The Blood of God

An Examination of the Christological Implications of Acts 20:28

Sam Shamoun

In the book of Acts Luke records Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders as he exhorts them to protect the flock of God by holding to sound doctrine. In his speech he makes a rather astonishing statement, one which may be another reference to Jesus as God:

"Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (ten ekklesian tou theou, en periepoiesato dia tou haimatos tou idiou). I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."’" Acts 20:17-35

Note, once again, the emphasized part as we quote a different translation:

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." NIV

Paul refers to God having blood, which is an obvious reference to the Lord Jesus who was the One who died in order to ransom believers!

However, there are some problems with taking this passage as a definite reference to Jesus as God, not the least of which is the fact that there are several variant readings in the extant manuscripts (MSS). Some MSS read "the church of the Lord"(1) as opposed to "the church of God," while other, later MSS combine both readings together so that we have "the church of the Lord and God." There is also a debate whether to translate dia tou haimatos tou idiou as "which he obtained with his own blood" or "which he obtained with the blood of his own." The translation "the blood of his own" can imply that it wasn’t the blood of God that purchased the Church, but the blood of one dear to God, such as a child or more specifically his beloved Son. As noted by the NET translators:

114tn Or "with his own blood"; Grk "with the blood of his own." The genitive construction could be taken in two ways: (1) as an attributive genitive (second attributive position) meaning "his own blood"; or (2) as a possessive genitive, "with the blood of his own." In this case the referent is the Son, and the referent has been specified in the translation for clarity. See further C. F. DeVine, "The Blood of God," CBQ 9 (1947): 381-408. (Source)

This explains the following English translation:

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. NRSV

There is evidence from the NT that the expression tou idiou can refer to persons intimately connected to someone, as a term of endearment or to near relations:

"He [Jesus] came to his own (ta idia), and his own people (hoi idioi) did not receive him." John 1:11

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own (tous idious) who were in the world, he loved them to the end." John 13:1

"On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people (tous idious) and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them." Acts 4:23 NIV

"Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends (ton idion) should be prevented from attending to his needs." Acts 24:23

Evangelical NT scholar Murray J. Harris adds:

First, there are fifteen substantival uses of idious in the NT: to idion (once), ta idia (nine times), and hoi idioi (five times), the latter expression describing compatriots (John 1:11b), disciples (John 13:1), fellow believers (Acts 4:23; 24:23), and relatives (1 Tim. 5:8). Second, although the singular ho idios is not found elsewhere in the NT, it is used in the papyri as a term of endearment and close relationship; a letter may be addressed to so-and-so to idio. Third, the NT witnesses to several parallel coinages in which a substantival adjective or participle has become a christological title: ho dikaios, "the Righteous One" (RSV: Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1, 29; 3:7); ho agapetos (mou), "my Beloved" (NEB: Matt. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; 2 Pet. 1:17); ho hegapemenos, "the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6 RSV); ho eklelegmenos, "my Chosen" (Luke 9:35 NEB); ho eklektos, "his Chosen One" (Luke 23:35 RSV).

If, then, ho idios is here a christological title, it carries the connotation of uniqueness ("only") and endearment ("dearly loved") associated with the Greek term monogenes and the Hebrew term yachid. (Harris, Jesus As God: The New Testament Use of "Theos" in Reference to Jesus [Baker Academic, A Division of Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, July 1998 Paperback], p. 140)

The NT also speaks of Jesus purchasing the Church through his blood, which is another way of saying by his death:

"In him we have redemption through his blood (dia tou haimatos autou), the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace," Ephesians 1:7

"waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Titus 2:13-14

"knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Peter 1:18-19

"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood (dia tou idiou haimatos)." Hebrews 13:12

"and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (en to haimati autou) and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." Revelation 1:5-6

"And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood (en to haimati sou) you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’" Revelation 5:9-10

The foregoing demonstrates that it is quite possible for the text to be referring to God purchasing the Church with the blood of Jesus, his dearly Beloved, the One belonging to God in the most intimate way.

