Some have used a particular interpretation of Acts 2:36 to teach the doctrine that all people are responsible for crucifying Christ. This has been done in the International Churches of Christ for a long time, and I've even heard this teaching in another church (which prompted this article). Enough is enough! Here is the text in question.
"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)."
This particular teaching is built upon several supposed "facts" and an illogical conclusion supposedly based upon those facts.
For the supposed "facts:"
Now for the illogical conclusion: It is taught by some that though these hearers did not physically nail Jesus to the cross, Peter still holds them accountable for the crucifixion of Jesus because of their sins.
This teaching is attractive because it seems to explain how the hearers could be said to have crucified Christ. Based upon this understanding of Acts 2:36, countless thousands have been told that they personally crucified Christ with their sins.
But is this really true? Will this conclusion stand up to scrutiny?
Let us first examine who the hearers in the audience were. Notice that Peter begins his message saying, "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem" (Acts 2:14, NAS). Then Peter speaks about the earthly ministry of Jesus to these people as though it was something they first-hand knowledge about.
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:22-23).
Peter speaks of how these same hearers had miracles done among them and that Jesus had been handed over to them. Again, this suggests that the bulk of the hearers were present not just for the crucifixion but also for Jesus' earthly ministry. The majority of the audience was therefore more or less permanent residents of Jerusalem or Judea who were present for (if not involved in) the crucifixion. The fact that some of these people in the audience were from out of town does not change this fact.
It is also quite likely that Peter's hearers from out of town would have been present during the events of the crucifixion. The Jews were commanded to assemble for the feasts of Unleavened Bread/Passover and Weeks (aka Pentecost), as well as the feast of Tabernacles (check Leviticus 23 for a further discussion of these). Those in town for Pentecost would also have been in town for Passover. The story in Acts raises the issue of their countries of origin and familiarity with foreign languages simply in response to the different languages the apostles were speaking. It doesn't suggest that the hearers had only newly arrived. Since these feasts were only fifty days apart and considering how difficult travel was in the first century, it is also possible that some of these people from out of town could have stayed in Jerusalem for both Passover and Pentecost. This would be especially true for those from far away, like Rome, as well as those not involved in agriculture.
Thus, the suggestion that Peter's hearers weren't involved in the crucifixion doesn't hold up. In fact, it is quite likely that many of these hearers were among the crowd shouting out, "crucify him" in the court of Pilate (Mark 15:13 et al).
Now if Peter meant to say in Acts 2:36 that all people have crucified Jesus by their sins, why did he not include himself in that statement? He could have said, "This Jesus, whom we all crucified.... " It does not seem likely that Peter could have thought all people crucified Jesus by their sins and then say what he said. Let's take a quick survey of instances in Acts where Jesus' crucifixion was attributed to anybody.
|Audience||Culprit||What was said|
|Pentecost Gatherers "Men of Israel"||You, with the help of wicked men||
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
29 "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, " `The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." '
36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:22-24, 29-36)
|Sanhedrin||You, Your Leaders||
You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. (Acts 3:11-15)
Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. (Acts 3:17)
|Sanhedrin||Rulers and elders of the people, You||Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is " 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. (Acts 4:8-11)|
|Prayer, after the Sanhedrin meeting||Herod, Pontius Pilate, Gentiles, people of Israel in Jerusalem||You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: " `Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ' Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. (Acts 4:25)|
Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." (Acts 5:27-32)
|Stephen's Hearers (in Jerusalem)||You||"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." (Acts 7:51-53)|
|Cornelius (Gentile) in Caesarea||The Jews in Jerusalem||"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen--by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:39-43)|
|Pisidian Antioch synagogue, Jews and God-fearers (Gentiles)||People of Jerusalem and their rulers||"Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. (Acts 13:26-31)|
Looking at this evidence, a pattern develops here:
In no case is the responsibility for Christ's crucifixion spiritualized to apply to all of mankind. Rather, the responsibility is assigned very specifically: to the Jews of Jerusalem.
The crowd before Pilate that shouted, "crucify him" (Mark 15:13), the crowd that shouted, "Let his blood be on us and our children" (Matthew 27:25), and the crowd before Peter in Acts 2 represent all of Israel. Peter's sermon climaxes including this phrase, "Let all Israel be assured of this..." (Acts 2:36). The rejection of the Messiah belongs to Israel.
Now is this a matter of scapegoating the Jews and their leaders, or is there more to all of this? Notice what was said to those in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.
"Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. (Acts 13:26-31)
Paul states that the Jews' rejection of Christ was actually something that had been foreseen by the prophets. This merits further investigation.
Isaiah foresaw the rejection of the Messiah by his own people.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)
Speaking to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, Peter cited a prophecy where the rulers of the Jews and Gentiles together were involved in rejecting Jesus:
The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone; (Psalm 118:22)
This same text was cited by all three synoptic gospel writers in the parable of the tenants. Let's look at Mark's version, in context:
He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6 "He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, `They will respect my son.'
7 "But the tenants said to one another, `This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 "What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven't you read this scripture: " `The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes' ?"
