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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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Chambers, Andy. Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts. Nashville: B&H, 2012. 292pp. Pb; $29.99.   Link to B&H Academic

Andy Chambers is senior vice president for Student Development and professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis. This study of Luke’s summary narratives is clearly evangelical. Chambers approaches Acts from the perspective of Christian faith and offers this study as a way of applying the book of Acts to contemporary church life.

ChambersIn the opening chapter of this monograph, Chambers describes how we “lost Luke’s theology of the church life” as a result of an over-emphasis on historical critical method. He is concerned here with the view Luke created fictional situations to present his view of how the church developed. The long shadow of F. C. Baur has prevented scholars from seeing Luke’s intention to describe the ideal life of the church in the summary narratives in Acts. Literary criticism and narrative theology has corrected this to a certain extent since these methods are focused on Luke’s rhetorical strategies as an author. Chambers will therefore make qualified use of contemporary narrative criticism, although he thinks Luke had specific intentions as the author of the text.

In his second chapter he describe summarization as a rhetorical feature of Acts. The first four of the features of summary narratives are found in a variety of Greco-Roman literature and Acts tends to include similar information. First, the summary narratives tell about church life as opposed to describing them dramatically. Second, summary narratives are unfocused general statements about church life. Third, narrative time accelerates in the summary narratives. Fourth, summary narratives depict an ongoing way of life in the Jerusalem church. One way that Luke describes this ongoing state is switching from an aorist to an imperfect verb in the summary statements. Chambers argues the change in sound of been inflicted verb would be picked up by an oral culture hearing the text read publicly.

In addition to these for standard features, Chambers notices a number of other items found in the Book of Acts. For example, since these statements are brief transitional summaries, they make only general references to time. Luke’s summaries usually follow chiastic ABA pattern and make frequent use of repetition. In addition, the summary statements tend to be culturally neutral. By this Chambers means they are not tied to Jewish practice.

His final and perhaps more controversial observation is that Luke only emphasizes the positive aspects of the Jerusalem congregation in summary narratives. Chambers does not think Luke downplays controversy or division in the early church in the narrative portions of his book, but he does omit this material in the summary statements. It is hard to imagine why Luke would include negative items in a summary statement intended to be an example to later church readers for how to “do church.”

Having clearly described Luke’s summarization strategy, chapters 3-5 of Exemplary Life carefully study each of the three summary narratives in the book of Acts. These summaries, Chambers argues, are Luke’s description of the “exemplary life” of the early church. A chapter is devoted to each summary narrative (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35; 5:12-16) in order to develop a long list of commitments made by the earliest believers. For example, it is well-known the believers in Acts 2:42-47 were committed to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to breaking bread together, and to prayer. But Chambers argues there were other defining features as well, such as fear of the Lord, signs and wonders, sharing in each other’s lives and possessions, daily fellowship (which included the practice of the Lord’s Supper). One important characteristic of the early Jerusalem church was caring for the needs of the community as well as whole city of Jerusalem.

Having created an impressive list of features of the ideal community from the three summary narratives, Chambers then examines four texts in which Luke describes Gentile communities. The goal is to demonstrate these Gentile communities share the same kind of features as the ideal, exemplary community found in the summary narratives. What he is looking for are “enriching echoes” of these summaries in the Samaritan mission (8:1-15 9:31), Antioch (11:19-30, 13:1-3), Ephesus (19-20), and Troas (20:7-12). Presumably these were chosen because the most clearly demonstrate the point Chambers wants to make, the ideal of Jerusalem was replicated in the Gentile churches.

Two minor critiques comes to mind here. First, the Samaritans are not exactly Gentiles, nor are the exactly Jews. A Christian community in Samaria may be implied by 9:31, but I am not sure 8:1-25 can be fairly described as the establishment of Gentile churches in the Pauline sense. Second, Chambers omits Thessalonica and Corinth, even though there are certainly Gentile churches established in both locations. This may simply be a matter of limiting the study to make the material manageable, or perhaps because these two particular Gentile communities would yield negative data not helpful for the ultimate thesis of the book. There is simply not much to work with for Thessalonica, but Luke devotes a nearly as much attention to Corinth as he does Ephesus, and far more than Troas. (To be fair, he frequently cites Acts 18 in his final chapter.)

In chapter 7 Chambers sums up his findings in order to demonstrate Luke offered the Jerusalem Community as an ideal for the later, primarily Gentile church to follow. This is the reason the summary statements are culturally neutral, lacking specific reference to the Jewish boundary markers. The boundary markers were undoubtedly practiced by the Jerusalem community, but since they were no longer relevant to the Gentile churches reading Acts, Luke has omitted them from the summaries.

He begins with a long list of 24 items found in the summary narratives and they uses these to create a biblical theology of “Church Life in Acts.” In the explanation following his list, Chambers shows how these items turn up one or more of the later Gentile churches, indicating Luke’s intention to encourage later readers follow the model of the earliest church. For the most part, this chapter lists non-controversial topics which ought to characterize any healthy church

However, some of the “exemplary features” are not necessarily found in the later texts, even if they are important features of Church Life. Chambers says “an exemplary church deliberately assimilates new believers,” citing the summary narrative in Acts 2:42 (147). But the later texts he cites in Acts do not necessarily support this point. Acts 11:26 only implies ongoing training and discipleship and 13:21 simply notes the proconsul Sergius Paulus believed and was astonished at the teaching of the Lord, but this is far from assimilated into a community committed to the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayer and breaking of bread. Of the verses listed, only 20:18-20 (Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders) clearly describes a community like Acts 2:42. Ultimately I think this extremely long list of characteristics of an exemplary church could have been more efficient, combining similar points in order to avoid this kind of problem.

