The Trinitarian Claim
Trinitarians claim this verse shows that "Jesus is God" because it was Jesus who bought the church with his own blood and the passage says God bought the church with his own blood.
Examination of the Evidence
1. Big Problems: Manuscript Variations of Various Kinds
Acts 20:28 is yet another passage which is disingenuously abused by Trinitarians apologists. Here we have a passage where Trinitarians claim that Jesus must be the one called "God" since the church was purchased with God's own blood and Jesus is therefore being identified as God. Like all the other passages in the Trinitarian's apologetic box, this passage is plagued with many critical issues which Trinitarian apologists conveniently forget to inform you about. It is a well known academic fact that very important early manuscripts do not read "Church of God" but instead have "Church of the Lord." These variant readings of this verse show us that one of them is certainly a corruption. And that is not the end of the manuscript problem either. There are further discrepancies between manuscripts concerning this verse which affect its intended meaning here. And that results in problem upon problem, building a house upon the sand. And there is yet an even further problem of translation. In short, there is no proof about what Luke actually wrote.
2. God's Blood: The Flavour of Luke's Writings
Luke wrote the Book of Acts. Let us first consider the flavour of Luke's writings. Have you ever noticed the conspicuous absence of Luke's comments in Trinitarian apologetics "proof-texts"? Just take a look at the common proof-texts listed by Trinitarians and see how many quotations come from Luke. For this reason, it is common knowledge that Trinitarian commentators often say that Luke stresses Jesus' humanity, or some similar sentiment. This is the first fact that makes the Trinitarian claim highly unlikely.
You, the reader, should be able to see something is very wrong with the Trinitarian claim even on the face of it. God's blood? With manuscripts variations staring us in the face, we are expected by Trinitarians to contend with the highly unlikely hypothesis that Luke wrote about God's blood. It immediately strikes anyone as an odd, out of place, and unlikely to any reasonable person reading through the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. It further necessitates the Trinitarian notion, "Jesus according to his human nature," is actually "God according to his human nature." Since Trinitarians do believe that is a true statement, ask yourself why they never speak that way by the way. It is because it also necessarily implies that God had a God since that same flesh and blood is not another person but God the Son himself. This means that in Trinitarian doctrine, God the Son has a God. God has a God. Think about the implications. For the Trinitarian, God, according to his human nature, does have a God. So God the Son has a God and does not have a God at the same time. God has a God: True. God has a God: False. It all depends how the Trinitarian wants to qualify the statement. So something about Jesus is both true and false at the same time. It is in this respect, that Trinitarians want to believe that God did have something called blood. And the necessary implication to that belief is that God had a God since that same flesh and blood worshiped the Father as his God. So God the Son had a God and served God (as to his human nature) but at the same timedid not have a God and did not serve God (as to his divine nature). Are we really expected to believe it is ever going to be rational, no matter how we qualify it, to declare God has a God and does not have a God at the same time? Because if we want to insist there is such a thing as God's blood, that is also what we will be required to believe: God's God.
We can all see that the flavour of Luke's writings does not lend itself at all to supposing that this is something he would write. But Trinitarians have dreamed up a contrivance for that problem. The interesting thing about this contrivance is that it unwittingly admits that the "God's blood" rendering, or interpretation, of Acts 20:28 appears to be wrong and when any given text appears to be wrong, then that is your best indication that it must be right. Sound insane? It is.
3. "The Most Difficult Manuscript Reading is the Best" Farce
Unbelievably, there are some who love to ride this crippled hobby horse. When we have a situation where variations exist in the manuscripts, this notion basically states, "what appears to you to be wrong is most likely right." Really? The insanity of this claim is also based on the extremely naive proposition of a well-intentioned scribe attempting to correct a perceived mistake in the original copy.
With some variations from one scholar to the next, the idea here is essentially what follows. We are to imagine an ancient scribe is copying the book of Acts and when he comes to Acts 20:28 it appears to him that Luke is referring to "God's blood." And since this most certainly "looks wrong" to the scribe, he supposes this most certainly must be a mistake. And although he is well-intentioned, he naively sets out to correct the mistake and changes the word "God" to "Lord."
