ETS Atlanta – Luke / Acts Consultation

I am at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta this week, where it is “all justification, all of the time.”  At least that is true for the biblical studies papers. Attendance is high this year, breaking all records I am told.  Perhaps the opportunity to defend the Reformed Tradition against the New Perspective was tempting for many, but I am seeing quite a few dedicated followers of Wright as well.  I assume the bump in attendance has to do with the topic and plenary speakers, but also the location.  Atlanta is such an easy place to get to and is very convention-friendly.  One thing that is unforgivable is the lack of free wireless in the hotel.  I feel like I should have stayed in a much less comfortable hotel and got free wireless and a bagel for breakfast.

Last night we heard Thomas Schreiner for the plenary session, today after lunch it is Frank Theilman, and tomorrow morning we get N. T. Wright and a panel discussion.  I plan to make a few comments about each plenary session.

Wednesday afternoon I attended all four of the papers in the Luke / Acts Consultation.  All were excellent papers, well presented and thought provoking.  Osvaldo Padilla presented a paper on the speeches in Acts entitled “Reading Acts with the Chronicler.”  Padilla observed that the usual way of treating Luke as a historian is to compare him to Greco-Roman historians like Thuycidides, more or less because Thucydides gives us a nice methodological statement on how he wrote his speeches.  While there is nothing wrong with this, there are some problems, since not all Greco-Roman historians were as careful as Thuycidides.  Many embellish speeches with rhetoric in order to show-off their education and rhetorical skills.  A more profitable avenue of research, says Padilla, is to observe how the Chronicler handles speeches.  Luke was “steeped in the Hebrew Bible,” so the speeches in Chronicles may provide a model for Luke’s speeches in Acts.  Padilla chose the speech of the Queen of Sheba (1Kings 10:1-3 / 2 Chron 9:1-12) and concludes that the Chronicler was very conservative in treating his source.  The speech of Hurum in 1 Kings 10:14-29 / 2 Chron 9:13-28 is a littler different.  Here the Chronicler does slightly modify the speech, but he does so by using other scripture (Exod 35) which was more or less implied by the original context. He concludes Luke was very conservative in the use of his sources, using speeches especially from outsiders to highlight his theological agenda.

Brian Mark Rapske read entitled “Reading Acts in the Light of Contemporary Border Studies.”  Rapske summarized the contribution of this sociological field and showed that borders are both geographical and social.  Borders are never as stable as is often assumed, the are not solid lines, but rather airbrushed lines.  People that live along borders tend to challenge both sides of the border; they are “strangers” and “edge-walkers.”  While this was the first time I have heard of this sort of sociological study, I was fascinated with how this might be applied to what I called the “fringes of Judaism” in my survey of Acts 1-12.  I look forward to using some of Rapske’s insights when I return to Acts in the Spring semester.

Eckhard Schnabel presented a paper on “Fads and Common Sense: Reading Acts in the First Century and Reading Acts Today.”  He summarized seven different approaches to Acts, from the historical, literary, and narrative criticism, to the more radical approaches of feminism and post-colonialism. He rightly criticized any commentary on Acts that ignores historical issues, although it is possible that come criticism of recent Acts studies and overly interested in historical issues is well-taken.  I would certainly categorize my self as overly-interested in the historical details (over against the literary and sociological approaches) and find the warning to attend more closely to Luke’s theology a challenge.  Nevertheless, Schanbel’s conclusion is that no one method can fully unpack the book of Acts, a blending of any (or all?) of the methods is required.  I was handicapped for this paper in that I did not get a copy of his bibliography which was distributed.  There were a number of studies mentioned that I need to browse.

The final paper of the consultation was Jeff Hubing on the “Purpose of Acts: A Literary Study.”  Hubing argued that the prologue of Acts ought to include 1:1-22, not simply the first three verses.  The programmatic statement in 1:8 is a the center of this pericope and the whole unit is a “resumptive prologue” reminding the reader of what the author as already said (in Luke 24) and what he will be saying in the rest of the book.  This is something like “how did we get here, and where are we going.”  To a certain extent this is like the “programmatic statement” in Luke 4, Jesus reading Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth.  Hubing did an excellent job showing that the key vocabulary in Acts 1:8 (spirit, power, witness) is scattered throughout the book, but especially at key points.

Once again, the Luke / Acts Consultation provided four challenging papers which were all worthy of the conference.  I look forward to reviewing this material as I continue to work in Acts.