Conclusion. Chambers has done what he set out to achieve. The summary narratives in the early part of Acts do indeed seem to be general enough to provide an example for later churches looking for a model for how to live as Christians. While I am less convinced the later reports in Gentile churches are true echoes of these summaries, in general Chambers makes an excellent argument that Luke’s intention was to provide a model of an ideal church for later generations to emulate. What is more, this point is quite preachable in an evangelical context. It is always difficult to know who to apply the book of Acts, especially the activities of the earliest church. Chambers does not want to apply the specifics, only the general example found in the summary statements. In the end, Chambers would say, this was Luke’s purpose for including such summaries.

NB: B&H did not provide me with this book, but I am sure they would have if I asked for it. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Walton, Steve, Thomas E. Phillips, Lloyd Keith Pietersen, F. Scott Spencer, eds. Reading Acts Today. FS Loveday C. A. Alexander. LNTS 427; London: T&T Clark, 2011. 232pp. Hb; $130.00; Pb. 39.95 (2013).   Link to T&T Clark

Loveday Alexander is Professor Emerita in Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield where she has been since 1986. Alexander is well known for her monograph Acts in its Ancient Literary Context: A Classicist Looks at Acts of the Apostles (LNTS 298; London: T&T Clark, 2005) as well as an important article on Luke’s preface to the book of Acts. She is honored by a former student Lloyd K. Pietersen in a preface to this festschrift.

Reading ActsThe first set of essays are grouped under the heading “Reading Acts in its Ancient Contexts,” beginning with Richard A. Burridge, “The Genre of Acts-Revisited.” Burridge is well-known for his work on the genre of the Gospels and in this important essay he applies the same methodology to the genre of Acts. He begins by surveying several options for their genre of the Gospel and Acts, including ancient history (Hengel and Dibelius), novel and epic (Pervo), and ancient biography with affinities to a historical monograph (Talbert). It is no surprise that he settles on the genre of bios for Acts, as he did in his What are the Gospels? (Eerdmans, 2004). To demonstrate this conclusion he examines the generic features of the book of Acts and uses a computer analysis of the verbs in the book to show that Paul is the subject of almost a quarter of the total, disciples another nearly 20%. From this analysis he concludes that Luke “he picks his key actors, namely Peter, Stephen, Paul and the other disciples, interpreting what is happening as the activity of God” (15). It appears the book of acts is “closely linked to both ancient biographies and the Gospels and its motive representation, size, structure, and use of literary sources” (23).

In the second essay in the section, Thomas E. Phillips asks, “Why Did Mary Wrap the Newborn Jesus in ‘Swaddling Clothes’? Luke 2.7 and 2.12 in the Context of Luke-Acts and First-Century Literature.” He begins by surveying symbolic “swaddling” in Greek literature beginning as early as the Homeric hymns. There is in fact a remarkably large number of examples of symbolic use of swaddling clothes in Greek myth him drama and poetry before the first century. For Phillips, the swaddling of Jesus is a “culturally appropriate Lucan sign indicating the birth of the divine son” (38). While it is possible this swaddling symbolism could be read as an anti-imperial rhetoric, Phillips grounds the use of the image in Luke’s specifically Christian theological agenda: “Luke was probably cloaking his Christian theology in the generic cultural garb of the first century and not countering any specific ancient text or tradition” (42).

In “Luke’s Use of Papias for Narrating the Death of Judas,” Dennis R. MacDonald develops something of a surprising argument for the origin of Luke’s Gospel. First, he assumes a date of 60-65 for the sayings of Jesus (which he calls Q+). Second, he thinks Mark knew Q and Matthew used both Q+ and Mark. Third, he dates Papias to about 110 and argues Luke used all four of these documents in 115-120. This Q+/Papias Hypothesis could be used to determine the contents of Q: “simply by comparing Matthew and Luke and expunging Markan contamination” (44). In order to test this hypothesis MacDonald studies the death of Judas in Matthews gospel, fragments of Papias found in Eusebius, and finally Acts 1:16-26. From this analysis, he claims “Luke not only knew Papias’ version of Judas’ death, he apparently knew Mathew’s as well!” (55). This intriguing hypothesis rests on a number of assumptions, not the least of which is a complicated Q theory. The source document known as Q has come under fire in recent years, perhaps limiting the usefulness for this proposal. I find it interesting that Mac Donald argues for a very late date of Luke yet accepts the traditional date for Papias. It seems the evidence for the date of Papias is taken at face value while external evidence for the date of Luke is not. If Luke is written in the 80s, a much more common view, then this hypothesis falls apart.

