Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Unity in Acts: Idealization or Reality?

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Unity in Acts: Idealization or Reality?

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: Greek characters omitted or Cyrillic characters omitted.)

This article will respond to the tendency in some Lukan studies to assume that the presence of the theme of unity in Acts necessarily entails an unrealistic idealization of the unity of the church.1 Following a summary of the material in Acts that highlights the theme of unity, this article will briefly note those studies that regard this material as evidence of unrealistic idealization, then several assumptions about the nature of historicity relevant to the theme of unity in Acts will be clarified. The article will then argue that the evidence of ancient discussions of unity and the narrative of Acts itself indicate that it is misreading Luke to assume his portrait of the unity of the Christian community is simply unrealistic idealization.2


With regard to the unity of the church, Acts draws attention to the "togetherness" of the early Christian community (frequently using terminology such as (...) and (...): praying together (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:24), being together (Acts 1:15; 2:1, 44, 47; 5:12), holding everything in common (Acts 2:44), being of one heart and mind in agreement (Acts 4:32; 15:25), and sharing possessions (Acts 2:45; 4:32, 34).3 Furthermore, disputes are resolved. The Ananias and Sapphira incident (Acts 5:1-11) is surrounded by summary passages that highlight the unity of the people of God and the continuing spread of the gospel (Acts 4:32-37; 5:12-16). Similarly, the complaint of the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews (Acts 6:1-7) is resolved and surrounded by statements that highlight the continuing spread of the word (Acts 6:1, 7; note that in 6:5 Luke points out that the proposal pleased the whole group, ...). Likewise, the Cornelius incident and subsequent criticism from the circumcised believers in Jerusalem (Acts 10:1-11:18) is resolved (Acts 11:18, (...), as is the disagreement recorded in chapter 15 (Luke notes in Acts 15:22 the unity after the council of the apostles and elders and also "the whole church," ...). In 15:15 James is also reported as drawing attention to the "harmony" (συμφωvεω) between the report of Peter (and that of Barnabas and Paul) concerning God's inclusion of the Gentiles and "the words of the prophets." The agreement between the apostolic message and "all the law and the prophets" continues to be a recurring theme throughout the narrative (Acts 24:14; 25:8; 26:22; cf. Acts 10:43; Luke 24:44) culminating in the remarkable agreement between Paul, Isaiah, and the Holy Spirit at the conclusion of the narrative (Acts 28:25). 4 These examples indicate that for Luke the unity of the Christian community is important.


Discussions of the historical reliability of Acts quickly turn to, among other things, an examination of issues such as:5 the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters,6 the historicity of the Jerusalem Council and its relationship to Galatians 2,7 the nature of the speeches in Acts (in relation to historians such as Thucydides),8 the historical details that describe the persons, places, and travels in Acts,9 the "we-sections,"10 and the genre of Acts.11 With respect to the theme of the unity of the church, many have argued that Luke's portrait of the unity of the church in Acts is due to an idealization unrelated to historical reality. This idealization is primarily said to be (1) an attempted cover up for deep division;12 (2) a nostalgic (and uninformed) look back to the past;13 or (3) a creative (and unrealistic) portrait of a Golden Age beginning.14 The frequent assumption in these claims is that Luke's emphasis on the theme of unity must therefore mean that he is engaging in unrealistic idealization. Thus, first, Tyson observes the theme of harmony in Acts and the use of the term (...) and then merely assumes that "these themes would tend to confirm Baur's judgment that Acts was written as a consensus document" and furthermore that "they also show that behind the text there lurks the menace of fragmentation. …

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