The Book of Acts: Form, Style, and Theology

By Martin Dibelius; K. C. Hanson | Go to book overview
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The Text of Acts

While there are many problems, any one of which might be singled out as “the next task” of New Testament scholarship, the text of Acts is to me a particularly conspicuous one. I feel justified in calling attention to it by a treatment which of necessity can be only of a preliminary and tentative nature.1

To be sure, the objection may be raised that the problem of the text of Acts has been sufficiently dealt with in the discussions of Codex D.2 But the question to which I wish to call attention was minimized rather than emphasized by the debate on the so-called Western text. It is the question whether the text of Acts deserves the same confidence as the text of the Gospels and of the letters of Paul. There is reason to believe that a special literary fate has befallen Acts—a fate which created a special kind of text, a fate which forces us to approach the textual problem of Acts differently from the way we approach that of other New Testament writings.


Before submitting proof for this proposition, I must on my part briefly touch on the problem of the Western text. Although much has been said about Codex D and its parallels, I believe that the method of form criticism still has a contribution to make to the evaluation of this text type.

In the case of writings like Acts the form-critical method raises the question not only of the sources but also of the “small units” which, deriving from popular tradition, may have been incorporated into the text. As a matter of fact, all parts of Acts include brief narratives of various kinds that beyond doubt circulated in the churches before the composition of Acts.3 One sees that from their “closed,” well-knit form; one sees it also from the fact that these small units do not fit easily into the literary framework.

When these old narratives retain their original, closely knit, and finished form, they stand out noticeably against their context. In such cases seams are bound to show between Luke’s own work and the narratives he incorporates.4


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