First, let us observe that a pinch of arrogance is required for this claim. We must assume that this scribe could not possibly be anywhere near as insightful as Daniel Wallace who knows the Scripture contains "difficult sayings." Should we really suppose that the scribe in question would be that naive? Little children know the Bible contains difficult sayings. How much more a scribe? Knowing these basic facts, we should be able to see that it is not very likely that a scribe would come across a "difficult saying" and immediately assume it is a scribal mistake and correct it. Of course it could happen but it is not likely. And that is not the end of the problem.
Note how this scenario is also contrived up by the human imagination in order to justify the manuscript reading they want to believe is authentic. Strangely, some scholars and commentators pridefully think it is very insightful. It is ridiculous. We have absolutely no idea whatsoever how this corruption occurred. Some scribe corrupted this passage in one direction or the other. There are dozens of ways this corruption could have happened. That a well-intentioned scribe was trying to correct a perceived error is only one hypothetical possibility and only one of many possibilities.
To suppose no scribe would intentionally corrupt the Scriptures is equally naive. It supposes a strange Eutopian reality where not a single scribe existed who would ever conspire in their heart to do anything wrong. It is a ridiculous proposition. Did we not learn this when we read about the scribes of the Gospels? It is a well known fact that early Christians discussed how manuscripts were being intentionally corrupted.
And then there is a host of other possibilities to explain the corruption of this verse. Let us imagine up one for ourselves as the Trinitarians do. A scribe has worked some very long hours until the deep hours of the night and was becoming extremely tired by the time he approached Acts 20:28. He copied it, and a few more words, turned the page, and copied a few more paragraphs on the back page, and then he went to sleep. In the morning, he got up and began his routine on the flip side of that page and continued over the next few days until he completed the book of Acts late one evening. This copy of the book of Acts was being copied for a certain remotely situated congregation which was five days travel away. It was not a place which was generally on anyone's destination list. But it just so happened that on the morning of the next day a certain colleague found it necessary to travel to another congregation which just happened to be not far from that particular church. It was immediately determined that someone from his destination congregation could deliver the scribe's copy to that remotely situated congregation if in fact he was finished with it. The scribe's superior inquired and found that he had finished his copy. But the traveller was leaving shortly and checking the entire copy was quite impossible. Although it had not been checked, the superior was very pleased with this scribe and had found his copies to be very reliable in the past. Realizing that this might be a missed opportunity for that congregation, and it could be several months before another opportunity presented itself, the scribe's superior scooped up the copy, handed it to the traveller and off he went. Nobody noticed the corruption. And the failure was not on the part of the scribe. It was on the part of his superior to take the risk to deliver a copy which nobody had checked.
Since he had plans to travel to Jerusalem, the scribe had been working very hard to complete this copy of Acts before he embarked on his journey. He had worked very late one evening and had become quite drowsy. When he came to Acts 20:28, which read "church of the Lord," and just as he read was reading the original text and saw the words, "church of the Lord", his mind began to wander and he began to reflect upon the church of God and what it really meant to be part of the church of God. The ekklesia of the Creator. The called-out ones of the Creator, the "church of God." And after meditating and musing for a short time, he wrote exactly what was on his mind, "church of God."
There are endless hypothetical scenarios that could have caused corruptions and we should be able to see how it is absolutely preposterous to claim it was most likely a corruption of a certain kind. What appears to be wrong is most likely right? Think about the absurdity of this claim. But even more than its absurdity is the implicit admission that the "God's blood" reading certainly appears to be wrong and that is why it must be right!
4. Trinitarian Translation Inconsistencies: A Cursory Look at the Problem
A review of various Trinitarian translations illlustrates the problem. Notice how Trinitarian scholars themselves have translated this passage:
the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. (ASV).
the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own. (Darby).
the church of God which he bought with the blood of his own Son. (JB).
the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (RSV)
the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (NET).