Scott Spencer’s contribution to the volume (“Scared to Death: The Rhetoric of Fear in the ‘Tragedy’ of Ananias and Sapphira”) pays close attention to the emotional impact of the strange death recorded in Acts chapter 5. After a few comments on Aristotle’s view of fear, Spencer suggest several objects of the sphere including God or the Holy Spirit, God’s apostle Peter, God’s adversary Satan, humanity’s ultimate foe Death, or loss of honor (shame or disgrace). As Spencer observes fewer does not concern the now dead couple but “the great fear gripping the whole church.” Ananias and Sapphira were the first to die in the Christian community but they were also the first to lie. He suggests perhaps Adam and Eve are the model for the story. Ultimately, the church “lives in the fear of the Lord” but also in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit” and it continues to grow in numbers.

Barry Matlock asks “Does the Road to Damascus Run through the Letters of Paul?” Matlock confesses he is a Pauline scholar attempting to study the biographical details of Paul’s life in the book of Acts. He recognizes some of the historical problems one encounters comparing calls version of his conversion with the book of acts. In addition he briefly wonders about whether to call Paul’s experience a conversion, a call, or even a transformation. He concludes all these terms are useful and he will use both conversion and call to “indicate Paul’s dramatic reversal and his sense of being appointed to a special task” (85). After surveying and analyzing Paul’s own reports of his conversion in the epistles, Matlock considers the New Perspective on Paul’s conversion. His main dialogue partner here is James Dunn, although he leans towards Francis Watson’s recent proposal that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles develop out of a failed mission to Israel. Matt luck in finding several points of comparison between Luke’s version of his conversion and Paul’s story from his epistles. Both have a sense of dramatic reversal after a time of deadly violence. Paul’s assertion of independence in Galatians is a point of contention. In Galatians Paul clearly claims to be independent of Jerusalem yet there is more cooperation in Acts.

The second section of the book, “Reading Themes in Acts,” begins with Joel B. Green’s essay, “Luke-Acts, or Luke and Acts? A Reaffirmation of Narrative Unity.”  Since the publication of Parsons and Pervo’s Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts in 1993 there has been a great deal of discussion over the designation Luke/Acts as a literary unit. For most of the twentieth century the scholarly consensus has been the two books were intended to be read together as a unit and there are theological themes running through both books. Green summarizes the canonical approach suggested by Robert Wall. Second, Green offers a summary of Kavin Rowe’s use of reception history. Third he examines Patricia Walters’ recent monograph The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts (2009). Walters argues that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by two different people. To support this she examines the seams and summaries in both Luke and Acts, concluding there is enough stylistic difference in these seams and summaries to suggest “with a high degree of probability” the books come from two different authors (109). Green critiques this suggestion on a number of levels, the most important is the small sample size Walters used for her comparison. Since only 31 verses (and four partial verses) were used for her stylistic analysis, the conclusion must remain tentative at best (111). On the other hand, Green argues the author of Acts was consciously finishing the story begin in Luke. To support this, he compares Luke 24 and Acts 1:1-14. For Luke, Green states, there is only one story to tell: “God’s gracious activity on behalf of Israel” (117). Acts 1:1-14 is transitional, alluding to Luke 24 as well as Luke 1-2. The book of Acts is therefore a continuation of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Church.

In “Luke’s Jerusalem Perspective,” James Dunn argues Luke based his presentation of Paul’s life from the version of the relationship of Paul and Jerusalem which he heard from Jerusalem itself. It is a well-known problem that the details of Paul’s life differ slightly in Acts when compared to Paul’s letters. Dunn agrees that Paul is the great hero of the second half of the book and the book may very well be Luke’s apologia for Paul, but Luke sought seems to have wanted to “rub off the jagged edges of Paul’s relationship with Jerusalem” in order to present the church has more unified and perhaps actually was (120-1). Order to make his case, Dunn first examines the resurrection appearances of Christ. These appearances are limited to the 40 days after the resurrection, meaning Paul himself would not meet the qualifications to be an apostle from Acts 1. With only one exception, Luke does not use the title apostle for Paul, despite Paul’s insistence he was appointed an apostle by the resurrected Jesus. From Jerusalem’s perspective, Paul would not be “one of the twelve.” The second piece of evidence is Luke’s presentation of two journeys to Jerusalem after Saul’s conversion. Dunn calls this “the most out rages disagreement between Paul and Luke” and he suggests the famine visit was undertaken by Barnabas alone (127). The third thread Dunn picks up is the relationship of the Jerusalem meeting and the apostolic decree (Acts 15) to the book of Galatians 2. He argues (as he has elsewhere) Galatians 2 and Acts 15 referred to the same meeting. Here Dunn suggests Luke tells the story from the perspective of the Jerusalem leadership (129). In Galatians to Paul’s reporting the meeting from his own perspective. Another well-known problem is Luke’s almost complete omission of Paul’s collection. Considering how important the collection is in Paul’s letters it is strange to find it completely omitted from the book of Acts. Dunn concludes Luke’s purpose is to present the beginnings of Christianity as he “essentially harmonious” (130).

In “Philological and Performative Perspectives on Pentecost,” Heidi J. Hornik & Mikeal C. Parsons examine Acts the perspective of performance rather than philology (meaning of words, syntax, etc.). While philology focuses in solely on the text, a performance study focuses on “the aftereffects of the text on a variety of readers” (138). In order to do this, the authors survey several pieces of art showing the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 in order to demonstrate how later readers enacted the text for themselves.

