The Work of the Sabbath: Radicalization of Old Testament Law in Acts 1–4 -- By: Ryan P. O’Dowd

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 01:1 (Winter 2010)
Article: The Work of the Sabbath: Radicalization of Old Testament Law in Acts 1–4
Author: Ryan P. O’Dowd


The Work of the Sabbath: Radicalization of Old Testament Law in Acts 1–4

Ryan P. O’Dowd

Cornell University

Jesus’ relationship to the normative Old Testament thus reflects both continuity and radicalization. His disciples are not yet finished with the structured righteousness of the law and the prophets. Yet this structured righteousness of the Old Testament must always be interpreted and applied in the light of fulfillment in Christ.1

So argues David Holwerda in his book Jesus and Israel, a study of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in the light of post-Holocaust Christian theology. Holwerda’s study, however, is particularly focused on Jesus and, perhaps for this reason, does not address the important passage in Acts 1–4 where it is the anointing of the Spirit that provides the lens to issues of OT and NT continuity. This essay seeks to extend Holwerda’s programmatic question “who is Jesus?”2 (and what is his relationship to the OT?) to ask “who is this Trinitarian God” in the light of Acts 1–4.

In what follows I argue that these early chapters in Acts should be read, among other things, largely within the context of the theology of the Sabbath and festival laws in Deuteronomy 14–16. Such a task, I believe, opens for us a window into the way the early church experienced, understood, and responded to the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit.

The scene in Acts 2–4 is easily familiar with its scenes of repentance, baptism, speaking in tongues and prophecy that accompany the experience of a new communal identity and the radical acts of mission and fellowship that arise within that community. NT scholars generally acknowledge that Luke’s Pentecost narrative borrows a vision from Joel 2 as well as OT laws of Sabbath and Pentecost – some even citing Deuteronomy 15 or 16. But no one to my knowledge has attempted to read this passage in Acts with careful attention to the literary and theological aspects of Sabbath laws in Deuteronomy 15–16, leaving the passage and the NT

theology of Sabbath underdeveloped. I imagine that such a reading would require a full monograph and this essay merely seeks to lay a three part foundation for such a study. It is first necessary to introduce th...

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