Yet there are problems with taking this as a reference to God purchasing the Church with Christ’s blood, not the least of which is the claim that tou idiou (ho idios in the nominative) should be understood as a Christological title. Christian Apologist Robert M. Bowman Jr. explains why this assertion isn’t that convincing:

To get around the reading "which he purchased with his own blood," some scholars in the past century or so have argued that the clause should be translated, "which he purchased with the blood of his own." What is at dispute here, in technical terms, is whether to take TOU IDIOU adjectivally ("his own") or substantivally ("of his own"). The simplest reading in terms of the grammar is the adjectival reading, "through his own blood." (Greek often places the adjective after the noun in this construction, article-noun-article-adjective, called the second attributive position.) The NWT Reference Bible, in an appendix on Acts 20:28, admits that this would be "the usual translation" (p. 1580). However, Harris and some other scholars favor the substantival reading. On this reading, "his own" is a kind of description or title of Christ. They admit that Christ is nowhere else in the NT called "his own," but they compare this way of construing the words to other titles of Christ using adjectives, such as "the Righteous One" or "the Beloved." …

The view that TOU IDIOU is a substantive is at least plausible, but I think it is also unlikely. Against I would make the following six arguments.

1. The other titles of Christ based on adjectives (e.g., "the Beloved") all have multiple attestations in the NT and continued to be recognized as Christological titles and used by the early church. This is not the case with the hypothetical title "His Own." Moreover, in the case of these other titles there is no grammatical ambiguity about their usage as there is here. (Is the NWT's "the Blood of his Own" the Most Likely Translation?; source)

Even Harris admits that, "the singular ho idios is not found elsewhere in the NT" (Ibid., 140). Thus, the burden of proof is upon the person who claims that this phrase functions as a Christological title to show that it does.

A further problem with this view is that the variants actually provide support that the original reading, and subsequently the correct interpretation, is "the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood." The variant readings show that certain scribes had some difficulty with a text speaking of the blood of God since this may have suggested (at least to them) that it was God the Father who died on the cross. Hence, a scribe may have sought to change the reading in order to avoid any misunderstanding. The late renowned Greek NT textual scholar Bruce M. Metzger did an excellent job of explaining the situation:

The external evidence is singularly balanced between "church of God" and "church of the Lord" (the reading "church of the Lord and God" is obviously conflate, and is therefore secondary - as are also other variant readings). Paleographically, the difference concerns only a single letter… In deciding between the two readings one must take into account the internal probabilities.

The expression ekklesia kuriou occurs seven times in the Septuagint but nowhere in the New Testament. On the other hand, ekklesia tou theou appears with moderate frequency (eleven times) in the Epistles traditionally ascribed to Paul, but nowhere else in the New Testament. (The phrase hai ekklesiai pasai tou Christou occurs once in Ro. 16:16.) It is possible, therefore, that a scribe, finding theou in his exemplar, was influenced by Old Testament passages and altered it to kuriou. On the other hand, it is also possible that a scribe, influenced by Pauline usage, changed his exemplar to theou.

In support of the originality of kuriou is the argument (urged by a number of scholars) that copyists were likely to substitute the more common phrase he ekklesia tou theou for the more rare phrase he ekkleesia tou kuriou.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that theou is the more difficult reading. The following clause speaks of the church "which he obtained dia tou haimatos tou idiou." If this is taken in its usual sense ("with his blood"), a copyist might well raise the question, Does God have blood?, and thus be led to change theou to kuriou. If, however, kuriou were the original reading, there is nothing unusual in the phrase to catch the mind of the scribe and throw it off its balance. This and other considerations led the Committee (as well as a variety of scholars) to regard theou as the original reading.

Instead of the usual meaning of dia tou haimatos tou idiou, it is possible that the writer of Acts intended his readers to understand the expression to mean "with the blood of his Own." (It is not necessary to suppose, with Hort, that huiou may have dropped out after tou idiou, though Paleographically such an omission would have been easy.) This absolute use of ho idios is found in Greek papyri as a term of endearment referring to near relatives. It is possible, therefore, that "his Own" (ho idios) was a title that early Christians gave to Jesus, comparable to "the Beloved" (ho agapetos); compare Ro 8.32, where Paul refers to God "who did not spare tou idiou huiou" in a context that clearly alludes to Gn 22:16, where the Septuagint has tou agapetou huiou.

