Book Review: Grant Osborne, Acts: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  Acts: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 545 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

The latest addition to the series of verse-by-verse commentaries by the late Grant Osborne is the Book of Acts. Lexham Press publishes this series simultaneously in both print and electronic Logos Library editions. Seven commentaries were published in 2017-18 (John, Romans, Galatians, Prison Epistles, Revelation), with volume on 1-2 Thessalonians and Luke coming soon.

In the nineteen page introduction to the commentary, Osborne states the book of Acts is a “historical narrative tracing how the Christ followers built ton their founder and became a worldwide force” (1). For Osborne, the book traces salvation history and the gospel-centered and Spirit-empowered mission of the church. Peter and Paul are only successful because they are commissioned by Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Like many evangelicals who study Acts, Osborne is comfortable with Acts as both history and theology. He argues in favor of a traditional view authorship. Luke the companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14) is the author of the book, although he dates the book either before A. D. 62 or after Paul’s death, A. D. 75-85. Osborne prefers the earlier date, but both are possible. Throughout the body of the commentary it is clear Osborne holds traditional views of the authorship of Paul’s letters and the consensus view on most chronological problems. For example, commenting on Acts 19:21-22, he indicates “Paul was writing 1 Corinthians at this time” (349). He sides with the growing minority position by stating Galatians was written soon after Paul returned to Syrian Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem Council (269). Given the parameters of the commentary, he simply states his conviction without extensive argument.

In the first part of the commentary, Osborne uses the phrase “Christ follower” rather than Christian to describe the earliest community. He observes the church “has often been thought have originated at Pentecost, but that is not true. Pentecost is the launching of the church’s mission to be the “witnesses” (1:8), but not the genesis of its formation. If that can be ascertained, it would have to come when Jesus chose the Twelve” (18). Osborne wants to highlight the continuity between Israel of the old Covenant and the “new Israel of the new Covenant.” I understand what he is saying here, but it overlooks the fact the new Covenant was to be made with both the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

Even As Osborne recognizes in the same paragraph, the earliest Christ followers called themselves the Way (Acts 9:2), “considering itself the messianic sect within Judaism.” There is more to the definition and nature of the church than Osborne can attempt in a very short introduction, but if he wants to reach back to the calling of the Apostles as a “genesis of the church” then the particularly Jewish nature of the church in the first twelve chapters of Acts will be diminished.

Like the other volumes in this series, the body of the commentary proceeds nearly verse-by-verse. Since Acts is much longer than other books Osborne has covered in the series so far, he is often forced to cover paragraphs rather than individual verses. This is really not a problem, although compared to some recent exegetical commentaries, this 543-page commentary seems brief. But this is not necessarily a bad thing since the goal of the commentary is to help a pastor, teacher, or interested layperson understand the main points of the text without going into the minutia of the text.

Osborne occasionally comments on the Greek text, but all Greek appears in transliteration so all readers will be able to follow the argument. Footnotes appear rarely and deal with finer details. Since his goal is clear explanation of the text, Osborne does not interact with other commentaries or enter into arcane debates on early church history. For example, he does not deal with the possible anachronism of Paul’s appointing Elders in Acts 14, simply noting that elders “followed Jewish practice for the most part” (265). He is able to deal with the Ephesian Riot in 19:23-20:1 in a few pages, without being overly distracted with a lengthy description of Artemis and her worship (Keener, in contrast, devotes more that seventy pages to the riot, including details on Artemis and her cult).

Conclusion. As with the other commentaries in this series, Osborne’s Verse-by-Verse Commentary will serve pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne certainly achieves his goal of helping pastors to “faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” Although scholars may find the brevity of the commentary frustrating, this commentary will be an excellent guide for anyone who desires to read John’s Gospel with more insight and understanding.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Douglas Mangum and Josh Westbury, eds. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis

Mangum, Douglas and Josh Westbury, eds. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Lexham Methods Series 2; Lexham Press, 2016. 262 pp. $24.99   Link to Lexham Press

The second volume of the Lexham Methods series surveys the often difficult field of linguistics. Since the essays in this volume are all aimed at students who are doing exegesis of the whole Bible, examples are given for both the Old and New Testaments. For this review I read the electronic version of the book on an iPad using the Logos app and occasionally referred to the full desktop version of Logos.

Wendy Widder begins her introduction to this volume with the observation “Language is remarkably simple and extraordinarily complex at the same time.” A short handbook like this volume cannot possibly cover all aspects of linguistics. This book is not a guide teaching the methods of linguistic analysis. Rather, Widder says the book will introduce readers to the “aspects of linguistics that most apply to biblical study” in assist students who are using modern commentaries and other resources which do linguistic analysis of the text of the Bible.

In chapter 2 Widder introduces four fundamental aspects of linguistic study: phonology (study of sounds and their organization in language), morphology (the study of how languages form their words), semantics (how a language creates meaning), and syntax (how a language arranges its words into phrases, clauses, and sentences).

