Monday, January 18, 2010

Entering into Old Testament Theology

“For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26, New American Standard Bible)

This segment of Peter’s sermon carries enormous historical importance. On the surface one could conclude that salvation is a product of right living with belief lurking somewhere in the background. However, from the perspective of early Judaism, Peter was not preaching to unbelievers but to believers, to Jews who live under the Mosaic Covenant and considered the people of God. Belief was assumed. The issue for the Jews was not encouragement to believe but exhortation to obey the divine mandates for righteous living.

For Jews as for Christians turning from one’s wicked ways is not a once-for-all decision but a regularly revisited response to God’s revealed will. The Greek text of Acts 3:26 clearly makes this assertion. The term translated “bless” (εὐλογοῦντα, “providing with benefits”) is a present active participle denoting a continuing activity of grace on the part of God. Also, the word “turning” (ἀποστρέφειν) is a present active infinitive with iterative force, “by periodically turning each of you from your wicked ways.” From the theological standpoint, this verse is a statement of sanctification not of initial salvation.

This interpretation can confuse those with a purely New Testament perspective on spiritual matters. The New Testament presents a highly individualistic theology. The Old Testament, on the other hand, revolves around “corporate solidarity,” the perspective that views corporate Israel largely as a saved entity (see H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel for further discussion of this very important perspective). This means that most of the Old Testament speaks in terms consistent with how God deals with His redeemed people. Peter’s theological outlook in his Acts 3 sermon is essentially an Old Testament message and verse 26 is identified more with the Old Testament theology than the New.

From the viewpoint of grammatical/historical exegesis, Peter’s theology in Acts 3 must be interpreted in the clear light of 1st century Judaism before Christian preaching had distanced itself from its Jewish roots. As a practical application, both the Old and New Testament people of God lived and do live under the same mandate to “turn from [our] wicked ways” and live holy lives.