I. Howard Marshall argues Acts 20:28 is Luke’s equivalent to Mark 10:45 in his “The Place of Acts 20.28 in Luke’s Theology of the Cross.” Marshall argues Mark 10:45 was the “victim of Luke’s decision to drop the whole of Mark 10:35-45” (170). Marshall is reacting to Bart Erhman’s Orthodox Corruption, a recent popular work that Luke consciously eliminated Atonement Theology when Luke edited Mark’s gospel. Marshal finds this an unconvincing reinterpretation of the text (156) and he attempts to show Acts 20:28 serves as a kind of equivalent to the Atonement Theology found in Mark 10:45. Since Luke omitted the discussion of purity and the healing of the Gentile from Mark, the saying in Mark 10:45 had no context (159). Marshall shows that the phrase “through his own blood” in Acts 20:28 should be understood as representing an Atonement theology analogous to Mark 10:45.

In his “The Resurrection and its Witnesses in the Book of Acts,” Daniel Marguerat argues “witnessing to the resurrection” in Acts is not simply a repetition of the events following Jesus’ death. Witnessing to the resurrection is to read “history theologically,” or more precisely, Christologically (175). Witness is also “an announcement of the restoration of human beings” as well as a guarantee of the universality of salvation. Finally, “witnessing” must involve telling the story of one’s own life (183).

The final essay in the collection is by one of the volume’s editors, Steve Walton. He is concerned with an often overlooked theme in the book of Acts: “A Spirituality of Acts?”  People engage with God in the book of Acts primarily through divine initiative. God reveals himself to humans through angelic beings, the Holy Spirit, and dreams and visions. Another avenue of this divine initiation of spirituality the interpretation of Scripture and the light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit (193). Even the name of Jesus functions as a divine agent in healings signs and wonders, forgiveness of sin, even deliverance for demonic powers. While there is a human response to this divine initiative, Walton points out it is usually a slow, partial response to God (194). People do not often know what is going on when God clearly reveals himself. For example, in chapter 8 the Samaritans fail to fully understand Philip and in Acts 11 the community fails to understand fully the significance of Peter’s Gentile mission. This is a realistic portrayal of “the slowness of religious people to change” (194). Other responses to God include attention to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship around the breaking of bread and prayer.

Conclusion. This collection of essays would be considered valuable simply because it includes important articles by Burridge, Dunn, Marshall and Green. Yet virtually every chapter is a valuable contribution to the study of the book of Acts and a fitting tribute to the dedicatee, Loveday Alexander.

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

Chung-Kim, Esther and Todd R. Hains, editors. Acts. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 6. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014.  430 pp. Hc; $40.00.  Link to IVP Academic

This is the latest installment in the Reformation Commentary Series (RCS). Following in the footsteps of the popular Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture from InterVarsity, this commentary collects key sections from Reformation commentators and presents them in an accessible format for the modern reader. Esther Chung-Kim is a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College specializing in the History of World Christianity and Todd Hains is a PhD candidate in historical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity.

Timothy George’s General Introduction to the RCS is a good 23 page refresher on what constitutes the literature of the Reformation in terms of chronology and confession. There is far more to read from this period than just Luther and Calvin. This commentary therefore includes Erasmus as a biblical humanist as well as obvious examples from (Wittenberg, Luther; Strasbourg, Bucer; Zurich, Zwingli; Geneva, Calvin). There are also examples from the British reformation (including John Donne and William Perkins) and a few from the Anabaptist tradition.

RefCommentaryThe editors draw together a few key themes in their introduction to the commentary on Acts. First, the reformation commentators thought of themselves as “actors on the same stage” as the apostles in Acts. Acts was not history to a writer like John Donne, it is the story of what continues to happen in the present experience of the Church. In fact, Acts provided Reformation commentators an opportunity to discuss the “office of the Word,” or how one goes about preaching the Gospel. An additional interest of the Reformation commentators is baptism. This is not surprising given the variety of views sacrament during this period of history as well as the inconsistency of Acts in portraying the rite. In the body of this commentary, diverse opinions are included, so that from the text of Acts 2:42 Michael Sattler (a Swiss radical, 1490-1527) can argue circumcision is not a type of baptism, Peter Walpot (a Moravian radical, d. 1578) can dismiss infant baptism, and the Augsburg Confession (1530) argues in favor of efficacious infant baptism (p. 32-33). Luther can turn Paul’s baptism in Acts 9 into a defense of infant baptism, while Leonhard Schiemer (an Austrian martyr, d. 1528) uses the same text to argue for believer’s baptism (146-7).

Another interest of the Reformation commentaries on Acts is treatment of the poor. The church had to deal with the poor in a world that was rapidly changing. While Calvin and the Geneva reformers sought to create a kind of social welfare system to assist the poor, immigrants and others displaced by political turmoil, the radical reformers were abolishing personal property and living lives of voluntary poverty. Obviously the Munster radicals did not write commentaries on Acts, but the model of Acts 2:42-47 was taken seriously. Peter Walpot is included as a voice declaring personal property to be the source of all kinds of sin, while Calvin and others argue for the proper use of property from the same texts.

