Friday Facts is a weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule.
34 And having opened his mouth, Peter said, “Truly, I realize that God is not someone who shows partiality, 35 but in all nations, the one who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. 36 This is the word that He sent to the children of Israel, proclaiming peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know the things that happened throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee with baptism that John proclaimed, 38 when God anointed Jesus from Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, who went throughout the land, doing good works and healing everyone who was dominated by the devil, because God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of everything which he did in the Judean countryside and Jerusalem, he, whom they murdered, having him hung on a cross. 40 This man, God raised on the third day and allowed him to become visible, 41 not to all people, but to the witnesses who were hand-picked by God, us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to proclaim to the people and to witness that he is the one who God appointed to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets witness to this man, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
In the first half of the Acts of the Apostles, before the spotlight turns to Paul, Peter preaches a handful of sermons, of which this is the next to last. This particular sermon, preached by Peter to the household of Cornelius, contains a number of potential starting points. For example, the Apostles Creed echoes several verses in Peter’s sermon. Peter’s use of the word “witness,” which in Greek is the same word as “martyr,” also deserves further study. But tonight, the most interest for me lies the word at the end of verse 39. In describing the Jesus’ death, Peter reminds Cornelius’ household that he died having been “hung on a cross.” The word in Greek is ξύλον and it holds a double meaning. On the on hand, as I’ve translated it, it can refer to the cross on which the Romans crucified criminals. On the other hand, it’s basic semantic sense is simply “tree.” And by choosing to talk about a tree, Peter draws together the entire story of redemption. You see, Peter could have chosen the other Koine Greek word for cross, σταυρός, as used in the Gospels. But, instead, by choosing ξύλον, Peter ties the crucifixion of Jesus to the beginning and the end of human history. At the beginning of the Bible, in the Greek translation of Genesis chapter three, the serpent entices the man and woman to eat from a tree (ξύλον). In the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, the tree (ξύλον) of life stands in the middle of the New Jerusalem, and the “leaves of the tree (ξύλον) are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22.2). At the beginning, at the end, and in the middle stands of human history stands a ξύλον. And that ξύλον is the cross of Jesus Christ that takes away the sins of the world.