History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts

By Maclean, Iain S. | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts


Maclean, Iain S., Anglican Theological Review


History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts. By Ben Witherton, III. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 326 pp. $59.95 (cloth).

While earlier generations of scholars might have had to rely, in the English-speaking world at least, on a few resources such as Cadbury's monumental work and others long out of print, recent decades have seen a burgeoning of interest in Luke-Acts. Thus monographs and studies such as those by Jacob Jervell, Luke Johnson, David Moessner and Charles Talbert have appeared, and Eerdmans has almost completed the publication of a multivolume study on Acts under the editorship of B. W. Winter. What makes the present collection of essays essential reading is its conscious attempt to make the interdisciplinary connections that are often spoken of but rarely exemplified. Thus it seeks to address comprehensively the historical, literary, and social contexts of Acts through the appropriate utilization of the social sciences, rhetorical studies, and contemporary classical studies methodologies. In short then, this collection draws on the work of diverse scholars in the fields of New Testament, Old Testament and the Classics, all of whom are exploring the possibilities of interdisciplinary methods.

The volume is divided into three parts, dealing respectively with issues of genre and historical method, the historical and theological questions posed by Acts, and issues of literary criticism. The first part includes essays by W. J. McCoy ("In the Shadow of Thucydides"), C. K. Barrett ("How History Should be Written"), Charles H. Talbert ("The Acts of the Apostles: Monograph or Bios?"), Loveday C. A. Alexander ("The Preface to the Acts and the Historians") and Jacob Jervell ("The Future of the Past: Luke's Vision of Salvation History and its Bearing on his Writing of History").

The second part addresses historical and theological difficulties in Acts in chapters by Craig C. Hill ("Acts 6.1-8.4: Division or Diversity?"), Richard Bauckham ("James and Gentiles: Acts 15.13-21 and Kerygmatic Summaries in the Speeches of Acts"), David P. Moessner ("The 'Script' of the Scriptures in Acts: Suffering as God's Plan [boule] for the World for the `release of sins"'), and Jerome H. Neyrey ("Luke's Social Location of Paul: Cultural Anthropology and the Status of Paul in Acts").

The third part deals with issues of literary criticism in contributions by Joel B. Green ("Internal Repetition in Luke-Acts: Contemporary Narratology and Lucan Historiography"), Bill T. Arnold ("Luke's Characterizing Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Acts"), Ben Witherington, III ("Editing the Good News: Some Synoptic Lessons for the Study of Acts") and William F. Brosend, II ("The Meaning of Absent Ends").

The very diversity of the articles listed indicates the possibilities opening up for New Testament scholarship as scholars utilize the methods and results of allied fields such as those noted above. While biblical scholarship in the post-war years focused on the Hebraic backdrop to the New Testament, more recent work has revealed the greater complexity of Second Temple Judaism and the matrix out of which both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged. The questions arising out of this new scholarship-and represented in this volume of essays-have focused on the work done by Baur and Lightfoot on the relations between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the formation and history of the earliest Christian communities. …

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