This Sunday I will be participating in a chat with Dr. Jeffery Garner at the San Francisco Lighthouse Church on Acts 20.13-38. Our primary subject is how the Apostle Paul multiplied himself by choosing overseers for the church, and the role of those people, but there is an interesting text critical issue that caught my attention as well. In v. 28 there is a statement that could result in a very high Christology. It reads, “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 his own blood.” If this is the reading then we have language that is very incarnational. Christ’s death is seen as the death of God.

This is based on text evidence that includes the words ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ. Of course, there is a variant reading: ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ κυρίου. The former seems a bit odd for Luke-Acts wherein the author is focused on Jesus, the Lord. Yet there seems to be some evidence for this reading.

Bruce Metzger writes the following:

The external evidence is singularly balanced between “church of God” and “church of the Lord” (the reading “church of the Lord and God” is obviously conflate, and therefore secondary—as are also the other variant readings). Palaeographically the difference concerns only a single letter: ΘΥ and ΚΥ. In deciding between the two readings one must take into account internal probabilities.

The expression ἐκκλησία κυρίου occurs seven times in the Septuagint but nowhere in the New Testament. On the other hand, ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ appears with moderate frequency (eleven times) in the Epistles traditionally ascribed to Paul, but nowhere else in the New Testament. (The phrase αἱ ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι τοῦ Χπιστοῦ occurs once in Ro 16:16.) It is possible, therefore, that a scribe, finding θεοῦ in his exemplar, was influenced by Old Testament passages and altered it to κυρίου. On the other hand, it is also possible that a scribe, influenced by Pauline usage, changed κυρίου of his exemplar to θεοῦ.

In support of the originality of κυρίου is the argument (urged by a number of scholars) that copyists were likely to substitute the more common phrase ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ for the more rare phrase ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ κυρίου.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that θεοῦ is the more difficult reading. The following clause speaks of the church “which he obtained διὰ τοῦ αἴματος τοῦ ἰδίου.” If this is taken in its usual sense (“with his own blood”), a copyist might well raise the question, Does God have blood?, and thus be led to change θεοῦ to κυρίου. If, however, κυρίου were the original reading, there is nothing unusual in the phrase to catch the mind of the scribe and throw it off its balance. This and other considerations led the Committee (as well as a variety of other scholars) to regard θεοῦ as the original reading.

Instead of the usual meaning of διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ ἰδίου, it is possible that the writer of Acts intended his readers to understand the expression to mean “with the blood of his Own.” (It is not necessary to suppose, with Hort, that υἱοῦ may have dropped out after τοῦ ἰδίου, though palaeographically such an omission would have been easy.) This absolute use of ὁ ἴδιος is found in Greek papyri as a term of endearment referring to near relatives. It is possible, therefore, that “his Own” (ὁ ἴδιος) was a title that early Christians gave to Jesus, comparable to “the Beloved” (ὁ ἀγαπητός); compare Ro 8:32, where Paul refers to God “who did not spare τοῦ ἰδίου υἱοῦ” in a context that clearly alludes to Gn 22:16, where the Septuagint has ἀγαπητοῦ υἱοῦ.

Without committing itself concerning what some have thought to be a slight probability that τοῦ ἰδίου is used here as the equivalent of τοῦ ἰδίου υἱοῦ, the Committee judged that the reading θεοῦ was more likely to have been altered to κυρίου than vice versa.[1]


In the SBL GNT Appendix it notes these two alternate readings, yet Michael W. Holmes went with θεοῦ. Again, if it is the “church of God” that God purchased with “his own blood” this is a fascinating claim. For you text critics out there is there any additional data of which you think I should be aware before I read this text as the “church of God”. Would you recommend reading it this way but noting the textual variation in order to maintain integrity or do you feel that the “church of God” reading is solid enough that this would be superfluous?

[1] Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (425–427). London; New York: United Bible Societies.