The Book of Acts: Form, Style, and Theology

By Martin Dibelius; K. C. Hanson | Go to book overview
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Style Criticism of the Book of Acts


When examining literature such as Jewish and early Christian literatures, one must first raise the question of the literary genres. Hermann Gunkel has constantly impressed this principle upon us. In examining forms in the Old Testament, we learned to proceed from the collections and larger complexes of narrative to the small units: the song, the single story. In the same way, corresponding works on the Gospel literature have also endeavored, from the viewpoint of the form-critical (Formgeschichte) theory, to establish small units as the elements of the tradition.1 This examination is still in its early stages, but even now one may express the hope that this method of analyzing style according to forms will achieve what analytical source criticism could not, profitable and indispensable as it is in making intelligible the evolution of the pre-literary tradition. Obviously we should apply the same method to the book of Acts in the New Testament, and begin by considering, according to this principle, what can be discovered about the tradition underlying the book by an analysis of its style. The particular difficulty of the examination lies in the nature of the book of Acts, the literary form of which is not immediately clear.

When considering a book that undertakes to present pragmatically—and evidently according to a plan—a portion of contemporary history, and that begins with a “literary” prologue and puts speeches into the mouths of its heroes, one might certainly feel inclined to place it, as far as form is concerned, beside the work of contemporary historians. But this placing would not be entirely appropriate, since the book is not really uniform in style. The writer, whom I call Luke (without prejudice to the question of authorship), indeed takes pains to elevate his subject to the plane of world history; but the words “this was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26) are really more significant for him than for the things of which he tells. For, despite their future immensely impor


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