Without committing itself concerning what some have thought to be a slight probability that tou idiou is used here as the equivalent of tou idiou huiou, the Committee judged that the reading theou was more likely to have been altered to kuriou than vice versa. (Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Second Edition) A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament Fourth Revised Edition [Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; ISBN: 3438060108], pp. 425-427; underline emphasis ours)

The NET Bible translators write:

112tc The reading "of God" (tou' qeou', tou qeou) is found in ═ B 614 1175 1505 al vg sy; other witnesses have "of the Lord" (tou' kurivou, tou kuriou) here (so ╠74 A C* D E Y 33 1739 al co), while the majority of the later minuscule mss conflate these two into "of the Lord and God" (tou' kurivou kaiV [tou'] qeou', tou kuriou kai [tou] qeou). Although the evidence is evenly balanced between the first two readings, tou' qeou' is decidedly superior on internal grounds. The final prepositional phrase of this verse, diaV tou' ai{mato" tou' ijdivou (dia tou {aimato" tou idiou), could be rendered "through his own blood" or "through the blood of his own." In the latter translation, the object that "own" modifies must be supplied (see tn below for discussion). But this would not be entirely clear to scribes; those who supposed that ijdivou modified ai{mato" would be prone to alter "God" to "Lord" to avoid the inference that God had blood. In a similar way, later scribes would be prone to conflate the two titles, thereby affirming the deity (with the construction tou' kurivou kaiV qeou' following the Granville Sharp rule and referring to a single person [see ExSyn 272, 276-77, 290]) and substitutionary atonement of Christ. For these reasons, tou' qeou' best explains the rise of the other readings and should be considered authentic. (Source; underline emphasis ours)

The notes to the Catholic version of the Holy Bible, New American Bible (NAB), say:

[28] Overseers: see the note on Philippians 1:1. The church of God: because the clause "that he acquired with his own blood" following "the church of God" suggests that "his own blood" refers to God's blood, some early copyists changed "the church of God" to "the church of the Lord." Some prefer the translation "acquired with the blood of his own," i.e., Christ. (Source)

Here is what the late renowned Catholic NT scholar Raymond E. Brown wrote:

… "The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God which he obtained with his own blood." There are two problems about the italicized words: One concerns a variant reading ("the church of the Lord"); the other concerns grammatical understanding. As for the variant, "the church of God" is slightly better attested than "the church of the Lord." Moreover, the reasoning why later copyists might have changed an original "the church of God" to "the church of the Lord" is somewhat stronger than for a change in the opposite direction. Overall, then, the weight of the argument favors "the church of God" as more original.

251. Although "the church of the Lord" occurs seven times in the Greek OT, it does not occur elsewhere in the NT, while "the church of God" occurs eleven times in the epistles attributed to Pual; thus here copyists of the NT might have changed an original but highly unusual "the church of the Lord" to the more customary expression. On the other hand "the church of God" could have struck copyists of the NT as objectionable because the sequence would then seem to be speaking of God’s blood; accordingly they might have changed the phrase to refer to "the Lord (Jesus)." (Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament [Paulist Press, Mahwah NJ, 1994], pp. 177-178; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Finally, Bowman states:

5. Acts 20:28: "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." The variant readings (e.g. "the church of the Lord") show that the original was understood to mean "His own blood," not "the blood of His own [Son]" (since otherwise no one would have thought to change it). Thus all other renderings are attempts to evade the startling clarity and meaning of this passage. (The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity: An Outline Study; source)

There is additional evidence from the apostolic and early Church fathers to substantiate that the original reading did refer to God purchasing the Church with his own blood.

I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God, which you have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, you have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you. For, on hearing that I came bound from Syria for the common name and hope, trusting through your prayers to be permitted to fight with beasts at Rome, that so by martyrdom I may indeed become the disciple of Him "who gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God," Ephesians 5:2 [you hastened to see me]. I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop. (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 1. Praise of the Ephesians; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Chapter 3. Remarks on Some of the "Dangers and Wounds" Referred to in the Preceding Chapter

If these things are so, it is certain that believers contracting marriages with Gentiles are guilty of fornication, and are to be excluded from all communication with the brotherhood, in accordance with the letter of the apostle, who says that "with persons of that kind there is to be no taking of food even." Or shall we "in that day" produce (our) marriage certificates before the Lord's tribunal, and allege that a marriage such as He Himself has forbidden has been duly contracted? What is prohibited (in the passage just referred to) is not "adultery;" it is not "fornication." The admission of a strange man (to your couch) less violates "the temple of God," less commingles "the members of Christ" with the members of an adulteress. So far as I know, "we are not our own, but bought with a price;" and what kind of price? The blood of God. In hurting this flesh of ours, therefore, we hurt Him directly. What did that man mean who said that "to wed a 'stranger' was indeed a sin, but a very small one?" whereas in other cases (setting aside the injury done to the flesh which pertains to the Lord) every voluntary sin against the Lord is great. For, in as far as there was a power of avoiding it, in so far is it burdened with the charge of contumacy. (Tertullian, To His Wife; source)