One of the most important themes of Acts which resonated with the Reformation commentators is suffering for the faith. As Chung-Kim and Hains state, the Reformation “caused a revolution in the Christian theology of suffering” (liv). Menno Simons, for example, describes Paul’s suffering at Lystra as an example of the “misery, tribulation, persecution, bonds, fear and death” that attests the Spirit of Liberty (198).

The body of the commentary begins with the ESV text of Acts followed by a brief overview of the pericope. The editors then collect brief extracts from Reformation commentaries in two columns, providing a short summarizing heading in bold type. The name of the writer appears first in small caps, followed by the extract. Latin is given in brackets when necessary. The entry concludes with the name of the work and a footnote provides the reader necessary bibliographic information on the entry. There are no sidebars or explanations of the details of the text of Acts (with the exception of a chart on the Herodian dynasty in Acts 12, p. 162). Since the purpose of the commentary is to report the interpretations of the Reformers, this is to be expected.

The book concludes with several appendices, including a map of Europe during the Reformation and a timeline for events in the Reformation countries for the years 1337-1691. There is a 23 page collection of biographical sketches of the Reformers collected in the commentary as well as short descriptions of key documents and confessions of the period. A bibliography of primary sources is included along with several indices. The bibliography lists online resources where available.

Conclusion. Like the Ancient Christian Commentary series, this book is not a commentary on the text Bible as much as a collection of observations Acts drawn from a narrow range of history. While some of these issues seem obtuse to the modern reader, many questions the Reformation raised when they read Acts are similar in nature to what Christians ask 500 years later. The editors of the volume are to be commended for culling through a massive literature in order to find salient points of contact over this long period of church history.

One contribution of the series is to provide English translations for some Reformers who have yet to be translated. By arranging these readings in a semi-topical fashion, the editors make it quite easy for the non-expert to read what might be an overwhelming and bewildering commentary. A good introduction to reading Reformation writers for those interested is Reading Scripture with the Reformers by the Reformed Commentary series editor Timothy George.

 

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.

Lightfoot, J. B. The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 1; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 399 pp. Hb; $40.00.   Link to IVP

Ben Witherington discovered the hand-written manuscript of this long-forgotten commentary on Acts by J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. The introduction to the commentary explains how Witherington had an opportunity to examine Lightfoot’s papers during a sabbatical visit at St. John’s College at Durham University. (See also Witherington’s “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts,” Biblical Archaeology Review 40.2 [March/April 2014]). This volume contains 6 black and white glossy pages of photographs illustrating the original pages discovered at Durham. According to IVP Academic, there are two more volumes planned in this series, one on the Gospel of John and another on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.

Lightfoot Acts V1Why would anyone care to read a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? For some modern readers, Lightfoot’s legacy has been forgotten.  But the mid-nineteen century, Lightfoot was considered one of the foremost scholars of his day. The editors of this book begin their introduction with the words of William Sanday: “No one could match Lightfoot for ‘exactness of scholarship, with the erudition, scientific method, sobriety of judgment and lucidity of style.’” His commentaries on the Galatians (1865), Philippians (1868) and Colossians (1875) are often reprinted and his work on the Apostolic Fathers was the standard until the Loeb edition by Krisopp Lake.

Witherington says “Lightfoot believed wholeheartedly that nothing could be theologically true that was historically false when it comes to matters involving a historical religion such as Christianity” (36). Lightfoot believed that “Faith seeking understanding” and “honesty about early Christianity and its Lord need not be feared by a person of Christian faith” (40). The authors of the introduction to the commentary are obviously infatuated with Lightfoot and sometimes bemoan the fact that this material was not published soon after was written. If it had been, Witherington speculates, perhaps it would have “forestalled all sorts of rash judgments about Luke as a writer of Greek orHe historian and would equally have made it impossible the conjecture that this document was written in the second century A.D. (39).

Lightfoot offers a discussion of the inspiration of Scripture as a “pre-introduction” to his commentary. Lightfoot balances divine inspiration with human agency in a way that seems familiar to evangelicals today. He calls inspiration which loses sight of human agency “irrational.” “The timidity which shrinks from the application of modern science or criticism to the interpretation of Scripture, is evinces a very unworthy view of its character. If the Scriptures are indeed true, they must be in accordance with every true principle of whatever kind” (49). This tenacious commitment to both Scripture and Reason is rare in the modern commentator, favoring either one or the other extreme.

With respect to typical matters of introduction, Lightfoot begins with a discussion of the manuscripts he will use in his commentary. After briefly discussing the rules of textual criticism, he offers a short history of textual criticism in modern times. Remember Tischendorf had only just discovered and published Sinaticus when this commentary was being written. Alexandrinus and Vaticanus are the two main texts he consults, along with Codex C and Codex Bezae. He offers several pages on the authenticity and credibility of the book of Acts. This section appears in more or less outline format and some of his points are not argued. Obviously if this commentary were completed these points would have been expanded. With respect to authorship, Lightfoot believes it is undoubted the author was a companion of Paul, and concludes the traditional view Luke is the author seems to be “the most natural conclusion” (65).