Now how can we accept this passage as "evidence" for their doctrine when Trinitarian scholars themselves do not agree that Jesus is identified as "God" in this passage? How do they expect anyone to rest their faith upon such doubtful evidence?
Some Trinitarian scholars believe it said "church of the Lord" while others have "church of God" and among those who believe it said "church of God" are those who insist it means "church of God which He bought with the blood of His own Son."
5. The Manuscripts
Important early manuscript evidence, such as Codex Alexandrinus, Ephraemi Rescriptus, and Bezae Cantabrigensis, Sahidic Coptic, read "church of the Lord" and not "church of God."
Note to the Reader: I have not yet taken the time to list out the various manuscript readings of this verse on this page. In the meantime, you can do a quick search to quickly discover that there are several variations of this verse in the early manuscripts.
6. Early Christian Testimony
We do not have the original manuscripts of the books written in the Bible. Our earliest manuscripts are copies prepared centuries after they were originally written. Some manuscripts read "church of God" while many others read "church of the Lord." Our first witness who can testify what the early manuscripts did say is the early Christian Irenaeus who wrote Against Heresies around 180-185 A.D. This is the earliest known version of this verse. He writes:
"Take heed, therefore, both to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops, to rule the Church of the Lord, which He has acquired for Himself through His own blood." (Book III, 14).
Obviously, Irenaeus was quoting from a very early version of Acts which read "Church of the Lord" and not "Church of God." Irenaeus was also extremely adamant about teaching the true teachings passed down by the apostles, and in fact, that just happens to be the topic under discussion when he makes this quotation. While that fact in itself does not prove his reading is correct, it is interesting that we at least take it into consideration. The point here is that his quotation demonstrates that very early manuscripts did indeed indeed read as "Church of the Lord" at Acts 20:28. While it is theoretically possible that other manuscripts were also circulating at that time which showed "church of God," the fact that Irenaeus quotes it as "church of the Lord" is enough to completely render the Trinitarian claim null and void. It is utterlly irresponsible to appeal to the "church of God" rendering of this verse as if it is absolutely certain that this is what Luke wrote, when that is most certainly not the case. We are not certain what he actually wrote. We do have important manuscripts which read "church of the Lord" and this evidence from Irenaeus suggests a very strong indication that this certainly may have been what Luke actually wrote at Acts 20:28 and unless a Trinitarian can undeniably prove otherwise he has no business using Acts 20:28 as Scriptural evidence for his doctrine. But let us not stop here. Even if we suppose Luke did write "church of God" let us also see the problem does not end there for the Trinitarian apologist.
7. The Context
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord of us Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 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 - - - - - - . I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord of us Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of the Lord which He purchased with - - - - - - . I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "
Analysis of the Evidence
1. The Greek word idios ("own") and its use in Koine Greek
It is not uncommon to find Trinitarian commentators and apologists jumping up and down vehemently protesting against other commentators and translators who would translate this passage as "blood of his own son" instead of "his own blood." Now let us be reminded that there are Trinitarian scholars who think it should indeed be translated as "blood of his own [Son]." But it seems that Trinitarian apologists are conveniently ignorant of the facts and claim that since the word "son" is not present in the original Greek, and it is not, then it is completely unfeasible, perhaps dishonest, to translate it as "blood of his own son. These Trinitarian apologists must either be very ignorant of the facts or they are being quite dishonest. The RSV, a major translation that was translated by Trinitarian scholars does indeed translate it as "blood of his own son" and there is a very good reason they do so. It was indeed very common in Koine Greek to use the word "own" as we find it here in Acts 20:28 without explicitly stating an accompanying noun where that noun is implied and there are several examples in the New Testament and even right here in Luke's very own words in the book of Acts.
