Acts 20:28 Whose blood?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Mar 29 1999 - 12:54:25 EST

Last week I received a message from a former list-member about this
passage, with the problematic nature of which I must confess I have been
unfamiliar. After checking it out a bit more carefully, I sent him a reply
on last Saturday indicating the conclusion that I express below, but for
more intuitive reasons without having investigated versions or discussions
of the text in the literature. Then yesterday I started investigating
standard translations and was amazed to see both the numbers of versions
favoring each of the two likely readings and understandings of the texts,
surprised also to see that relatively few of the versions footnoted the
fact that the Greek is really ambiguous.

With some trepidation I've decided to share this with B-Greek: although the
way one reads this text has theological repercussions, it seems to me that
one OUGHT to be able to decide for one or the other of the alternatives (or
suggest yet other alternatives?) on the basis of the Greek grammar and
style. So here it is.

At 7:40 AM -0700 3/25/99, Randall Tidmore wrote:
I left b-greek a good while back, just to avoid the volume of e-mail. I
though I would be able to write directly to you. If you wish to share this
with the list, I don't mind. Feel free to adapt it to make it proper for
the list.

I know that this passage has some serious theological implications, but
what I want to know is grammatical. In Acts 20:28, it says that the church
of God was bought/acquired by/through the blood the own. In <a certain
version of the> Bible" they translate it as God purchasing the church by
the blood of His own Son.

Is there anything in the grammar that allows <that> translation? Does the
Greek leave any doubt as to <whose> blood it was?

Thanks Carl!
Randall Tidmore

The Greek text of Acts 20:28 is ambiguous: PROSECETE hEAUTOIS KAI PANTI TWi
hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU, "the church of God, which he acquired
{(a) through (his) own blood}
{(b) through the blood of (his) own (son)."

One look at the text makes it evident that this is not really an easy
problem to resolve. Clearly it involves theological issues, since, unless I
seriously misunderstand traditional trinitarian doctrine (which may well be
the case), even if Jesus is said to be identical with God the Father, the
persons are differentiated and it seems strange to say that God acquired
the church through his own blood rather than through the blood of is son.
But of course one might want to argue that "the church of God" here really
means "the church of Jesus Christ." In any case the phrasing seems strange,
and I would like to ask the question whether the meaning of DIA TOU
hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU can be resolved intelligibly WITHOUT taking theological
implications into consideration. While Mr. Tidmore's question had led me to
think that the understanding of TOU IDIOU as meaning "his own son" was a
heterodox view, it occurred to me to check some standard versions and see
what I found. Had I not been utterly naive about this passage, perhaps I
would not have been surprised. What I found is this. Versions representing

{(a) "through (his) own blood}."
--French LS "par son propre sang."
--German Luther "durch sein eigen Blut."
--KJV "with his own blood."
--NKJV "with His own blood.
--NIV "with his own blood."
--Latin-Vulgate"sanguine suo."
--ASV "with his own blood."
--NEB "by his own blood [Or, acc. to some witnesses, 'by the blood of his Own']

{(b) "through the blood of (his) own (son)."
--French Darby "par le sang de son propre [fils]."
--German Elber "durch das Blut seines Eigenen."
--RSV "with the blood of his own Son."[but with footnote indicating variants]
--NRSV "with the blood of his own Son.[Or: 'with his own blood'; Gk 'with
the blood of his Own.']
--NET "with the blood of his own Son. [footnote 110 on this which I wasn't
able to access; the site exhausts even huge memory resources]
--TEV) "through the death of his Son ['the death of his Son' or 'his own

That is to say, some of these versions resolve the ambiguity one way or the
other and do not even indicate in a footnote that alternative
understandings of the Greek text are possible, the exceptions being RSV,
NET, NEB, and TEV.

The problem:
(1) DIA TOU hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU could mean either (a) "through his own
blood" or (b) "through the blood of his own (one/son)."

(2) The more normal way of expressing the content of "through his own
blood" in classical Attic would be DIA TOU hEAUTOU hAIMATOS or DIA TOU
hAIMATOS TOU hEAUTOU; or one might find an instrumental dative instead of
DIA + gen., and, of course, the use of hAIMA here has to be viewed as a
Semitism. DIA TOU IDIOU hAIMATOS would also be appropriate for that sense,
and in fact, DIA TOU IDIOU hAIMATOS is what the Majority Text shows--but
that's not in the ancient MSS.

(3) While I don't believe that one could safely argue that DIA TOU hAIMATOS
TOU IDIOU is in any way ungrammatical or unintelligible, I DO think one
could easily argue that DIA TOU hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU is unidiomatic if it is
supposed to mean "through his own blood." Although it is a bit awkward to
have a second genitive phrase dependent on another in the same case,
gender, and number, this would hardly be a unique NT instance of that
sequence; and so, DIA TOU hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU can very readily be understood
to mean "through the blood of his own (one/son)."

(4) There is no really clear antecedent in the text of the sentence or in
the larger context, so far as I can see, of "his own." There is reference
to the Holy Spirit, which is said to have "made you overseers/bishops to
act as shepherds over the church of God"--and one could as easily discern a
reference to God (the father) either in "the church of God" or in verse 27,
THN BOULHN TOU QEOU, "the will of God." But there is no reference anywhere
in verse 28 or in the larger complex of verses 25-28 to Jesus.

(5) So what are the options? What should we understand to be the subject of

(a) I don't think I'd understand it to be TO PNEUMA TO hAGION, although
that's not out of the question either, especially since that's the subject

(b) Is it God (the father)? It seems a bit strange for the text to be
saying, "God (the father) acquired the church of God through his own
blood,"--doesn't that sound strange? I think that's a legitimate way of
understanding the Greek text, but I still don't think it is quite right;

(c) The third option, the one which I would prefer because it seems to me
to fit Greek usage best is to suppose that hUIOU is IMPLIED by DIA TOU
hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU. So, although understanding the text to mean "God
obtained ... through God's own blood" does seem to me for idiomatic reasons
to be justifiable only if one reads DIA TOU IDIOU hAIMATOS, while the
reading DIA TOU hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU seems for idiomatic reasons to be better
understood as "God obtained ... through the blood of His own (son).

This morning I've checked the commentary of F.F. Bruce, who is certainly a
conservative yet careful scholar (F.F.Bruce, _The Acts of the Apostles:
Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary_ 3rd ed.). On p. 434 he writes:
DIA TOU hAIMATOS TOU IDIOU: "with the blood of his own one; byz reads DIA
TOU IDIOU hAIMATOS, "with his own blood." In the present sense IDIOS is the
equivalent of Heb. YAHID, "only," "well-beloved," otherwise rendered
AGAPHTOS, EKLEKTOS, MONOGENHS. For the absolute sense of hO IDIOS (but in
the plural) cf. 4:23; 24:23; also Jn 1:11; 13:1. (Cf. TA IDIA, "one's own
place," 21:6). In the papyri we find the singular used thus as a term of
endearment to near relations, e.g. hO DEINA TWi IDIWi CAIREIN ["So-and-so
to his own (friend), greeting']" (J.H. Moulton, MHTI, p. 90). It is
unnecessary to conjecture, with Hort, that hUIOU may have fallen out after

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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