The Earliest Christian Preaching
1. THUS far we have confined ourselves to the words of Jesus. The divine necessity of His death, indicated in the Old Testament and forming the basis of all His teaching regarding it, is the primary truth; the nature of that necessity begins to be revealed as the death is set in relation to the ransoming of many, and to the institution of a new covenant -- that is, a new religion, having as its fundamental blessing the forgiveness of sins. I do not think this view of our Lord's mind as to His own death can be shaken by appealing to His experience in the garden, as though that proved that to the last day of His life the inevitableness of death remained for Him an open question.

The divine necessity to lay down His life for men, which we have been led to regard as a fixed point in His mind, did not preclude such conflicts as are described in the last pages of the gospel; rather was it the condition of our Lord's victory in them. At a distance, it was possible to think of death in its heroic and ideal aspects only, as the fulfillment of a divine calling, an infinite service rendered in love to man; but as the fatal hour approached, its realistic and repellent aspects predominated over everything; it stood out before the mind and imagination of Jesus -- we might almost say it obtruded itself upon His senses -- as a scene and an experience of treachery, desertion, hate, mockery, injustice, anguish, shame. It is not hard to conceive that in these circumstances Jesus should have prayed as He did in the garden, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, even though the unmoved conviction of His soul was that He had come to give His life a ransom for many. It is one thing to have the consciousness of so high a calling, another to maintain and give effect to it under conditions from which all that is ideal and divine seems to have withdrawn. It is one thing not to count one's life dear, or to make much of it, in comparison with great ends which are to be attained by laying it down; it is another to lay it down, encompassed not by the gratitude and adoration of those for whom the sacrifice is made, but by mocking and spitting and scorn. This was what Jesus did, and He attained to it through the agony in the garden. The agony does not represent a doubt as to His calling, but the victorious assertion of His calling against the dreadful temptation to renounce it which came in the hour and with the power of darkness. Not that I should venture to say, as is sometimes said, that the realization, as they approached, of the sensible and moral horrors of the death He was to die was all that wrung from Jesus that last appeal to the Father, all that made His soul exceeding sorrowful even unto death, and put Him in agonia -- that is, in deadly fear: [28] this does not answer to what we know of the courage of martyrs. Though one shrinks from analyzing the cry of the heart to God in its anguish, it is difficult to avoid the impression that both here and in the experience of forsaking on the cross, we are in contact with something out of proportion to all that men could do to Jesus, something that seems to call for connection, if we would understand it, with realities more mysterious and profound. Language like Calvin's, [29] who says plainly that Jesus endured in His soul the dreadful torments of a condemned and lost man, may well be repellent to us; there is something unrealizable and even impious in such words. But it does not follow that there was nothing true, nothing in contact with reality, in the state of mind which inspired them. [30] Not with any logical hardness, not as carrying out aggressively to its issue any theological theory, but sensible of the thick darkness in which, nevertheless (we are sure), God is, may we not urge that these experiences of deadly fear and of desertion are of one piece with the fact that in His death and in the agony in the garden through which He accepted that death as the cup which the Father gave Him to drink, Jesus was taking upon Him the burden of the world's sin, consenting to be, and actually being, numbered with the transgressors? They cannot but have some meaning, and it must be part of the great meaning which makes the Cross of Christ the gospel for sinful men. No doubt there are those who reject this meaning altogether; it is dogmatico-religious, not historico-religious, and no more is needed to? condemn it. But a dogmatico-religious interpretation of Christ's death -- that is, an interpretation which finds in it an eternal and divine meaning, laden with gospel -- is so far from being self evidently wrong, that it is imperatively required by the influence which that death has had in the history of the Christian religion. Such an interpretation carries out, through the experiences of His death, thoughts as to its significance which we owe to Jesus Himself, and connects these thoughts and experiences with the subsequent testimony of the apostles. In other words, to read the accounts of Gethsemane and Calvary in this sense is to read them in line at once with the words of Jesus and with the words of those who were first taught by His spirit; it is to secure at once the unity of the gospels with themselves, and their unity, in the main truth which it teaches, with the rest of the New Testament. To call such an interpretation dogmatico-religious as opposed to historico-religious either has no meaning, or has a meaning which would deny to the Person and Work of Jesus any essential place in the Christian religion. But if the death of Jesus has eternal significance -- if it has a meaning which has salvation in it for all men and for all times; a meaning which we discover in Scripture as we look back from it and look forward; a meaning which is the key to all that goes before and to all that comes after (and such a meaning I take it to have, indisputably) -- then Gethsemane and Calvary cannot be invoked to refute, but only to illustrate, the dogmatic' interpretation. They are too great to be satisfied by anything else. [31]

It does not follow, of course, that they were understood at once, even in the light of our Lord's words, by those whom He left as His witnesses. The mind can easily retain words the meaning of which it only imperfectly apprehends. It can retain words by which it is in the first instance moved and impressed, rather than enlightened. It can retain words which are sure, when reflection awakens, to raise many questions, to ask for definition in a great variety of relations; and it can retain them without at first having any consciousness of these questions whatever. It is in the highest degree probable that it was so with the disciples of Jesus. We can easily believe that they had right impressions from our Lord's words, before they had clear ideas about them. We can understand even that it might be natural enough for them to ascribe to Jesus directly what was only indirectly due to Him, because in the absence of philosophical reflection they were not conscious of the difference. Not that one would include under this head the creative words of Jesus already referred to about the ransom and the covenant blood; these bear the stamp of originality, not of reflection, upon them; it is their greatness to explain all things and to be explained by none. But before proceeding to examine the ideas of the primitive Christian Church on this subject, it is necessary to give an explicit utterance on the Resurrection, and the gospel presentation of it.

