leverandfulcrum02Acts 28 Part 5

28. “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”

Now we come to a verse that I believe to be one of the most important passages in the entire New Testament. I have long been convinced that Acts 28:28 marks a very significant dispensational boundary line. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it marks a second great turning point in the flow of history as it is recorded in the New Testament. When Paul made this momentous declaration, many things changed. Things that were true before were suddenly true no longer. Things that were not true before suddenly became true, and have been that way ever since. While not everything changed, for there certainly were things that carried through, enough things changed to mark this as a most important pivotal moment. My entire understanding of Scripture, as well as my understanding of God’s work today and of my own place in it, is predicated upon the important truth that is revealed by God through Paul in this passage.

Now since I believe that this verse is so pivotal, it is clear that it is deserving of the most careful study. If this statement is so far-reaching and momentous, we must discover what the great change is that God brought about by these few, succinct words. In order to determine its significance, first we must determine exactly what it was that Paul said. In other words, we must be sure that we have the proper translation. Then, we must discover what he meant by what he said. In other words, we must be sure that we have the proper interpretation. But we can never interpret it rightly until we have translated it rightly.

There are several important words here whose translation and interpretation need to be considered. First is the word “salvation.” This is the word soterion in Greek. Though in English this word has been translated as a noun, “salvation” in Greek this word is actually an adjective. The noun form would be soteria, and that is what Paul would have used had he meant to say simply “salvation.” Soterion means “saving, bringing salvation” according to Strong’s. Thayer defines it the same way. Therefore, this would make this to say “the salvation-bringing of God.” This makes no sense as it is, but this is literally how the Greek reads. The question is how to make sense of this statement.

We know that the way adjectives work is that they describe and modify a noun. One takes a simple noun like “car” and modifies it with an adjective, “the red car.” This word “car” can no longer mean a car of any color, but refers specifically to a car that is red, thanks to the use of this adjective. Yet since adjectives are used to modify a noun, an adjective cannot appear without a noun. In fact, this feature of adjectives leads to another definition of the word “adjective” as something that cannot stand alone. Any time an adjective appears to stand alone, as in this case, something special must be going on in the sentence. We need to dig a little harder, because this simply cannot be. An adjective cannot stand alone without a noun.

Now here we see the adjective soterion standing alone in the sentence. It is in a place where we would expect a noun, and in fact our New King James translators have translated it by a noun. Yet the word is not a noun, but an adjective. When this happens in a sentence, when an adjective is put in the place where a noun should be, this is called a substantive. This adjective is acting independently of a noun here, and is acting like a noun.

The question is, how are we to understand the statement that “the salvation-bringing of God has been sent to the Gentiles”? I believe that we should understand this as an ellipsis. An ellipsis is a sentence where a word or words have been left out of the sentence by the speaker that must be added back in for the sentence to make sense, particularly when translating that sentence into another language.

A good example of an ellipsis that I have often used is a little girl complaining to her parents about her brother, and saying, “I want an ice cream cone like Billy!” Imagine the confusion this might cause for the speaker of another language if you translated it literally as she said it. She wants an ice cream cone that is like her brother? What does she want, an ice cream cone that is shaped like him? Does she want it to breathe like he does, to talk like he does, to act like he does? Of course not! She would probably be rather terrified if you actually offered her such a thing. She does not really want an ice cream cone that is like her brother, even though she said she did. What she meant is that she wants an ice cream cone that is like her brother’s ice cream cone.

Now I do not believe that her parents would be at all confused by what she said. They would immediately understand that she wanted an ice cream cone like Billy has, and not that she wants one that is in some way like him. Even though her sentence makes no sense, their minds have interpreted it for them so that it makes perfect sense. They did not have to sit around and think, “Now, what did she mean? Did she mean she wants an ice cream cone that is in some essential way like her brother? No, that isn’t what she meant. She must have left some words out. Ah, I know. She meant, ‘I want an ice cream cone like Billy ice cream cone.’ No, that isn’t right either. When she made this ellipsis, she changed the word “Billy” to a declarative, but it really needs to be a possessive. ‘I want an ice cream cone like Billy’s ice cream cone.’ That is what she meant. Now I know what she wants.” No, her parents didn’t have to do any of this. Their minds gave them the meaning of her statement with no effort expended on their part. Yet a translator, taking this girl’s statement from English to another language, might have to go through exactly this thought process in order to get to a translation that makes any sense in the language he is translating it into.