XXXIV. This visible appearance cheats death and the devil; for the wealth within, the beauty, is unseen by them. And they rave about the carcass, which they despise as weak, being blind to the wealth within; knowing not what a "treasure in an earthen vessel" 2 Corinthians 4:7 we bear, protected as it is by the power of God the Father, and the blood of God the Son, and the dew of the Holy Spirit. But be not deceived, you who has tasted of the truth, and been reckoned worthy of the great redemption. But contrary to what is the case with the rest of men, collect for yourself an unarmed, an unwarlike, a bloodless, a passionless, a stainless host, pious old men, orphans dear to God, widows armed with meekness, men, adorned with love. Obtain with your money such guards, for body and for soul, for whose sake a sinking ship is made buoyant, when steered by the prayers of the saints alone; and disease at its height is subdued, put to flight by the laying on of hands; and the attack of robbers is disarmed, spoiled by pious prayers; and the might of demons is crushed, put to shame in its operations by strenuous commands. (Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

As Bowman asks:

5. As Harris himself points out, as quickly as the early second century Ignatius could write about "God's blood" (Ignatius's Epistle to the Ephesians, 1:1). Where did Ignatius get such language? Is it best explained as an Ignatian innovation or as reflecting Paul’s words in Acts, originally spoken to the Ephesian Christians (Acts 20:17, 28)? The Ephesian connection gives weight to the latter view. (Is the NWT's "the Blood of his Own" the Most Likely Translation?)

Bowman further shows that "his own blood" was how the Church and scholars read it for the first eighteen centuries:

Although most contemporary English versions render the last part of the verse in the same way as the NASB (ESV, NIV, NKJV, HCSB, and others), many scholars and commentators in recent decades have preferred the rendering found in the NRSV (and also in REB). There is no doubt as to the reason for this preference: those who dispute the conventional translation find the language, which expresses the idea of God’s having "blood," difficult if not impossible to entertain.

A little lesson in grammar is unavoidable in order to understand the problem with the NRSV interpretation. The disputed words usually translated "his own blood" but translated "the blood of his own Son" in the NRSV are tou haimatos tou idiou (word for word, "the blood, the his-own"). The word idiou ("his own") is an adjective, which normally we would understand as modifying the noun haimatos ("blood"). The word order here, with the adjective following the noun with a second article between them, is perfectly normal and common in Greek. Another example of this construction appears in the very same verse: "the Holy Spirit" (to pneuma to hagion, word for word, "the Spirit, the Holy"). It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century, that anyone proposed that the words here in question did not mean "his own blood."

The basis for the alternate translation "the blood of his own Son" is that Greek can use adjectives as if they were nouns (the technical term is substantivally). Many modern scholars argue that tou idiou is such a substantival use of the adjective, and therefore means "of his Own," comparable to the use of the adjective "the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6) as a kind of term of endearment.

This reinterpretation of the text is grammatically possible and difficult to disprove absolutely, but it is hardly the most natural understanding. As we mentioned, eighteen centuries went by before anyone came up with it. The New Testament nowhere calls Jesus "his Own" (ho idios), nor was this term ever picked up in the early church as a designation for Jesus. The substantival use of ho idios (or any grammatical variation, such as ton idion) is, in fact, rare in the New Testament, and in the singular occurs only once–and even then not in reference to a specific person (John 15:19). On the other hand, ho idios functions as an adjective following the noun–just as in Acts 20:28–in several New Testament texts (John 1:41; 5:43; 7:18; Acts 1:25).

