Daily Archives: March 25, 2008

The Apostle’s Creed

No, I got the apostrophe in the right place…

We had Peter’s sermon in Acts 10 as one of the readings at Easter and I was struck by the content of his sermon. Two things in particular struck me as I heard it this time–here’s a selection of the text for reference:

10:34   And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows  no partiality,  10:35 but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is  acceptable to him.  10:36 You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace  by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),  10:37 the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from  Galilee after the baptism which John preached:  10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power;  how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the  devil, for God was with him.  10:39 And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews  and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;  10:40 but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest;  10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses,  who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  10:42 And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is  the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him  receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 

My first thought is that this sounds like an early creedal statement. It’s got a number of the key elements the connection between Jesus and God, thew fullfilment of the witness of the prophets, the life of Jesus, his crucifixion, resurrection, and role at the final judgment. (We’d also been listening to this interview with Jaroslav Pelikan on the way to M’s church—so creeds were near the top of my mind…)

The second is that this sermon—and others like it—give us a fascinating glimpse into the mind of Luke because they serve as a shorthand key to how he understood and interpreted the gospel that he handed down to us. Now, you’ve got to be careful with Luke.

Of all the Gospel writers, he’s the most sophisticated in terms of Hellenistic compositional technique (yes, te others are quite sophisticated too but in different ways—Luke excells them in this department.)
 If you want an example, look at Paul’s conversion narrative in Acts: we have three accounts of it and each one has subtle but important differences from the others that help it fit the immediate context of the retelling. He does the same thing when the apostles are presenting their kerygma (the heart of their proclamation)

In any case, it’s an interesting exercise to take this summary and to use it as a lens for the Gospel, thinking asbout how the various elements present here play out in Luke’s Gospel (as opposed to the others. Just as for-instances, note the geographical references—one of the distinctive features of Luke’s narrative is the “travel section” where Luke makes a big deal of Jesus leaving Galillee and going to Jerusalem. Here in the summary you’ve got a clear sense of that movement as well. The life of Jesus (something many creeds are short on) gets an interesting summary here too with a strong connection between doing good, exorcism/healing, and freedom from demonic oppression, all of it introduced by the Holy Spirit and power.

There’s a lot more here to go after too—I’m going to have to think about this for a while. I’m sure someone has taken this tack before, using the various apostolic sermons of Acts to analyze the Gospel of Luke, but I don’t know the minutiae of Lukan secondary literature quite well enough to say who…