The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is here assumed to have taken place, and, moreover, to have had the character which is ascribed to it in the New Testament. It is not sufficient to say that there were appearances of the Jesus who had died to certain persons -- appearances the significance of which is exhausted when we say that they left on the minds of those who were favored with them the conviction that Jesus had somehow broken the banels of death. It is quite true that St. Paul, in setting before the Corinthians the historical evidence for the Resurrection, enumerates various occasions on which the Risen Lord was seen, and says nothing about Him except that on these occasions He appeared to Peter, to James, to the Twelve, to more than five hundred at once, and so on: this was quite sufficient for his purpose. But there is no such thing in the New Testament as an appearance of the Risen Savior in which He merely appears. He is always represented as entering into relation to those who see Him in other ways than by a flash upon the inner or the outer eye. He establishes other communications between Himself and His own besides those which can be characterized in this way. It may be that a tendency to materialize the supernatural has affected the evangelical narrative here or there -- that Luke, for instance, who makes the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus in bodily form as a dove went involuntarily beyond the apostolic tradition in making the Risen One speak of His flesh and bones, and eat a bit of roast fish before the disciples, to convince them that He was no mere ghost; it may be so, though the mode of Christ's being, in the days before His final withdrawal, is so entirely beyond our comprehension, that it is rash to be too peremptory about it; but even if it were so, it would not affect the representation as a whole which the gospels give of the Resurrection, and of the relation of the Risen One to His disciples. It would not affect the fact that He not only appeared to them, but spoke to them. It would not affect the fact that He not only appeared to them, but taught them, and in particular gave them a commission in which the meaning of His own life and work, and their calling as connected with it, are finally declared.

Without going in detail into the critical questions here involved, yet claiming to speak with adequate knowledge of them, I feel it quite impossible to believe that this representation of the gospels has nothing in it. How much the form of it may owe to the conditions of transmission, repetition, condensation, and even interpretation, we may not be able precisely to say, since these conditions must have varied indefinitely and in ways we cannot calculate; but the fact of a great charge, the general import of which was thoroughly understood, seems indisputable. All the gospels give it in one form or another; and even if we concede that the language in which it is expressed owes something to the Church's consciousness of what it had come to possess through its risen Lord, this does not affect in the least the fact that every known form of the evangelic tradition puts such a charge, or instruction, or commission, into the lips of Jesus after His Resurrection. [32]

What, then, is the content of this teaching or commission of the Risen Savior, which all the evangelists give in one form or another? Luke has some peculiar matter in which he tells how Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures, recalling the words He had spoken while He was yet with them, how that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Him. If Jesus spoke to His disciples at all about what had befallen Him, all that we have already seen as to His teaching prepares us to believe that it was on this line. Alike for Him and for the disciples the divine necessity for His death could only be made out by connecting it with intimations in the Word of God. But apart from this instruction, which is referred to by Luke alone, there is the common testimony with which mainly concerned. In Matthew it runs thus:

Jesus came and spoke to them saying, All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you all the days until the end of the world' (Matthew 28:18 ff.).

Here we notice as the essential things in our Lord's words

(1) the universal mission;

(2) baptism;

(3) the promise of a spiritual presence.

In Mark, as is well known, the original ending has been lost. The last chapter, however, was in all probability the model on which the last in Matthew was shaped, and what we have at present instead of it reproduces the same ideas.

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned' (Mark 16:15 f.).

What follows, as to the signs which should attend on those who believe -- in My name they shall cast out demons, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them, they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover' -- shows how easy it was to expand the words of Jesus on the basis of experience, just as a modern preacher sometimes introduces Jesus speaking in His own person, and promising what the preacher knows by experience He can and will do; but it does not follow from this that the commission to preach and its connection with baptism are unhistorical. In Luke the commission is connected with the teaching above referred to. He said to them, Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer, and should rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem' (Luke 24:46 f.). Here again we have

(1) the universal commission;

(2) repentance and remission of sins. In John what corresponds to this runs as follows:

Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you. As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them and saith to them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit; whose soever sins ye forgive they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain they are retained' (John 20:21 f.).

Here once more we have

(1) a mission, though its range is not defined;

(2) a message, the sum and substance of which has to do with forgiveness of sins; and

(3) a gift of the Holy Ghost

But what,' it may be asked,' has all this to do with the death of Jesus? The death of Jesus is not expressly referred to here, except in what Luke tells about His opening the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures, and that simply repeats what we have already had before us.'

The answer is apparent if we consider the context in which the ideas found in this commission are elsewhere found in the New Testament. In all its forms the commission has to do either with baptism (so in Matthew and Mark) or with the remission of sins (so in Luke and John). These are but two forms of the same thing, for in the world of New Testament ideas baptism and the remission of sins are inseparably associated. But the remission of sins has already been connected with the death of Jesus by the words spoken at the supper, or if not by the very words spoken, at least by the significance ascribed to His blood as covenant-blood; and if the Risen Savior, in giving His disciples their final commission, makes the forgiveness of sins the burden of the gospel they are to preach, which seems to me indubitable, He at the same time puts at the very heart of the gospel His own covenant-founding, sin-annulling death. This inference from the evangelic passages which record the intercourse of the Risen Lord with His disciples may strike some, at the first glance, as artificial; but the air of artificiality will pass away, provided we admit the reality of that intercourse, and its relation both to the past teaching of Jesus and to the future work of the apostles. There is a link wanted to unite what we have seen in the gospels with what we find when we pass from them to the other books of the New Testament, and that link is exactly supplied by a charge of Jesus to His disciples to make the forgiveness of sins the center of their gospel, and to attach it to the rite by which men were admitted to the Christian society. In an age when baptism and remission of sins were inseparable ideas -- when, so to speak, they interpenetrated each other -- it is no wonder that the sense of our Lord's charge is given in some of the gospels in one form, in some in the other' that here He bids them baptize, and there preach the forgiveness of sins. It is not the form on which we can lay stress, but only the import. The import, however, is secure. Its historicity can only be questioned by those who reduce the resurrection to mere appearances of Jesus to the disciples -- appearances which, as containing nothing but themselves, and as unchecked by any other relation to reality, are essentially visionary. And its significance is this' it is the very thing which is wanted to evince the unity of the New Testament, and the unity and consistency of the Christian religion, as they have been presented to us in the historical tradition of the Church. Here, where the final revelation is made by our Lord of all that His presence in the world means and involves, we find Him dealing with ideas -- baptism and forgiveness -- which alike in His own earlier teaching, and in the subsequent teaching of the apostles, can only be defined by relation to His death.

