I return now to the seemingly simple but inordinately complicated question I received that has led to this short thread over the past week or so on Luke’s understanding of why Jesus died.  In the thread so far (in case you haven’t read it) I’ve argued that Luke (author of both the Gospel and Acts) did not have a doctrine of atonement.  He certainly thought that Jesus had to die: but Jesus’ death is not what brought a reconciliation with God (= salvation) per se.  It made people realize their personal guilt before God, leading them to repent.  Because they repented, God then forgave them.  Jesus’ death, in other words, was a motivation to return to God, it was not a bloody sacrifice that took away sins.

With that as background: here again is the question.


Although the gospel of Luke doesn’t have an atonement message, what are your thoughts about Acts 20:28 [were Paul is recorded as saying:]

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood?

This sure sounds like it has atonement implications.


As I earlier indicated, I don’t think think I have ever addressed this thorny issue on the blog, and only once in writings, in my book  The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.  Here is what I say about it there, trying to argue that in fact even though it seems to be endorsing a view of atonement it probably doesn’t.  (This is written for an academic audience, but it should be perfectly accessible.)


Acts 20:28 is the one passage that is frequently treated as an exception to Luke’s understanding of the death of Jesus. In fact, the passage is an exception only in appearance. For even here the notion of atonement does not emerge from the text but has to be imported into it.

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, the Apostle Paul urges them to “pastor the church of God, which he obtained through the blood of his Own.”  The phrasing is enigmatic and, as we have already seen, has led to several interesting textual modifications. Despite its ambiguity (“His own blood”? “The blood of his unique [Son]”?) the phrase almost certainly refers to Jesus, whose blood God used to acquire an ekklesia (=church).  But even here, I must point out, the text does not speak of Jesus’ self-giving act as an atoning sacrifice for sin, but of God’s use of Jesus’ blood to acquire (NB, not “redeem”) the church.

And so, strictly speaking the thrust of the allusion is not

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