Concerning this passage, Trinitarian Greek scholar J.H. Moulton tells us that it is quite normal to use the Greek word for "own" without explicitly stating the implied accompanying noun. He writes:
"Before leaving [idious] something should be said about the use of [ho idios] without a noun expressed. This occurs in Jn 1.11; 13.1; Ac 4.23; 24.23. In the papyri we find the singular used thus as a term of endearment to near relations: eg.[ho deina to idio khairein.] In Expositor... I ventured to cite this as a possible encouragement to those (including B.Weiss) who would translate Ac 20.28 'the blood of one who was his own.'" (Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol.1, Prologomena, 2nd edition, 1906, p.90).
The Evidence for this Fact is found throughout the Scriptures
Let us now carefully consider several New Testament examples where the word idios ("own") is used where the idea that is attached to it is not explicitly stated but is indeed implied and expected to be understood by the reader.
|Verse||Literal Text||Implied Meaning
|John 1:11||He came unto his own, and his own did not receive him.||He came unto his own [people] and his own [people] did not receive him.|
|John 13:1||having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end||having loved his own [disciples] he loved them to the end|
|John 19:27||Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother.' And from that hour, the disciple took her to the own ||Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother.' And from that hour, the disciple took her [to his own home].|
|John 19:27||After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. (Douey-Rheims)||After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her [as his own mother].|
|1 Timothy 5:8||But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever||But if anyone does not provide for his own [family], and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.|
|Acts 4:23||And being let go, they went to their own ||And being let go, they went to their own [Christian brethren]|
|Acts 21:6||we went into the ship and they returned to their own||we went into the ship and they returned to their own [lives/families]|
|Acts 24:23||and to forbid none of his own from providing for him and coming to him||and to forbid none of his own [friends] from providing for him and coming to him|
|Acts 28:20||the church... he purchased with the blood of his own||the church... he purchased with the blood of his own [son]|
In all the above examples, one is expected to infer what the speaker or writer is talking about since the object in question is not stated. It is only implied by the context.
The literal word for word translations shown above imply a concept that is not explicitly mentioned in the original Greek text but is most certainly implied. Hence, we can see quite clearly that the word "son" was indeed implied at Acts 20:28, It was common in Koine Greek to use the word "own" in this respect and leave the reader to understand what is implied but not stated. The Implied Meaning is what the writer expects the reader to understand. We can see plainly that there is nothing unusual about first century Greek writers using the word idios ("own") without an accompanying noun and that an idea was simply implied and expected to be understood by the reader. In fact, we can see from the above evidences in Acts that Luke himself has a habit of writing this way. He does the very same thing four times in this same book of Acts. In each and every case, we are are left to infer what the word "own" intends to imply to us.
2. Term of Endearment
There is yet another very important piece of evidence which cannot be ignored. Notice our above examples. In each and every case the possessive "own" refers to dear or loved ones. We happen to do the very same thing in English when we say we "take care of our own." Our own what? Our own loved ones and our own things which are dear to us. These loved ones or things are not stated explicitly but implied in the expression. We are endeared to the things we own; that is why we own them. The term ho idios is also found in Greek papyri as a term of endearment for relatives. In the present sense idios is the
equivalent of Hebrew YAHID, "only," "well-beloved," otherwise rendered beloved, chosen only-begotten (See F.F.Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 3rd ed., p. 434. See J.H. Moulton, MHTI, p. 90).
Note how this concept is clearly presented by Jesus in the Gospel of John.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own (ho idios) but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
What is meant here is not stated by expected to be understood by the reader. In the same way, what is meant at Acts 20:28 is not stated explicitly but expected to be understood by the reader, "the church of God which he bought with the blood of his own Beloved Son."
3. Trinitarian Greek Scholars
Due to the above evidence, there are numerous well known Trinitarian Greek scholars who believe the passage is intended to mean "blood of his own son, including Bruce, Fitzmeyer, Knapp, Pesch, Weiser. This in itself reveals the passage does not support Trinitarian dogma as Trinitarian apologists like to pretend. Fitzmeyer writes:
"The mention of blood" must refer to the vicarious shedding of the blood of Jesus, the Son. Through his blood the Christian community has become God's
own possession, the people acquired for his renewed covenant. Cf. Eph 1:14; Heb 9: 12; 1 Pet 2:9-10, which speak of God acquiring a people, echoing an OT motif (1Sa 43:21; Ps 74:2j. Luke may be thinking of the action of God the Father and the Son as so closely related that his mode of speaking slips from one to the other; if so, it resembles the speech patterns of the Johannine Gospel."
