Opening The Old Testament
A Fresh Wholeness: Reflections on Acts 4:5-12
The multiple high priests ask the central question that has been engendered by the healing of the lame man. "By what power or in what name did you do this thing (4:7)? The question asks for two responses: what is the source of the healing (what is the "power" dynamis used?) and by what authority ("name" onoma) was it done? Peter's answer comes from one "filled with the Holy Spirit," Luke's stereotypical phrase for all those who are prophets of the early church. Again, as regularly in Acts, Peter preaches a sermon typical of early church preaching. "Leaders of the people and elders! If we are being examined today concerning kindness for a sick man, by which this man has been saved, let it be known to all of you and to the entire people of Israel that it is through the name of Jesus Messiah the Nazorean—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead—it is through him that this man stands before you healthy" (4:8-10).
Peter first describes the healing as a "kindness" (NRSV "good deed"). In a more official Greek sense it could be seen as a "benefaction," a sort of public service offered to a city. Thus, Peter in effect asks to be thanked for the healing rather than charged with some crime! However, he also adds that the man has been "saved" this day as well. Luke quite pointedly here uses the Greek sozo (compare tetherapeumenon in v. 14). This word has a very broad meaning, extending far beyond a "are ya' saved" mentality. It clearly has physical and spiritual and social dimensions. Peter warns the Sanhedrin that his actions on behalf of the lame man in the temple in the name of Jesus Messiah the Nazorean have world-shattering implications.
In the light of Luke's earlier reference to Psalm 117:22 (in the Septuagint version) in his gospel at the end of Jesus' parable of the vineyard (Lk. 20:17), he here in Acts 4:11 addresses the religious leaders specifically as those builders "who have rejected the cornerstone," who is Jesus. In fact, to make his implication even more plain, Luke replaces the Septuagint verb "reject" with his own verb "scorn" (not in the NRSV's translation) in order to read "the stone that was scorned by you the builders;" this verb is used twice in his gospel to describe the attitude of leaders (see Lk. 18:9 and 23:11). And he also adds "by you" to the Septuagint psalm to make clear that those who are listening to him today in the Sanhedrin are specifically implicated in the murder of Jesus.
But their killing has ironically lead to this astonishing announcement: "Salvation is in no other, for neither is there another name under heaven given to humans by which we must be saved" (4:12). The name of Jesus, unlike any other name, brings now "salvation," healing and wholeness and newness of life to those who believe. Perhaps one way to understand this new claim is by reference to the Hebrew shalom, a term that in part underlies the Greek term salvation. The Hebrew means, at the base, "wholeness" or "unity" or "oneness." What salvation in Jesus promises is a fresh wholeness, a divine unity whereby a broken world can be restored.
It is nothing less than tragic that the idea of "being saved" has too often done precisely the opposite; it has divided people rather than united them. Ironically it will do that as well in the ongoing story of Acts, as Jews and early Christians grew further and further apart. Still, as the famous, and infamous, John 3:16 proclaims, "God so loved the cosmos" and sent Jesus, "not to condemn the cosmos," but in order that the "cosmos might be made whole," restored, made one again. By implication, any time that the name of Jesus is used to divide, and not unite, to generate hatred and not love, to separate person from person rather than join them together, that name has been besmirched, misused, profaned. We Christians, all of us, would do well to meditate on our use of Jesus' name and ask ourselves what use we have made and make of it in our own faith lives.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.