When we pass from the gospels to the earliest period of the Church's life we are again immersed in critical difficulties. It is not easy to use the book of Acts in a way which will command universal agreement. Renan's remark that the closing chapters are the most purely historical of anything in the New Testament, while the opening ones are the least historical, is at least plausible enough to make one cautious. But while this is so, there is a general consent that in the early chapters there is a very primitive type of doctrine. The Christian imagination may have transfigured the day of Pentecost, and turned the ecstatic praise of the first disciples into a speaking in foreign languages, [33] but some source or sources of the highest value underlie the speeches of Peter. They do not represent the nascent catholicism of the beginning of the second century, but the very earliest type of preaching Jesus by men who had kept company with Him. It would be out of place here to dwell on the primitive character of the Christology, but it is necessary to refer to it as a guarantee for the historical character of the speeches in which it occurs. Consider, then, passages like these:

Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by Him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know' (2:22);

God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified' (2:36);

Jesus of Nazareth, how that God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him' (10:38).

It is impossible to deny that in words like these we have a true echo of the earliest Christian preaching. And it is equally impossible to deny that the sotetiology which accompanies this Christology is as truly primitive. What then is it, and what, in particular, is the place taken in it by the death of Jesus?

It is sometimes asserted broadly that the real subject of these early speeches in Acts is not the death of Jesus but; the resurrection; the death, it is said, has no significance, assigned to it; it is only a difficulty to be got over. But there is a great deal of confusion in this. No doubt the apostles were witnesses of the resurrection, and the discourses in these chapters are specimens of their testimony. The resurrection is emphasized in them with various motives. Sometimes the motive may be called apologetic, the idea is that in spite of the death it is still possible to believe in Jesus as the Messiah; God by raising Him from the dead has exalted Him to this dignity. Sometimes it may be called evangelistic. You killed Him, the preacher says again and again (2:23 f., 3:14 f. and 5:30 f., and God exalted Him to His right hand. In these two appreciations of Jesus lies the motive for a great spiritual change in sinful men. Sometimes, again, the resurrection is referred to in connection with the gift of the Spirit; the new life in the Church, with its wonderful manifestations, attests the exaltation of Jesus (2:33). Sometimes, once more, it is connected with His return, either to bring times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (3:20 f.), or as Judge of the quick and the dead (>10:42). But this preoccupation with the resurrection in various aspects and relations does not mean that for the first preachers of the gospel the death of Jesus had no significance, or no fundamental significance. Still less does it mean that the death of Jesus was nothing to them but a difficulty in the way of retaining their faith in His Messiahship, a difficulty which the resurrection enabled them to surmount -- its sinister significance being discounted, so to speak, by the splendor of this supreme miracle. This last idea, that the cross in itself is nothing but a scandal, and that all the New Testament interpretations of it are but ways of getting over the scandal, cannot be too emphatically rejected.

1. It ignores, in the first place, all that has been already established as to our Lord's own teaching about the necessity and the meaning of His death -- which has nothing to do with its being a skandalon. And it ignores, in the second place, the spiritual power of Christ's death in those who believe in Him, alike as the New Testament exhibits it, and as it is seen in all subsequent ages of the Church. The gospel would never have been known as the word of the cross' if the interpretation of the cross had merely been an apologetic device for surmounting the theoretical difficulties involved in the conception of a crucified Messiah. Yet nothing is commoner than to represent the matter thus. The apostles, it is argued, had to find some way of getting over the difficulty of the crucified Messiah theoretically, as well as practically; the resurrection enabled them to get over it practically, for it annulled the death; and the various theories of a saving significance ascribed to the death enabled them to get over it theoretically -- that; is all. Nothing, I venture to say, could be more hopelessly out of touch alike with New Testament teaching and with all Christian experience than such a reading of the facts. A doctrine of the death of Jesus, which was merely the solution of an abstract difficulty -- the answer to a conundrum -- could never have become what the doctrine of the death of Jesus is in the New Testament -- the center of gravity in the Christian world. It could never have had stored up in it the redeeming virtue of the gospel. It could never have been the hiding-place of God's power, the inspiration of all Christian praise. Whatever the doctrine of Jesus' death may be, it is the feeblest of all misconceptions to trace, it to the necessity of saying something about the death which should as far as possible remove the scandal of it. I delivered unto you first of all,' says St. Paul to the Corinthians,' that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures' (1 Corinthians 15:3). St. Paul must have received this doctrine from members of the primitive Church. He must have received it in the place which he gave it in his own preaching -- that is, as the first and fundamental thing in the gospel. He must have received it within seven years -- if we follow some recent chronologies, within a very much shorter period -- of the death of Jesus. Even if the book of Acts were so preoccupied with the resurrection that it paid no attention to the independent significance of the death, it would be perfectly fair, on the ground of this explicit reference of St. Paul, to supplement its outline of primitive Christian doctrine with some definite teaching of atonement; but when we look closely at the speeches in Acts, we find that our situation is much more favorable. They contain a great deal which enables us to see how the primitive Church was taught to think and feel on this important subject.

Here we have to consider such points as these.