The commentary itself proceeds as does Lightfoot’s other commentaries. He begins with a brief summary of the pericope followed by short notes on Greek words and phrases of interest. After this commentary, there are a few pages of notes on the Greek text itself, commenting on textual variants and suggesting solutions. The editors the book describe Lightfoot as a “walking lexicon of Greek literature of all sorts, and not infrequently he was able to cite definitive parallels to New Testament usage that decided the issue of the meaning of a word or a phrase” (38). This is clear from a reading of the commentary; Lightfoot constantly cites a wide range of classical Greek sources to illustrate the meaning of the text.

With respect to textual critical issues Lightfoot touches on a large number of variants, often arguing the Received Text (the Majority Text) is in error and must be modified. Lightfoot obviously wrote well before the discovery of most of the papyri and he certainly is unaware of the vast majority of manuscripts which have come to light since the middle of the 19th century. Nevertheless his comments on textual criticism are often insightful for understanding the text of Acts.

The editors of the commentary provide occasional footnotes reporting corrections of marginal comments made by Lightfoot at a later time. For example, occasionally the editors include penciled in comments like “this was written before I saw Alford’s note” (p. 199). Sometimes the editors correct Lightfoot where he has cited the wrong text (p. 103).

Appendices. Following the commentary, the editors have included several additional items related to Lightfoot’s work on Acts. First, an article on Acts for Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible is included (279-326). The editors speculate this introduction was one of the last pieces he ever wrote on the New Testament. It is in fact a worthy introduction to a commentary on Acts.

The second appendix is an article entitled “Illustrations on the Acts from Recent Discoveries,” originally published in Contemporary Review in May 1878 (327-337). Lightfoot states “no ancient work affords so many tests of veracity,” a remarkable statement compared to contemporary commentaries on Acts which dismiss the book as historically unreliable. I doubt this brief article would convince anyone today dismiss the historical value of the Book of Acts.

A third appendix reprints a lecture on Paul’s history after Acts. Lightfoot surveys a number of early church writers who report the tradition Paul was released after the book of acts and continued his ministry in Spain. He therefore assumes this widely excepted tradition in sketches a brief chronology of what happened after Paul was released from prison. Order to do this Lightfoot makes use of the Pastoral Epistles, another rare practice in contemporary commentaries on the Book of Acts.

The final appendix is Lightfoot’s obituary from Contemporary Review in published in 1893 (352-386). The editors have enhanced this piece by adding footnotes identifying the various works mentioned in this anonymous homage, likely penned by either John Harmer or F. J. A. Hort, according to Witherington.

Conclusion. Overall this commentary is a valuable contribution to the history of scholarship on the Book of Acts. Modern commentaries still cite Lightfoot and his views on textual issues and lexical issues should not be taken lightly. Yet it must be understood this commentary is 150 years old and Lightfoot is simply unaware of the research done on the Second Temple Period in recent years. Nevertheless the simplicity and clarity of Lightfoot’s commentary is a joy to read. Like the Ancient Christian Commentaries and the Reformation Commentary published by IVP Academic, this commentary serves the purpose for which it was intended. This is not a cutting-edge, highly detailed commentary on Acts, but it does reflect serious exegesis from one of the great commentators of the nineteenth century.

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.

Shepherd, David J. and Christopher J. H. Wright. Ezra and Nehemiah. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 243 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

In his essay on reading the books theologically, Christopher Wright makes the remarkable observation that “community building is the heart of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah” (158). Aside from the prayers in Nehemiah, these books rarely find their way into the preaching of the contemporary church. But if Wright is correct, then these two neglected books offer an insight into a community redefining itself within the flow of God’s redemptive plan. They are indeed building a community and the process may be a model for community building in a contemporary context. The difficulty is finding a hermeneutical bridge between the obscure world of the post-exilic world and the modern church. Since this Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary is example using Theological Interpretation of Scripture approach, the authors work very hard to put Ezra and Nehemiah on the biblical theology map.

Shepherd, Wright, Ezra, NehemiahThe authors do not concern themselves with the origin of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah other than to date the book sometime after 430 B.C. The introduction discusses sources such as proclamations, letters, lists, and prayers in addition to the persona recollections of Nehemiah and Ezra. An unknown editor wove these various sources into the two canonical books. This editor, who may or may not be the same as the editor of the books of Chronicles, adapted the sources for his own theological purposes. Since the work is a theological commentary, Shepherd and Wright want to give special attention to the editor’s theological interests before moving to the New Testament and Christian traditions (9).

Shepherd wrote the commentary which covers both Ezra and Nehemiah in about one hundred pages. Given the brevity of this section of the book, he moves through paragraphs rather than verses. Hebrew appears in the body of the commentary with transliteration so those without Hebrew can still make good use of the commentary. In fact, in only rarely does Shepherd cite than a Hebrew word or two. He does interact with contemporary scholarship on Ezra and Nehemiah in the footnotes. At the end of chapters he provides a brief summary of the section.

There are three essays which extend the exegesis into theological interpretation. First, Wright contributes fifty-four pages on “Reading Ezra-Nehemiah canonically. In this excellent essay Wright seeks to rescue Ezra-Nehemiah from Old Testament scholars who see Ezra as the source of the legalism of later Judaism. The essay has two main focal points, God and the People of God. That God is the creator, sovereign and the redeemer are something of a default theology for virtually the whole Hebrew Bible, but it is surprising to find that there are echoes of the exodus narrative throughout Ezra-Nehemiah. For Wright, the “historical-redemptive tradition is harnessed to the challenging situation the exiles faced on their return” (118).