Jeremy Thompson and Wendy Widder survey several areas of linguistics focused on language use (chapter 3). The focus of the chapter is studying how language is used in context, or language as it is “actually used in literary and social contexts.” This includes pragmatics (meaning in context, including relevance theory and speech-act theory), discourse analysis (study that focuses on analyzing strings of sentences connected in a discourse). Discourse grammar is used to describe “grammatical conventions based upon the discourse functions they accomplish” citing Runge. The chapter includes a short discussion of sociolinguistics (the interaction between language and society, or social context).

In chapter 4 Daniel Wilson and Michael Aubrey offer a concise overview of the more complicated linguistic topics relevant for analyzing the biblical languages, such as language universals (grammatical, syntactic and semantic patterns that extend across languages).   The chapter also introduces linguistic typology (the attempt to establish universals across languages based on the presence or absence of forms) and markedness (how linguistic elements relate to each other).  Although arcane, Wilson and Aubrey argue the syntactic application of markedness is “one of the most beneficial for biblical exegesis” because it emphasizes prominence of a particular word or phrase in a sentence. If an author “marked” a structure in a sentence, the exegete ought to explore why it was so marked.

Jeremy Thompson and Wendy Widder provide a brief introduction to the field of linguistics and the main schools of thought in linguistics (chapter 5). They begin with a short section on comparative philology, which studies historical written sources to identify relationships among languages. This includes diachronic methods illustrated the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) lexicon. This section interacts with James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1987). Barr is well-known for his challenge to the diachronic method (and although this chapter does not mention it, he savaged TDNT). The chapter also includes sections on:

  • According to this chapter, the value of structuralism is seen at the lexical level. The authors cite several lexicons, including the valuable Louw and Nida.
  • Functionalism takes as its starting point that the end function of language is communication, and it works backward toward understanding language as a whole. With respect to biblical Greek, the influence of functionalism can be seen in approaches like Runge’s discourse grammar.
  • Generative grammar, following Noam Chomsky that posits a set of grammatical rules which generate surface structure sentences from deep structure sentences
  • Discourse analysis, a method which “approaches language at higher levels than the sentence.” The definition is more problematic since biblical studies has adopted some of the terminology and methods, but they do not always deploy them the way they were originally defined.
  • Cognitive linguistics applies cognitive science to language as a cognitive process continually affected by one’s experiences

Chapters six and seven focus on how linguistic methods are applied to the Bible. Both chapters cover the same four topics (Problems with the Data (in both cases, they are dead languages, although Greek has more Dara to work with); Verbal System, Semantics and Lexicography, and Word Order). Wendy Widder deals with linguistic issues in Biblical Hebrew (chapter 6). Widder observes that “establishing a chronology of the language in the Old Testament is infamously difficult because we lack firm dates for the composition of the biblical books” although some evidence from inscriptions and cognate languages “allows scholars to hypothesize patterns of development and thus the chronology of biblical Hebrew.” With respect to the New Testament, Michael Aubrey laments the fact papyri has not yet been sufficiently integrated into lexicons. “Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek Testament was a grand attempt at the integration of the papyri into the lexicographical work of the era, but it never went beyond being a supplement to other lexicons.”

Finally, Michael Aubrey contributes an essay on the value of “linguistically informed Exegesis.” He argues a linguistically informed exegesis will enhance the “precision and explanatory power” of exegesis.

Each essay concludes with a short “Importance for Biblical Languages.”  These will be most useful to biblical studies students brushing up on linguistic. Following each essay is a brief, annotated “Resources for Further Study.” These often cite chapters in textbooks on linguistics. The annotations briefly point out the connections to the present topic. Some of these resources are substantive, but others less so. This should not surprise readers, but this guide is on the conservative side of the theological spectrum. Many of the linguistic resources recommended are conservative (for example, David Alan Black; Robert D. Bergen 1987 JETS article, “Text as a Guide to Authorial Intention: An Introduction to Discourse Criticism”.

For the Logos Library version, there are inks to the glossary for key terms and scholars and movements. Float over the name Ferdinand de Saussure or the Prague School and Logos will show the entry for the glossary for the term. This is extremely helpful when reading the book on an iPad or desktop installation of Logos. As with other contributions to this series, Lexham could convert this glossary in a flash card format Study Blue, Quizlet, Cerego) or create a test-bank for professors. This would make the book more useful to students, especially of the book is adopted as a textbook.

I noticed a few typos (Rung for Runge, page 60), some malformed Greek, and a few formatting problems which may only appear in the electronic format for example. More critical is a citation of Stanley Porter on page 82. The quote has a footnote indicating it is from the second edition of Idioms of the Greek New Testament, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999), 55–56. This is actually from Porter’s essay “Prominence: An Overview” in The Linguist as Pedagogue, pages 55-56 (the book does not appear in this volume).

I assume all these will be reported, corrected, and updated copies will be pushed out to Logos users. I find the lack of page numbers in the iPad annoying, but the book has a detailed numbering system 5.4.1, and this numbering system appears in the upper right hand of the iPad version.

This brings me to a slight criticism. In the section on discourse analysis several works are recommended which are other Lexham products. Are these really the best resources? In this particular example it may be the case since there is nothing quite like The Lexham High Definition Old and New Testament. As for the influence of structuralism on lexicons, they cite A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, the Semantic Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, and the Bible Sense Lexicon. The last is a Faithlife production. There is nothing wrong with the Bible Sense Lexicon, but would it be cited along with Louw and Nida in another introduction to linguistics?