Now this demonstrates for us another important feature of ellipses. That is, two different languages seldom use the same ellipses in the same way. The words that you could leave out in one language are necessary for things to make any sense in another. In other cases, leaving the same words out in a translation might give entirely the wrong impression. For example, leaving the word “is” out in the statements, “Bob going to the store. Bob hungry!” If someone said this in English, he would sound like some kind of ignorant cave man, and his statement would probably produce laughter in those who heard it. However, in Greek, it is perfectly fine to leave “is” out in these cases, and one who did it would still sound perfectly well-educated. This ellipsis cannot carry over, not because it doesn’t make sense, but because it sounds ignorant.

So we have an ellipsis in Greek here, but to make it work in English, we really need to figure out what word (or words) is left out, so that we can supply it and make the sentence sound sensible and correct, as well as make the meaning clear. First, let us consider the other uses of this word in the New Testament to see if this will give us any clues. This word is first used in Luke 2:30.

30. For my eyes have seen your salvation.

These are the words of the righteous man Simeon. He had been informed by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ or Messiah. Now, he was led into the temple by the Spirit, and it was revealed to him that the infant Jesus was the Messiah he was waiting for. He took the Lord in his arms and declared, “My eyes have seen your salvation-bringing.” What did he mean? What word should be used to fill in the ellipsis here? I think from the context there can be little doubt. He meant, “My eyes have seen your salvation-bringing Messiah.”

This highlights for us another important feature of ellipses. The words left out are almost always used immediately in context, and when they are not, they are clearly implied by the context. For example, in the little girl’s ellipsis in my illustration, “I want an ice cream cone like Billy,” the words “ice cream cone” were right there in the context. When figuring out what words to supply in the ellipsis, one would not have to leave that very sentence to find the words. In Simeon’s statement, the word “Messiah” or Christ was a few verses back, but still clearly in the sentence and easily supplied.

Luke 3:6 is our next occurrence of soterion. “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

This verse is quoting a prophecy from the book of Isaiah that Luke is revealing was fulfilled in John the Baptizer. Luke equates him to the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” His complete statement is, “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation-bringing of God.” In this context, the Lord is talking about God’s great saving work in the kingdom of God, when he brings low the governments (the mountains and hills) and makes all the crooked places straight and all the rough ways smooth. This is the time when God acts and does a work to change the world and all that is in it. The meaning then would seem to be, “All flesh shall see the salvation-bringing work of God.”

Next comes Acts 28:28, which is our topic, so we will pass over it for now. After that we have Ephesians 6:17.

17. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

This is in the passage that is outlining the full armor of God that the believer of today needs to wear. This section completes the armor with the helmet of salvation-bringing and the sword of the Spirit. Yet the word “and” here is the Greek word kai, which I believe is used appositionally here. The helmet of salvation is the same thing as the sword of the Spirit in this case. So I would make this, “And take the helmet of the salvation-bringing word, even the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Our final occurrence is in Titus 2:11.

11. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

This is the one case in the New Testament where the adjective has not really been used substantively. I would make this, “For the salvation-bringing grace of God has appeared to all men.”

So we come back to Acts 28:28. We have seen in our other occurrences of soterion a salvation-bringing Messiah, a salvation-bringing work, a salvation-bringing word, and a salvation-bringing grace. We can see that in each case, the meaning of “salvation-bringing” and the noun that should be supplied in the ellipsis was inherent and easily discovered in the passage itself and in the immediate context. We would expect that the same will be true in the consideration of Acts 28:28.

If we would consider what has been said so far in this passage, Paul has been speaking all day to the leading Jews in Rome. He has explained to them and solemnly testified the kingdom of God and persuaded them concerning Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the prophets. The words he has spoken to them have been words that could have brought them salvation, had they believed them. However, those he is talking to, which make up about fifty percent of those who heard him that day, have not believed what he had to say. Therefore, he lets them know that the salvation-bringing message which they have heard all this day is now sent to the Gentiles. It is a message from God that could have brought them salvation that they have heard, and it is this message now that is sent. So I would make this phrase, “the salvation-bringing message of God.”