12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away. (Mark 12:1-12)
There are other passages that also support this view of prophecy and fulfillment.
It turns out that the rejection of Jesus on the part of the Jews and their leaders, as well as Gentile leaders, was a critical part of the prophecies about Christ. So when the death of Christ was presented to Jews, it was important to cite these prophecies and their fulfillment in Christ. It wasn't about their guilt, it was about the credbility and authenticity of Christ and the gospel. And we see this is exactly what the apostles did when presenting the gospel to a Jewish, Judean audience.
When speaking to non-Judean or Gentile audiences, the death of Christ is attributed to the Jewish leaders. There is no attempt to blame these hearers for crucifying Christ "because of their sin" or some such thing.
But haven't all people sinned? "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)." Didn't that sin necessitate Jesus dying on the cross? Isn't this why the hearers in Acts 2:37 were "cut to the heart?"
God himself is the one who chose to redeem us from our lost state by the death of Christ. This profound truth transcends all human attempts to explain the cross in other ways.
Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
The whole point of Jesus' death is that it is on behalf of mankind, for its salvation. That's why it is called the gospel-- the good news.
Because of the imprecision of the English preposition "for," it may be helpful to examine the three unique Greek prepositions the New Testament uses when saying Christ died "for" us:
|John 11:51, 18:14, Roman 5:6-8, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 1 Thessalonians 5:10 "Christ died for us" or variations 1 Peter 3:18 "the righteous for the unrighteous"||huper||for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone or something (BAGD, p. 838)|
|Mt 26:28 "blood of the covenant, poured out for many..." 1 Peter 3:18 "Christ died for sins"||peri||Mt 26:28 "introduces the person or thing in whose interest the petition is made. Thus it takes the place of huper." (BAGD, p. 644) 1 Peter 3:18 "when used with hamartia the word 'for' has the sense to take away, to atone for." (BAGD, p. 644)|
|Matthew 20:28 "gave his life as a ransom for many"||anti||Mt 20:28 "... the meaning in place of can develop into on behalf of, for someone, so that anti becomes = huper." (BAGD, p. 73)|
(BAGD is Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, "A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature" 2nd edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.)
In each case, Christ's death "for" man is for his benefit-- for the sake of, on account of, in place of. The idea of attaching responsibility for Christ's death to mankind is not a part of the proclamation of the gospel in the New Testament. The scriptures just don't say, "Jesus died because of you." For those who hear the gospel, there should be great gratitude and appreciation towards Christ for his sacrifice in a personal way (Galatians 2:21).
Attributing the crucifixion of Christ to hearers of the gospel isn't just bad theology and bad biblical interpretation. It completely misses the whole point of the gospel. It turns the good news of Christ's death into bad news. It can also be a tool of spiritual abuse, setting people up to be exploited for some other ends and ultimately damaging their faith in God because the gospel itself has been altered.
I suppose some who teach this are simply passing along what they have been taught or have heard others teach without having thought too much about it. Others probably mean well, hoping to elicit a personal response to the sacrifice of Christ. Perhaps some think they are helped in their response to the gospel by imagining that they too would have crucified Christ if they had been there at that time.
However, this teaching has the effect of attempting to establish a profound guilt on the part of the hearers. If a preacher is aiming for establishing guilt and he can't "convict good people" of some gross sin, what better means to establish the ultimate guilt than to blame them just for being born and therefore being responsible for Christ's crucifixion?
Such preachers or leaders can then use that guilt to motivate (that is, manipulate) people to do something-- get involved in some church program, become Christians, give more money, etc. The exploitation of guilt is a tremendously effective way to control people. It is a core tactic of spiritual abuse.
Even apart from deliberate attempts to create guilt and set hearers up to be manipulated, one wonders how this teaching could ever be characterized as "good news." Once the core elements of the gospel are taught as bad news it can be very difficult for some people to ever see them as good news, and it is likely that the teacher that taught this "bad news" won't have any credibility anymore.
In defense of this teaching, I've heard it said that in order to understand the good news, people have to understand the bad news first. I'm not entirely convinced this is true from a scriptural point of view, but for the sake of the discussion let's suppose it is true. In that case, the true "bad news" is lostness without Christ based upon an individual's sin and the destruction that results from it.
To those who teach this "you crucified Jesus with your sins" doctrine, I urge you to consider whether you are truly teaching a gospel that can be substantiated by the scriptures or are teaching some "other gospel" that was not proclaimed by the apostles (Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Corinthians 11:4).
As we have seen, this teaching has elements that sound quite spiritual, but it just doesn't hold up to logical, exegetical or theological scrutiny. This interpretation of Acts 2:36 is refuted by other passages of scripture. It distorts the message of the cross from a salvation-providing message of good news to a guilt-providing message of bad news. And it can be a ready, effective tool of spiritual abuse.
In Acts 2:36, Peter told the Jewish people in Jerusalem that though they had rejected and crucified Jesus, God had made him both Lord and Christ. They did not crucify him "with their sins." Rather, they crucified him in this ultimate expression of their rejection of him, fulfilling prophecy and authenticating the gospel in the process.