The Book of Acts: Form, Style, and Theology

By Martin Dibelius; K. C. Hanson | Go to book overview

2
The First Christian Historian

THE PROLOGUE AND PLAN

Among the writings of the New Testament one book occupies a special place, a fact which often receives too little attention. This is the book of Acts, which tradition attributes to Luke, the author of the third Gospel. There are some things to be said against this tradition, but far more in favor of it, so that we may call the author by the name of Luke.

Luke begins both writings—the Gospel as well as Acts—with a literary dedication to one Theophilus who is evidently a distinguished person. On each occasion we have to note not only the fact of the dedication as a sign of conscious literary intention but also the style of these dedications. The choice of words and the construction of sentences at the beginning of the Gospel betray the educated author; the text of this dedication does not, however, betray the Christian at all, but sounds like the prologue to a secular book.

It is somewhat different in the case of the Acts, in so far as its prologue at least mentions Jesus’ name. There, we read: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote abut all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1–2a); but this reference to the preceding book, the Gospel, corresponds entirely with literary custom.1 And if the continuation of the text also disappoints us in that Luke proceeds straight from this apostrophe to Theophilus to the story, we can still see that the account of this first chapter has been consciously fashioned and fitted together out of a perhaps older narrative, which contained an account of the ascension of Christ, a list of the twelve disciples, and an account of a gathering of the community that included a speech by Peter. Even in this passage we are given an impression, which is constantly reaffirmed throughout the whole book, that accounts are found in Acts that could not possibly be contained in any Gospel. Thus there is an essential difference between the literary type of the

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