The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary


Like Ben Witherington's previous commentary Conflict and Community in Corinth, this commentary breaks fresh ground in providing a detailed social and rhetorical analysis of the book of Acts.

Written in a readable style, with more detailed interaction with scholarly discussion found in the various excursuses, this commentary draws on the best new insights from a number of disciplines (narratological studies of Luke-Acts, archaeological and social scientific study of the New Testament, rhetorical analysis of Acts, comparative studies in ancient historiography) to provide the reader with the benefits of recent innovative ways of analyzing the text of Acts.

In addition there is detailed attention to major theological and historical issues, including the question of the relationship of Acts to the Pauline letters, the question of early Christian history and how the church grew and developed, the relationship between early Judaism and early Christianity, and the relationship between Christianity and the officials of the Roman Empire.

Acts is seen as a historical monograph with affinities with the approaches of serious Greek historians such as Thucydides and Polybius in terms of methodology, and affinities with some forms of Jewish historiography (including Old Testament history) in terms of content or subject matter.

The book is illustrated with various pictures and charts, which help to bring to light the character and setting of these narratives.


Safely tucked away at Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, out of the sight of all but the most inquiring eyes and minds, is an ancient papyrus with a portion of the book of Acts on it — P Yale 3, otherwise known as P 50. On this papyrus we find not just Greek characters but also accents, punctuation, and breathing marks, which make clear that this document was meant from early times to be read publicly in a persuasive and appealing manner, with due attention to pronunciation, pauses, and the general aural effect of the text.

It is my belief that this was probably the case with Acts from the beginning. It was a document written to be read aloud, and the author attended to his writing so that what he had written could be rhetorically effective when read and heard by the first listener or listeners. The rhetorical dimension of Acts has not been much explored in recent commentaries on the book, in part because of the waning influence of classical studies on biblical studies in this century. Nor for that matter has sufficient attention been paid in commentaries to how similar Acts is to other ancient Hellenistic historiographic works. It is perhaps the main overall goal of this commentary to try to reintroduce the reader to those neglected dimensions of the text which immersing oneself in ancient historiography and ancient rhetoric can bring to light. I believe that when this larger context is brought to bear on Acts, one discovers a carefully crafted document that those familiar not just with the Greek OT but also with Polybius or Thucydides or Ephorus, or to a lesser degree Josephus, would have found impressive and persuasive.

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