So we have examined this important word “salvation.” The next word we need to examine to fully understand the significance of this momentous declaration is the word “sent.” This word is the Greek word apostello. There are two words for sending in Greek. One is this word, and the other is pempo. We need to compare and contrast these two to understand why this word is used, and how it is different than if the other word had been used.

A pempo sending is the most basic kind of a sending. It is often used of sending someone to do something. It emphasizes the arrival of the sent one at the place where he was being sent, rather than his exit from the one sending him.

An apostello type of sending, on the other hand, has to do with an official sending, or a sending with authority. The one who is sent is equipped do accomplish whatever he is sent to do. He is either sent with authority, or sent with things intended for someone else.

An illustration of the difference between these two would be the sending of a person to, say, Honduras. If I gave you the money to go and got you a plane ticket, you would have been pempo sent by me to Honduras. However, if the President of the United States sent you to Honduras to be the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, you would have been sent there, but it would be a different kind of a sending entirely. This time, you were sent with an authority, and were given the power to do a work while you were there. This would be an apostello sending, and would be far more significant than just being sent on a vacation. Instead, you would have been sent with authority or commissioned to Honduras.

So the idea of an apostello sending is of being sent with authority or commissioned. Yet in this case, what is sent with authority is not a person, but a thing, the salvation-bringing message. It does not fit so well to call a thing “commissioned.” When apostello is used for animals or for inanimate objects, the idea is more of authorizing a thing for a certain use. A good example of this is Mark 4:29.

29. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

The words “puts in” are a translation of our word apostello here. Our translators have not made this “sent,” for clearly the meaning is not that his harvesters did not have a sickle, and so he sent them one he had. What it means is that he authorized the sickle to be used. As the owner of the grain, it is his job to decide when to authorize the sickle. If he does it too soon, the grain is not sufficiently ripe, and the crop will not be as good as it could be. If he waits too long, however, the grain might over-ripen, and again the harvest will be damaged. The owner, then, must authorize the sickle at the time he thinks is right. That is what the man in the Lord’s parable does here.

So this last meaning, that of authorizing, is what is in view here in Acts 28:28. The salvation-bringing message of God is being sent, but it is being sent in an apostello manner. In other words, it is being authorized.

The next important word to consider is the word “Gentiles.” We have dealt with this word before, but let us consider it once more in this context. This word is a translation of the Greek word ethnos. This word does not mean “Gentile,” but “nation.” A good illustration of this is John 11:47-48, where the chief priests and Pharisees worry, saying:

“What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”

This last word “nation” is a translation of the Greek word ethnos, which is often translated “Gentile.” Notice that this word could not possibly be translated “Gentile” here. Certainly, these leaders of Israel did not have some kind of pet Gentile who was precious to them, and whom they did not want the Romans to come and take away from them. They were talking about a nation, not a Gentile. So I believe this word should always be translated “nation” or “nations,” depending on if it is singular or plural, and never should be translated “Gentile” or “Gentiles.”

Now it is true that sometimes the context of the statement in which the word ethnos is used will show that the word is used in context to mean nations other than Israel. Yet this can usually be determined from context, and it would be better translating to allow the reader to figure out this for himself. The problem is that translating this word “Gentiles” in many passages has obscured the truth. I believe one such occurrence is here in Acts 28:28.

The fact is that the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul did not mean to exclude Israel in using the word ethnos here. The nation of Israel is not the one nation on earth to whom the salvation-bringing message of God is not authorized today. They certainly must be included in this statement as much as any other nation. Yet they are cut out of it completely if we translate the word ethnos by “Gentiles.” This should not be done.

So far we have this saying that “the salvation-bringing message of God is authorized to the nations.” We have one last word to consider, and that is the word for “they will hear.” This is the Greek word akouo. This word does mean “to hear,” but following out its many occurrences in Scripture will lead one to the conviction that it carries the more significant idea of understanding or comprehending what is heard. One who akouo hears both hears and perceives what he has heard. It is understandable to him, and he grasps the real message of it. Otis Sellers has suggested the translation of “it will get through to them” as a good one to express the idea here.

So we finish with the following translation, as suggested by our studies above, and suggested by Otis Sellers in his Resultant Version.

Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation-bringing message of God is now authorized (made freely available) unto the nations, and it will get through to them.