The "We" Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character

By Porter, Stanley E. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2009 | Go to article overview

The "We" Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character


Porter, Stanley E., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The "We" Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character. By William Sanger Campbell. Studies in Biblical Literature 14. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007. xii + 150 pp., $19.95 paperback.

Campbell has written a brief, suggestive, but ultimately unsatisfactory account of the "we" passages in Acts. A revision of the author's Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton Theological Seminary under Beverly Roberts Gaventa, the work suffers from a failure to consider the significance of some recent secondary literature, to confront some of the major critical questions surrounding the passages in question, and to offer a plausible and defensible alternative interpretation based in the ancient evidence. The author had plenty of space to do all of these, as the text of the book without appendixes is just 91 pages.

The author introduces the topic with a survey of the four major categories of proposals regarding the "we" passages. This chapter, like many of the others, trades upon a number of unproven assumptions. For example, Campbell simply accepts that there are three "we" passages (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16), while acknowledging that there are others who argue for four or five. Campbell spends the most space on proposals regarding the author- or source-as-eyewitness in the "we" passages. He traces the author-as-eyewitness proposal back to Irenaeus but then quickly abandons it to pursue the source-as-eyewitness proposal. Here he notes the early contributions of Mayerhoff, Harnack, de Wette, Baur, Zeller, and Norden. In the last half of last century, he notes only Cadbury, Dibelius, and Haenchen, before quickly closing with brief mention of Wehnert and Thornton, two scholars whose views merit much further discussion in a literature survey such as this. His discussion of fictional and literary conventional proposals is even briefer, treating only Bruno Bauer, Robbins, and Plümacher. Proposals not adequately discussed in these sections include, among others, those by Conzelmann, Tannehill, Kurz, Hemer, and Porter. Discussion of some of these proposals, especially recent ones, might have opened up more avenues for Campbell to consider among the traditional solutions. Instead, he wishes to move beyond these proposals to his own - adopting what he calls narrative criticism, he wishes to see the "we" narrator as a character in Acts, replacing Barnabas as Paul's companion to draw attention to Paul's actions and accomplishments.

In the first chapter, Campbell puts forward his understanding of narrative theory and reader-response criticism. In an odd move, he eschews narratology and focuses upon narrative criticism as an aid to understanding his text, rather than developing theories about it. After noting requisite reservations about equating ancient and modern literary expectations (is it fair to say that literature is "by nature an unstable entity"? p. 16), Campbell exalts the constructive role of the reader in creating texts, drawing his inspiration from Stanley Fish. However, his use of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in support of the view that readers do not always share communal reading expectations does not make his point. Campbell clearly goes too far in his readerly attitude, as his own further exposition makes clear when he moves immediately to defining narrative, especially in terms of Chatman's description of participants. Campbell facilely rejects the distinction between narration "of" and "in" the story, because he wishes to retain the narrator as a character, especially the narrator of the "we" passages. This chapter raises many interesting issues, but the treatment is altogether too brief and does not coordinate the several different literary-critical hypotheses introduced.

The second chapter is concerned with grammatical person. After using the New York Public Library's writer's guide to define grammatical person (! …

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