Kerygma of the Faith – in Acts?

Peter preaches.

A lot of the biblical commentary in cyberspace is on faith, works and justification. Anyone who knows the demographics of Christianity here in the United States would not be surprised. To a Catholic such as myself, nothing is more frustrating that reading the Pauline letters elevated to Gospel status.

Theologically, speaking, we always need to return to the Gospels to make sure our interpretation of the faith squares with the words of Jesus. For, I would argue, the Gospels contain the “kerygma” of the faith. The term kerygma comes form the Greek word – κηρύσσω – “I proclaim.” Kerygma is a proclamation or core statement of the faith.

Now, tell many Christians that the Pauline letters do not possess the kerygma of the faith and they will have a fit. The word “kerygma” after all, is Pauline and not found in the Gospels. Evangelicals will tell you that you can’t understand the NT without Romans. Scriptural scholars will tell you that Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels, and therefore, more accurately transmit the kerygma of the faith.

Is the kerygma of the faith contained either in a) the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, or b) in the experience of the church after the resurrection?  Bultmann, for example, might argue that the core message of the faith is found in the life of Christ. No surprise here, since his field of expertise was the Gospels. On the other hand, one can argue that the kerygma of the faith cannot be found in the Gospels, as they contain the words of Jesus and not an account as to how the early, post-Resurrection church received those words.

Some scholars view the differences among the gospels, the Pauline epistles and Acts as being so substantive as to suggest that the theology is not always consistent. Where then, can the kerygma of the faith be located?  I am not sure, after blogging away for eighteen months, and having studied theology for four years before that, that such cynicism is justified.

Many scholars would agree that Luke-Acts is the place to start to understand the kerygma of the faith. This position is fairly mainstream, and it is based on the fact that Acts contains the most substantive account of the the work of the disciples soon after the Ascension of Jesus.

C.H Dodd argues in Apostolic Preaching and Its Development that the best post-Resurrection synthesis of the kerygma of the faith is to be found in Peter’s four speeches given in the first half of the Acts of the Apostles. The first two sermons are given at Pentecost, in Acts 2:14-36 and 38-39. The third is given (Acts 3:12-26) after Peter heals the lame man, and the fourth is given before the hostile Sanhedrin in Acts 4:8-15.

According to Dodd, here’s the summary of Peter’s preaching – the kerygma of the faith:

1.The Age of Fulfillment has begun, the last days foretold by the prophets. Acts 2:17-21
2.The birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has inaugurated this new epoch. Acts 2:23-24
3.Jesus, through his Passion, has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messiah and king of a new Israel. Acts 2:24-36
4.The Holy Spirit in the church was sent by Christ as a sign of God’s power and glory. Acts 2: 1-4
5.The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ. Acts 2:19-20
6.An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation. Acts 2:21,38

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