(1) The death of Christ is repeatedly presented, as in our Lord's own teaching, in the light of a divine necessity. It took place by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God' (2:23). That His Christ should suffer, was what God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets (3:18). In His death, Jesus was the stone which the builders rejected, but which God made the head of the corner (4:1). All the enemies of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, could only do to Him what God's hand and counsel had determined before should be done (4:28). A divine necessity, we must remember, is not a blind but a seeing one. To find the necessity for the death of Jesus in the word of God means to find that His death is not only inevitable but indispensable, an essential part of the work He had to do. Not blank but intelligible and moral necessity is meant here.

Hence (2) we notice further the frequent identification, in these early discourses, of the suffering Messiah with the Servant of the Lord in the Book of Isaiah. The God of our Fathers hath glorified His Servant Jesus' (3:13).

Of a truth, in this city, both Herod and Pontius Pilate were gathered together against Thy Holy Servant Jesus' (4:27).

The same identification is involved in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The place of the Scripture which the eunuch had was the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and beginning from that Scripture Philip preached to him Jesus (8:35). We cannot forget that the impulse to this connection was given by our Lord Himself, and that it runs through His whole ministry, from His baptism, in which the heavenly voice spoke to Him words applied to the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 43:1, to the last night of His life when He applied to Himself the mysterious saying, He was numbered with transgressors (Luke 22:37). The divine necessity to suffer is here elevated into a specific divine necessity, namely, to fulfill through suffering the vocation of one who bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

This connection of ideas in the primitive Church is made clearer still, when we notice

(3) that the great blessing of the gospel, offered in the name of Jesus, is the forgiveness of sins.

This is the refrain of every apostolic sermon. Thus in 3:38: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto remission of your sins. ' In 3:19, immediately after the words, the things that God declared before through the mouth of all the prophets, that Jesus Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled, we read: Repent therefore and turn that your sins may be blotted out.' In 5:31 Jesus is exalted a Prince and a Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. In 10:43, after rehearsing in outline the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Peter concludes his sermon in the house of Cornelius. To Him bear all the prophets witness, that every one who believes in Him shall receive forgiveness of sins through His name. ' This prominence given to the remission of sins is not accidental, and must not be separated from the context essential to it in Christianity. It is part of a whole or system of ideas, and other parts which belong to the same whole with it in the New Testament are baptism and the death of Christ. The book of Acts, like all other books in the New Testament, was written inside of the Christian society, and for those who were at home inside; it was not written for those who had no more power of interpreting what stood on the page than the letter itself supplied. It does not seem to me in the least illegitimate, but on the contrary both natural and necessary, to take all these references to the forgiveness of sins and to baptism as references at the same time to the saving significance (in relation to sin) of the death of Jesus. This is what is suggested when Jesus is identified with the Servant of the Lord. This is what we are prepared for by the teaching of Jesus, and by the great commission; and we are confirmed in it by what we find in the rest of the New Testament. It is not a sufficient answer to this to say that the connection of ideas asserted here between the forgiveness of sins or baptism, on the one hand, and the death of Jesus on the other, is not explicit; it is self-evident to any one who believes that there is such a thing as Christianity as a whole, and that it is coherent and consistent with itself, and who reads with a Christian mind. The assumption of such a connection at once articulates all the ideas of the book into a system, and shows it to be at one with the gospels and epistles; and such an assumption, for that very reason, vindicates itself.

Besides the references to baptism and the forgiveness of sins, we ought to notice also

(4) the reference in 2:42 to the Lord's Supper. They continued steadfastly . . . in the breaking of the bread.'

It may seem to some excessively venturous to base anything on the Sacraments when everything connected with them is being brought into dispute, and their very connection with Jesus is denied. But without going into the infinite and mostly irrelevant discussions which have been raised on the subject, I venture to say that the New Testament nowhere gives us the idea of an unbaptized Christian -- by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13) -- and that Paul, in regulating the observance of the Supper at Corinth, regulates it as part of the Christian tradition which goes back for its authority, through the primitive Church, to Christ Himself. I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you' (1 Corinthians 11:23). In other words, there was no such thing known to Paul as a Christian society without baptism as its rite of initiation, and the Supper as its rite of communion. And if there was no such thing known to Paul, there was no such thing in the world. There is nothing in Christianity more primitive than the Sacraments, and the Sacraments, wherever they exist, are witnesses to the connection between the death of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. It is explicitly so in the case of the Supper, and the expression of St. Paul about being baptized into Christ's death (Romans 6:3) shows that it is so in the case of the other Sacrament too. The apostle was not saying anything of startling originality, when he wrote the beginning of Romans 6 -- Know ye not that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?' Every Christian knew that in baptism what his mind was directed to, in connection with the blessing of forgiveness, was the death of Christ. Both Sacraments, therefore, are memorials of the death, and it is not due to any sacramentarian tendency in Luke, but only brings out the place which the death of Christ had at the basis of the Christian religion, as the condition of the forgiveness of sins, when he gives the sacramental side of Christianity the prominence it has in the early chapters of Acts. From the New Testament point of view, the Sacraments contain the gospel in brief; they contain it in inseparable connection with the death of Jesus; and as long as they hold their place in the Church the saving significance of that death has a witness which it will not be easy to dispute.

