; indeed, he makes virtually the opposite point—faith (in Christ) is separate/apart from works! This, of course, is precisely the argument Paul makes in Galatians 2:15-21 and throughout chapters 3-4, and is the very context in which Gen 15:6 is cited.

dikaio/w “made/declared just”—Here, too, James (in 2:21, 24) seems to be saying the opposite of Paul, that Abraham was made/declared just (or righteous) “out of works” (i.e., by or because of his actions), rather than by/through faith (Rom 3:28; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:11, 24). But are James and Paul using the verb dikaio/w in the same way? This is an important question, and on it hinges the possibility of conflict between the two viewpoints. The verb does not appear in James apart from this section (2:21, 24-25), but the adjective di/kaio$ (“just/righteous”) is used in 5:6, 16, and the noun dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) in 3:18 (apart from the citation of Gen 15:6 in 2:23). These instances suggest that James is using the words in their traditional/Jewish sense, of religious and ethical/moral behavior which is according to the will of God (and which will be rewarded by Him), much as they are used in the teaching of Jesus (cf. Matt 5:45; 9:13; 10:41, et al). Paul, on the other hand, developed a distinct theological (and soteriological) technical meaning and connotation for the word-group which would appear to be foreign to the epistle of James (especially if the early date often given for the letter is correct). Would James (that is, the author of the letter) have agreed with Paul’s usage? On objective grounds, this is difficult to say. Much depends on the interpretation of his use of Gen 15:6.

Genesis 15:6—The citation in James 2:23 occurs toward the end of the ethical instruction of 2:14-26, with an emphasis on the importance of religious faith (in God and/or Christ) being expressed in action, especially in charitable/sacrificial giving (to the poor and needy, vv. 15-16) and in obedience to the will of God. In respect to the latter, the example of Abraham is given, particularly of his willingness to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command (Gen 22). It is Abraham’s trust, expressed in action—a most momentous action—which is emphasized; Gen 15:6 is cited as though God’s declaration followed this action. Paul (in Gal 3:6, also Rom 4:3ff) treats it more properly in its Scriptural context (Gen 15:1-5); note the comparison:

Both contextual situations relate to God’s promise to Abraham of many descendants (through Isaac), but—

Paul refers to the original promise (Gen 15:1-5) of a son,
prior to any proving/testing of Abraham’s faith in action
James effectively refers to God’s confirmation of the promise (by the Messenger of YHWH, Gen 22:15-18),
subsequent to (and as a result of [cf. verse 16]) the testing/proving of Abraham’s faith in action

However, it could be argued that the use of Gen 15:6 in the context of Gen 22 is misplaced; certainly, for Paul, the promise is related entirely to faith/trust in Jesus Christ. The only sacrificial action or efficacious “work” he mentions in Galatians is that of Jesus (Gal 1:4; 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:5). To a lesser extent, he also refers to his own labors (as apostle/missionary of Jesus, 4:12-20); but, overall, praxis is minimal in his ethical teaching (6:1-2, 9-10), with more focus given on the Spirit as the guiding force for believers (5:17-26; 6:6-10). James gives much greater emphasis to specific behavior (Jas 1:19-21, 26-27; 2:1-7, 9-11, 15-16, etc).

In what sense, for James, was Abraham (or Rahab, 2:25) made/declared just through works? Verse 22 gives the answer by the use of two verbs:

    • sunerge/w (“work [together] with”)—”trust/faith worked together [sunh/rgei] with his works”
    • teleio/w (“complete, finish”)—”(his) trust/faith was completed [e)teleiw/qh] out of [i.e. from, by] (his) works”

In the first, proper religious/ethical action is the natural (and necessary) complement of faith; in the second, such action also completes one’s faith. This brings us to the last point of comparison:

teleio/w “complete, finish”—Interestingly, Paul uses an intensive (compound) form of this same verb in the context of his citation of Gen 15:6 (in the section Gal 3:1-6, v. 3), where he asks the Galatians:

“having begun in the Spirit, are you now being completed [e)pitelei=sqe] in/by (the) flesh?”

This contrasting juxtaposition is parallel to that between faith and (works of) the Law. Paul warns the (Gentile, non-Jewish) Galatians against adopting circumcision and observance of the Jewish Law (Torah), effectively arguing that their faith should not be “completed by works”. It is here that we perhaps encounter the greatest (substantial) difference between James and Paul. Consider how the logic in the letter of James essentially proceeds:

Abraham’s faith/trust in God was expressed (and confirmed/completed) by his action in sacrificing Isaac…
…therefore we, as believers, ought to express our faith (in Christ) through (sacrificial) action in love and obedience to the word of God

However, circumcision was another way in which Abraham demonstrated his obedience to God (also involving a kind of sacrifice of his son), cf. Gen 17:9-14; 21:4. Might not Paul’s Jewish-Christian ‘opponents’ argue in a similar way:

Abraham’s faith/trust in God was expressed (and confirmed/completed) by his action in circumcising Isaac…
…therefore we, as believers, ought to express our faith (in Christ) through action (circumcision and observing the Torah) in love and obedience to the word of God

While Paul certainly would have agreed with the importance of moral/ethical behavior (cf. Gal 5:16-25) and for believers to support one another (6:1-2), I doubt very much that he would speak of works (of any sort) completing our faith in Christ. Note how in Gal 5:16-26, the negative “works of the flesh” refer to specific sorts of actions, while the contrasting “fruit of the Spirit” are more general characteristics. The closest he comes in Galatians to a specific instruction regarding action for the believer is in the basic exhortation to “walk by the Spirit” (5:16, 25). Such practical instruction is relatively rare in the other epistles as well, being most prominent in 1 Corinthians, where the instruction is often prompted as the result of questions to him by the Corinthian congregations.

