Harvey, John D. and David Gentino. Acts. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2023. 576 pp. Hb. $41.99 Link to Kregel Ministry
John Harvey serves as Dean and Professor of New Testament at Columbia International University Seminary & School of Ministry. In addition to his Interpreting the Pauline Letters (Kregel 2012), Harvey previously published the Romans volume in the Kregel Exegetical Library and the Romans volume in B&H’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series. David Gentino provides the preaching sections of the commentary. He serves as the lead pastor of Columbia Presbyterian Church in South Carolina.
Harvey and Gentino divide Acts into seven major sections based on geographical regions. These seven sections are further divided into 46 preaching units (pages 13-50, conveniently outlined on page 72).
The commentary assumes a single author for both Luke and Acts. They take the “we passages” as self-references to the author. Internal and external evidence suggests that Luke is the author, but whether or not he was a doctor by trade is “an open question.” Dates for the Book of Acts range from the early 60s to the early 2nd century. If historical Luke wrote the book, then Acts must have been written sometime between A. D. 60-95, depending on the gospel of Luke’s relationship with the Gospel of Mark. They conclude that a date of 60-75. Theophilus was most likely “a high government official” (59). The larger audience, however, was urban, Greek, and educated. Concerning the purpose of acts, they suggest a multifaceted approach, which includes historical, theological, evangelistic, apologetic, and missiological purposes.
Harvey and Gentino accept the historicity of the Book of Acts. Luke used sources, including Barnabas, Mark, Philip, Paul, and Luke himself. If the book is measured by certain criteria (access to events, witnesses, no self-contradictions or contradictions with other witnesses such as Paul’s letters), then the book must be judged as historically reliable. Historical reliability is often questioned in two areas. First, Acts is about one-third speeches; how did Luke know the content of these speeches? The speeches are helpfully summarized in a chart listing speaker, location, audience, purpose (evangelistic, apologetic, etc.), and rhetorical type (deliberative, forensic, etc.). Following I. Howard Marshall and Craig Keener, they observe that no one thinks these speeches are verbatim. Creating speeches to fit the context was common in ancient history.
The second area where historicity is questioned is the book’s relationship to Paul’s letters. Harvey and Gentino list these differences but also many similarities. Following F. F. Bruce, they conclude that data about Paul from his letters and Acts agree well enough without harmonizing (65). One particularly difficult section is harmonizing Paul’s various visits to Jerusalem in Acts with Paul’s own report of these visits in Galatians. The commentary takes Galatians 2:1-10 as the famine visit (Acts 11:27-30), and Galatians 2:11-14 is the Antioch Incident (unreported in Acts). Galatians was written before Acts 15 (about AD 48). Paul does not mention the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15) or the “vow visit” (Acts 18:22) in his letters. The “vow visit” to Jerusalem is implied by the phrase “went up to greet the church.” The verb “went up” (ἀναβαίνω) is typically associated with going up to Jerusalem in Acts (409). Romans 15:25-32 anticipates the collection visit (Acts 21).
A major issue for a commentary intended to help preachers and teachers apply the Book of Acts in a church setting is whether the Book contains “normative content.” Harvey suggests nine criteria (drawn from his 2015 article on this issue). The question is, “How can preachers apply the Book of Acts to contemporary church issues?” For example, what should we do with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)? Rather than a lesson on giving, Gentino relates the passage to hypocrisy and spiritual arrogance (drawing parallels to Adam and Eve). In Acts 4:32-36, the application is to generosity when helping people in need. Gentino points out that the early church did not separate piety and theology from social action (145).
They summarize the theological emphases of the Book of Acts in four headings. First, God is at work through the Holy Spirit to fulfill the promises of his word. Second, Jesus is the Messiah and savior for every people group. Third, the gospel advances through Apostolic proclamation and demonstrations of divine power. Fourth, church life and growth occur in the context of opposition.
Each commentary unit begins with a repetition of the exegetical idea, theological focus, preaching idea, and preaching pointers from the introduction. The exegetical section begins with literary themes and structure. The exposition covers paragraphs of the text, commenting on key words and phrases. Greek appears without transliteration. References to modern commentaries are cited in-text (MLA style). There are no footnotes in this commentary. Sometimes Harvey deals with an exegetical detail in a sidebar entitled “textual analysis.” These insets deal with syntactical and lexical nuances and occasionally textual critical issues. Unlike other Kerux commentaries, all these insets are labeled “textual analysis.” Kerux commentaries use grey boxes for background issues (people and locations), key phrases for theology in Acts (witness, “filled with the Holy Spirit”), or difficult problems (Theudas or Judas in Acts 5, Were the twelve disciples of John Christians?, Saving Faith in Like-Acts).
After a short section on the theological focus of the unit, Gentino discusses preaching and teaching strategies. He begins with a short exegetical/theological synthesis of the unit, then offers a series of observations on contemporary connections (what does it mean? Is it true? Now what?) He then offers some suggestions for creativity in the presentation of the unit. In this section, he offers illustrations from history, culture, literature, and pop culture, concluding with two or three bullet points outlining the unit for preaching. Each chapter ends with five discussion questions encouraging the reader to draw their own implications and applications from the text.
Conclusion. In a post-Keener world, an Acts commentary with just under 600 pages seems brief. Given the goals of the commentary series, Harvey cannot comment on every verse (let alone every word) of the book of Acts. He can only briefly mention the cultural and historical background of the locations Paul visits. For example, readers expecting several pages on Philippi will find only a single, brief paragraph. A common criticism of massive commentaries is that the often miss the forest for the trees. This is not the case for Harvey and Gentino. The details are important, but their goal is a clear and concise explanation of the text to draw appropriate application for Christian readers. Since the Kerux series aims to combine exegetical and homiletical notes to serve Christian communities, this commentary will enrich pastors and Bible study leaders preparing to teach through the book of Acts.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Other volumes reviewed in this series:
- David B. Schreiner, and Lee Compson, 1 & 2 Kings
- Creighton Marlowe and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: Wisdom Psalms
- Duane Garrett and Calvin Pearson, Jeremiah and Lamentations
- Gregory MaGee and Jeffrey Arthurs, Ephesians
- Thomas Moore and Timothy D. Sprankle, Philippians
- Adam Copenhaver and Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Colossians, Philemon
- Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews
- Timothy E. Miller and Bryan Murawski, 1 Peter