We are inclined to agree with Nigel Turner, a twentieth-century scholar of Greek grammar, who called the alternate translation of Acts 20:28 "a theological expedient, foisting imaginary distinctions into a spontaneous affirmation, and is not the natural way to take the Greek." As the Catholic scholar Charles DeVine commented sixty years ago, it is nothing more than an attempt "to avoid at all costs the full force of the expression ‘God’s own blood.’" (Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, 2007], Part 3: Name Above All Names: Jesus Shares the Names of God, Chapter 12. Immanuel: God With Us, pp. 145-146; bold and underline emphasis ours)

And:

30. The first scholars to propose the alternate translation "the blood of his own" appear to have been J. A. Bengel and F. J. A. Hort; see Harris, Jesus as God, 139; and Charles F. DeVine, "The ‘Blood of God’ in Acts 20:28," CBQ 9 (1947): 405. (Ibid., pp. 330-331)

There is one main objection which Murray J. Harris raises against the view that Acts 20:28 is speaking of God’s blood that we would like to address:

There can be no objection (on broad a priori grounds) to understand the verse to refer to Jesus, for elsewhere the NT refers to Jesus as and depicts him as theos acquiring the church through his death. But it is the startling collocation of theos and haima that prompts a legitimate objection to this view. Although the concepts of haima theou and pathemata theou are common fare in the second and third centuries, nothing resembling these expressions is found in the first century. New Testament descriptions of Christ’s redemptive death as well as his life always avoid blending unqualified affirmations of his deity (such as theos) with terms that can be related only to his humanness (such as haima). Nowhere, for instance, do we read of "the cross of God" (cf. John 19:25; Gal. 6:14) or that at Golgotha "they crucified God" (cf. John 19:18) or that "God died and rose again" (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14). On the other hand, early in the second century Ignatius can write with unembarrassed directness of "the blood of God (haimati theou)" (Eph. 1:1) and "the passion of my God (tou pathous tou theou mou)" (Rom. 6:3).

34. When I argue that the concept of haima theou is anachronistic in the first century so far as extant records indicate, this is not because such a concept grazes the edge of patripassianism; only if theou in this phrase were misinterpreted to refer to the Father rather than Christ would there be danger of doctrinal deviation. Rather, it is because the NT stops short of predicating human attributes or characteristics of Christ as God (such as "the blood of God") and divine attributes or characteristics of Christ as man (such as "the omnipotence of Jesus of Nazareth"). But it was inevitable that, as the church later grappled with the implications of the "hypostatic union" of the human and divine natures in Christ, there should arise some such doctrine as communicatio idiomatum (koinonia idiomaton, "sharing of attributes") as a means of safeguarding both the reality of Christ’s humanity and deity and the unity of his person. All this makes one uneasy with the reasoning of Renie (282) regarding Acts 20:28: "The duality of nature in Jesus is clearly indicated"–since Jesus is both God and man, one may speak of the "blood of God." Like Calvin (Acts 184), Renie refers to the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum (282-83). (Harris, pp. 137-138)

The problem with Harris’ objection is that the NT writers do precisely the very thing he denies, namely, speak of Jesus’ humanity when they have his Deity in view and vice-versa. Note, for instance, the following NT examples:

"No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." John 3:13

"Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" John 6:62

These texts speak of the Son of Man coming down from heaven, even though we know that Jesus only became the Son of Man the moment he took on a human nature at his virginal conception and birth. Thus, he didn’t exist as the Son of Man, a title which denotes his Deity being clothed in humanity which he took at the Incarnation, when he was in heaven.

Paul says something similar:

"Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

Again, Jesus wasn’t a man when he came down from heaven. Finally:

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." 1 Timothy 1:15

The name Christ Jesus was given to God’s Son at the Incarnation, just as the following passages show:

"‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ … When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus." Matthew 1:21, 24-25

"And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’" Luke 1:30-31

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11

"And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb." Luke 2:21

As such, Christ Jesus wasn’t his name in heaven before his descent to the earth.

Here is another example:

"None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." 1 Corinthians 2:8

Paul speaks of the Lord of glory being crucified, a clear reference to Jesus’ Deity, even though it was in his humanity that he was put to death on the cross.

These citations show that the NT writers deemed it entirely appropriate to attribute characteristics of Jesus’ Deity to his humanity and vice-versa, i.e. the Son of man coming down from heaven or the Lord of glory being crucified, despite the fact that Jesus didn’t exist as a man before his heavenly descent nor was his Divinity nailed to the cross but his humanity. The inspired authors of Scripture evidently felt that such language helped them to reinforce the point that Christ is a single Person with two distinct natures.

What we therefore find in the writings of Ignatius and subsequent fathers is nothing more than a continuation of what is already present within the NT corpus. This explains why fathers like Ignatius could write with "unembarrassed directness" of the blood or passion of God since they were simply echoing the tradition that they had received from their theological forebears, specifically from the Apostles and their companions.