Paul’s emphasis on the (Holy) Spirit brings up another major difference with James—the two instances of the word pneu=ma in the letter (Jas 2:26; 4:5) both refer to the ordinary (natural) human spirit/soul/life, and not to the Holy Spirit. The lack of any reference to the Spirit in James is most striking, and is one of the reasons that some commentators consider the letter to be primarily a Jewish (and only nominally Christian) work. Indeed, much of the language, style and content of James follows traditional Jewish instruction, and is closer (in tone and emphasis) to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount than to Paul’s epistles. These differences can be partially explained if one accepts the early date often ascribed to the letter of James (c. 35-40 A.D.). According to this view, James might have been written anywhere between 10 and 20 years earlier than Galatians and Romans, etc. Paul, in his letters, would, by this time, have established a more precise terminology and developed theology, especially with regard to the Jewish-Gentile question, the relation of believers to the Law, sin and salvation, the nature of the Gospel and Christian identity, and so forth—all areas of discussion which are virtually absent from James.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 3: Acts 2:14-40 (continued)

This is the conclusion of a study on Peter’s Pentecost sermon-speech (Acts 2:14-40) which I began in Part 2 of this series, examining the structure of the speech and the Scripture passage (Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]) cited in the first section. In this part, I will look at the next two sections, using the same methodology.

Scripture Citation #2: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 16:8-11 matches the Greek (LXX) version [15:8-11], which is itself a reasonably accurate translation (into Greek idiom) of the Hebrew (MT). It may be useful, however, to compare (literal/glossed) renderings of the Hebrew MT and LXX/Acts side by side (translation of such ancient poetry being truly just an approximation):

MT Psalm 16:8-11

“I have set YHWH to (be) in front of [i.e. before] me continually,
for (indeed) from my/his right-hand I will not be made to slip/swerve.
For thus is my heart joyful, and my liver twirls/leaps for joy;
(yes) even my flesh dwells unto safety/security.
For you will not leave/deliver me unto Sheol,
you will not give your good/faithful (one) to see (the) Pit.
You will make me know the path of life,
(and the) filling/fullness of joys (at/by) Your face,
the pleasant (thing)s by Your right-hand constantly.”

LXX Psalm 15:8-11 / Acts 2:25-28

“I saw the Lord before in my eyes [i.e. in my presence] through all (things/times),
(in) that he is out of [i.e. from/on] my right-hand (so) that I should not be shaken.
Through this my heart was of a good mind [i.e. was merry] and my tongue jumped for joy,
but yet also my flesh will put down (its) tent [i.e. dwell/rest] upon hope,
(in) that you will not leave my soul down in Hades and will not give your Holy (One) to see thorough ruin/decay.
You made known to me (the) ways of life,
(and) you will fill me of a good mind [i.e. with happiness/joy] with your (presence) before my eyes.”

The Exposition/Application.—Here we must consider two portions: (a) the kerygmatic statement in vv. 22-24 which leads into the quotation, and (b) the exposition which opens the next section of the speech (vv. 29-31). I will treat the kerygma of vv. 24 below; here note the exposition from the next section (vv. 29-31)—Peter makes three points which can be grouped together as a triad:

    • The Psalmist (David) died (i.e. completed/finished his life) and was buried—indeed his tomb is still known (v. 29)
    • David was a prophet (literally, a foreteller) and knew that “out of the fruit of his loins” an heir will come to sit on his throne (v. 30)—primarily a reference to 2 Sam 7:11b-14, which came to be a prime Messianic passage.
    • As a prophet, David foresaw the resurrection (lit. standing up [again]) of the Anointed [i.e. Messiah, Jesus] (v. 31)—here specifically Psalm 16:10 is cited again.

Originally Psalm 16 was a (personal) lament by the Psalmist (trad. ascribed to David), expressing trust in the faithfulness of Yahweh (identified with El)—in contrast to Canaanite gods/idols—with a strong affirmation of his own devotion to God. Verses 8-11 represent the conclusion of the Psalm—the Psalmist finds continual joy and security in God’s presence, even to the point of trusting that YHWH will not abandon him to the grave (i.e. the ‘Pit’ or Sheol). This latter reference is somewhat ambiguous, but it does seem to express the idea that the author of the Psalm will not experience death, at least not permanently. Subsequently in Judaism and early Christianity, this would have been understood in terms of resurrection.  And it is the resurrection of Jesus that is primarily in view for Peter (and the author of Acts), as indicated by the repeated citation of verse 10 in Acts 2:31. In this interpretation, the Psalmist (David) speaks not of himself, but prophetically of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Notably, the Greek verb e)gkatalei/pw (literally, “leave down in…”, but also understood generally as “leave behind, abandon, forsake”, etc) was uttered by Jesus on the cross in Mark 15:34 / Matt 27:46; and this no doubt helped establish the connection between Psalm 16 and the death/resurrection of Jesus.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements to note: (a) in verses 22-24, part of the introductory address which leads into the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, and (b) verses 32-33, which are part of the introductory address of the next section (leading into the citation of Psalm 110:1). Verses 32-33 are addressed below; here let us examine briefly verses 22-24, which begin with the exhortation “hear these words…”:

    • V. 22: “(of this) Yeshua the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you with works of power and wonders and signs which God did in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”
      • V. 23: “this one, by the marked will/purpose and foreknowledge of God, given out through the hand of lawless (ones), fastening (him) to (the stake) you took (his life) away”
      • V. 24: “whom God made stand up (again), loosing the pains of death, according to (the fact) that there was not power to hold him firmly under it”

I regard these verses as an example of early Christian kerygma (Gospel proclamation), using formulaic phrases, terms, and images which would stand out and be easy to remember and transmit. Here they are still rough and fresh, but over time such statements would take on a cleaner form (which could be used in early hymns and liturgy; for possible examples, cf. Romans 1:2-4; 1 Tim 3:16). I discussed some of the Christological aspects of the language and terminology here in an earlier article.

Scripture Citation #3: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 110:1 is virtually identical to the Greek (LXX) version [109:1]:

Ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou Ka/qou e)k deciw=n mou,
e%w$ a*n qw= tou\$ e)xqrou/$ sou u(popo/dion tw=n podw=n sou.
“The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit out of [i.e. from/by] my right-hand,
until I should set your enemies (as something) under-foot [i.e. a ‘foot-stool’] for your feet’.”

The only difference is the first definite article (o() for ku/rio$ (i.e. “[the] Lord”), which is omitted in some manuscripts.

The Exposition/Application.—Psalm 110:1 follows on the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, with a definite continuity of thought: just as Ps 16:8-11 refers to God not leaving his Holy One down in Hades to see ruin/corruption—implying the resurrection—so with Ps 110:1 we see the result and after-effect of the resurrection—Jesus exalted (as Lord) to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. This is stated clearly in the kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33 (see below), but decisively in verse 36, which serves as both exposition and kerygmatic declaration. In its original context, Psalm 110 was probably connected with the coronation or inauguration (enthronement) of the king. Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship. In Hebrew, it reads: “(An) utterance of YHWH [hw`hy+] to my lord [/wda* i.e. the king]…”; translations which render both hwhy and /wda by “Lord”, as in the Greek, obscure the sense of the original. Of course, this very ambiguity lies at the center of the early Christian view of Jesus as “Lord” [ku/rio$] (see below). I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH—”Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH—”You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret. However, there can be no doubt that early Christians saw in this Psalm (as in Psalm 2) a reference to Jesus’ exalted/divine status. The fact that verse 1 was already cited by Jesus in early Gospel (Synoptic) tradition (Mark 12:36-37 par) may have contributed to the association, even though the exact meaning and force of the question Jesus asks is not entirely clear (and continues to be debated). Hebrews 1:13 apparently cites Ps 110:1 in the context of Jesus’ pre-existent nature and status as God’s Son (Heb 1:2-3ff), according to orthodox belief. But here in Acts, Ps 110:1 is applied specifically to Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven following the resurrection, which is somewhat problematic for orthodox Christology, for it could be taken to mean that Jesus had a position at God’s right hand only after (and as a result of) the resurrection/exaltation. This was discussed in an earlier note; and see also my article on Adoptionism. For more on this idea, cf. below on Acts 2:36.

Mention should also be made of the obscure and highly enigmatic reference to “Melchi-zedek” in Ps 110:4—the entire verse, in context, is extremely difficult to interpret, with a wide range of scholarly suggestions available. Be that as it may, Christians applied this specific reference from the Psalm to Jesus as well—most famously in the seventh chapter of Hebrews (Heb 7). For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a related study on the idea in Hebrews.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements which should be noted: (a) verses 32-33, following the exposition of vv. 29-31 and prior to the citation of Ps 110:1 in vv. 34-35, and (b) the climactic declaration in verse 36. Here is the statement in vv. 32-33:

“This Yeshua God made to stand up (again)—of which we all are witnesses—(and) therefore he was lifted high to the right [lit. giving] hand of God, and receiving the announcement [e)paggeli/a, i.e. promise] of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father he poured this out—(of) which [also] you see and hear.”

In some ways this continues the kerygmatic statement from vv. 22-24, which summarizes Jesus’ earthly life and ministry up to the moment of resurrection; now is described the resurrection (and post-resurrection appearance[s], “of which we all are witnesses”), the exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven, and the sending of the Spirit (which Jesus receives from the Father). There can be little doubt that such credal summaries were an important part of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). The climactic declaration in verse 36 is, however, especially striking:

“Therefore let all the house of Yisrael safely/certainly know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here we have the two titles most widely used and applied to Jesus in the early Church—”Lord” (ku/rio$) and “Anointed” (xristo/$, i.e. Messiah/’Christ’). It would seem the implication here is that both titles apply to Jesus as a result of the resurrection and exaltation, which, again, is somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology. Also difficult is the statement that God made (e)poi/hsen) Jesus Lord. I have discussed these points in some detail in an earlier note.

Now all that remains is to examine, briefly, the—

Concluding Exhortation (2:37-40)—This can be divided as follows:

  • Narrative description of the crowd’s reaction (37a), along with a question from the crowd to Peter (37b):
    Reaction—”And hearing (this), their heart was pierced (through) and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles…”
    Question—”…What should we do, men, brothers?” (note the echo of the introductory address in v. 29)
  • An exhortation to repentance by Peter (vv. 38-39)—this, too, reflects the kind of formulaic expression which would have been common in early Gospel preaching. Note that repentance (lit. “change [your] mind/understanding”) and baptism are “upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed [i.e. Jesus Christ]” and “unto the release [i.e. forgiveness] of your sins”—both very common and familiar early Gospel phrases. To this is added something else truly distinctive: “and you will receive the (free) gift of the holy Spirit”. The motif of the Spirit as “promise” (e)paggeli/a) is emphasized again as well, blending in the traditional image of the “promise of God” to Israel (to Abraham, David, etc); in keeping with the context of the Pentecost narrative, this promise is to other Jews (specifically those in Judea/Jerusalem, “to your offspring”) and to both Jews and Gentiles among the nations (“to the ones unto a distance [i.e. far off]”). The final phrase “as (many) as the Lord our God should call toward (himself)” may be an echo of Joel 2:28b [3:5b Heb], which was not included in the citation of vv. 17-21.
  • A concluding exhortation, where it is stated that Peter “witnessed thoroughly/throughout” (diemartu/rato) with many other words and “called (them) alongside” (pareka/lei), saying “save (your)selves from this twisted/crooked generation!”

The Speeches of Acts, Part 2: Acts 2:14-40

The second speech to be discussed is one of the main sermon-speeches in the book—the great Pentecost speech given by Peter in Acts 2:14-36 (or, properly, 2:14-40). In the previous article, I presented the basic pattern which can be found (or applied) when analyzing the sermon-speeches in particular; by way of introduction, I offer it again here:

    • 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

The relative length and complexity of Peter’s sermon-speech in Acts 2 stretches and expands the central portion of the outline, as we shall see.

Narrative introduction (Acts 2:1-13)—here the speech follows upon the Pentecost narrative of vv. 1-13, which I analyzed in some detail in an earlier post. This narrative I divide as:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

It is important to note the parallel theme of Israelite/Jewish unity:

    • The apostles (now reconstituted as twelve) and wider group of disciples (~120 = 12 x 10) are symbolic of the unified (12) tribes of Israel—note that they return to Jerusalem (Acts 1:12), gathering together in a single place (upper room)
    • The Jews dwelling in Jerusalem—whether temporarily for the feast, or on a more permanent basis (the verb katoike/w could indicate the latter)—have come from all the surrounding nations (representing the exile/dispersion) and are gathered together in one place

As discussed previously, I regard this as reflecting the key eschatological theme of the restoration of Israel. This sense of unity is most important when we consider the three sections which make up the speech in vv. 14-36. The crowd speaks with one voice (vv. 7-11)—a literary device, to be sure, but one of real significance. Note the thematic structure here:

    • The disciples speak with the various tongues (languages) of the nations (v. 3-4)
      • All of the crowd can understand, and responds with one voice (vv. 5-11)
    • The crowd is confused by hearing the various tongues (v. 7-8, 12)
      • Peter, speaking for the disciples, responds with one voice (vv. 14ff)

There is reflected here a kind of reversal, not only of the exile/dispersion, but also of the confusion of tongues in the Babel episode—an (eschatological) theme hinted at in Old Testament and Jewish tradition (cf. for example Zeph 3:9).

The narrative closes with “others” (e%teroi) in the crowd “mocking throughout [or thoroughly]”, saying that “they have been soaked full of sweet (wine)!” This sets the stage for Peter’s speech—”But Peter, standing (up) with the eleven, lifted up his voice and uttered/sounded forth to them…” As indicated above, I divide the speech itself into three main sections, each of which begins with a (vocative) address to the crowd, according to three parallel expressions:

    • a&ndre$  )Ioudai=oi—Men, Yehudeans [i.e. Judeans, men of Judea]!… (v. 14)
    • a&ndre$  )Israhli=tai—Men, Yisraelis [i.e. Israelites, men of Israel]!… (v. 22)
    • a&ndre$ a)delfoi/—Men, Brothers!… (v. 29)

The variation may be merely stylistic, but it is also possible that a progression is intended—from geographic (Judea) to ethnic-national (Israel) to a more intimate familial designation (Brothers). Here is an outline of the three sections, according to the pattern indicated above:

Section 1 (verses 14-21)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Judeans…” (vv. 14-16), leading into the Scripture citation. There is no direct kerygma other than to turn the attention of the crowd to the current phenomenon they are experiencing, that it is a fulfillment of Scripture. But note also the concluding citation of Joel 2:32a in verse 21.
    • Citation from Scripture: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 in Hebrew] (vv. 17-21); the specific citation will be discussed in more detail below.
    • {There is no specific exposition given or concluding exhortation in this section—application of the Scripture is implicit}

Section 2 (verses 22-28)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Israelites…” (vv. 22-24), leading into the Scripture citation. It contains a clear kerygmatic statement, which I have already discussed in a prior note, but will treat again in the context of the Scripture passage (below).
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11] (vv. 25-28), to be discussed in detail.
    • {Again there is no specific exposition or concluding exhortation in this section—the exposition is picked up in the next section}

Section 3 (verses 29-36)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Brothers…” (vv. 29-33). This introductory portion contains an exposition of Psalm 16:8-11 in vv. 29-31, along with a kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33, which leads into the Scripture citation.
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1] (vv. 34-35), to be discussed.
    • Exposition and Gospel kerygma: This is contained within a single, solemn declaratory statement (v. 36)

Concluding Exortation (verses 37-40)—The crowd’s reaction is recorded (v. 37), along with a question (again the crowd speaks with a single voice). Peter’s exhortation follows in vv. 38-40, which also contains several key kerygmatic formulae.

Narrative Summary (verse 41)—”And therefore the (one)s receiving from (him) his account [i.e. word, lo/go$] were dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], and as (it were) about three thousand souls were set toward [i.e. added to] (the group of believers) in that (very) day”

As the Scripture citation is central to each section of the speech, it is important to examine each in turn; this will be done according to:

    1. The Text
    2. The Exposition/Application (as understood or expressed by the speaker and/or author)
    3. Kerygmatic statement or formulae

Scripture Citation #1: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5, Hebrew]

The Text.—The quotation from Joel closely follows the Greek (LXX) version, with the following notable variations:

    • “in the last days” (e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$) instead of “after these things” (meta\ tau=ta) [verse 17 / 2:28]
    • the positions of “young ones/men” (oi( neani/skoi) and “old ones/men” (oi( presbu/teroi) are reversed
    • the addition of “my” (mou) to “slave men” and “slave women” [i.e. male and female slaves] (dou=lo$/dou/lh) [verse 18 / 2:29]—indicating that these are slaves/servants of the Lord.
    • the addition of “and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy]” (kai\ profhteu/sousin)—this repeats what is stated in verse 17 [2:28], and gives added emphasis on the theme of prophesying (see below).
    • the addition of “up above” (a&nw) and “down below” (ka/tw) [verse 19 / 2:30]
    • the last portion of Joel 2:32 [3:5] as been left out: “so that in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be the (one) being saved, according to that (which) the Lord said, and they are (ones) being given the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)” (translating from the LXX; eu)aggelizo/menoi is a misreading of the Hebrew <yd!yr!c=b^ [“among the survivors”])

In some manuscripts the quotation conforms more precisely with the LXX (as in the Alexandrian text represented by codex B), but this is likely a secondary ‘correction’; the version of the quotation which has been adapted to the context of the speech (especially in vv. 17-18) is almost certainly original. Overall the LXX here reflects a fairly accurate translation from the Hebrew. At the historical level, one would expect that Peter might rather have quoted from the Hebrew—if so, it is understandable that the author (trad. Luke) might simply substitute in the LXX (with some modification). On the (critical) theory that the speech is primarily a Lukan composition (set in the mouth of Peter), adapting the Greek version would be a natural approach.

Mention should perhaps be made of the Western variants in verse 17, where the first two occurrences of the pronoun u(mw=n (“your” [pl.]) have been modified to au)tw=n (“their” [pl.])—i.e. “their sons and their daughters will prophesy…” (D gig Rebapt Hil). It has been suggested that this reflects something of an ‘anti-Jewish’ bias in the Western text (Codex D), since the shift to the third person could be taken to indicate that the prophecy was meant to apply to (Gentile) Christians, not Jews. Similarly, the next two occurrences of u(mw=n are omitted in some Western MSS (D E p Rebapt). Cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.) pp. 255-257.

The Exposition/Application.—No exposition is given by Peter, other than the statement that events of the moment are a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (v. 16). It is interesting to consider how Peter (and/or the author of Acts) applies this prophecy to the current situation. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, though the principal occasion of the crowd’s amazement, appears to be only marginally connected with the prophecy. I would say that there are three main points of contact which are being emphasized:

    • God’s sending his Spirit upon the believers, and their being filled with the Spirit
    • That believers—both men and women—will prophesy
    • This pouring out of the Spirit specifically indicates it is the last days

In many ways, this passage represents (along with Jeremiah 31:31-34) the keystone Old Testament prophecy regarding the “new age” (the New Covenant) inaugurated by the work of Jesus Christ. Consider the elements which are combined in this passage:

    • That God is doing a new thing, pouring out of his Spirit upon all people—young and old, men and women, slave and free alike (cf. Gal 3:28).
    • That God’s people will now be guided directly by the Spirit (on this theme, cf. Jer 31:34; 1 John 2:27).
    • Even the least of His people will be able to prophesy—that is, speak the revelatory word or message of God (in this regard, note the interesting passage Num 11:24-29).
    • This signifies that it is the “last days” (i.e. the end times)
    • Salvation (in Christ) is being proclaimed to all people

This is also an instance where the New Testament speaker/author has been relatively faithful to the original historical context of the prophecy. Consider the place of this prophecy in the book of Joel:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted. Regardless, in Acts, it is clearly the spiritual side of Israel’s future restoration that is emphasized, being applied to believers in Christ—a theme which is found throughout the early chapters of the book. What is perhaps overlooked by many modern interpreters is the prominence of the eschatological motif. This is indicated here by:

    • The alteration of the LXX meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”, Hebrew “after/following this”) to e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$ (“in the last days”) of Joel 2:28 [3:1] in v. 17, specifying clearly that this is the last-days/end-times.
    • The natural phenomena described in Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4], included in vv. 19-20 are eschatological/apocalyptic images which came to be associated quite distinctly with God’s end-time Judgment—cf. especially in the Synoptic tradition (Jesus’ Olivet/Eschatological Discourse), Mark 13:14-15ff par.

Even though the natural wonders of Joel 2:30-31 are not technically being fulfilled at the time of Peter’s speech, they clearly signify that, in the mind of Peter (and, to some extent, the author of Acts), the end-times are definitely at hand. This belief in, and expectation of, the imminent judgment of God (and return of Christ), found in nearly all the New Testament writings, may trouble some traditional-conservative commentators (wishing to safeguard a view of Scriptural inerrancy); however, it is an important aspect of early Christian thought which cannot (and ought not to) be ignored or explained away.

Kerygmatic statement or formulae.—As there is no exposition of the passage from Joel, neither is there any clear kerygma, except, I should say, for the concluding citation from Joel 2:28a [3:5a] in v. 21:

“and it will be (that) every (one) that should call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”

In its original context, of course, it refers to calling upon the name of God (YHWH) for salvation, etc; however, in an early Christian context, it takes on a new meaning in reference to the risen/exalted Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$, cf. Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12.

The Scripture citations of the second and third sections will be examined in the next part of this series.

The Old Testament in the Book of Acts

This study is preliminary to a series on the Speeches in the Book of Acts.

It hardly need be said that the Writings (Scriptures) which make up what we call the Old Testament were essential in early Christian thought and practice, and yet one may tend to overlook just how central they were to the earliest proclamation (kerygma) of the “good Message” (Gospel) and the formation of Christian teaching. Jesus and the apostles were immersed in the language and imagery of the Scriptures, both in the original Hebrew and in Aramaic and Greek translation. The slightest nuance or similarity of phrasing led early believers to associate Scripture passages with Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, even when they originally had a very different context. Almost certainly, florilegia—collections of relevant quotations—began to be compiled early on. We can see this use of Scripture—the stringing together of verses and phrases—throughout the New Testament (cf. Romans 3:10-18; 15:9-12; Hebrews 1:5-13, etc.). Among the Gospels, Matthew in particular frequently cites specific ‘prophetic’ passages: “now this whole (matter) came to be (so) that it might be fulfilled the (word) uttered by the Lord through the Foreteller [i.e. Prophet], saying…” (Matt. 1:22), etc. Of course, Jesus himself is recorded as frequently quoting Scripture.

However, the Gospels make use of the Old Testament in other ways as well. The Gospel of John, especially in the great Discourses (see throughout John 2:13-10:42), emphasizes the festival and holy day settings (Sabbath, Passover, Sukkoth [Tabernacles], etc.) with their associated themes, images and Scripture passages; of the Gospels, John most clearly identifies the death of Jesus with the Passover (John 19:14, 29, 31-36, etc.). As for Luke-Acts, Old Testament stories and details (often using language which directly echoes the Septuagint) shape some of the most distinctive narratives: the Infancy narrative(s), for example, draw upon the birth/childhood of Samuel and the various angelic appearances; the transfiguration account adds details related to the Sinai theophany, and so forth. This extends into the book of Acts: the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-13) likewise echoes the Sinai theophany and giving of the Torah with its related traditions, the exilic/post-exilic theme of the restoration of Israel, etc.—as I discussed in an earlier post.

Two passages, unique to the Gospel of Luke, offer a glimpse behind the early Christian thinking in this regard:

    1. In the resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebukes the disciples for being “slow to trust all that was spoken by the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]… was it not necessary for the Anointed to suffer and come into his glory?” (24:25-26)—then it is stated that Jesus, “beginning from Moses and from all the Foretellers he explained through to them the (things) about himself in all the Writings” (24:27, cf. also v. 32).
    2. In the second appearance, to the larger group of disciples, he reiterates earlier teaching that “it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (things which) have been written in the law of Moses and in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] and Psalms about me” (24:44)—then it is stated that Jesus “opened their mind through to understand [lit. put together] the Writings” (24:45), saying “thus it has been written (of) the Anointed suffering and rising [lit. standing up] on the third day…” (24:46).

Nothing is said of just which Writings (Scriptures) were indicated, or how they were “put together” for the disciples. Indeed, scholars have been hard pressed to find passages (outside of Isaiah 53) which could be said to refer specifically to the suffering and death of the Anointed (i.e., Christ/Messiah); the same could be said for other details of Jesus’ life and Passion. However, based on evidence from the Gospels and Acts—as well as other early Christian writings and contemporary Jewish traditions—I have compiled a list of relevant Old Testament references, which I included in an earlier post.

The theme encapsulated in Luke 24:25-27, 44-47 continues on in the Book of Acts, both in the historical introductions to the specific narrative episodes and speeches and within the speeches themselves. The disciples, in their preaching and ministry, sought to:

The frequency of these references suggest that both points of belief posed great difficulty and a challenge for the disciples as they proclaimed the early Gospel message to their fellow Jews. The very fact of Jesus’ apparently ignoble death (on the stake [i.e. cross]), without “restoring the Kingdom to Israel”, would have been a tremendous obstacle to viewing him as the Anointed (“Messiah”). Apart from Isa 53 (cf. Acts 8:32-35), very few Scripture passages describe anything like the suffering or death of a (future) Anointed figure; indeed, to judge by contemporary Jewish writings, nearly all of the most commonly cited ‘Messianic’ passages (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17ff; 2 Sam 7; Ps 2; Isa 11:1-5ff, etc) emphasize the victorious (even military) exercise of kingly power. The same is true when one looks at ‘Messianic’ belief and expectation in the Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. (the Qumran texts, Psalms of Solomon, Testaments of Judah/Levi, 1 Enoch [esp. the Similitudes, chs. 37-71], and 4 Ezra)—of these, only 4 Ezra (i.e. 2/4 Esdras) refers to the death of the Messiah (7:29ff), but in a very different setting. It is perhaps noteworthy that only Isa 53 is specifically cited in the narrative context of the disciples expounding the Scriptures (the passages listed above) regarding this very point, and that some of the most common ‘Messianic’ passages are not used in the New Testament at all.