It is customary to connect with the Petrine discourses in Acts an examination of the First Epistle of Peter. It is not, indeed, open to dispute that the First Epistle of Peter shows traces of dependence upon one or perhaps more than one epistle of Paul. There are different ways in which this may be explained. Peter and Paul were not at variance about the essentials of Christianity, as even the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians proves; if they had any intimate relations at all, it is a priori probable that the creative mind of Paul would leave its mark on the more receptive intelligence of Peter; something also may be due to an amanuensis, Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12) or another, who had seen (as was possible enough in Peter's lifetime) letters of Paul like those to the Romans or Ephesians. But we must take care not to exaggerate either the originality of Paul, or the secondary character of Peter. Paul's originality is sometimes an affair rather of dialectic than invention; he is original rather in his demonstration of Christianity than in his statement of it. The thing about which he thinks and speaks with such independent and creative power is not his own discovery; it is the common tradition of the Christian faith; that which he delivers to others, and on which he expends the resources of his original and irrepressible mind, he has himself in the first instance received (1 Corinthians 15:3). And Peter may often be explained, where explanation is necessary, not by reference to Paul, but by reference to the memory of Jesus in the first instance, and to the suggestions of the Old Testament in the next. His antecedents, properly speaking, are not Pauline, but prophetic and evangelic. And if there are formal characteristics of his epistle which have to be explained by reference to his great colleague, the substance of it, so far as our subject is concerned, points not so much to Paul as to Jesus and the ancient Scriptures. What ideas, then, we may ask, does the First Epistle of Peter connect with the death of Jesus?

To begin with, the death of Jesus has the central place in the writer's mind which it everywhere has in the New Testament. He describes himself as a witness of the sufferings of the Christ' (5:1). Martus is to be taken here in its full compass; it means not only a spectator of, but one who bears testimony to. The writer's testimony to the sufferings of the Christ is one in which their significance is brought out in various aspects; but though this sense of witness' is emphasized, it by no means excludes the other; rather does it presuppose it. Peter seems to prefer sufferings' to death' in speaking of the Christ, perhaps because he had been an eye-witness, and because sufferings' served better than death' to recall all that his Lord had endured. Death might be regarded merely as the end of life, not so much a moral reality, as a limit or termination to reality; but sufferings are a part of life, with moral content and meaning, which may make an inspiring or pathetic appeal to men. In point of fact it is the moral quality of the sufferings of the Christ, and their exemplary character, which first appeal to the apostle. As he recalls what he had seen as he stood by the great sufferer, what impresses him most is His innocence and patience. He had done no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered He did not threaten, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously (2:22 f.). In this character of the patient and innocent sufferer Peter commends Jesus to Christians, especially to slaves, who were having their first experience of persecution, and finding how hard it was not only to suffer without cause, but actually to suffer for doing well, for loving fidelity to God and righteousness. It is not necessary to press the parallel unduly, or to argue (as Seeberg has done [34] ) that the suffering of Christians in imitation of the Christ will have in all respects the same kind of result, or the same kind of influence, as His. Yet Peter identifies the two to some extent when he says, in 4:13, Ye are partakers in the sufferings of the Christ. This is a genuinely evangelical point of view. Jesus calls on all His followers to take up their cross, and walk in His steps. The whole mass of suffering for righteousness' sake, which has been since the world began and will be to its close, is the sufferings of the Christ'; all who have any part in it are partners with Him in the pain, and will be partners also in the glory which is to be revealed. So far, it may be said, there is no theological reflection in the epistle; it occupies the standpoint of our Lord's first lesson on the Cross: I must suffer for righteousness' sake, and so must all who follow Me (Matthew 16:2l-24) -- with the admonition annexed, Let it be in the same spirit and temper, not with amazement, irritation, or bitterness.

But the epistle has other suggestions which it is necessary to examine. The first is found in the salutation. This is addressed to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (1:1 f.). In this comprehensive address, a whole world of theological ideas is involved. Christians are what they are as elect according to the foreknowledge of God. Their position does not rest on assumptions of their own, or on any movable basis, but on the eternal goodwill of God which has taken hold of them. This goodwill, which they know to be eternal -- that is, to be the last reality in the world -- has come out in their consecration by the Spirit. The Spirit, standing as it does here between God the Father and Christ, must be the Holy Spirit, not the spirit of the Christian, the consecration is wrought not upon it but by it. The readers of the epistle would no doubt connect the words, and be intended by the writer to connect them, with their baptism; it was in baptism that the Spirit was received, and that the eternal goodwill of God became a thing which the individual (of course through faith) grasped in time. But what is in view in this eternal goodwill and its manifestation in time? It has in view obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.' We cannot miss the reference here to the institution of the covenant in Exodus 24. There we find the same ideas in the same relation to each other. Moses took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you upon all these conditions.' Such a sprinkling with covenant blood, after a vow of obedience, is evidently in Peter's mind here. We have already seen, in connection with the institution of the Lord's Supper, what covenant blood means. As sacrificial, it is sin-covering; it is that which annuls sin as the obstacle to union with God. Within the covenant, God and man have, so to speak, a common life. God is not excluded from human life; He enters into it and achieves His ends in the world through it. Man is not excluded from the divine life; God admits him to His friendship and shows him what He is doing; he becomes a partaker in the divine nature, and a fellow-worker with God. But the covenant is made by sacrifice; its basis and being are in the blood. In this passage, therefore, election and consecration have in view a life of obedience, in union and communion with God; and such a life, it is assumed, is only possible for those who are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is this only which has abiding power in it to annul sin as that which comes between God and man. It is sometimes said that the position of the blood in this passage -- after obedience -- points to its sanctifying virtue, its power to cleanse the Christian progressively, or ever afresh, from all sin; but if we use technical language at all, we should rather say that its character as covenant-blood obviously suggests that on its virtue the Christian is perpetually dependent for his justification before God. With this blood on us we have peace with Him, and the calling to live in that peace.

The second express reference to the saving significance of our Lord's death occurs in ch.1:18 ff. Peter is exhorting those to whom he writes to a life of holiness, and he uses various arguments in support of his plea for sanctification. [35] First, it answers to the essential relations between man and God. As He who called you is holy show yourselves also holy in all your behavior' (1:15). Second, it is required in view of the account they must render. (If ye invoke as Father Him who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear' (1:17). And, third, they have been put in a position to live a holy life by the death of Christ.

