Thursday, 4 August 2022
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Acts 9:20
It was seen in the analysis of the previous verse that Saul’s (Paul’s) trip to Mt. Sinai in Arabia probably occurred between the two clauses of the verse –
So when he had received food, he was strengthened.
* Journey to Arabia.
Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
With that being likely, the next words now fall into their proper place, saying, “Immediately he preached.”
Saul had (presumably) received his instruction from the Lord in Arabia and was now well versed in the doctrines he would proclaim for the rest of his life. Therefore, and upon his return, he immediately preached in Damascus concerning “the Christ.”
It is to be noted that many manuscripts here say “Jesus” instead of “the Christ.” That would appear to fit more naturally, and it would be in accord with his preaching noted in Acts 13:16-41 where the term Christ is not used. Instead, it says “Jesus” twice. Hence, it is possible this is the original wording. However, because it would be wholly unnatural for a scribe to change “Jesus” to “Christ,” it makes one wonder if the word “Christ” is actually the original. Further, the word “Christ” is “Messiah” in Hebrew, and it would be the thought on the minds of those attending.
Even if they spoke Greek or some other language in the synagogues of Damascus, there would always be certain words that were carried over in the thinking of the people, mashiakh, or the Messiah, being one of them. That remains true to this day. Therefore, it is quite possible that Saul was carefully explaining to them the doctrine of the Messiah, who is Jesus, rather than Jesus, who is the Messiah. In other words, he would first explain to them that Scripture foretold the coming of Messiah and “that He is the Son of God.”
If this is what Saul was doing at this early stage of his instruction, he is clearly setting forth the proposition that the Messiah is not simply a son of David, but that He is God incarnate. As such, it would explain why Jesus didn’t just come to liberate the Jews from their enemies, but that He came to deal with their greatest enemy, sin.
If “Jesus” is the true reading, then it would be that his preaching focused on Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the Messianic promises and that Israel had, thus far, missed this fact. The resurrection proves that He is the Messiah, and thus that He is the Son of God.
Either way, the result is ultimately the same. Looking ahead for an answer which is correct would tend to favor “Jesus” –
- But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
- But Barnabas took him and brought himto the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
In verse 22, the name “Jesus” is inserted for clarity. It would appear that the verse is dependent on verse 20 giving the name which has not yet been otherwise provided. In verse 27, it clearly says that Paul preached in the name of Jesus.
If “Jesus” is the original, the error in translation may have simply come from a scribe seeing the word “Christ” in verse 20 while looking at the wrong line of the manuscript (a common error) and wrote that into this line now. Again, however, nothing is ultimately lost in either. Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah is Jesus. What transpired, and how Saul proclaimed his message, was in a particular way in Damascus, but both paths of discussion are covered by him in his writings elsewhere.
Life application: The means of preparing manuscripts in the New Testament Greek was far different than that of how the Hebrew Old Testament was prepared. The Greek scribes were surely less concerned about precision than they were about getting the word out to as many as possible as quickly as possible.
If small errors crept into the manuscripts, it would seem as if all hope of proper doctrine is lost. However, in comparing the many manuscripts, it is very easy to identify where the error was originally entered into the text. As such, and due to the huge number of Greek texts, along with other early writings from those texts (such as lectionaries), the New Testament is to be considered far more reliable than any other ancient writing.
The places where error has crept in do not destroy any major theology in the faith. Those points of contention are all dealt with in other parts of the New Testament. We have a sure and faithful word. Be confident of this. What we are to know with absolute clarity is there for us to know, and it is known with absolute clarity.
Glorious God Almighty, may we always be confident in our faith in Jesus. Help us never to stray from our faith and help us never to get sidetracked by those who desire to tear apart Your precious word. It has been given, and it is sufficient for us in our life, hope, and doctrine. Thank You for Your wonderful word. Amen.