Jesus, The Archegos Of Life

In a recent live video discussion with a Trinitarian Christian, it was brought up by this person that Jesus is the author or originator of life, based on Acts 3:15. This person understood this to mean that Jesus is the creator, the source from which all life comes. Having looked into this passage before, I immediately knew that this person had wrongly apprehended the passage. Wanting to reassure myself that I understood what the true meaning of this passage was, I looked deeper into the meaning of the Greek word archegos, which is translated as author, prince, or originator in most English versions. What I found confirmed what I already knew, but also gave me a deeper appreciation for this passage. In this article, I share with you my research in the hope that you too will gain a greater appreciation for this passage and what it means for you.

Acts 3:15 In Translation

Acts 3:15 – “You killed the archegos of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

NET – “Originator of life”
ESV – “Author of life”
NASB – “Prince of life”
HCSV – “source of life”
CEV – “the one who leads people to life”
GNT – “the one who leads to life”
NCV – “the One who gives life”
NLV – “the very One Who made all life”

We can see from the varied ways that archegos is translated, that it is not just a simple matter. Why are there so many options? Some of these translations (NET,ESV,HCSV,NCV,NLV) could certainly imply that Jesus is the Creator of life, while others (NASB,CEV,GNT) would not imply that at all. Since the English versions present an ambiguity as to exactly what kind of relationship between Jesus and life is being asserted here, we must look to the lexicons to see if we can obtain a clearer definition of archegos.

Archegos – The Lexical Data

Thayers Greek Lexicon:
ἀρχηγός, ἀρχηγόν, adjective, leading, furnishing the first cause or occasion . . . chiefly used as a substantive . . .
1. the chief leader, prince
2. one that takes the lead in anything and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter
3. the author

BDAG:
1. one who has a preeminent position, leader, ruler, prince
2. one who begins something, that is first in a series, thereby providing impetus for further developments
3. one who begins or originates, hence the recipient of special esteem in the Gr-Rom. world, originator, founder

Lidell-Scott Greek Dictionary:
I. beginning, originating . . . primary, leading , chief
II. 1. as substantive, a founder, first father . . . the founder of a family
2. a prince, chief . . .
3. a first cause, originator

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
a. The ―hero of a city, its founder or guardian; b. the ―originator or ―author (e.g., Zeus of nature or Apollo of piety); c. ―captain. Philo uses the term for Abraham, and once for God, while the LXX mostly has it for ―military leader. In the NT Christ is archēgós in Acts 5:31: we bear his name and he both looks after us and gives us a share of his glory, especially his life (3:15) and salvation (Heb. 2:10); he is also the archēgós of our faith both as its founder and as the first example when in his death he practiced his faith in God‘s love and its overcoming of the barrier of human sin (Heb. 12:2).

Discovery Bible HELPS Word Study:
properly, the first in a long procession; a file-leader who pioneers the way for many others to follow. (arxēgós) does not strictly mean “author,” but rather “a person who is originator or founder of a movement and continues as the leader – i.e. ‘pioneer leader, founding leader’ ” (L & N, 1, 36.6).

NET Bible Commentary:
The Greek word . . . is used of a “prince” or leader, the representative head of a family. It also carries nuances of “trailblazer,” one who breaks through to new ground for those who follow him. 
“Founder” (of a movement), founding leader.

So now, let’s boil this down. The three basic meanings of the word are:
1. a chief leader, ruler, prince
2. the originator or founder or beginner of something, hence the first in
a series, one who pioneers a way for others
3. a first cause, author, in the sense of a source or cause of something

OT & NT Usage

The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible some 24 times. The majority of times it refers to a ruler, leader, head of a family, or a captain. One deviation from this is Micah 1:13 where the city of Lachish is spoken of as “the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion.” This probably refers to the fact that Lachish was the first city in the southern kingdom of Judah where the idolatry of the northern kingdom had taken root, and subsequently, over time, spread to the rest of Judah. In that regard it could correspond to definitions 2 or 3 above.

In the NT the word appears three other times, all in reference to Jesus, in Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2. Let’s look at these passages to see if we can gain a better understanding of what archegos means.

Acts 5:31 – “God exalted him to his right hand as Archegos and Savior . . .”

The English versions translate this in three main ways:
“Prince and Savior” – KJV, ASV, NIV, NASV, YLT
“Leader and Savior” – ESV, ISV, NET, NRSV, RSV, TLV
“Ruler and Savior” – MEV, HCSB, CJB, CSB

It seems clear that in this passage archegos is best taken in the sense of leader or ruler, for the fact that it is paired with Savior (Gr. soter) seems to be drawing from usage in the book of Judges, where the judges were referred to by both terms, archegos (leader) in 5:2 and soter (savior) in 3:9, 15. The usage in Judges precludes any necessary divine connotation to the word. Also, this statement was made by Peter before the Sanhedrin, the body of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who would have been well acquainted with the Scriptures and would have known exactly what Peter was referring to.

