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The Cornerstone: There is Salvation in No One Else

by Brant Pitre July 15, 2021 0 Comments

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Dr. Brant Pitre discusses Peter and John's encounter with the Sanhedrin. Peter proclaims Jesus to be the "cornerstone" and that "there is salvation in no one else." This was taken from the Mass Readings Explained. Subscribers can find the full video here:


So a couple of quick points. Number one, the initial context of the reading I’m about to give you from Acts, it takes place in the wake of the disciples having been arrested in Jerusalem for performing a miracle, and for beginning to preach the gospel. So this is basically set in the context of early persecution of Peter and James and John, not by pagans, not by the Roman Empire, but by the Jerusalem leaders; Ca’iaphas, Annas, the same men who had Jesus put to death on the cross of Calvary, right. So what's happening, a second point, is that people are beginning to hear the good news from Peter and James and John and the apostles, and conversions are starting to take place. In fact, in Acts 4:3 it says that 5,000 people had come to believe after hearing the word of the apostles preaching in the city. So I want you to think about that too as the context. Another reason Peter and the disciples have been arrested is because this thing is getting out of control, okay.

One of the caricatures of Christian history that my students frequently bring into the classroom because it's everywhere is the idea that Gentiles listen to the gospel but the Jews didn't convert. I’ll have students ask me all the time, well Dr. Pitre why didn’t the Jews believe in Jesus? And, I always have to tell them well first of all your question presupposes something that isn't actually true. If you read the Book of Acts you’ll see not only did some Jews convert, but many Jews converted. In fact, Acts 4 here is describing only Jews, these are the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And so we have 5,000 Jews, at least 5,000 Jews becoming disciples of Jesus, becoming believers, being baptized in the early years of Christianity, right. So it’s, in other words, Christianity is spreading like wildfire through Judaism, in Jerusalem, in the capital city, and that's why the leaders of the people are starting to get alarmed. So what happens? The high priest, Annas and Ca’iaphas, and some of the other members of the high priestly family, call Peter and John, they take the disciples, they arrest them, and they bring them before them and ask them a key question. And, this is the key question, it says, when they had set them in their midst they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” In other words, by what power are you performing these miracles, and in what name are you accomplishing these things, right.

Now that reading, that verse, isn’t included in the lectionary, but it's crucial to understanding Peter's response, because it's the same question that was posed to Jesus during his public ministry. When he was going around proclaiming the good news and performing miracles, some of the Jewish leaders accused him of doing so by the power of Satan, by the power of the devil. So they’re asking Peter basically a question of authority, right, by what power are you doing this. Just like they asked about John the Baptist, by what authority does he baptize, okay, that's the issue. And, with that context in mind let's read the reading now, and how Peter responds:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Alright, well first thing I hope that gives you a little bit more context here. I want you to think about this for a second. Peter is addressing this speech to Annas and Ca’iaphas, and the members of the High Priestly family, the very men who handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified. So when he says whom you crucified, there’s a historical context there, he’s actually talking to the men who did in fact hand Jesus over to be put to death. And, yet notice this Peter is no longer afraid of these men. This is the same Peter whom, when he was in Ca’iaphas' courtyard, denied that he even knew Jesus three times, because he was afraid, because he was weak. Well after Pentecost that fear is gone, now Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit, we see it in that verse there. And, what does the Holy Spirit do, what does that grace of Pentecost do? It gives him the courage to bear witness to the gospel, even if it cost him his life, which it may well do, I mean he doesn't know at this point what’s going to happen as a result of these hearings. He too could be dragged off, handed over to the Romans and crucified, but he’s not afraid of that, he's not worried about that anymore, because he’s filled with the Holy Spirit and with the proclamation of the good news.

Another element of this is that Peter affirms, answers their question by saying it is through Jesus Christ of Nazareth we perform this miracle, and it’s by his authority and in his name that we proclaim this good news to you today, right. That he whom you killed has been raised from the dead, that God has raised him up, and that in doing so, number three, he's fulfilled a prophecy. Now you might not see it too clearly, but when Peter says, “this is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the head of the corner,” he's alluding there to Psalm 118. Psalm 118, by the time you got to the First Century A.D., was interpreted as a Psalm about the Messiah. It's a Psalm of David, who was considered the anointed one, but it's seen as being prophetically fulfilled in the Messiah, and Peter says that Psalm was fulfilled in so far as you rejected him and put him to death. An analogy that he is using here of a stone and a cornerstone and the builders is a temple analogy. In other words, the Jerusalem leaders, the high priests were supposed to be the guardians and the builders of the temple. Well Jesus comes along as the anointed one, as the Messiah, and one of the things the Messiah was supposed to do was to build a new temple, right. But instead of accepting the Messiah and instead of accepting the new temple that the Messiah would bring, and the Scripture said it would bring, the high priests and the leaders in Jerusalem rejected him, right. They rejected the cornerstone of the new temple itself, and in that sense kind of put themselves outside of the new temple. So Peter here is quoting Psalms and showing that Christ has fulfilled this particular prophecy.

And, then fourth and finally, and this is something I think is very significant for us especially in our day and time, notice what Peter says. He doesn't just identify Jesus as the Messiah, he goes further and says that from now on salvation will take place only through Christ. He says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Now in our day and time again, not only of multi-denominationalism, but also religious pluralism, of a proliferation of world religions, so many religions around the world, and so much exposure to the global reality of human life and human religion and the vast diversity of peoples and cultures, one of the things that people can struggle with is, is Christianity the only way, right. Is Christ the only way of salvation or are all the religions of the world, you know, basically just different paths to God? Are they all different ways of achieving the same end? And in our day and time, it's very tempting, and in fact very popular, to say that all religions are basically, in a sense, created equal so to speak, they’re just different ways to the one same God. That's not the biblical view and that's certainly not what Peter’s saying here. In Acts 4 he’s very clear, there is salvation in no one else, and there's no other name under heaven by which we may be saved, whether it be Buddha or Mohammed or whatever other name there might be of a founder of a world religion or even a minor religion. Christ and Christ alone is the source of all salvation, and that's a particularly scandalous dimension of the Christian good news. For my part, I think one of the most radical things Jesus says in the gospels is from the Gospel of John, when he says I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me, right. Basically Peter here is making the same kind of statement to the Jerusalem temple leaders in the city.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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