This leads directly to a unique contribution of Ezra-Nehemiah, the idea that God reveals himself in Scripture. Ezra reads the Law and the people respond with obedience, gratitude and joy (121). Wright provides a preachable outline of the use of Scripture in Ezra-Nehemiah. There is reading and listening to the word of God followed by explanation and teaching of the word. Teaching implies properly trained priests who are able to explain the Law to the people. This intense encounter with the word of God touches the people deeply and there is weeping and rejoicing. The people do not intellectually study the Law, the Law exposes their sin and reminds them of the grace of God. But the response is not wholly emotional, the people find some way to do the word of God, demonstrating they have fully understood the Scriptures (122-3).

In Ezra-Nehemiah the people of God are rooted in a historic identity. This is the function of the genealogies in the books. They connect the present people of God to the people and places from before the destruction of Jerusalem. What is more, this connection to the past is used to build a hope for the future (135). The unified people of God are called to be different than the surrounding people. This leads Wright to one of the more difficult aspects of Ezra-Nehemiah, Ezra’s demand that men who married foreign women should divorce their wives. Wright points out the demand is based on religion, not race. The distinctiveness of the Israelite faith requires that any contamination of worship should be purged (146). This of course looks back to Solomon, but Wright examines the way Ezra and the leaders interpret the divorce laws to apply them to a new situation. The Law did not ban all foreign marriage and there are several examples of important Israelite leaders who did marry a foreign woman (Moses and Boaz, for example).  The requirement to divorce the foreign women is not a prophetic statement, but an exegetical decision. Although Wright does not make this point, this observation helps with the application of Ezra-Nehemiah’s view of divorce in different circumstances.

Wright’s second essay in on “Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Theologically Today” (pp 158-187). In this section Wright works very hard to connect the “people of God” in Ezra-Nehemiah to the people of God in the New Testament, especially the Pauline epistles. The people of God know who they are and where they are in the overall story of redemption. At several points in this essay Wright bemoans the Church’s lack of interest in the Old Testament because this implies the present people of God are unaware of where they have come from as well as their place in the story of God’s redemption. Both of Wright’s theological chapters find traction in Ephesians especially the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11-22.

Wright draws several practical applications for modern church life from Ezra-Nehemiah. First, the community in Ezra-Nehemiah exalted the Scriptures (169). Ezra is a model for pastors and theological educators in his commitment to the word of God and his preparation for doing ministry. Second, the community in Ezra-Nehemiah was committee to worship. The temple is the most obvious example of this, but the books describe the Israelites giving freewill offerings and participating in worship in many other contexts. Third, the community in Ezra-Nehemiah is committed to justice. Nehemiah stands on the foundation of the Old Testament by condemning the debilitating effects of poverty and exposing its root causes (178). Nehemiah’s passionate, public and practical response to social issues in the post-exilic community are a model for contemporary responses to injustice. Wright connects this engaged social action to the spiritual worship which characterized the community (180). Worship and social action should not be seen as two separate activities of the church.

David Shepherd concludes the volume with a shorter essay on “Leadership in Ezra-Nehemiah” (188-211). Most contemporary studies of Nehemiah are bland leadership books which illustrate some modern (corporate business) leadership models by cherry-picking verses in Nehemiah and ignoring the actual context of Ezra-Nehemiah. These books were not intended to be “leadership manuals” nor do they directly address modern leadership issues. But, without being too cynical, ignoring most of the content of Ezra-Nehemiah sells more books for publishers than a quality exegetical commentary on the books. Shepherd takes a different approach by examining Ezra, Nehemiah, and the other leaders as examples of charismatic leadership (following the work of Max Weber).

Conclusion. The three essays are worth the price of the commentary since they are based on a clear understanding of Ezra-Nehemiah and serious attention to the text. There are more detailed exegetical commentaries and more in-depth studies of the post-exilic period, but this Two Horizons commentary will serve pastors and teachers as they strive to communicate the important message of these two books.

 

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

 

Anderson, Amy and Wendy Widder. Textual Criticism and the Bible. Revised Edition. Lexham Methods Series 1; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. Pb.; 236 pp. $29.99   Link to Lexham Press

This volume is the first of five texts in the Lexham Methods Series. Each volume is edited collection of basic introductions to important concepts for biblical studies. The series appears in both print and Logos Bible Software format. Although there are several basic introductions to textual criticism, it is rare to find a primer on textual criticism of both testaments in a single volume.

Anderson, Widder, Textual CriticismThe first two chapters of this guide to textual criticism define the discipline by describing the goal of textual criticism as establishing the earliest reading text of a biblical text (40). This is not translation or interpretation since textual criticism precedes both of these steps. Textual criticism is necessary because of the massive number of copies, translations, and quotations of Scriptures in the literature of the early church, all preserved in hand copied manuscripts.

The bulk of chapter two catalogs the usual list of textual variations with several examples draw from examples from both testaments. Greek and Hebrew is used, but the texts appear in translation so a reader without language skills will be able to get the sense of the explanation of the variants.

