Acts 2:14a, 22-32
14a Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, 22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
25 For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
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.”
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with a second account of the Ascension of Jesus (the first one is in Luke 24) and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws in order to become Jesus Followers.
Today’s reading presents the second portion of Peter’s long speech (vv. 14-36) after the Pentecost Event and reflects the theology of the community from which Luke-Acts came. In Luke and Acts, everything that happened was said to be guided by the Holy Spirit and was part of “God’s Plan.”
Peter’s speech said that Jesus was a “man” (v.22). At the end of the speech, Peter said the “God has made him both Lord and Messiah” v.36) through the Resurrection. The New Oxford Annotated Bible interprets this verse as a form of “adoptionist christology” that appears to be at variance with the adoptionist notions in Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism — “You are my Beloved Son” (Luke 3:21-22). The NAOB observes that the differences likely reflect different sources for the stories in Luke-Acts.
In Peter’s speech, “God’s Plan” included the handing over of Jesus to the Israelites (v. 23), the crucifixion of Jesus by the Israelites (“whom you crucified”) “by the hands of those outside the law” (i.e. Gentiles, Romans), and the “impossibility” (v. 24) that death could hold Jesus in its power. The balance of the speech stated that Jesus descended from King David whose kingly line was promised by God to endure forever (2 Sam. 7:13).
Based on the ancient view that David composed all the Psalms, in verses 25 to 28, the author of Acts paraphrased Psalm 16:8-11 and attributed the words to David. The Jewish Annotated New Testament asserts that the location of David’s tomb was known in the First Century and cites Josephus as a substantiating authority.
The harsh words of “Peter’s speech” against the Israelites need to be considered in the historical and religious contexts in which they were written.
After the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the only two surviving sects in Judaism were the Pharisees and the Jesus Followers (not called “Christians” until 85 or so). The other sects in Judaism (Sadducees, Zealots, Herodians, Essenes) became irrelevant or were killed by the Romans. For example, the Sadducees (priests) disappeared because there was no Temple for animal sacrifice.
For the next 30+ years, the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees contended bitterly for control of Judaism. Matthew, Luke-Acts and John were written during this time and contain condemnations of Israelites, Judeans/Jews, and Pharisees, but hardly any against the ruling Romans who in fact crucified Jesus as an insurrectionist.
Around 100 CE, there was a “parting of the ways” within Judaism – the Jesus Follower Movement evolved into Christianity and the Pharisaic Movement evolved into Rabbinic Judaism.
Unfortunately, in a short time, Christians largely forgot (or never knew) the historical controversies that led to the anti-Jewish language in the post-70 Gospels and Acts. This lack of historical understanding has been an underpinning for much of the Anti-Semitism that has existed since the Second Century.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith– being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The First Letter of Peter was likely written in the last quarter of the First Century, after Peter’s death. It was written in sophisticated Greek and resembled the form of Paul’s letters. Its focus was not on the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, but on the Resurrection and the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
In today’s reading, the author expressed hope for redemption through the Resurrection (v.3) and a salvation that will be revealed at the end times (v.5). The New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests that the believer does not go “up” to heaven but “forward” to the future reward that will be revealed at the end time.
The JANT observes that there is a Gnostic tone to the letter in its emphasis on “knowledge” (v.3) and the frequent use of the word epignōsis (lit. “full knowledge”) as well as the term “gnōsis” (knowledge). The JANT also notes that the phrase “participants of the divine nature” was language that was used in First Century mystery religions.
The author of the letter noted that Jesus Followers “had to suffer various trials” (v. 6), not so much from overt governmental persecution, but because the Jesus Follower Movement was a minority sect within Judaism, particularly after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
The author also expected that God would send the Christ soon because “salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time” (v.5) and “your faith …will result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 7).
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is another account that is not found in the Synoptic Gospels. It begins in a room that is locked “for fear of the Jews” (v.19), which means fear of the Temple Authorities. The evening is on the first day of the week (v.19), the same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb when it was dark.
Reflecting ambivalence about the “physicality” of the Resurrected Christ, Jesus was said to walk through walls and locked doors and stood among the disciples (v.19 and v.26), but his wounds (only John’s Gospel speaks of a wound in Jesus’ side – 19:34) remain (v.20 and 27). The disciples did not recognize him, however, until he showed them his wounds (v.20). Although invited to do so, it does not appear from the text that Thomas touched the wounds. Even in a resurrected state, Jesus (and we) will continue to have wounds.
The Commissioning of the disciples (v.21) is analogous to the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19, and the imparting of the Holy Spirit (vv.22-23) is sometimes called “Little Pentecost” – as compared to the longer Pentecost account in Acts 2:1-4. Breathing upon the disciples is also reminiscent of YHWH’s imparting the breath of life to the human (adam) made of the soil (adamah) in Genesis 2:7. The Jewish Annotated New Testament suggests that the power to forgive sins or retain them was “the authority to decide who can become or remain a member of the community.”
Some ancient manuscripts included a verse 31 that is translated as “you may continue to believe.” This text would indicated that the intended audience of the Gospel was persons who were already believers. The words “you may come to believe” in verse 31 in the NRSV would indicate that the Gospel’s intended audience was non-believers.
Many scholars believe that the Fourth Gospel ended with verses 30 and 31, and that Chapter 21 (which describes an appearance of the Resurrected Christ in Tiberius by the Sea of Galilee) was added in the Second Century.
In The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop Spong observed that although Thomas was mentioned among the list of apostles in the Synoptic Gospels, nothing of substance is mentioned about him until the Fourth Gospel. He notes that scholars have been aware of a Gospel of Thomas from its being mentioned in other writings, but that its text was unknown until recently.
Spong cites Elaine Pagel’s book Beyond Belief for the thesis that the Fourth Gospel was written largely to contradict the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas which contains no miracle stories, no narrative of Jesus’ birth, no narrative of his death, and no story of Easter.
He notes that, in the Gospel, Thomas is demanding a “sign” in seeking to observe the wounds himself, just as the other disciples had been able to observe them.
Spong understands “My Lord and my God” as John’s affirmation that Jesus was the Messiah sent from God and is of the same essence as the one who did the sending. “Thomas’ confession is in effect: I have seen God in the presence of Jesus; I have seen the word made flesh and dwelling among us. Thomas has come to understand that when we see Jesus, we see God.”
Spong asserts that the thrust of the concluding words of the Gospel (“through believing you may have life in his name”) is “to have life – not to become religious, not to achieve moral purity, not to win the contest to gain doctrinal orthodoxy, but to have life – that is the function of the Christ. It is to bring us to the experience of living in which we pass into new dimensions of life and cross the boundaries of fear that separate us from one another and from ourselves. That we ‘might have life and have it abundantly’ – that is what Jesus is about; that is what Jesus brings. To be Christian is not to believe that message but to live that message.”