If specific Scriptures are not indicated in these narrative introductions and summaries in Acts, they are central to the great speeches (or sermons) which represent early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) and preaching of the Disciples. The main sections of Acts tend to follow a basic pattern:

    • Narrative introduction
    • Speech by a principal character (Peter, Paul, Stephen, etc), usually centered on the quotation and exposition of a passage (or passages) of Scripture
    • Historical/editorial summary (sammelbericht, to use a technical term from German scholarship)

Most of the citations of Scripture come from speeches in the first half of the book (Acts 2-4, 7, 13). Here is a list of quotations (for the sake of convenience, I have adopted this from J. A. Fitzmyer, Anchor Bible Vol. 31, Introduction § 73, p. 90):

    • Acts 1:20—Psalms 69:26; 109:8
    • Acts 2:17-21—Joel 3:1-5
    • Acts 2:25-28—Psalm 16:8-11
    • Acts 2:30—Psalm 132:11
    • Acts 2:31—Psalm 16:10
    • Acts 2:34-35—Psalm 110:1
    • Acts 3:13—Exod 3:6, 15
    • Acts 3:22-23—Deut 13:15-16, 19; Lev 23:29
    • Acts 3:25—Gen 22:18; 26:4
    • Acts 4:11—Psalm 118:22
    • Acts 4:24—Psalm 146:6
    • Acts 4:25-26—Psalm 2:1-2
    • Acts 7:3, 5—Gen 12:1; 17:8; 48:4
    • Acts 7:18—Exod 1:8
    • Acts 7:27-28—Exod 2:14
    • Acts 7:30-34—Exod 3:2, 5-8, 10
    • Acts 7:35—Exod 2:14
    • Acts 7:37—Deut 18:15
    • Acts 7:40—Exod 32:1, 23
    • Acts 7:42-43—Amos 5:25-27
    • Acts 7:49-50—Isaiah 66:1-2
    • Acts 8:32-33—Isaiah 53:7-8
    • Acts 13:22—Psalm 89:21; 1 Sam 13:14
    • Acts 13:33—Psalm 2:7
    • Acts 13:34-35—Isa 55:3; Psalm 16:10
    • Acts 13:41—Hab 1:5
    • Acts 13:47—Isaiah 49:6
    • Acts 15:16-17—Amos 9:11-12
    • Acts 23:5—Exod 22:27
    • Acts 28:26-27—Isaiah 6:9-10

As throughout the New Testament, these quotations often differ in some respect from the standard Greek version (LXX), but occasionally also from any known version, Hebrew or Greek. In this regard, several possibilities ought to be examined:

    1. The extent to which a quotation matches a Greek (or underlying Hebrew) version
    2. It may be a free or loose quotation (from memory)
    3. The quotation may have been consciously or purposefully modified, sometimes yielding an entirely different sense or meaning than that which the text had originally

Scholars and theologians are, at times, bothered by the second and third possibilities, as they seem to violate the ‘sacredness’ of the text, not to mention a straightforward ‘grammatical-historical’ method as the first and most reliable interpretive approach. Even traditional-conservative commentators are forced to admit instances of “inspired (secondary) interpretation” or “inspired application” of the text by New Testament authors and speakers. At the very least, one should recognize the early Christian approach to Scripture, much as that of contemporary Jews (at Qumran and elsewhere), as reflecting a more creative use of the sacred Writings. If one today adopted similar methods, he or she would no doubt be accused of eisegesis—of reading a meaning into the text which was not originally there.

Let us look at an example from the above list:

The Speech of James—Acts 15:13-21

The speech given by James is central to the account of the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ (Acts 15:1-35). It works in tandem with another short speech (by Peter, vv. 7-11), and serves to join the two parts of the narrative: (1) the ‘Council’ dealing with the question of whether Gentile believers must keep the Law of Moses [esp. circumcision], and (2) a letter sent to Gentile believers advising them on what requirements of the Law they ought to keep. Peter’s speech centers on an earlier episode recorded in Acts—the conversion of Cornelius (10:1-11:18). James’ speech, by contrast, uses a passage of Scripture—Amos 9:11-12.

Here is a comparison of Amos 9:11-12:

Translation of the Hebrew (MT)

11 In that day I will raise up [lit. make stand] the woven-shelter of David th(at) is fallen,
and I will wall up her [pl.] (holes that are) bursting out;
And I will raise up [lit. make stand] his [sg.] torn-down-remains [i.e. ruins],
and I will build her [sg.] as in (the) days of distant (past)
12 In order that they possess the remainder of Edom
and all the nations (for) which my name is called upon them—
utterance of YHWH (the one) doing this.

Greek (LXX) with translation

11 e)n th=| h(me/ra| e)kei/nh| a)nasth/sw th\n skhnh\n Dauid th\n peptwkui=an kai\ a)noikodomh/sw ta\ peptwko/ta au)th=$ kai\ ta\ kateskamme/na au)th=$ a)nasth/sw kai\ a)noikodomh/sw au)th\n kaqw\$ ai( h(me/rai tou= ai)w=no$
12 o%pw$ e)kzhth/swsin oi( kata/loipoi tw=n a)nqrw/pwn [to\n ku/rion] kai\ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh e)f’ ou^$ e)pike/klhtai to\ o&noma/ mou e)p’ au)tou/$ le/gei ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ o( poiw=n tau/ta

11 In that day I will raise [lit. stand] up/again the tent of David th(at) has fallen and I will build up/again her [sg.] fallen-parts, and I will raise [lit. stand] up/again her [sg.] dug-down-remains [i.e. ruins] and I will build her [sg.] up/again even as (in) the days of the (past) age
12 how that the (ones) remaining down [i.e. the remainder] of men, and every nation upon whom my name has been called, might seek out [the Lord], says the Lord God the (one) doing these things.