  • Haplography, writing something once instead of twice
  • Parablepsis, “eye-skipping” that overlooks and eliminates or repeats text
  • Dittography, writing something twice instead of once
  • Conflation, combining multiple readings
  • Glosses, incorporating marginal notes into the text
  • Metathesis, switching the order of letters or words
  • Confusing one letter for a similar-looking letter
  • Homophony, Confusing words that sound alike

For the most part these are unintentional errors which slip into the copying process. Although there are a few difficult examples, most are easy to explain and do not cause much trouble. More difficult are intentional changes to the text. In many cases a copies will correct spelling and grammar with the goal of improving the text. This is especially the case when the original syntax of the text is difficult. Sometimes a copyist will harmonize two parallel texts. This may occur when a copyist remembers the parallel passage and unintentionally inserts it into section he is copying, as in the case of the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. But sometimes this is an intentional attempt to harmonize two parallel passages. One a few occasions, a copyist made theological changes, perhaps to prevent a reader from misunderstanding a text. The authors include the tiqqune sopherim as Old Testament examples. These are eighteen modifications to the Masoretic text made because the reading of the text seemed to be irreverent. The classic example of this theological change in the New Testament is 1 John 5:6-8 where the Latin Vulgate is clearly Trinitarian.

The second chapter concludes the basic method of textual criticism. Anderson and Widder offer three principle for evaluating external evidence, preferring the older manuscripts (although this is nuanced slightly since early manuscripts are just as likely to have intentional changes), the reading that has multiple attestations, and the reading found in a variety of manuscripts (text types, families). With respect to internal evidence or transcriptional probability, the basic rule is “the reading that best explains the origin of the other readings is probably original” (45, citing David Alan Black). Three corollaries follow, usually called the “canons of textual criticism.” The critic prefers the shorter reading, the more difficult reading, and the reading which best fits the author of the text. This assumes (correctly) that copyists were more likely to expand a text rather than shorten it. This is the case for the name of Jesus, a copyist is more likely to add titles to the name of Jesus than delete them. It also assumes that a copyist is more likely to smooth out difficult grammar.

After the first two chapters outlining the science and art of textual criticism, there are two sixty-plus page chapters for both the Old and New Testaments. Both chapters feature brief description of the materials for doing textual criticism, such as critical editions of manuscripts, translations and versions. These are necessarily brief and concise, and often summarized with helpful charts giving names, dates, and scholarly conventions for abbreviating these materials in the textual apparatus of critical editions. There are helpful charts for important papyri, majuscules, minuscules, but not for church fathers or lectionaries. Some readers will find these charts frustratingly brief, but since comprehensive lists appear in the front of the critical editions of the Greek New Testament is unnecessary to include more than the important witnesses in a handbook like this.

Both chapters have a section on method with several examples of the process a student might follow in order to examine a particular variation. The tree steps are simple: (1) assemble the evidence for all variants, (2) analyze the variants, and (3) draw conclusions. I will comment on two examples, one from each testament. For Lamentations 3:22 there is a variant “we are used up” or “they are used up”? The evidence is drawn from the Peshitta, a Targum, and the Vulgate (although the LXX is not used in this example, it is for other examples in the chapter). The student then should work through the list of potential variations in order to explain which reading is likely to be the original reading.

Doing New Testament textual criticism is more complicated because there are far more manuscripts and two different ways of indicating variants. The critical apparatus in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament uses a series of sigla to indicate a variant (see the chart on pages 150-51, this is worth memorizing) while the United Bible Society uses footnotes when a variant occurs. The general rule is the NA has more variations and less evidence, the UBS has fewer variants and more evidence. Using the same three steps as outlined for the Old Testament, the authors walk a student through the process for a variant in John 3:32 using the evidence in NA28. Each chapter ends with an annotated Resources for Further Study. These resources are often sections or chapters rather than a monograph or article.

The final chapter is a short reflection on textual criticism today. Anderson and Widder make two points as a conclusion to their book. First, they discuss how textual criticism is reflected in popular Bible translations. This includes a short note on what critical editions the translation used for their translations as well as the textual-critical approach used by the translators. Second, the chapter includes two pages considering the impact textual criticism has on the authority of Scripture. They conclude “we can have confidence that the Bible we use reflects an extraordinary degree of accuracy and integrity” (184).

Two items add value to this book for students. First, there is a twenty page glossary of terms used in the book. Second, the new edition of the book has an expanded, twenty page bibliography, including subsections for critical editions of the Old and New Testament, Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint and Vulgate). The previous edition of the book was heavily dependent on Bible dictionaries, especially the Anchor Bible Dictionary; that is not the case for the revised edition. The book includes subject and Scripture indices.

Logos Bible Software Features. The book has a number of illustrations and charts. Most key terms appear in a PowerPoint like slides. These images can be copied and pasted into presentation software. The Logos Bible Software version also provides links to the glossary for key terms and scholars. For example, on the desktop version, floating the cursor over terms like Origen, Vulgate, or haplography and the glossary entry will appear; clicking the link will go to the glossary. This is extremely helpful when reading the book on an iPad. I am not sure if this is easily done, but I would challenge Lexham to take this glossary and release it in a flash card format, such as Study Blue, Quizlet or the adaptive learning technology platform Cerego. This would make the book more useful to students, especially of the book is adopted as a textbook.

 

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.

 

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