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: James D. G. Dunn, Jesus according to the New Testament

Dunn, James D. G. Jesus according to the New Testament. Foreword by Rowan Williams. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 211 pp. Pb; $20.   Link to Eerdmans  

Dunn observes in his postscript to his new book on Jesus that the impact Jesus initially made on his earliest followers continues to be felt today (p. 187). A study of Jesus cannot be simply a sequence of historical events or some ancient teachings with no significance for contemporary Christians. In fact, much of Dunn’s work has focused on the memory of Jesus among his earliest followers. See, for example, his magisterial trilogy Jesus Remembered (2003), Beginning from Jerusalem (2009) and Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity (2016), his collection of essays on The Oral Gospel Tradition (2016) or his earlier collection, Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels (2011). This new book targets a broader audience. It is written in a more popular style and Dunn does include many footnotes.

The book begins with “Jesus according to Jesus.” For most non-scholars, this seems like the likely place to start, but as Dunn observes, there is some skepticism concerning how much of Jesus’s teaching actually appears in the Gospels (p. 25). Dunn lists a series of “lessons” and distinctive features of Jesus’s ministry as recalled by his earliest followers. Most of these are not at all controversial, such as the Love command, Jesus’s priority for the poor and his welcoming sinners and other outsiders (including gentiles, women and children). That Jesus was a teacher who spoke in parables is in all strands of the tradition, as well as his exorcising evil spirits. Dunn does not include Jesus’s healing ministry here, although it is closely related to his exorcisms. He also surveys some of Jesus’s titles which imply he understood himself to be the messiah, the one who was sent by God, the son of God and the son of Man.

Dunn surveys the nuances of the three Synoptic Gospels in chapter two and John in chapter three. Since the canonical Gospels were written at least thirty to forty years after Jesus, Dunn briefly explains his view of the oral traditions about Jesus which circulated in this time. For each Gospel he briefly sums up their distinctive contributions (Mark’s messianic secret, Matthew’s focus on Israel, Luke’s focus on Jesus’s mission to sinners, John’s entirely different approach to demonstrating Jesus as the Messiah).

In “Jesus according to Acts” Dunn begins by comparing the commissions of Peter and Paul which may express Luke’s conviction that the greater mission to the gentiles was inspired by God (p. 77). It is the sermons in Acts which present the memory of Jesus, so Dunn examines these closely and makes note of the some disturbing absence of theology concerning the death of Jesus in the book. Luke presents the death of Jesus as fact, but it is not interpreted as it is in the Pauline letters.

Dunn includes two chapters on Jesus according to Paul, first focusing on the uniqueness of Paul’s Gospel as well as Paul’s own emphasis that his Gospel is not distinctive from the other apostles (with respect to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus). Much of these two chapters reviews Paul’s metaphors for salvation as well as Paul’s view of the future. For the details, Dunn’s The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Eerdmans, 2006) is an indispensable resource.

The book of Hebrews is perhaps the most distinctive book in the New Testament with respect to how it understands Jesus. It is the only book which focuses on Jesus as a high priest. Dunn thinks it is remarkable the book was included in the canon not only because of its anonymity, but also for this presentation of Jesus as a Jewish priest. He observes that in Judaism priestly ritual gave way to expounding the word of God, but in Christianity the word was subordinated to the “revived priestly ritual” (155).

The contribution of James, Peter, John and Jude to the New Testament understanding of Jesus are combined into a single chapter. In fact, James has remarkably little to say about Jesus, at least directly. Dunn demonstrates James new the Jesus tradition, at least in its oral form, by drawing parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount. So too for 1 Peter and 1 John (2-3 John are more or less ignored). Jude and 2 Peter are a troublesome pair of letters; Dunn asks “how much of Christianity would have been lost if Jude and 2 Peter had not been included in the canon?”

Finally, Dunn describes how the book of Revelation understands Jesus. This chapter is frustratingly brief considering how much Revelation says about Jesus. Dunn comments briefly on the initial vision of Jesus in chapter 1 and the letters to the seven churches before tracing the Lamb of God theme through the book. Much more could be said about how the end of the book presents Jesus as a conquering king who returns to restore God’s kingdom to the world.

Dunn hints this book could be extended into the early church (so, “Jesus according to Ignatius”), but also to any reader of the book (“Jesus according to Me”). Since everything we know about Jesus is due to the personal testimony of his followers, why not call on contemporary readers of the New Testament to continue to bear witness to the story of Jesus? This short book succeeds in laying a foundation for this contemporary reflection on Jesus.