Heb. 2:10 – “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting for God, for whom and through whom all things exist, to make the archegos of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author of their salvation” – ASV, DRA, EHV, MEV, NASB1995, NCB, WEB, YLT
“captain of their salvation” – KJV, NKJV, BRG
“founder of their salvation” – ESV
“leader of their salvation” – Darby, Phillips, NABRE
“pioneer of their salvation” – NET, ISV, RSV, NRSVUE, NIV, CEB, CSB, AMPC
“source of their salvation” – GW, HCSB, NOG
“originator of their salvation” – NASB, LEB

As with Acts 3:15, we find a wide array of possible meanings of “archegos of salvation.” How can we know the best way to understand the text? We get a clue from Heb.5:9, where the author says that Jesus, after he had suffered death and was made perfect, i.e. immortal, “he became the source (Gr. aitos)of everlasting salvation . . . “ If we assume that the author is using archegos and aitios as synonyms, then we can take archegos as source, or perhaps cause. When you look up the definition of source on Google (provided by Oxford Languages) it gives as synonyms author, cause, originator and origin. When you look up the word originator, two of the synonyms it gives are founder and pioneer. So all of these English words have a similar meaning. That Jesus is the source of salvation would denote that salvation comes because of him or is obtained through him. This need not imply that Jesus is the ultimate source but only the secondary source. Just as the judges were the secondary source of salvation from the enemies of Israel, but God was the ultimate cause, calling and empowering and backing up his chosen agents, so the same can be predicated of Jesus in his role as savior. God saves us through or by means of Messiah {2 Cor. 5:18-19}.

We could also understand “archegos of salvation” in the sense that Jesus was the first to attain everlasting salvation, i.e. immortality and exaltation. This is what I believe the author of Hebrews means when he speaks of Jesus being perfected. Because he is the first, he becomes the source of this salvation to all those who follow him; he becomes the pattern to which all others will be conformed {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20-21}.

Heb. 12:2 – “. . . fixing our attention on Jesus, the archegos and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author and finisher (or perfecter) of [our] faith” – KJV, ASV,BRG, DLNT, GNV,
NASB1995, JUB, MEV, YLT
“pioneer and perfecter of our [the] faith” – CSB, ISV, Mounce, NET, NIV, NRSV
“founder and perfecter of our faith” – ESV

This is a difficult one. “Author and finisher of our faith” could imply that our personal faith is something that is begun and finished by Jesus, but this, I believe, would be inaccurate. The Greek actually has “the faith” not “our faith”. This, in the context, would be referring back to chapter 11, where the personal faith of many OT believers is highlighted. We might say that “the faith” means the life of faith, as exhibited in these OT notables. Jesus is then being portrayed as the archegos and perfecter of the life of faith. But this cannot mean he was the first one to live the faith life as a pioneer, or the first in a series, for all of the people mentioned in chapter 11 preceded Jesus. It could be that archegos here is being used as an adjectival noun in the sense that Jesus is the leading or chief example of the life of faith. The words “fixing our attention on” in Greek is the word aphorao, which more precisely means to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something. So after pointing out the faith of the OT examples, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to focus all of their attention on the ultimate example of faith – Jesus, who remained faithful to God till the end and then actually entered into the reward of faith, i.e. exaltation, in contrast to those who came before {see 11:39}.

Jesus could, perhaps, be understood as the pioneer of faith in the sense that he is the first, upon completing the race, to receive the reward of immortality, opening the way for those who will follow. Jesus would not be the first to finish the race, but the first to complete the life of faith by entering into the experience of the reward.

Exegesis of Acts 3:15

So having collated the lexical and biblical usage data, let’s apply it to our text. In what sense can Jesus be said to be the archegos of life? To rightly answer this question we first have to answer the question as to what is meant by life. Did Peter mean life in the sense of the life that all living things possess? Is Jesus the archegos of all life? This is what my trinitarian interlocutor understood it to mean, and then postulated that Jesus is the Creator of the life of all living things. Now, of course, it could be saying that, but nothing in the text itself necessitates that meaning. In fact, only someone who already presupposes that Jesus is the Creator would interpret it that way. But imagine Peter standing before the crowd of Jews in the temple courtyard and telling them that the man they were recently complicit in putting to death is actually the Creator of all life. The Jews knew the Creator of all life to be Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Would these Jews have understood that Peter, by calling Jesus the archegos of life, was declaring him to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This is most untenable, especially in light of the context of Peter’s message:

“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you.” Acts 3:13-14 NET 

Clearly, no one in that crowd hearing Peter would have thought he was equating this man Jesus with the Creator, for he explicitly differentiates between Jesus and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling him the servant of Him. We can, therefore, rule out that Peter’s meaning is that Jesus is the Creator of all life.