In light of the foregoing, there is no reason why Paul couldn’t speak of the blood of God, especially when elsewhere in his writings he even calls Jesus God. As the late A.T. Robertson, one of the greatest NT Greek scholars that ever lived, said:

The church of God (thn ekklhsian tou qeou). The correct text, not "the church of the Lord" or "the church of the Lord and God" (Robertson, Introduction to Textual Criticism of the N.T., p. 189). He purchased (periepoihsato). First aorist middle of peripoiew, old verb to reserve, to preserve (for or by oneself, in the middle). In the N.T. only in Luke John 17:33; Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:13. The substantive peripoihsin (preservation, possession) occurs in 1 Peter 2:9 ("a peculiar people" = a people for a possession) and in Ephesians 1:14. With his own blood (dia tou aimato▀ tou idiou). Through the agency of (dia) his own blood. Whose blood? If tou qeou (Aleph B Vulg.) is correct, as it is, then Jesus is here called "God" who shed his own blood for the flock. It will not do to say that Paul did not call Jesus God, for we have Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13 where he does that very thing, besides Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11. (Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament; source; underline emphasis ours)

It seems that Paul was aware that the Ephesian elders would not miss the point he was making, especially when he had spent three years teaching them the whole counsel of God. The apostle knew that the elders wouldn’t mistakenly think that he was confusing the dual natures of Christ or that he was mistaking the Person of the Son with the Person of the Father. These men had spent enough time with him to realize that he was simply affirming the full Deity of Christ as well as the union of his two natures in a single Person, i.e. that even though Jesus had both a Divine and human nature he is still one undivided Person.

Thus, whereas there are no convincing exegetical reasons for rejecting the view that Acts 20:28 refers to Jesus as the God who shed his blood for his Church there are plenty of good reasons for accepting this as an explicit testimony to the Deity of Christ.

Finally, and more importantly, even though we have argued that the reading "the church of God which he purchased with his own blood" is the correct one, our belief in the absolute Deity of Christ does not hinge upon this specific passage. Trinitarians do not need the testimony of Acts 20:28 to prove that Christ is perfect Deity since there are plenty of other passages which establish this point beyond any doubt.

Hence, to the Trinitarian it doesn’t really matter whether this passage identifies Jesus as God or whether it speaks of God purchasing the Church with the blood of his Son since either reading perfectly comports with Trinitarianism. In fact, the second reading would provide additional support for the unity and equality of the three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity since it mentions their involvement in the acquisition and preservation of believers: the Holy Spirit who appointed the overseers, God the Father to whom the Church belongs, and Jesus Christ his own Son who acquired the flock by his precious blood.

The anti-Trinitarian, however, cannot allow the evidence to speak for itself.(2) Those who deny the Trinity must find some way to make sure that the data doesn’t support the reading which has God purchasing the Church with his blood.

The Trinitarian, therefore, has the comfort of allowing the textual and exegetical evidence to speak for itself and to follow the data wherever it may lead. The anti-Trinitarian does not, that is unless s/he is willing to change his/her views to make them agree with the Holy Scriptures.


Endnotes

(1) The reading, church of the Lord (ekklesia kuriou), would still be a reference to Deity since Lord in this context functions as the Greek synonym or equivalent of the Divine name Yahweh. In fact, ekklesia kuriou occurs seven times in the Greek version (Septuagint [LXX]) of the Hebrew Bible, and always in connection with the congregation which belongs to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:2-4, 9 [English vv. 1-3, 8]; 1 Chronicles 28:8; Micah 2:5). Thus, to speak of the church of the Lord is to speak of the church of God, since Lord here refers to the one true God revealed in inspired Scripture, Yahweh.

(2) The only anti-Trinitarian group that would have no problem accepting this reading would be Modalists since they believe that Jesus is the human manifestation of the Father. Thus, for them a text that speaks of God having blood would be taken as a proof-text supporting their view that Jesus is the same Person as the Father. Interestingly, it is the alternate interpretation which would cause problems for their beliefs since that reading clearly distinguishes God from his Son, showing that they are not the same Person. For a thorough refutation of Modalism we recommend the following link: http://christiandefense.com/oneness.htm


Articles by Sam Shamoun
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