Here is a seemingly simple but inordinately complicated question I received from a read on the blog:
Although the gospel of Luke doesn’t have an atonement message, what are your thoughts about Acts 20:28: “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.
When I got the question my idea was to give a direct and simple response. But I realized that would be neither easy nor satisfying. It would take a post. But then I realized that wouldn’t be enough either: it would take several posts. So, right – this will be a thread.
I begin with some background. I have dealt with this particular question about Acts 20:28 only once in my life, to my recollection (never on the blog, I believe), in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
To set up that discussion I need to provide some background: about the book, about my (surprising) claim that Luke (who wrote not just the Gospel but also the book of Acts) does not have a doctrine of “atonement” (that is, the idea that it is Jesus’ death that directly brings about a reconciliation with God – i.e. “salvation”), and about why despite appearances Acts 20:28 is not an exception.
So, I begin with the book, and with a discussion that at first glance may not appear to relate to the question. But, oh boy, it does….
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture argues that there are textual variants still preserved among our manuscripts of the New Testament that were generated by scribes who were trying to oppose various kinds of “heretical” Christologies, including the one that said (at least which its opponents said that it said) that Christ did not have a real flesh and blood body, and that as a result he did not really experience pain and death, but only appeared to do so.
The proto-orthodox theologians who responded to this view insisted that Jesus really was human, and they argued that it was precisely the bodily, human nature of Christ that allowed him to bring salvation. By shedding his (real) blood and experiencing a (real) broken, crucified body, Christ brought about salvation for the world. The docetists (those who claimed that Christ only “seemed” to have a body that could bleed and die), in the opinion of their opponents, had gone way too far in asserting that Christ was a divine being. If he wasn’t human, he couldn’t save humans.
It appears that this debate did affect the scribes who copied their texts of Scripture. One passage that was changed is
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