Acts 20:28

As regards the translation of the Greek in Acts 20:28 (“with his own blood,” A.V.), I have not much to say. As to the fear of its touching the divinity of Christ, a person must be very ill-grounded in that fundamental truth to have any such feeling; the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in Christ, His being truly God, Jehovah, I am, is too inseparably a part of the whole texture of Scripture, too plainly stated in Scripture, and still more strongly proved, if possible, by the way it is supposed or assumed and implied in passages where it is no direct subject of revelation. Nothing could be more mischievous than the resting the divinity of the Lord Christ on this passage—a passage tortured by critics, no two of whom hardly can agree upon it. With the exception of Scholz, hardly any noted critic has simply ‘God’ in the passage at all. Indeed, as far as I know Mill is the only one; the principal ones have not ‘God’ at all, reading ‘Lord’ instead. Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, all read ‘the Church of the Lord’—Matthaei, ‘Lord and God,’ which Middleton approves, and Alford and others of more weight than he reject as perfectly untenable. Alford read ‘Lord ‘in his first edition; and saying, that as B in the Vatican has it by the first hand, the evidence of manuscripts is balanced; but on internal evidence he reads ‘God’ in the second. To me it remains uncertain if it be by the first hand, for the transcript of the MS is not to be trusted. Wetstein prefers ‘Lord.’ The new Codex Sinaiticus reads ‘God.’ But A C D E and many others read ‘Lord.’ Many more, but modern read ‘Lord and God.’ It would be monstrous to rest a vital doctrine on a text evidendy tampered with. Even in Athanasius to Seraph-ion (1:522), the printed text has ‘God,’ but other MSS ‘Lord’ or ‘Christ.’ I suppose we may account Athanasius as a sufficient champion of the true divinity of the blessed Lord. Of all ancient writers he is known to be the undaunted and suffering defender of this truth against the whole body of Arians, the Emperor and all, and died an exile for this truth. Now, not only in the passage quoted by critics he declares that the blood of God is never used by itself, and that it is Arianism; but the argument of his two books against the Apollinarians, particularly the second book, is based on this. It forms, I may say, the whole point and subject of the second. He denounces as Arian such language as saying, ‘God suffered,’ or speaking of His blood flowing. He treats it as the madness of the Arians. He says that ‘if it be said that God suffered, “in flesh” even, then the Father and the Comforter have suffered, for they are all one’; and concludes, ‘The Word is God, if you look at His immortality (athanasia) and incorruptibility and immutability; but man, in His nailing to the cross, and the flowing of His blood, and the burial of His body, and descent into Hades and resurrection from the dead. Thus the Christ is raised from the dead, and being God raises the dead.’ He says we are to be content to say, ‘Christ has suffered for us in the flesh.’ I cannot quote more here: it is, as I have said, the argument of the whole second book. The reader may find a multitude of the Fathers also object to the expression too. They may be found in notes to critical editions. Wetstein gives many of them. At any rate, speaking of the sufferings of God or His blood-shedding is denounced as being Arianism by him, who best knew what Arianism was, and the greatest champion for the blessed truth of Christ’s divinity who ever lived. The Arians and Apollinarians did so speak; because the Arians did not hold that Christ was of one nature with the Father, and the Apollinarians held that Christ had no human, intellectual soul, but that the divinity took its place in the Christ. Hence, the former had no difficulty that what was a creature, however elevated, suffered; and the latter must have made God suffer as the mind in Christ, or else He must have ceased to be. Hence, Athanasius opposed them so energetically, and said it was running into Arianiam; and hence we can easily see how he rejected an expression such as the one we are considering. Now I admit it was reasoning, not criticism. If I found it in Scripture, I should certainly not mind Athanasius, but take it as what is called koinonia idiomaton, dangerous and slippery as that ground is, if it ever be justified as to the natures of the Lord. I read, “the Son of man who is in heaven”; but that by His Person passes into His divine nature. But I do not believe the natures are so spoken of. They are not to be confounded any more than the Person divided. I do not want to speculate on such subjects. I only say this to express my subjection to scripture language, if such there be. But it is ridiculous to make a matter of orthodoxy, as a fundamental proof of Christ’s divinity, what Athanasius denounces as denying that divinity, and being Arianism.