 

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Book Review: Carl R. Holladay, Acts: A Commentary

Holladay, Carl R. Acts: A Commentary. NTL; Minneapolis: Westminster John Knox, 2016. lxiv + 608 pages; Hb. $75.00.  Link to Westminster John Knox Press

There have been several significant contributions to the New Testament Library series from Westminster John Knox in recent years (Marianne Meye Thompson on John and Eugene Boring’s 1-2 Thessalonians, for example). Carl Holladay continues this tradition with this readable and useful commentary on the book of Acts. Although several new commentaries on Acts have appeared in recently, including Keener’s massive four-volume work, Holladay’s commentary provides a balance of exegesis and background to the Acts without overwhelming the reader with details which may not illuminate the text.

holladay-actsA seventy-page introduction covers more than the usual authorship and date issues. Holladay considers Luke and Acts as a literary unit from a single author “possibly, but not certainly, Luke the physician” (5). He does not proved evidence for the literary unity until the end of the introduction, offering a few themes which run through both Luke and Acts. He does not engage any recent challenges to the literary unity of the books (Patricia Walter, for example) or the canonical problem that Luke and Acts do not seem to have ever circulated together. He simply points to the (obvious) evidence which supports the consensus view Luke and Acts were intended to be read as a unity.

The author is a “devoted Paulinist who was not only an admirer of Paul but also a strong advocate for his pioneering role in the church’s formative period” (6). Although any date between A.D. 60 and 180 is possible, he assumes sometime after the fall of Jerusalem, possibly sometime in the 80s. If Acts reflects knowledge of Josephus, the date would have to be closer to A.D. 100. With respect to genre, Acts is a history, but “we must be cautious against simply historicizing the Acts account” (13).

Holladay devotes sixteen pages to the textual history of Acts, identifying the major textual witnesses to Acts and classifying them into four categories. His fourth category is essentially the expansive Codex D (Bezae). This version of Acts dates to about A.D. 400 and is about 10% longer than the Alexandrian text. Sometimes the text is expanded to edify readers, other times there is a theological motivation (anti-Judaism, for example). But most often Codex D simply fleshes out details absent in the other textual traditions. This has led to the suggestion of two textual traditions for Acts. For some both were written by Luke (the shorter being the final, edited form, perhaps made after Luke’s death), or only the shorter comes from Luke with the longer expanded by incorporating notes on Acts into the manuscript. Holladay concludes that neither the short or long texts are directly traceable to Luke, but the short text is earlier (30).

With respect to literary structure, Holladay admits a three-stage geographical outline for the book makes sense, but it oversimplifies matters. Acts 1:8 indicates the disciples will be witnesses in “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” foreshadowing chapters 1-7 (in Jerusalem), 8-12 (in Samaria and Judea) and finally 13-28 (the Pauline mission to the rest of the world). What this common structure overlooks is Paul’s back-and-forth movements from the east to the west, eventually returning to Jerusalem before being sent to Caesarea for two years and then on to Rome. Holladay suggests the story line of Acts is God’s activity beginning in Jerusalem as the center of Christianity to Rome as the “symbolic center of the gentile church” (32). But the focus is also on only some of the apostles, “effectively eliminating Johannine Christianity.”

Holladay argues Luke’s literary style is a clue to his theological purposes. Beginning with Luke’s redaction of Mark, Holladay points out that Luke consistently rewrites Mark’s colloquiums in order to appeal to more educated readers. Like other contemporary writers, Luke likes to use rare words, subtle Geek grammar and syntax, and litotes (emphasizing something by intentionally understating it, such as calling Tarsus “not an insignificant city). Luke frequent imitates the Septuagint as he narrates stories. The use of the phrase “it came to pass,” for example, reflects the Septuagint’s translation of the common Hebrew verb used to introduce a new story.

Since as much as 30% of Acts are speeches, Holladay offers a short introduction to Luke’s literary and theological strategies implied by his use of speeches. Ancient historians regularly included speeches woven into their narratives which often convey the writer’s own agenda. The example of Eleazer’s speech at Masada in Josephus’s Jewish War is a prime example. Josephus could not have any eyewitness of what was actually said, so the speech reflects the gist of what must have been said to achieve the known result. Although Luke did not have to create speeches out of nothing (as Josephus did in this example), the speeches in the book are theological summaries of how the apostles preached to the Jews, or how Paul approached gentiles living in Athens. Often Christological titles are embedded in speeches which imitate the language of the Old Testament (43). For Holladay, “each speech is composed ‘in character’ to fit the respective portraits of Peter and Paul (46).

The final section of the introduction is a twenty page survey of Luke’s theological themes in Acts divided into five categories. First, Holladay describes Luke’s interest in the fulfillment of God’s purpose and intent. This is a continuation of the promise-fulfillment scheme prominent in Luke. The community which formed around Jesus the messiah is a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (50). But Luke does not see the church as a “new Israel” or is the category “Israel” used to understand the church (51). Second, Acts presents the church as faithful Christian witnesses in both the context of early Christian preaching and in scriptural promise-fulfillment. Third, Luke presents the early church as politically harmless yet socially redemptive (56). Roman authorities see the church as an extension of Judaism (a sect of the Nazarenes) who are often peaceful victims of violence. Christianity is portrayed as a socially constructive community which has characteristics appearing to culturally sophisticated Hellenists (57). Fourth, the church as an extension of Jesus’s ministry as it suffers persecution as a result of preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. Finally, Luke describes the church as divinely favored. The “God who acts” works through Holy Spirit to foster a generous community of the Holy Spirit (67).

The body of the commentary present each pericope as translated by Holladay with lexical and textual notes following. All Greek appears in transliteration and syntactical issues are minimal. Holladay’s exposition sets the text in historical context. For example, when introducing Paul’s time in Ephesus, Holladay offers two pages of background material necessary for understanding the story Luke tells. Recent commentaries on Acts have tended to expand this background material beyond what is necessary, much of which can be found in a quality Bible Dictionary in the first place.

Footnotes in the body of the commentary cite parallel biblical material, lexical notes, parallel ancient works (for example, Josephus), geographical notes, and occasional reference to secondary literature. Since the New Testament Library focuses on the interpretation of the text rather than surveying various opinions in other commentaries, reference to secondary literature rare in the commentary. This lack of constant reference to other commentaries makes for a reading commentary and ought not to imply the author has no knowledge of “the literature” on the book of Acts. Holladay has certainly done the work required to read the text of Acts with clarity.

Because there are three versions of Paul’s conversion in Acts, Holladay offers a nineteen page excursus on Saul’s conversion/call (203-222). He recognizes the event has elements of both a conversion and a prophetic call and uses the double expression throughout the excursus. Although there are variations between the accounts, Holladay points out four key common elements (Paul as a persecutor, the Damascus Road experience, the risen Lord’s commission to Saul and Paul’s subsequent preaching activity). He compares this composite narrative to the version of Paul’s conversion found in Galatians 1:13-24. There are several differences, especially in terms of Paul’s response to his vision. In Galatians he immediately preaches in the Synagogues and for three years in Arabia before finally coming to Jerusalem to briefly become acquainted with the Apostles. Holladay considers this “quite remarkable” (216) and he tends to follow Stendahl’s suggestion that in Galatians Paul presents his experience as a prophetic call while Luke emphasizes the Damascus Road experience. More important that sorting out the historical data is Luke’s theological understanding of Paul’s conversion/call. Luke understands the story of Saul’s persecution as authentic and his preaching as originating from the moment of his calling. For Holladay, although Paul is not formally called an apostle, he is accepted by the apostles and his mission to the Gentiles comes out of Jerusalem as opposed to Antioch.

Conclusion. Carl Holladay has made a significant contribution to the study of the book of Acts, although falling short of the recent encyclopedic commentaries on the book. The result is a commentary useful for both professionals and laymen as the preach and teach the book of Acts

 

NB: Thanks to Westminster John Knox Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Book Review: James D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles

Dunn, James D. G. The Acts of the Apostles. Foreword by Scot McKnight. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 421 pp. Pb; $32.   Link to Eerdmans  

This is not a new commentary from Dunn, but a reprint of the 1996 Epworth commentary. Unfortunately the book has been out of print for many years and is often outrageously overpriced from some book sellers (this is not the case for any other out of print Epworth commentary as far as I can tell). I happened to buy my copy at a local store for a reasonable price, but for most the commentary has been inaccessible. Some material from that commentary ended up in Dunn’s Beginning at Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2009).

When I published my Top Five Commentaries on the Book of Acts in 2012 I included Beginning at Jerusalem simply because it was more comprehensive and easer to purchase than the Epworth volume. With the reprinting of this Dunn-Acts-of-the-Apostlescommentary students of the book of Acts have access to a deceptively simple commentary on Acts. This is a commentary which provides what is necessary to understand the book of Acts without becoming overwhelmed a thousand details.

As McKnight says in his introduction, there are several massive commentaries available, including the exhaustive four-volume set by Craig Keener (Baker, 2012-2015). It is something of a shock to realize Dunn’s commentary is less than 10% of Keener’s page count, and Keener’s volumes are larger in page size. One might ask in the post-Keener world of Acts commentary, is anything left to say? Simply put, Dunn wrote before Keener was first published, so one might ask, was there anything left to say after Dunn? Although his commentary does not have the encyclopedic breadth of the Keener commentary, it is the sort of commentary a pastor or Bible teacher can use to prepare sermons and Bible studies. Dunn’s commentary is more like what commentaries looked like before publishers became willing to print 4000 pages on a book like Acts.

Every section begins on the same page as the earlier volume, so students will be able to check this new edition even if the older edition is cited. I noticed some very small differences in the typesetting where a single word or two at the end of a page runs over to the next, but this will not affect citation. After spot checking ten chapters late in the book, I noticed the copyright page indicates the book is retypeset and new maps added, but pagination is the same. In fact, this is neither a “second edition” nor a revised edition, it is a reprint of the original with very little change. The introduction is about a page longer (using Roman numerals), updating the bibliography to include many of the major commentaries which have appear since 1996.

In his brief introduction to commentary, Dunn recognizes Luke is a history, but not a history in the modern sense of the word. Luke went beyond simply reporting and passing along tradition; he felt free to elaborate, expand and interpret those traditions. This is not to say Luke has created unadulterated fiction. With respect to the speeches, Dunn concludes Luke followed the ancient conventions used by Thucydides and other historians. Like the Gospel of Luke, the theology of the book reflects early Christian preaching, but theology filtered through Luke’s unique concerns.

The body of the commentary progresses through the book in small units, sometimes a few verses other sections include whole paragraphs. His commentary is on the English text and he does not interact with the Greek at all. There are no footnotes or in-text citations in the commentary. This may be a cause for concern given recent plagiarism controversies, but this was the style of the original commentary. This makes for an extremely readable commentary. Since Dunn is not concerned with the minutiae of the text, one could read this commentary like a monograph. Although occasionally brief, Dunn using gives enough detail to help the reader make sense of what Luke is saying.

Conclusion. I agree with McKnight’s very brief forward to this volume recommending this short yet powerful commentary. Eerdmans is to be applauded for bringing this commentary back into print.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Osvaldo Padilla, The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History and Theology

Padilla, Osvaldo. The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History and Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 264 pgs., Pb.; $26.00 Link to IVP

In his introduction, Osvaldo Padilla says his intention is to do for the present generation of Acts students what I. Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian and Theologian is for the previous generation. The third edition of Marshall’s classic study was published in 1998, but the original was written in 1970. Much has changed in Luke-Acts studies in the more than forty-five years since Marshall’s book was first published. One major issue cited by Padilla is the postmodern conception of history has changed the way scholars approach a book like Acts. It is necessary to engage “broader philosophical and theological questions” before approaching some of the basic matters of introduction (14).

Padilla-Acts-of-the-apostlesFor most readers of this book, the main question is about the history found in the book of Acts is “Is It True?” For Padilla, Luke is a serious historian who wrote “a dependable portrait of the early church,” but he is “dependable as a historian of his age” (19). If we demand Luke conform to the modern practice of history writing of the nineteenth century, we will be confused and disappointed by the book at the historical level.

In the first chapter Padilla deals with the issue of authorship. Contra Andrew Gregory, Padilla argues the tradition Luke was a companion of Paul goes back to the early part of the second century. There are many in contemporary scholarship who are not concerned with matters of authorship, whether because of a rejection of authority intention or because narrative criticism willfully ignores the historical setting a text (33). Padilla thinks it is important to identify Luke as the author claims to be writing an accurate investigation (Luke 1:3). Since the author is using a historiographic genre, ignoring historical questions must be addressed.

Second, Padilla treats the often contentious issue of the genre of Acts. Beginning with a “brief history of Genre Theory, he surveys several proposals on the genre of Acts such as epic (Bonz), novel (Pervo), history (Haenchen). With respect to the popular identification of “novel” as the genre of Acts, Padilla points out ancient novels are parasitic. Although they may take place in a real place and time, they rarely correspond to reality.

He concludes Acts is an example of “ancient historical monograph in the Jewish tradition” along the lines of 2 Maccabees (63). The prologue in Luke 1:1-4 contains many historiographic markers common in other ancient histories, yet Acts is unashamedly theocentric and stands on the foundation of the Hebrew Bible. Like 2 Maccabees, Acts presents God as braking into history to “superintend the movement of the mission” (67). Padilla lists a series of editorial comments which indicate the action is the work of God. One example will suffice here: in Acts 5:19 Peter and John are rescued from prison by an angel if the Lord.

But how does this identification help us read and understand Acts better? A historian claims the events described in the monograph actually happened. But with respect to the book of Acts, this must be carefully nuanced to avoid reading modern historiography into an ancient historical monograph. Padilla agues the genre “ancient historical monograph in the Jewish tradition” allows a reader to view the events narrated as actually having occurred even if it does not guarantee accuracy (72). A document claiming to be a history is not necessarily accurate (historians may lie or misrepresent facts, or be ignorant of all the facts). The history may be accurate, but it is not accurate because it used the genre of history. Second, the reader of a historical monograph expects the author to have been an eyewitness or to have interviewed eyewitnesses (73).

In the third chapter Padilla discusses Luke as a theological historian. Since it is clear Luke has written a theologically motivated history, Padilla must argue this does not preclude the possibility he was also a responsible historian.

In order to show Luke was a reliable historian Padilla compares Luke’s preface to Josephus. He compares Luke’s use “terms that would have raised historiographic expectations for his readers” (77) to Josephus, specifically πρᾶγμα (deed, event), πληροφορέω (fulfilled), and αὐτόπτης (eyewitness). Although a Greek reader would find the use of πληροφορέω strange (since history is not fulfilled), Luke is writing a more theologically driven history. But Padilla illustrates this word only in Luke, so it is less important for Acts. The use of αὐτόπτης (eyewitness) intentionally bolsters Luke’s claim of credibility for history (87).

According to Padilla the modernism of the late nineteenth century gave rise to the “professionalization of history” (113-16). History was seen as a science dealing with raw facts and rejecting the use of narrative features to write a proper history. When applied to a theological history like Acts, Luke could hardly be accepted as a “credible historian.” More often Luke is described as engaging in a pious fraud to support church unity at a much later date than the events of the book. Postmodernism, Padilla says, allows for an understanding of Acts that is both historical, artistic and theological at the same time (116-20). Postmodernism is aware the past can never be accessed directly and that “brute facts” are meaningless without interpretation. “Creating a plot” is the way history can be best understood.

As a storyteller, Padilla argues Luke compresses his information for theological effect. His example compares Luke’s compression of four resurrection stories to a single day. But he also compresses the story by being extremely selective. Although he mentions James, Stephen, Philip and Barnabas, Luke only follows the story of Peter and Paul. Much is left unexplained, such as how the Gospel came to Rome. Padilla argues Luke has theological motivations for his selectivity. Like any other ancient historian, Luke compresses his history by epitomizing or abridging sources. For example, Acts 4:32-37 summarizes the activity of the Jerusalem community. Padilla thinks epitomizing lengthy and complicated events helps explain some of the differences between Acts 15 and Galatians 2 (although there are other ways to account for the differences).

In order to assess Luke’s historical method, Padilla devotes two chapters to the speeches in Acts. After surveying several examples from Thucydides, Polybius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Lucian of Samosota. Padilla shows there is a range with respect to how much creativity a historian may have in reporting speeches. For Thucydides, speeches were reported as closely to the original as possible and for Polybius it was “unthinkable to invent a speech” (135). But by the first century, Dionysius and Lucian were more creative in reporting speeches. Padilla argues Luke was conservative in his reports of speeches. In order to support this assertion, he points out Luke’s speeches are quite brief and often paired with another speech in Acts. Josephus, by way of contrast, takes a few words of Abraham in Genesis 22:8 and creates a lengthy speech. One option is Luke lacked sources, but Padilla thinks it is more likely Luke was reticent to create lengthy speeches, preferring to briefly report the theological gist of the speeches.

Second, Padilla surveys the speeches by examining the theology of the six speeches in Acts.

  • The Speech of Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41)
  • The Speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53)
  • The Speech at the Home of Cornelius (Acts 10:34-48)
  • The Speech at Athens (Acts 17:16-31)
  • The Speech Before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32)

Padilla finds a remarkable consistency of theological themes across these six speeches, although is emphasis is on God, Christology, Pneumatology and Soteriology. This is not a theology of Acts,” but rather a theology of these particular speeches in Acts. It is at this point in the book I expected Padilla to come to a strong conclusion based on his thesis that Luke is a conservative reporter of speeches. If there is such theological consistency in the speeches, does they represent Luke’s theology more than the original speaker? Or is there a level of unity on these particular topics? I suspect one could show some distinct contrast between Peter’s two speeches in Jerusalem, Stephen’s synagogue speech, and Paul’s synagogue speech in Acts 13 if the theological issue were something like “who are the people of God in the present age”? While he has demonstrated unity, Padilla may have need to show some diversity in order to confirm Luke’s conservative reporting of speeches.

In a final chapter Padilla enters into a “conversation with postliberalism” in order to offer a justification of Truth-Claims in Acts. First, by “postliberalism” Padilla means narrative theology represented by George Lindbeck and Hans Frei (202). In general, postliberalism sees theology as a “descriptive enterprise” rather than apologetics, an enterprise that moves away from the truth claims of foundationalism and prefers narrative theology Using the resurrection as an example, Padilla points out we do not have access to the resurrection through a reconstruction of the “historical Jesus” or our apologetic argument for the resurrection. Rather, “we only have access through God” (243).

Conclusion. Padilla’s book is a useful conservative contribution to the ongoing discussion of the genre and historical reliability of Acts. He ranges from the almost mundane matter of authorship and genre to important philosophical questions of how we can know historical truth. By limiting his investigation to the speeches in Acts, Padilla has left many historical questions unanswered, but that is the nature of a short monograph such as this.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Mary Marshall, The Portrayals of the Pharisees in the Gospels and Acts (FRLANT 254)

Marshall, Mary. The Portrayals of the Pharisees in the Gospels and Acts. FRLANT 254; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015. Hb;  €89.99.  Link to V&R 

In this important monograph, Mary Marshall answers the “comparative neglect of the Gospels and Acts” in recent research on Pharisees. Most scholars studying the “historical Pharisee” observe that the tendency of the Gospels to vilify the Pharisees limits their value as sources. Too frequently it is assumed the Gospels and Acts have a uniform, negative view of Pharisees. On the contrary, Marshall contends the Gospels and Acts are complex and each writer has an individual view of the Pharisees. Her goal is not a “quest for the historical Pharisee,” but rather to fairly and accurately describe how each of the four Gospel author’s presented the Pharisee in the service of their own theological agendas. She points out the Pharisees appear in all four Gospels and Acts without any explanation as to who they are or why they are significant (23). Josephus, on the other hand, does have an excursus explaining what a Pharisee was to his Roman audience.

Marshall, PhariseesIn order to achieve this goal, she begins with Mark as the earliest Gospel and argues Mark’s view of the Pharisees in “univocally negative” (66). The Pharisees oppose Jesus and his ministry at key points in the Gospel by challenging Jesus’ authority, either by questioning his behavior (Mark 2:15-3:6), by demanding a sign (Mark 8:11-15), or by engaging Jesus in a discussion on some particular practice (Mark 10:2-9, divorce; 12:13-17, payment of taxes to Caesar). Marshall thinks the challenge to Jesus’ behavior is not included to legitimate later church practice in Mark’s community (as is commonly assumed), but rather to convey his Christology and the Pharisee’s rejection of that Christology (41). Even the controversies over hand washing and korban in Mark 7 emphasize the “Christological implications of the Pharisees’ challenges” (51).