Knowing that you were ransomed, not with corruptible things, silver and gold, from your vain manner of life, handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ' (1:18 f.).

A lamb without blemish and without spot is a sacrificial lamb, and the virtue here ascribed to the blood of Christ is some sort of sacrificial virtue. The preciousness of the blood cannot be otherwise explained than by saying that it was Christ's blood. But what is the virtue here ascribed to it? By it Christians were ransomed from a vain manner of life handed down from their fathers. The elutrothete of this passage is no doubt an echo of the lutron anti pollon Mark 10:45. The effect of Christ's death was that for Christians a peculiar kind of servitude ended; when it told on them their life was no longer in bondage to vanity and to custom. The expression ek tes mataias humon anastrophes patroparadotou is a very striking one. Life before the death of Christ has touched it is mataia i. e. it is futile, it is a groping or fumbling after something it can never find; it gets into no effective contact with reality; it has no abiding fruit:. From this subjection to vanity it is redeemed by the blood of Christ. When the power of Christ's Passion enters into any life it is not futile any more: there is no more the need or the inclination to cry mataiotes mataioteton, all is vanity. Nothing can be more real or satisfying than the life to which we are introduced by the death of Christ; it is a life in which we can have fruit, much fruit, and fruit that abides; hence the introduction to it, as elotrothete suggests, is a kind of emancipation. Similarly, life before the death of Christ has touched it is patroparadotos; it is a kind of tradition or custom, destitute of moral originality or initiative. A man may think he is himself, and that he is acting freely and spontaneously, when he is only indulging self-will, or yielding to impulses of nature in him through which a genuine moral personality has never been able to emerge; but it is the power of Christ's passion descending into the heart which really begets the new creature, to whom moral responsibility -- his own -- is an original thing, a kind of genius, in virtue of which he does what nobody in the world ever did before, and feels both free and bound to do so. The moral originality of the New Testament life is a miracle that never grows old; and whatever in the form of this epistle may be due to a mind more creative than that of the writer, at this point, at any rate, we catch the note of an independent experience. Now this new life of the Christian, with its satisfying reality, and its wonderful freedom, was bought with the blood of Christ.

It is possible to argue that the new life is called forth immediately by the death of Christ -- that is, that the impression produced by the spectacle of the cross, if we may so speak, quite apart from its interpretation, emancipates the soul. But there is something unreal in all such arguments. The death of Christ was never presented to the world merely as a spectacle. It was never presented by any apostle or evangelist apart from an interpretation. It was the death of Christ so interpreted as to appeal irresistibly to the heart, the conscience, the imagination, perhaps we should sometimes include the very senses of men, which exercised the emancipating power. And the only hint which is here given of the line of interpretation is that which is involved in the reference to the sacrificial lamb. It was the death of Christ not uninterpreted (which is really equivalent to non-significant) but interpreted in some way as a death for our sins which exercised this beneficent power to liberate and to recreate the soul.

A clearer light is east on the nature of the connection between Christ's death and the moral emancipation of believers by the third passage in which the apostle makes a detailed reference to the subject. It is that in which the example of Christ in His sufferings is set before Christian slaves who are called to suffer unjustly. Peter pleads with them to be patient. What glory is it if what you do wrong and are beaten you take it patiently? But if when, you do good and suffer for it you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For this is what you were called for -- for Christ also suffered for you (huper humon epathen), leaving you an example that ye should follow in His steps.' So 2:20 f. It is the exemplary character of the sufferings of Christ that is in view when the writer goes on: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth -- who when He was reviled not again, under suffering did not threaten, but committed His cause to Him who judges righteously.' In all this (2:22 f.) the appeal of the example is clear. It is equally clear that in what follows the exemplary character of Christ's sufferings is left behind, or transcended, and that they are put in another aspect. It is as though the apostle could not turn his eyes to the Cross for a moment without being fascinated and held by it; he saw far more in it habitually, and he saw far more in it now, than was needed to point his exhortation to the wronged slaves; it is not their interest in it, as the supreme example of suffering innocence and patience, but the interest of all sinners in it as the only source of redemption, by which he is ultimately inspired: Who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree, that we having died unto (the) sins might live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. ' The enlargement of view is shown by the change to the first person (He bore our sins, that we might live, etc.), the writer including himself and all Christians with those whom he addresses in the benefits of Christ's death; it is only in the last clause -- by whose wound you were healed' -- that he returns to his immediate subject, the slaves who were buffeted for doing well. What, then, precisely is it which is here affirmed of Christ in His death?

Literally, it is that He Himself bore our sins in His body on to the tree. The use of anapherein oite hamartian is not common, it occurs only in Isaiah 53:12 and Numbers 14:33, the more usual expression being laubanein. But it seems absurd for this reason, and for the reason that anapherein ti epi to thusiasterion is a common expression, to argue that here the tree or cross is regarded as an altar, to which sin was literally carried up to be slain. [36] That which is slain at the altar is always regarded as a gift acceptable to God, the slaying is only the method in which it is irrevocably made His; and nothing is more perverse than the attempt to present sin in this light. The words of the apostle must be interpreted as the simple sense of Christians always has interpreted them, that Christ bore our sins in His body as He ascended the Cross, or ascended to it. There is something in the words en to somati and epi to xulon which leaves a singular and even poignant impression of reality on the mind. To us the Passion is idealized and transfigured; the tree' is a poetic name for the Cross, under which the hard truth is hidden. But soma means flesh and blood, and xulon means timber. We may have wondered that an apostle and eye-witness should describe the sinlessness and the suffering of Jesus, as the writer of this epistle does, almost entirely in words quoted from the Old Testament; but even as we wonder, and are perhaps visited with misgivings, we are startled by these words in which the Passion is set before us as a spectacle of human pain which the writer had watched with his own eyes as it moved to its goal at the Cross. But this reminiscent pictorial turn which he has given to his expression does not alter the meaning of the principal words -- Who His own self bore our sins.' [37] This is the interpretation of the Passion' it was a bearing of sin. Now, to bear sin is not an expression for which we have to invent or excogitate a meaning, it is a familiar expression, of which the meaning is fixed. Thus, to take the instance referred to above (Numbers 14:34): After the number of the days in which ye spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year, shall ye bear your iniquities' -- the meaning clearly is, bear the consequences of them, take to yourselves the punishment which they involve. Or again, in Leviticus 5:17,