Now for my own part I believe—have always thought—the reading ‘the church of God’ to be right. If dia tou idiou haimatos was the reading in this place, then “the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood” would be the only right translation; and so the English translators read it. But I confess I agree with Athanasius that such language is not according to Scripture analogy and its expression of the truth. It is not a question of the divinity of the Lord, one way or the other, but of the fitness of speaking of the blood of God. I do not think such an expression scriptural. I do not accept the title even of the Mother of God. I believe it revolts just and divinely-given thoughts in the mind, and turns away from the true, eternal divinity of the blessed Lord. He who was God had a mother, and He who was God shed His blood; but I do not think Scripture speaks of God’s shedding His blood. I think it revolts the mind as wrong, unseemly—I will say, profane. I know what a person means and I bear with it, because I delight in his holding the true, essential deity of the Lord. But I agreed with Athanasius, when I had never read him, when I examined the passage in this view, in thinking such expressions contrary to the analogy of the faith. As regards the translation of ‘dia tou haimatos tou idiou’ “by the blood of His own,” that it is Greek is I judge beyond controversy, in spite of the confident pretensions of some, and the slighting remarks of others. In John 15:19, we have this usage, which anyone may find in a dictionary. “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own”—‘to idion ephilei.’ It is an unquestionable Greek usage. Of course, it can be translated, “by His own blood.” The question is, which is right. ‘To idion’ is that which is specially near and identified with any one, as our word, “own.” Hence it is said, “He spared not his own Son.” God has purchased the church with that which was His own, nearest and dearest to Himself: a thought as apt and beautiful as possible here. Of that there can be no question. The singular seems to me more intimate than the plural, but I could not here give any proof that I am right. At all events, no expression would be more appropriate, hardly any, it seems to me, so strong. God purchased the Church with that which was most near to Himself and most dear to Himself. This seems to me a most forcible expression, peculiarly expressive in the circumstances—more so, it seems to me, than that which would have expressed the relationship of the blessed Lord to His Father, whatever the essential importance of that may be in its place. The force of the sentence is in the word ‘idion’ (English own), which is to me a deeply touching expression.

Since I translated the passage, I have found the first biblical scholars, dead and living, discussing this translation without the smallest idea of its not being sound Greek. Doederlein proposed it. Michaelis suggests this rendering. Meyer says the text was changed from ‘tou haimatos tou idiou’ to ‘tou idiou haimatos’ because the latter, which is admitted not to be the true reading, obliged men to translate it, ‘the blood of God’: allowing this, that with the true reading it is not necessary to do so. The only other translation is the one I have given. I am thoroughly satisfied that all the tampering with the text, which for so short a passage is almost unexampled, arose from not simply taking it as I have done. For my own part I think that ‘tou haimatos tou idiou’ applied to God, is unnatural and objectionable. This use of ‘idios’ after a substantive is rare in the New Testament, just because it has a contrasting and emphatic force. When it is used with ‘haima’ elsewhere, it is put before. Hebrews 9:12; ch. 13:12. When ‘idios’ is put after, it is contrast or special emphasis. Of Christ it is said (Mark 15:20), they took the purple off Him, and put on Him His own clothes (‘ta himatia ta idia’). Judas went ‘eis ton topon ton idion’— “to his own place,” not meaning that which was naturally his, but as could be said really of no other man, one appropriate to himself. Any man may go to his place (eis ton idion topon) but ‘eis ton topon ton idion’ raises the question, why is it so peculiarly his own? It is to that place which was peculiarly his own. So He spared not His own Son ‘tou idiou huiou,’ not ‘tou huiou tou idiou, 2 Timothy 4:3: their own lusts ‘tas epithumias tas idias,’ their own proper lusts in contrast with God’s will, which they ought to have done. When it is simply the fact, it is (James 1:14) “his own lust” (tes idias epithumias). I have given all the cases, I believe, in the New Testament of this emphatic use. It is the general force of an adjective so placed after with an article. Now I confess this seems to me to make it singularly inapposite to be applied to the blood of God, that blood which was peculiarly God’s own in contrast with all other. I would not fail in reverence in speaking on such things, but it does seem to me that such a contrasted use of God’s blood as distinguished from all other is irreverent and somewhat shocking. The question is not on the divinity of the Lord, I repeat. Athanasius even charges such kind of language with being Arian. It is whether we are authorised (again I dread irreverence, but it is not mine but theirs who would insist on it) to speak of God’s own blood as God, for that would be the proper force of it.

Of the genitive ‘idiou’ after a noun, there is no example in Scripture. For my own part I am perfectly satisfied that “by the blood of His own”—that is, what was more than our words of ‘near’ and ‘dear’ can possibly convey, it was God’s own dear and beloved Son—is the true translation.