Marc Taylor has taken issue with my argument that there is little scope for a “high christology” in Acts because the proclamation that Jesus is Lord is “accounted for almost entirely by reference to narratives found in the Psalms, in which Israel’s king is delivered by God and given authority to judge and rule over the nations”.
Marc contends, to the contrary, that there is a high christology in Acts and sets out a number of arguments to back up his claim. I think he fails for two basic reasons: i) he ignores the central kerygma about exaltation and lordship; and he gives insufficient attention to the context of the “proof texts” that he cites. Feel free to disagree.
1. There is some debate over whether “Lord” in Acts 1:24 refers to Jesus or to God, but in the context the former seems most likely: they pray to the recently ascended Jesus in order to know whom he had chosen to replace Judas (cf. Acts 1:2).
And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen… (Acts 1:24)
The earlier warning about not knowing “times or seasons” (1:7), however, reminds us of the saying in Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 that the Son does not know the day or hour when judgment will come upon Jerusalem, so to take “knowing the heart” as proof of omniscience seems inappropriate. John the Baptist knew the hearts of those who questioned whether he might be the Christ (Lk. 3:15). Peter clearly knew the heart of Ananias (Acts 5:3). It is not such an exceptional ability.
Luke tells us that Jesus knew people’s hearts (Lk. 5:22; 9:47), but the assumption would be that this knowledge had been revealed to him by is Father. This is the point of Luke 10:21-22. Understanding has been given to the disciples because the Father has “handed over” (paredothē) all things to the Son. In other words, Jesus has this knowledge because—exceptionally—it has been given to him by God.
2. There are a number of passages where people call upon the name of the Lord Jesus or on the name of Jesus (Acts 2:21; 7:59-60; 9:14, 21; 22:16). Since such language is applied to YHWH in the Old Testament, it could be argued that Luke identifies Jesus with YHWH by transferring the Old Testament formula to him.
However, Peter gives an unambiguous explanation for the reassignment of the saying “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”, cited from Joel 2:32. The “man” Jesus of Nazareth was killed by lawless men but was not allowed to see corruption; God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, thus granting him a royal status greater than that of David. So Peter concludes by testifying to the house of Israel that in this way “God has made (epoiēsen) him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:22-36).
When Stephen and Paul call on the name of the Lord Jesus who has been revealed to them seated at the right hand of God, they are appealing not to Jesus as God but to Jesus as the Son of Man—the “Righteous One” who suffered and was vindicated. This is explicit in Stephen’s case (Acts 7:56). In the Damascus road passages it is implied in the identification of the risen Lord with the persecuted community of disciples.
3. The “absolute” reference to the “name” in Acts 5:41 is not intended to evoke such Old Testament texts as Leviticus 24:11 (“the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name”). The apostles have been explaining to the council that God raised Jesus from the dead and “exalted him at his right hand as Leader (archēgon) and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:30-31). As before, Jesus is the man who has been given authority to judge, save and lead Israel. The apostles are let off with a warning “not to speak in the name of Jesus”, and they rejoice that they have been “counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name” (5:41). Here the “name” is a reference not to God but to Jesus, who has been made (byGod) Lord and Christ, Leader and Saviour for the purpose of redeeming Israel.
4. If “walking in the fear of the Lord” has the Lord Jesus in view, the verse simply reflects the fact that Jesus has been given the authority to act as, and be approached as, Lord—an authority that YHWH would otherwise have reserved for himself alone.
5. The residents of Lydda and Sharon who “turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35) were Jews who were doing exactly what the Jewish believers in Jerusalem had done: they were calling on the name of the one who had been made Lord and Christ. They were submitting themselves to Israel’s Messiah.
6. When Peter says that Jesus is “Lord of all”, he explains it, as he has done before, by retelling the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, culminating this time in the assertion that Jesus has been “appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Peter is still talking about Israel here. He means that entailed in the status of “Lord” is the authority to judge all Israel.
7. We are told in Acts 13:1-2 that prophets and teachers were “serving (leitourgountōn) the Lord” in Antioch. The word is used in the Septuagint for the service of the priests in the tabernacle and temple (cf. Deut. 18:5). In the context of Acts, however, the point is that the prophets and teachers were serving the interests of the risen Lord Jesus by managing the life and practice of the communities that confessed him as Lord and Christ. There is perhaps an analogy with the service of the priests before the Lord in the Old Testament, but the christology is fully accounted for by the dominant narrative about Jesus, who was crucified, raised, exalted and given the status of Lord.
8. Paul tells the elders from the church in Ephesus that he has been “serving (douleuōn) the Lord with all humility and tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:19). The fact that in the Old Testament people such as Moses served or were servants of YHWH (eg. Deut. 34:5) is neither here nor there. Paul is simply doing what the exalted Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, had instructed him to do.
9. A further example of Paul’s service of the Lord who commissioned him is provided by Acts 21:14:
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:13–14)
Jesus has been made Lord and Christ, and as such he is dynamically overseeing, through the Spirit, from his position at the right hand of the Father, the mission of the apostles and the witness of the churches. The apostles’ statement here, in response to Paul’s stubbornness, simply reflects this apocalyptic conviction.
10. The uncertainty regarding whether kurios refers to Jesus or to God in some passages is not “testimony to His Supreme Deity”. It’s testimony to a lack of clarity on Luke’s part.
11. If the apostles and disciples sometimes pray to the Lord Jesus in Acts (eg. Acts 1:24), it is not because they think he is God but for the reason given repeatedly above: they believe that their life and mission are in his hands. He has been put in charge, and he has direct access to the Father. As Paul says: “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). The visions through which Jesus directs his followers are a further example of this (Acts 9:10-16; 22:17-21).
In fact, in most cases the person to whom prayer (proseuchē) is directed is not specified, and we should probably assume it is prayer to God (cf. Acts 16:25). This whole question was explored at some length in a previous post, coincidentally also in dialogue with Marc. There are good reasons for thinking that Acts 1:24 is not normative for the rest of Acts (it closes the selection of the apostles, it happens before Pentecost, elsewhere the apostles communicated with Jesus through visions).
So what, I think, comes out of this is that Luke is telling a consistent story about the man Jesus, anointed and attested by God, a descendant of David, who was killed, who was raised and exalted to the right hand of God, who has been made Lord and Christ, Leader and Saviour, appointed as judge and ruler of Israel—and who dynamically oversees the unfolding mission of the apostles for the sake of the purposes of God.
It’s a pretty high apocalyptic christology, and it serves an important purpose. But it falls short of the sort of divine identity christology that Marc is looking for. What it lacks, I think, is the association of Jesus with the creative Wisdom/Word of God, which is what gets us going in a Trinitarian direction.