God’s Own Blood in Acts 20:28? Christology and Textual Criticism

Brian LePort has posted on one of the different manuscript readings in Acts 20:28. For those who may be new to the topic, there are two important variants in that verse in the Greek manuscripts we have. On the one hand, manuscripts vary on reading “church of God” or “church of the Lord.” On the other hand, in some manuscripts, the phrase “his own blood” is worded in such a way that it can mean “the blood of (the one who is) his own.” (For some of the variations in the Syriac, see here).

In deciding what the original reading is likely to have been in these instances, perhaps the most important thing to consider is that there has been nothing, absolutely nothing, in Luke or Acts that has depicted Jesus as God. And so it seems safe to say that the reading “the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” is not original.

In the Christology of Luke-Acts, Jesus is a human being who is empowered with the Holy Spirit during his life, and raised from the dead and exalted to heaven after the end of his life. There is no point at which Jesus is depicted as being pre-existent or the incarnation of a pre-existent entity. (In fact, the only person who makes such a claim for himself in Luke-Acts is Simon Magus).

And so this instance illustrates how a careful study of a work’s Christology can allow the textual critic to draw conclusions about the likely direction of alteration. In this case, Luke’s wording has been changed over the course of transmission to agree with developing orthodoxy, rather than vice versa.

Click through to read Brian’s post, which also offers a lengthy quote from Bruce Metzger on the subject.

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  • Michael Wilson

    “nothing, absolutely nothing, in Luke or Acts that has depicted Jesus as God” a part of my dilema on my paper for school. Early supposedly mainstream Christianity in fact doesn’t hold the positions that are expected. The typical way of reading Mark to John to show how Jesus moves from man to god Jewish to Gentile doesn’t play as it should.

  • Geoff Hudson

    Acts 20 to Acts 25 is all fiction.  These texts involve Paul’s fictitious journey to Jerusalem and his various fictitious trials before Felix, Festus and king Agrippa. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

    Indeed, Mike – development can be traced, but it is by no means linear. Luke-Acts competes with John for the latest of the canonical Gospels, and yet seems to be at the polar opposite end of the spectrum Christologically.

  • Just Sayin’

    When Luke was an old man he decided to rewrite Acts and added that bit in.  Problem solved. 

  • Dcdeller

    How early did the community form/accept this conception? Was it just a ploy of Paul’s under some nefarious influence?

  • Metanoia1945

    Thanks Dr. McGrath for this very informative post and link for us regular folk. Your posts are easy to read for the layman, yet full of scholarly information that adds depth and life to my journey.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

    I think that the development is not one of “Jewish prophet to Gentile God” but of a progression from Spirit-empowered Messiah, to the bringing in of language of pre-existence related to both the Messiah and the Spirit, to the taking of that language more literally by some Christians as they responded to questions and objections about what Jesus could offer and how. 

    That was the focus of my book John’s Apologetic Christology – looking at how John’s Christology got where it did in relation to what went before it.

    • Dcdeller

      What about the synoptics? Many discount John in relation to Jesus’ self-representation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

    In general we can’t use the Gospel of John for historical purposes, since it often gives unique information, and has Jesus and other characters all speaking in the same distinctive style, which is also that of the narrator and thus is the author’s own.

  • newenglandsun

    There is Luke chapter 5 v. 20-25 where Jesus forgives sins and is accused of blasphemy. There is Luke 8:38-39 as well. I’m still not entirely certain as to why people simply just assume the authors could not have held to a high Christology. It really isn’t much of a breakage from monotheism at all.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      Luke 5 is explicitly said to be about a human being having authority on earth to forgive sins. Luke 8:38-39 makes perfect sense on the view that God was working through Jesus, as indeed Luke depicts, emphasizing that Jesus accomplished everything he did through the power of the Spirit at work in and through him.

  • Jerry

    In the beginning was the WORD (Jesus) and the WORD (Jesus) was with God and the WORD (Jesus) was God. Pre-existence! And the WORD (God) became flesh (in the form of Jesus Christ). John 1:1 and 14.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t think that anyone denies that there is pre-existence in John. But it is the pre-existence of God’s Word, which becomes flesh as Jesus. It is not the pre-existence of Jesus as a human person, despite the parentheses you add to give that impression.

      But none of that is relevant to this post’s question about what the view of Luke-Acts is. The contrast between Luke and John at this point is very noticeable.