< April 19, 2015 >

Commentary on Acts 3:12-19


One of the primary themes of Acts, I am convinced, is the expansion of boundaries that separate individuals and group.1

We all know what it’s like to be part of a group. We share common interests, beliefs, commitments, etc. We are part of an in-group. Many among us have experience in being part of the out-group. Some have been more marginalized to the out-group more than others, but relegation to the out-group knows no boundaries.

One of the things Luke tries to accomplish in Acts is the expansion of these boundaries, even while making clear distinctions between those who follow Christ and those who do not. The episode narrated in 3:12-19 serves as an example of this tension. In response to the healing of the paralyzed man (3:1-11), a large crowd gathers in Solomon’s portico (3:11), a roofed colonnade likely on the south side of the Herodian Temple complex that remained from Solomon’s Temple. Peter explains what has happened (3:12), providing another important parallel between Jesus and Peter, teaching in the temple (cf. Luke 21:37). Here, as in his previous speech, Peter appeals to their common identity by addressing the crowd as “Israelites” and by attributing the healing of the man to “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors” (3:12-3). This is significant because it links the healing “in the name of Jesus” with “the God of our ancestors,” thus emphasizing a commonality within Judaism and the significance of Jesus within that tradition. Peter also appeals to Israel’s identity by reminding the crowd of the promise of a “prophet like Moses” (which is evident in some Qumran texts and Josephus), other prophets (3:24), and of God’s covenant with Abraham that supports an inclusive identity (which Luke is highlighting) by asserting, “in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (3:25; cf. 3:12–3).

Bet even while appealing to this common identity, Peter sharpens the distinctions between the Christians and the crowd. Mikael Parsons notes the structure within the inner frame of Peter’s speech:

A The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus

B whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him

B / But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life

A / whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.2

This pattern “underscores the fundamental difference between the actions of Peter’s audience … and the mighty deed of God.”3 Thus, the “God of Abraham” has subverted the actions of the Judean authorities and affirmed the words of Peter and the Christ followers.

Although the crowd rejected Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus (Luke 23:4, 16, 22), thereby participating in Jesus’ death, Peter acknowledges that his hearers and their rulers acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17), even though God had clearly “foretold [this] through all the prophets” (Acts 3:18). But ignorance is not excuse for their rejection of Jesus. They must now “repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). By distinguishing the Christ group from the crowd in the temple, Peter draws a distinct boundary between the Christ group and those outside the Christ group. Though they share a common ethnic identity, the two groups are radically different in their response to Jesus. Members of the in-group are those who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah, having demonstrated that belief in the boundary crossing rituals of baptism in Jesus’ name and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Members of the out-group, however, reject Jesus, had him killed, and now must be reconciled through repentance and return to God so that they may be forgiven of their rejection of the Messiah. The core contrast between in-group and out-group here is that in-group members believe in Jesus while out-group members reject him. Belief is contrasted with violence here to distinguish between the in-group and out-group, thus serving to point toward another less prominent identity marker in the narrative.

What does it mean to be part of the in-group, the Christ movement? What identity markers help us know who is ‘one of us’ and who is not? In many ways, our task remains the same as Luke’s -- to help expand the boundaries of who can be part of the Christ group, and to make distinctions that highlight how our group’s values are different from others around us.


1 Portions of the essay were first published in Coleman Baker Identity, Memory, and Narrative in Early Christianity: Peter, Paul, and Recategorization in the Book of Acts, Eugene: OR, Wipf and Stock, 2011. Used by permission.

2 Parsons, Acts, 60.

3 Parsons, Acts, 60.