Acts 15:16-18

11 meta\ tau=ta a)nastre/yw kai\ a)noikodmh/sw th\n skh/nhn Daui\d th\n peptwkui=an kai\ ta\ kateskamme/na au)th=$ a)noikodomh/sw kai\ a)norqw/sw au)th/n
12 o%pw$ a&n e)kzhth/swsin oi( kata/loipoi tw=n a)nqrw/pwn to\n ku/rion kai\ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh e)f’ ou^$ e)pike/klhtai to\ o&noma/ mou e)p’ au)tou/$ le/gei ku/rio$ poiw=n tau=ta
gnwsta\ a)p’ ai)w=no$

11 After these (things) I will turn up/again [i.e. return] and I will build up/again the tent of David th(at) has fallen and her [sg.] dug-down-remains [i.e. ruins] I will build up/again and I will set her [sg.] straight up/again,
12 how that the (ones) remaining down [i.e. the remainder] of men, and every nation upon whom my name has been called, might seek out the Lord—says the Lord doing these things,
known from (the) age.

The LXX generally follows the Hebrew of v. 11, although in very flat translation, having lost nearly all of the color and texture of the verse. The citation in James/Acts matches neither the Hebrew or LXX all that closely; it generally follows the vocabulary of the LXX, but in a much simpler form. The most notable differences between the LXX and James/Acts for v. 11 are:

LXX:

e)n th=| h(me/ra| e)kei/nh| (“in that day”)

{no corresponding phrase}

repeats a)noikodomh/sw (“I will build up/again”)

kaqw\$ ai( h(me/rai tou= ai)w=no$
(“even as [in] the days of the [past] age”)

Acts/James:

meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”)

a)nastre/yw (“I will turn up/again [i.e. return]”)

uses a)norqw/sw (“I will set straight up/again”)

{no corresponding phrase}
(reflected in gnwsta\ a)p’ ai)w=no$?)

For verse 12, LXX (A) and James/Acts are nearly identical, and both are very different from the Hebrew: “they may possess the remainder of Edom” has turned into “the remainder of men might seek out [the Lord]”—this seems to be the result of a two-fold error in translation:

    1. <d)a$ (Edom, defective spelling) was mistaken for <d*a* (Adam/man)
    2. Wvr=yy] (“they [may] possess”) was either mistaken for (or ‘corrected’ to) Wvr=d=y] (“they [may] seek”)

The lack of a clearly identified subject for the verb in Hebrew would have added to the confusion: the ‘remainder’ and ‘all the nations…’ became the subject (who/what seeks out) in the Greek version. There being no clear object for the ‘seeking’ it was easy enough to add a pronoun or “the Lord” as both the A-text and Acts/James do. That these verses would have proved difficult for Greek translators to understand, several centuries after the fact, is not surprising; it remains troublesome even today. Consider, for example, the complex set of referents indicated by the various pronominal suffixes in verse 11. As for verse 12, there are three ways to read the text:

    1. “all the nations…” is a coordinate object with “Edom”. That is, Israel will possess “Edom and all the nations”. There are two difficulties with this view: (a) the lack of a parallel object marker (Áta) for “all the nations”, and (b) the phrase “my name is called upon” being applied to the nations, which is unusual in the Old Testament. The sense would be that the nations possessed by restored Israel will come to have God’s name called upon them—that is, they will effectively be converted.
    2. “all the nations…” is the subject, coordinate with Israel (implied). This would be translated as follows: “They—even all the nations (for) which my name is called upon them—will possess the remainder of Edom”. Though such a role for the nations may fit the outlook of the LXX and Acts, it seems rather foreign to the original context of Amos; however the idea of nations united/cooperating with Israel could conceivably be in mind.
    3. The phrase “which my name is called upon them” is substantively the subject, but does not apply to “all the nations”. This would be translated: “They—(those for) which my name is called upon them—will possess the remainder of Edom and all the nations”. Here the sense would be that the (restored) Israel is identified (only) with those upon whom God’s name is called. This is an interesting possibility, and one which does fit the context of Amos to some extent.

Despite some syntactical awkwardness, I feel that the first way of reading the verse remains the best option. Of course, there is always the possibility of corruption having crept into the Masoretic text; unfortunately, only one Dead Sea document (a Prophets scroll from Wadi Murabba‘at) contains v. 12, highly fragmentary, but apparently conforming to the MT. Otherwise, apart from the variant reading of LXX/Acts, there is little basis for asserting textual corruption here.

There are other textual, literary and historical-critical difficulties regarding the citation of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts, such as:

    • At the historical level, would James have cited such a passage of Scripture from the Greek? If so, did he recognize a discrepancy with the Hebrew?
    • To what extent is this quotation the product of the author (traditionally Luke) rather than the speaker (James), whether in terms of translation or insertion?
    • What is one to make of either author or speaker using a version of Scripture which is apparently at odds with the original (inspired) Hebrew text?

These are important questions, both for an understanding of the composition of the book (Acts), and in terms of how we regard the nature and extent of inspiration. However, both are rather too complex to deal with adequately here; I will be treating such questions in at least some detail in the series on the Speeches of Acts.

Admitting that there are difficulties with the version of Amos 9:11-12 cited by Acts/James, just how does the author/speaker make use of it, and how does this differ from the original context of the passage?

Consider first the original setting of these verses in the book of Amos: they are part of an ‘epilogue’, both to the sequence of visions (7:1-9:6) and the book as a whole. After searing proclamations of judgment, concluding with a vision of destruction for Israel (9:1-6), there is a promise of restoration, beginning in vv. 7-8, and more fully in vv. 11-15. The “woven-shelter” (hKs often translated “hut”, “booth”) of David, central to this passage, is a curious image—overall, the reference seems to be to the Kingdom (of Judah) and Jerusalem (but perhaps representative of the whole Kingdom) in ruins; however the “booth”, with its echo of the exodus and wilderness wandering (commemorated by the festival of toKs), may refer to an Israelite identity that predates/transcends the Kingdom (at least the divided Kingdom of Amos’ time). The restored Israel will possess again the land (vv. 14-15), including the territory of Edom and, it would seem, the surrounding nations (v. 12), accompanied by a time of renewed prosperity (vv. 13-14).

In James’ speech (Acts 15:13-21), these verses are applied to the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, in particular to the episode of Peter and Cornelius (vv. 7-11, 14; cf. 10:1-11:18). This is done by “catchphrase bonding”, an ancient interpretive method, but one which is rather foreign to us today. By this method, different passages of Scripture (which may be otherwise unrelated), are connected by the presence of a common/similar word or phrase. Here the triggering phrase is “a people for/to His Name”:

V. 14: Simeon [i.e. Simon Peter] has related [lit. led out] even as (at the) first God looked closely upon (it) to take out of (the) nations a people for/to His Name.

The verb e)piske/ptomai (or e)piskope/w), here translated somewhat literally as “look closely/carefully upon”, has a relatively wide semantic range—”consider [i.e. think upon]”, “observe”, “examine”, “inspect”, and ultimately to visit/attend (for the purpose of examination, inspection, etc). This latter technical meaning underlies the word e)pi/skopo$ (typically translated “overseer”).
The verb lamba/nw can have the sense of “take” or “receive”, depending on the context.
“Name” is in the dative (tw=| o)no/mati), but there is no preposition, which has to be supplied in English.

One well-versed in the Scriptures—whether James of the author of Acts—might quickly associate this phrase with the reference in Amos 9:12; and, while the context of the Hebrew is perhaps not so suitable, the Greek of the LXX is very much to his purpose, for it speaks of the nations “upon whom My Name is called” seeking out [the Lord]. Unmistakably, this here is a reference to ‘God-fearing’ Gentiles (such as Cornelius) seeking God (the Lord) and responding to Christ (the Lord) in the proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, James associates the LXX version of Amos 9:12 with the early Christian mission and conversion of the Gentiles. Interestingly, in the Greek, it is no longer the remnant of Israel specifically involved but rather the remnant of (all?) men.

It is all the more extraordinary that this universal reference to the nations would be associated with the “fallen booth/tent of David”, which in Amos clearly refers to Israel and the Davidic Kingdom. However, this is fully in accord with the implicit theme (in Luke-Acts) of the “restoration of Israel” in terms of the early Christian mission—beginning with the Twelve (symbolic of the twelve Tribes) and other believers in Jerusalem, to the Jews of the dispersion (among the nations), and then to ‘God-fearers’ and other Gentiles (non-Jews among the nations). Even in the Hebrew of Amos 9:12 there is the idea of nations who are (or come to be) associated with Israel and share “God’s Name upon them”.

In this light, one should also recognize an eschatological aspect of this reference in Acts. The introductory phrase itself (“after these [things] I will return”), found neither in the LXX or the Hebrew, seems to carry such a nuance. God returns to His People (cf. for example the echoes of the Sinai theophany in Acts 2), establishing His Kingdom in the new Age (“last days” cf. Acts 2:17ff, etc) which now consists of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Paul’s grand eschatological hope/expectation in Romans 9-11). It is clear from the Qumran texts that Amos 9:11 was understood in an eschatological/Messianic sense. The Florilegium (4Q174), which strings together related Scripture passages (with a brief interpretation), associates Amos 9:11 with the promise of the Davidic dynasty in 2 Sam 7:

This (refers to the) “Branch of David”, who will arise with the Interpreter of the Law who [will rise up] in Zi[on in] the [l]ast days, as it is written: “I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen”, This (refers to) “the hut of David which has fall[en”, which he will raise up to save Israel. (translation from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1 [Leiden/Brill, 1998/2000], p. 353)

Here the “booth/hut of David” is identified with the Messianic designation “Branch of David”, that is to say with a specific Anointed (Messianic) figure. A similar use of Amos 9:11 is found in the Cairo version of the Damascus Document (CD 7:15-16 [MS A]); this passage mentions in sequence: (a) coming days of judgment and tribulation [citing Isa 7:17], (b) exile of the ‘booth of the king’ [Amos 5:26-27], (c) raising up the ‘booth of David’ [Amos 9:11], (d) the coming of the ‘star’ [Interpreter of the Law] and ‘sceptre’ [Messiah/Prince] who will smite the nations [Num 24:17]. Such eschatological expectations are very far removed from the book of Acts (cf. 1:6ff, not to mention most of the New Testament as a whole); that is to say, they have been transferred into a different framework:

Jewish expectation c. 1st century B.C./A.D.
(Qumran texts, etc.)

  • Signs of travail, persecution, etc
  • Appearance of an Anointed figure (Messiah)
  • Judgment/war on the (wicked) nations
  • Restoration of the Kingdom

Early Christian expectation (1st cent. A.D.)
(Jesus’ teaching, Apostolic preaching, rest of NT)

    • Signs of travail, persecution, etc
    • Judgment on the World
    • Return of Christ (Parousia)
    • Entry into Life in Heaven with God/Christ
      (references to an earthly ‘Messianic’ kingdom are rare in the NT)

Finally, it is interesting to consider the wider context of James’ speech in Acts—namely, the question of whether, or to what extent, Gentile believers must keep the Law of Moses. Many Jewish Christians held the strict view that it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to keep the Law of Moses (i.e. in its entirety)—cf. Acts 15:5, etc., and all of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In response, James limits the ‘requirement’ to those things which traditionally applied to those associated with Israel (as aliens/sojourners), cf. especially Lev. 17-18. The nature and historical context of this resolution (Acts 15:19-21, and in the letter, vv. 22-29) continue to be debated; and, of course, as the Church grew to become predominantly Gentile, and influenced greatly by Paul’s writings, these restrictions soon disappeared. However, the theme of the believer’s relation to the Old Testament Law code(s) continues to be a significant and controversial matter.

The association of Amos 9:11-12 with this question of keeping the Law has an interesting parallel in the passage from the Damascus Document mentioned above. There the “fallen booth of David” is specifically identified with the Books of the Law (Torah), related to the congregation as a whole. The reference in Num 24:17 (“star” and “sceptre”) was understood as foretelling the coming of an “Interpreter of the Law” and a “Prince of the Congregation”—these two will restore obedience to the Books of the Law (and Prophets) “whose sayings Israel has despised”. So here we have two distinct interpretations of the “booth of David” found in the Qumran community (and related groups):

Identified with the coming (Anointed) One
who will save/restore Israel
Identified with the Torah, which the coming (Anointed) One[s]
will restore to Israel

Can we not see Jesus as both Anointed (Christ) and Torah (Word of God), who comes to save His People?