"...he has 'purchased' or obtained it with the blood of his own Son. This translation of v. 28 in the second edition of the RSV is better than that found in the first edition, The Greek text does not contain the word Son, but reads 'his own.' Like 'the Beloved'. (Eph. 1:6), so "his own" refers to the Son of
God. Only once in Acts does Luke speak of the saving efficacy of the death of Jesus (cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Peter 2:24; 3: l8) by using a traditional formulation. God redeemed his people, the church, through the atoning death of his Son, Therefore the church is God's possession."
4. The Greek word dia
The Greek word used at Acts 20:28 is not "with" but "through" (dia) and actually reads "through or "by" the blood of his own" where the word implies a "means." When it is translated as "by" it means "by means of." This is an extremely typical New Testament way of referring to the relationship of God and his Son. Thus if we suppose that "church of God" is authentic, it is even more likely that Acts 20:28 is intended to convey, "he purchased through/by the blood of his own son."
- The text appealed to by Trinitarians is highly questionable concerning its authenticity. Important manuscripts read "church of the Lord" and others read "church of God."
- A comparison of major Trinitarian translations also reflects the doubtful character of their preferred version of the text.
- Irenaeus, an early Christian deeply concerned with preaching the apostolic tradition, quotes this verse as "church of the Lord," and this is the earliest evidence we have for the authenticity of this verse.
- It was quite common in the Bible, and especially in Luke's writings, to use the word "own" without explicitly stating the noun which is implied. This is evidence by several passages we cited. The RSV, a Trinitarian translation, reflects this fact by translating the passage as "blood of his own son."
- It is also know that the ancient Greeks spoke in this manner. They used this kind of terminology to refer to their beloved. And indeed we know that Jesus was God the Father's beloved.
- Given the forceful nature of the evidence, Trinitarians have no grounds for objecting to a "blood of his own son" translation.
If nothing else, Acts 20:28 is plagued with so many difficulties that it renders the passage completely useless as evidence for Trinitarian doctrine. However, it seems they shamelessly promote such things in this irresponsible manner. But it is even worse than just unreliable evidence. Luke may not have even wrote "Church of God" but instead had written "Church of the Lord" as Irenaeus' early quotation indicates. The reasonable person can also see that "God's blood" stands oddly out of place in the Scriptures. And even if the passage was written by Luke to say "church of God", we can see clearly that it was common to use the term "own" without an accompanying noun with the expectation the reader would understand the implied inference to God's beloved son. The implication is not hard to figure out since we are all expected to know it was God's son who shed his blood. And when we add to this the fact that the church was purchased "through" the blood of his own, it really matters not if the passage says "Church of God" or not since this could easily mean and would likely mean "through the blood of his own son." No matter how you slice it and dice it, the Trinitarian has absolutely nothing at Acts 20:28 but his own personal desires to have it as he would like.
Whether Luke wrote "God" or "Lord" is inconclusive. I personally believe he wrote "Lord" for the following reasons. If Luke had written "Lord" the verse could have been misunderstood by a scribe as saying "the church of the Lord (=God) which he bought with the blood of his own," interpreting this to mean "the church of God which He bought with the blood of His own Son." Since he would therefore perceive "the Lord" in this verse is God, not the Son, such a scribe would therefore see no problem writing, "church of God which he bought with the blood of his own." Later scribes would then read this same verse as, "the church of God which he bought with his own blood." And a serious error is perpetuated simply because the initial scribe did not realize the implications of changing the term "the Lord" to "God" because he was unaware that the verse ending could be potentially read in two different ways.
Last Updated: July 18, 2012