Assuming Matthew has used Mark in the creation of his own Gospel, Marshall examines Matthew’s redaction of Mark with respect to the Pharisees. Although Matthew includes all of Mark’s material on the Pharisees, it is possible to hear Matthew’s unique nuances by observing the changes he makes in his sources. For example, Matthew changes Mark’s “scribes” in Mark 12:24 in order to include the Pharisees in the request for a sign. She concludes Matthew, like Mark, is consistently negative toward the Pharisees and in no way reduces the negative implications of his sources. In most cases Matthew increases the visibility of the Pharisees in order to highlight their rejection of Jesus and the demands of the kingdom (123). For example, in Matthew 22:15-16 the Pharisees seem to have more authority than the Herodians (79). In 22:34-40, Matthew has omitted the scribe’s praise of Jesus and “portrays only unmitigated hostility” toward the Pharisees who only want to test him (89). After surveying several examples, Marshall argues a “motif of replacement emerges” in which the Pharisees are unworthy of a privileged position and are “easily replaced” (112). This is clear in the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-14). Although she comments briefly on the parable, Marshal refrains from comparing the parable to the Lukan parallel in order to argue for (or against) a Matthean redaction. She also does not suggest who these “replacements” are in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, although in her conclusion to the chapter she suggests Matthew is “defending the legitimacy of ‘Judaism’ ad the inheritance of the law and the prophets by his own community” (125). For Matthew, there is still hope for the Jewish people, but that hope is through Jesus, not the Pharisees. This implies a post 70 CE situation for Matthew’s Gospel.

Although there are differences between Luke and Acts, Marshall examines several themes which run through both works with respect to the Pharisees. First, the Pharisees have forfeited their place in the Kingdom of God by rejecting Jesus as early as his baptism (131). She examines several meals in Luke and argues Luke highlights an eschatological perspective in these meal scenes. For example, the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14) is given in response to a guest who assumes he will participate in the coming messianic banquet. Marshall correctly connects the Pharisee of Luke 14:15 with the prodigal’s brother, both of whom represent entitlement and an expectation of eating in the great banquet (135). A second theme appears more clearly in Acts: the reputation of the Pharisees serves Luke’s apologetic function (141). Gamaliel, for example, is a prominent Pharisee who appreciates the apostolic message (although he compares it to other failed messianic movements). In fact, Luke’s apologetic concern is to show that the Christian missionaries did not deviate from Judaism, but are in fact in continuity with it (154). A related third motif in Luke is that the Pharisees were most sympathetic toward early Christianity. Acts 15:5, for example, indicates some early Christians were from the Pharisees and were still concerned with the details of the Mosaic Law (160). Luke has redacted his sources to show the Pharisees some respect, although Marshall rejects the suggestion there is an affinity between Jesus and the Pharisees (179).

Finally, John’s unique presentation of the Pharisees presents several problems because scholars usually dismiss John as a historical source in general. With respect to the Pharisees, it is often assumed John lumps the Pharisees together with chief priests, scribes as “the Jews.” The Jews then represent the unreceptive world (229). Marshall challenges this assumption as an oversimplification. It is the Jews who are the objects of fear and attempt to kill Jesus. Pharisees are part of the crowd and are associated with the arrest of Jesus, but they are not the “real opponents” in John’s Gospel as is often assumed (231). In fact, they are not consistently hostile toward Jesus and some (like Nicodemus) are potential sympathizers. This observation causes her to reevaluate the popular view of J. Louis Martyn that John’s community was formally expelled from the synagogue about the time the birkath-ha-minim were introduced in the synagogues. She concludes the portrayal of opposition to Jesus in the fourth Gospel “may not accurately reflect any real life opposition to his community” (241).

Despite eschewing a “quest for the historical Pharisee,” Marshall concludes her chapters with a comment on the relationship of each Gospel to historical Pharisaism. She points out that Mark did not write a book about the Pharisees, but about Jesus (68), so some of the questions which interest scholars with respect to the Pharisees will not find a solution in Mark. Matthew’s portrayal of the Pharisee cannot be understood apart from his view of Judaism. Although Marshall sees Matthew as representing legitimate Judaism, the Pharisees are out the outside of Matthew’s definition of what Judaism should be in a post-70 CE world (125). For Luke, it is not certain his audience had any contact with Pharisees (183), so the Pharisees in Luke and Acts function to convey Luke’s literary themes. For John’s Gospel she evaluates and rejects popular views of a recent ejection of John’s community from the synagogue because John’s portrayal of the Pharisees is not homogeneous (241).

Conclusion. Marshall’s monograph is an excellent contribution to the study of the Pharisees. The unique contributions of each Gospel are clearly presented. This approach is refreshing since the Gospels are not uniform in their presentation of the Pharisees. Popular studies tend to make the Pharisees the arch-enemy of Jesus, but Marshall demonstrates that in Luke (and perhaps John) this is not the case. This book should be part of any discussion of the Pharisees in the New Testament.

NB: Thanks to Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.