If any one sin, and do any of the things which the Lord hath commanded not to be done, though he knew it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity'

-- the meaning is as clearly, he shall underlie the consequences attached by the law to his act. Or again, in Exodus 28:43, where the sons of Aaron are to observe punctually the laws about their official dress, that they bear not iniquity and die': to die and to bear iniquity are the same thing, death being the penalty here denounced against impiety. Expressions like these indicate the line on which we are to fill out the meaning of the words,

Who His own self bare our sins.' They are meant to suggest that Christ took on Him the consequences of our sins -- that He made our responsibilities, as sin had fixed them, His own. He did so when He went to the Cross -- i.e. in His death. His death, and His bearing of our sins, are not two things, but one. It may be true enough that He bore them on His spirit, that He saw and felt their exceeding sinfulness, that He mourned over them before God; but however true and moving such considerations may be, they are not what the apostle means in the passage before us. He means that all the responsibilities in which sin has involved us -- responsibilities which are summed up in that death which is the wages of sin -- have been taken by Christ upon Himself. His interpretation of the Passion is that it is a bearing of sin -- more precisely, that it is the bearing of others' sin by one who is Himself sinless. (Numbers 30:15 and Hebrews 16.) The apostle does not raise the question whether it is possible for one to assume the responsibilities of others in this way; he assumes (and the assumption, as we shall see, is common to all the New Testament writers) that the responsibilities of sinful men have been taken on Himself by the sinless Lamb of God. This is not a theorem he is prepared to defend; it is the gospel he has to preach. It is not a precarious or a felicitous solution of an embarrassing difficulty -- the death of the Messiah; it is the foundation of the Christian religion, the one hope of sinful men. It may involve a conception of what Christ is, which would show the irrelevance of the objection just referred to, that one man cannot take on him the responsibilities of others; but leaving that apart for the moment, the idea of such an assumption is unquestionably that of this passage. It is emphasized by the very order of the words -- hos tas hamartias hemon autos anegenken; it was not His own but our sins that were borne at Calvary.

To that which was so done Peter annexes the aim of it. He bore our sins, that having died to the sins, we might live to righteousness. It is not possible to argue from apogenomenoi that our death was involved in His -- that we actually or ideally died when He did, and so have no more relation to sins. It is quite fair to render, that we might die to our sins and live to righteousness.' A new life involves death to old relations, and such a new life, involving such death, is the aim of Christ's bearing of our sins. How this effect is mediated the apostle does not say. Once we understand what Christ's death means -- once we receive the apostolic testimony that in that death He was taking all our responsibilities upon Him -- no explanation may be needed. The love which is the motive of it acts immediately upon the sinful; gratitude exerts an irresistible constraint; His responsibility means our emancipation; His death our life; His bleeding wound our healing. Whoever says He bore our sins' says substitution; and to say substitution is to say something which involves an immeasurable obligation to Christ, and has therefore in it an incalculable motive power. This is the answer to some of the objections which are commonly made to the idea of substitution on moral grounds. They fail to take account of the sinner's sense of debt to Christ for what He has done, a sense of debt which it is not too much to designate as the most intimate, intense, and uniform characteristic of New Testament life. It is this which bars out all ideas of being saved from the consequences of sin, while living on in sin itself. It is so profound that the whole being of the Christian is changed by it; it is so strong as to extinguish and to create at once; under apostle's words here, the aim fulfilled in us -- we die to the sins and live to righteousness.

This interpretation of the passage in the second chapter is confirmed when we proceed to the one in the third. The subject is still the same, the suffering of Christians for righteousness' sake. It is better,' says the apostle in 3:17, if the will of God should have it so, to suffer doing well than doing ill. For Christ also died once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might conduct us to God. ' Here, as in the previous passage, an exemplary significance in Christ's sufferings is assumed, and to it apparently the writer reverts in 4:1 (as Christ therefore suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind'), but it is not this exemplary significance on which he enlarges. On the contrary, it is a connection which the death of Christ, or His Passion, has with sins. Christ, he says, died in connection with sins once for all (hapax); His death has a unique significance in this relation. What the special connection was is indicated in the words dikaios huper adikon. It is the obvious implication of these words that the death on which such stress is laid was something to which the unrighteous were liable because of their sins, and that in their interest the Righteous One took it on Himself. When He died for them, it was their death which He died. His death has to be defined by relation to sin, but it is the sin of others, not His own. The writer no more asks here than he asked in the previous case, How can such filings be? He does not limit the will of love -- he does not, in a world made and ruled by God, limit beforehand the power of love -- to take on it to any extent the responsibility of others. This is his gospel, that a Righteous One has once for all faced and taken up and in death exhausted the responsibilities of the unrighteous, so that they no more stand between them and God; his business is not to prove this, but to preach it. The only difference is that whereas in the second chapter, if we can draw such a distinction in the New Testament, the aim is a moral one (that we may die to sin and live to righteousness), in the present case it is religious (that He might conduct us to God). The word prosagein has always a touch of formality in it; it is a great occasion when the Son who has assumed our responsibilities for us takes us by the hand to bring us to the Father. We find the same idea of the prosagoge as the great Christian privilege in Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18. Sin, it is implied, keeps man at a distance from God; but Christ has so dealt with sin on man's behalf that its separative force is annulled; for those who commit themselves to Christ, and to the work which He has done for them in His Passion, it is possible to draw near to God and to live in His peace. This is the end contemplated in His dying for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous. We can only repeat here what has just been said in connection with the previous passage. If Christ died the death in which sin had involved us -- if in His death He took the responsibility of our sins upon Himself -- no word is equal to this which falls short of what is meant by calling Him our substitute. Here also, as in the second chapter, the substitution of Christ in His death is not an end in itself: it has an ulterior end in view. And this end is not attained except for those who, trusting in what Christ has done, find access to God through Him. Such access, we must understand, is not a thing which can be taken for granted. It is not for the sinful to presume on acceptance with God whenever they want it. Access to God is to the Apostle the most sublime of privileges, purchased with an unspeakable price; for such as we are, it is only possible because for our sins Christ died. And just as in the ancient tabernacle every object used in worship had to be sprinkled with atoning blood, so all the parts of Christian worship, all our approaches to God, should consciously rest on the atonement. They should be felt to be a privilege beyond price; they should be penetrated with the sense of Christ's Passion, and of the love with which He loved us when He suffered for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might conduct us to God.