A more plausible way to understand life in this context is that it refers to everlasting life i.e. immortality. This would mean that Peter was calling Jesus the “archegos of immortality“. So the life being spoken of here is the life of the age to come {see Lk. 20:34-36} not the the common life that all possess now in this age. So then what does it mean that Jesus is the archegos of immortality?

Looking at the lexical data and the usage in the other three occurrences of archegos in the NT, it seems reasonable to understand Acts 3:15 in the same sense as Heb. 2:10, and in fact, the two passages are saying the same thing. So one option is to take it as saying Jesus is the source of immortality, understanding it in the sense that he is the secondary source, not the ultimate source. This would mean that life in the age to come is necessarily obtained from, through, or by means of Jesus. That this would not require Jesus to be divine is clearly confirmed in such passages as 1 Cor. 15:20-23; Acts 17:31; John 5:28-30 and Heb. 2:6-14.

A second option is to see Jesus as the beginning of immortality for the human race, the first in a series. This would fit well with a number of other statements in the NT, such as Acts 26:23; 1 Cor. 15 20-23; Col. 1:18; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 1:5, 17-18. But an even better option is to understand both of these ideas as being conveyed, i.e. having become the first human being to possess immortality, he becomes the source of this immortality for all others, and, in fact, this seems to be exactly what Heb. 5:8-9 is saying, but in different words.

Now someone might object that Peter said to the crowd, “You killed the archegos of life,” implying that he was already this when they killed him, instead of becoming such by his resurrection from the dead. But this is simply answered by assuming that Peter was speaking anachronistically. At the time Peter was speaking, Jesus had already been raised from the dead and was, therefore, indeed the archegos of life. If I were to say to my wife, “There is the highschool my father attended,” I would not mean by this that he was my father at the time he attended the school. Later he became my father and that is how I speak of him even when referring to that period of time of his life prior to becoming my father. So the language of Peter does not require Jesus to have already been the archegos of life at the time he was killed. Peter spoke anachronistically to heighten the irony of their situation i.e. they killed the one, who by means of his death, became the firstborn from the dead and the means by which immortality must be obtained by all others.

That Jesus is the “archegos of immortality” should have significant meaning for those who follow him. The promise of immortality is no longer simply a vague hope or fancy or dream. One of our own race has already entered into this glorious state, this participation in the divine nature, and has thus confirmed the promise to those who love God. As a result we have now entered into a living hope, a confident expectation of sharing in this immortality with Jesus, who has gone before us, making possible our own future participation in the divine nature.

Peace and hope to all who are in Messiah Jesus our Lord!


Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

4 thoughts on “Jesus, The Archegos Of Life”

  1. Excellent exposition!! The exegesis is astounding and concise. No mental gymnastics there to explain away the meaning of the text.

    Great work. Would you mind if I publish this on my website as a tool for interpretation? I will cite you and your website as the source of course.

    Like

  2. Excellent “detective” work as always Troy.

    Of course, one has only to read the whole statement in Acts 3: 15 to confirm that it is the God of the aforesaid patriarchs (3:13) Who “raised from the dead” the “archegos” or Leader of immortal life, as you properly indicate.

    Acts 5: 30-31 also proves that, because God “raised up Jesus” from the dead and “exalted (him) to His right hand as ‘archegos’”, then Jesus cannot be the originator of the Genesis creation as the God of the material heavens and earth (the Universe). That introduces a theme not under discussion … it’s called ‘eisegesis’!

    As always the NT Gospel concerns the new creation which God the Father has worked through Messiah. Following our Leader, the same reward is guaranteed every follower! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has … caused us to be born again to a living hope …” We fix our gaze on the path our Prince has forged for us.

    Blessings always!

    Like

  3. The distinction you draw between the creator of all life (God) and the pioneer of eternal life (Christ) is an important one. I’d also note that the phrase “author of life” functions as an explanation for the renewed life the crippled man has just received and these Israelites have just witnessed. Through the spirit/name of Christ Peter has just proven that Christ is the source of healing/salvation/life–this life being within the context of captive Israel, not within the context of the creation of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: