Sunday, November 30, 2014



This is the sixth entry in the Bible Junkies Online Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. The first entry covered some of the major critical, technical and background issues that will concern us as we read through and comment on the Acts. The second post, found here, considered the prologue to the Acts of the Apostles. In the third column, we began to examine the founding of the Jerusalem Church. In the fourth blog post, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the beginning of Peter’s speech was discussed. In the fifth post, the bulk of Peter’s speech was examined. In this, the sixth entry, Peter’s speech concludes with a successful response according to Acts.

3. Contents:
B) Founding of the Jerusalem Church (1:12-2:47): iv) Peter’s Speech Concludes (2:29-41):
29 "Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, "He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.' 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool." ' 36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. (NRSV)

Peter continues his speech by saying to his “fellow Israelites” that “our ancestor David…died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (2:29). According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, this was the case in antiquity (Jewish War 1.61; Jewish Antiquities 7.393, 13.249; see Gary Gilbert, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 202). Peter’s point will be simple: we know that David died and was buried, and he did not rise from his tomb, as someone we know, so this excludes David as the subject of the verses from Psalm 16:8-11 just cited in Acts 2:25-28, especially verses 10-11. About what or who was David speaking?

According to Luke Timothy Johnson it is “axiomatic” that David, considered the author of all of the Psalms, was considered a prophet by Luke (Acts of the Apostles, 51). And “since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne” (Acts 2:30), a claim that resonates with the promises of 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which in itself would not require a prophet to know. Peter’s claim, though, seems to go deeper and that concerns the knowledge David had concerning the resurrection of one of his descendants, the coming Messiah.  It was this Messiah about whom David was speaking.

And so Peter says that “foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption’” (Acts 2:31). Earlier in Acts 2:24, Peter had stated that “God raised him {Jesus} up, having freed him from death,” now he stresses that David himself had not just written about this but prophesied it. Citing again Psalm 16:10 (LXX, Septuagint), Peter says that it is because of David’s prophetic nature that he knew Jesus would rise from the dead. So, simply, Peter says, “this Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). 

Here is the argument: David foretold that this descendant would rise from the dead – “he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption”- God raised the man Jesus from the dead, therefore, Jesus is the promised Messiah. Essential to this argument, though, is that it has been certified by those who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, a necessary witness to the claim that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah or Christos of David.

Jesus’ Messiahship is interpreted as “being therefore exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33a), which “anticipates” in Johnson’s word Psalm 110:1 (Acts of the Apostles, 52), still to come, another significant messianic Psalm for Christian understanding of Jesus. Peter then connects the events of Pentecost with Jesus’ exaltation, saying “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33b). That is, Pentecost was essential for the Church to come together, but also necessary as a witness for those outside the Church to solidify the reality of Jesus the Messiah and to draw people into the community of believers.
Psalm 110:1 comes in the following verse, preceded by Peter’s claim that David did not ascend to the heavens, but only prophesied of the descendant who would be both Messiah and God’s true son: “David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Acts 2:34-35). Here is another key argument from the Psalms for the early Christians. The word “Lord” (kyrios) does not refer to a human “Lord” (kyrios) but God, so this could not be David, a human being who did not ascend to God’s right hand but is dead in his tomb. Jesus is at God’s right hand, so Jesus is Lord.

This passage, Psalm 110:1, also points toward Jesus’ divine nature by definition, if one takes Lord to refer directly to God. This verse was at the heart of early Christian interpretation of Jesus’ person and nature and it is used in at least fifteen passages in the New Testament, including in all three Synoptic Gospels, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, Colossians, Ephesians and, of course, Acts.

Peter concludes his speech by again telling the gathered crowd that his words are for “the entire house of Israel” (Acts 2:36a), just as he had already directed himself to his “fellow Israelites” in Acts 2:29.  He says, “know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36b). Peter both identifies the crowd with those who crucified Jesus and identifies himself with the crowd as a fellow Israelite. More than this, in this summation of his speech based on his interpretation of Psalm 16 and Psalm 110, he contrasts the person Jesus killed by crucifixion with Jesus who is the Lord and Messiah. 

In the phrase “God has made him both Lord and Messiah,” however, lurks an ancient question. The verb used in 2:36 to describe Jesus as Lord and Messiah is simple and common, poieô, “to make or do, similar to the German machen. “Made him” was a controverted claim during the period prior to the ecumenical councils, especially that of Nicaea, since it could be seen to indicate Jesus’ adoption as God’s son and appointment as Lord, a theological position the Church ultimately rejected. It must be understood that at this early stage of Christian development, we are a long way from the official claims about Jesus as both God and man and the definitions of the three persons of the Trinity. I suspect that Peter, or Luke, are truly focusing here on God’s power being the operative power in raising up Jesus from the dead. All that has taken place is through God. 

According to the following verses, many people responded positively to Peter’s interpretation of Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation. Luke writes, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38).

Note that although Acts is often represented as suggesting that the early mission was unsuccessful in Jerusalem, these early chapters suggest that the first disciples of Jesus had some degree of success among their countrymen and countrywomen. When they ask what to do, Peter gives them a threefold order of actions: repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The call to repent is for sins in general, not related to a specific act such as the crucifixion. Baptism is seen as both an act of repentance for the early disciples and entry into the community. Upon such entry, the Holy Spirit will be given to them, as it was just now to those already members of the community. 

A key element of entry into the community, though, is that each person is “baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.”  Jesus’ name has power in itself, but it is also the name in which people are baptized, which sets him this community apart from other Jews. Jesus’ relationship to God sets him apart as more than a human being and allow such acts of honor to be offered “in his name” without offense to God, for Jesus is at God’s right hand.

Also to be noticed, and something we will return to examine, is the fact that sometimes in Acts we will see the gift of the Holy Spirit first being given and then baptism taking place. The order which Peter suggests here will not always be the order we encounter in the text (cf. Acts 10).

Peter continues to encourage his hearers, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39). Even in this call to his “fellow Israelites” Luke has Peter also call out to the Gentiles, for this is whom “all who are far away” must be. It is the second notice, after Jesus’ first notice in 1:8, that the message and call are for the Jews but also the whole world.

At this point, Peter’s speech, which is now summarized by Luke (“he testified with many other arguments”: Acts 2:40a), turns to exhortation, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40b).  “This corrupt generation” indicates a belief of living in the last generation from which a remnant will be saved. Importantly, the word translated as “save yourselves” is actually in the passive form, sôthêtê, “be saved.” A more accurate translation would be, therefore, “Be saved from this corrupt generation.” The passive puts the accent on God’s activity in salvation, just as God raised up Jesus, God will save those who wish to be saved in Jesus’ name.

Luke writes that “those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added” (Acts 2:41). That is a lot of people, but we will see that Luke is fond of these round numbers throughout Acts. Again, it points to a degree of success for Peter and Jesus’ other apostles among their fellow Jews, though it is hard to know what to make of the numbers. About 3,000 persons were added, all supposedly having been baptized, though it is not specified how or where, or how long it took to do so. Luke is compressing history here on a number of levels, giving us a large number, but vague (“about”), and not telling us exactly how this all took place. 

Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity has said of scenes like this that we do not have 3,000 new Christians here, but 3,000 wet Jews. His point is that conversion, his area of expertise, is a process of belonging which cannot be fulfilled in any one action. This is true, but Luke’s point is simple in his compressed history: Jesus’ message, spoken through Peter, is now taking root due to the power of the Holy Spirit.  People in the same city in which Jesus was crucified are now weeks later accepting the claims made about him. We could also add that at this point we have no Christians anywhere, both because the name has not yet been given to them, but also because all of the followers of Jesus still consider themselves and still are Jews.

Next entry, what the Apostles do in Jerusalem.
John W. Martens
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This entry is cross-posted at America Magazine The Good Word