There is no other passage in the First Epistle of Peter which speaks with equal explicitness of the saving significance of Christ's death. But the passages which have just been reviewed are all the more impressive from the apparently incidental manner in which they present themselves to us. The apostle is not avowedly discussing the theology of the Passion. There is nothing in his epistle like that deliberate grappling with the problem of the justification of the ungodly which we find, for example, in the third and fourth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. His general purpose, indeed, is quite different. It is to exhort to patience and constancy Christians who are suffering for the first time severe persecution, and who are disposed to count it a strange thing that has befallen them; the suffering Christ is held up to them as an example. He is the first of martyrs, and all who suffer for righteousness' sake, as they share the suffering which He endured, should confront it in the same spirit which He displayed. But the imitation of Jesus is not an independent thing for the apostle; at least he never speaks of it by itself. It is the sense of obligation to Christ which enables us to lift our eyes to so high an example; and Peter glides insensibly, on every occasion, from Christ the pattern of innocence and patience in suffering to Christ the sacrificial lamb, Christ the bearer of sin, Christ who died, righteous for unrighteous men. It is here the inspiration is found for every genuine imitatio Christi, and the unforced, inevitable way in which the apostle falls regularly back on the profounder interpretation of the death of Christ, shows how central and essential it was in his mind. He does not dwell anywhere of set purpose on the attitude of the soul to this death, so as to make clear the conditions on which it becomes effective for the Christian's emancipation from a vain and custom-ridden life, for his death to sin, or for his introduction to God. As has been already remarked, the sense of obligation to Christ, the sense of the love involved in what he has done for men, may produce all these effects immediately. But there are two particulars in which the First Epistle of Peter makes a near approach to other New Testament books, especially to Pauline ones, in their conception of the conditions on which the blessings of the gospel are enjoyed, and it may not be out of place to refer to them here. The first is the emphasis it lays on faith. The testing of the Christian life is spoken of as the trying of your faith' (1:7); the salvation of the soul is the end of your faith' (1:9); Christians are those who through Him' -- that is, through Christ -- have faith in God' (1:21). The other is the formula in Christ,' which has sometimes been treated almost as if it were the signature of St. Paul. It occurs in the last verse of the epistle, Peace be to you all that are in Christ.' Probably it is not too bold to suggest that in these two ideas -- that of faith, and that of being, in Christ -- we have here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, a clue to the terms on which all the Christian facts, and most signally the death of Christ, as the apostle interprets it, have their place and efficacy in the life of men.

It is not possible to base anything on the Second Epistle ascribed to Peter. The one expression to be found in it, bearing on our subject, is the description of certain false teachers in ch.2:1, as denying the Master who bought them' (ton agorasanta autous despoten arnoumenoi). The idea of agorazein is akin to that of lutrousthai, and the New Testament in other places emphasizes the fact that we are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23), and that the price is the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9.); but though these ideas no doubt underlie the words just quoted, there is no expansion or application of them in the context. The passage takes for granted the common faith of Christians in this connection, but does not directly contribute to its elucidation.


[28] See Field, Notes on the New Testament, p. 77, where decisive proof of this is given; and Armitage Robinson, Gospel according to Peter, pp. 84, 87 (agoniao).

[29] Institutio, II. 16. 10.

[30] Calvin has, in point of fact, made more adequate utterances on this subject: Invisibile illud et incomprehensibile judicium quod coram Deo sustinuit'; neque tamen innuimus Deum fuisse unquam illi vel adversarium vel iratum'; illic personam nostram gerebat'; and especially the following: Atqui haec nostra sapientia est probe sentire quanti constiterit Dei filio nostra salus.'

[31] Compare Kahler, Zur Lehre von der Versohnung, pp. 181, 401. On the other side Fairbairn, Philosophy of the Christian Religion, p. 425 ff.

[32] For a fuller statement on this point see Jesus and the Gospel, 153 ff.

[33] For the best examination of this see Chase's Hulsean Lectures and Vernon Bartlet's Acts (Century Bible).

[34] Seeberg, Der Tod Christi, p. 292.

[35] Compare Kahler, Zur Lehre von der Versohnung, p. 239.

[36] See, for instance, Alford's note on the passage, and the qualified support given to it in Bigg's Commentary.

[37] In his Bible Studies (E. Tr. p. 88 ff.) Deissmann argues that there is no suggestion here of the special ideas of substitution or sacrifice: all that is meant is that when Christ bears up to the cross the sins of men, then men have their sins no more: the bearing up to is a taking away. In view of the other references in the epistle and of the Old Testament parallels, this is rather a refusal to think out the apostle's thoughts than a stricter interpretation of his words.

chapter 1 the synoptic gospels
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