Unity of Luke-Acts in Current Scholarship

That we should even be talking about Luke-Acts or “Luke and Acts” is an open question in contemporary scholarship. It has become common in Luke-Acts studies to discuss several potential ways in which Luke and Acts can be read together. Following the outline of Pervo and Parsons (Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts), there are five factors to consider when discussing the unity of Luke and Acts.

First, authorial unity is almost universally accepted. Recently, however, Patricia Walters challenged this consensus in her 2009 monograph The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts. She argued the summary statements in Luke and Acts indicate two different authors. Walters’s study has been frequently reviewed so it is not necessary to fully examine her argument here. I agree with the common criticism her sample texts are too small to be significant. Although Walters’s study has convinced few, it is at least possible Luke and Acts come from two different authors.

Second, literary unity refers to reading Luke and Acts together as a unit. Since Cadbury’s The Making of Luke-Acts in 1939, it has become customary to refer to Luke and Acts with a hyphen, or perhaps a slash, as if to say there is a single book with two parts. An analogy might be Josephus’s multi-volume Antiquities of the Jews or The Jewish War.  In both cases there are themes and interests running through all of the books in the series and it is quite clear Josephus intended his Antiquities as a unit. In fact, there are no real segues in Antiquities at the beginning of a new book. In the case of Luke-Acts, there is an intentional allusion to the first book at the beginning of Acts and many have observed some literary connections between the end of Luke and the beginnings of Acts. Luke Timothy Johnson focuses on the literary aspects of Luke-Acts in his commentary, the most significant to him are similar miracles by Jesus, Peter and Paul. In fact, these are the only parallels most commentators notice between Luke and Acts. Johnson does state that “Acts should be read in the light of the Gospel: just as Luke’s first volume can best be understood in the light of these literary patterns established in the first section of Acts” (13).

Third, it is possible to accept a single author but reject literary unity based on the genre of each book. Mikeal Parson and Richard Pervo issued just this challenge to the consensus view in their 1993 monograph Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (Fortress 1992). Parsons and Pervo do not deny the same author wrote both books, but they question whether the genre of Luke is the same as Acts. If it differs, were the books intended to be read as a unit? For Pervo, “The unities of Luke and Acts are questions to be pursued rather than presuppositions to be exploited” (Pervo, Acts, 20)

Fourth, unity may refer to the purpose of the two books. Did a single author intended a single, overarching purpose for a unified two volume work? For Johnson, “As a whole, Luke-Acts should be read as an Apology in the form of a historical narrative” (Acts, 7). Yet the purpose of Luke may be narrowed to Jesus and his death on the Cross, while Acts concerns the spread of the message of the Cross throughout the Roman world. These may be related purposes, but they are not necessarily the same.

Fifth, even if some or all of these other unities prove true, it is possible to challenge the unity of Luke-Acts by using a relatively new approach, Reception History. Kavin Rowe, for example, argues no one in the early church ever read a book called “Luke-Acts” as a single unit. Canonically, the two were always separated and it was not until modern scholarship that anyone thought to read them as a unit. Building on the work of Andrew Gregory, Rowe examines Gregory’s two exceptions which appear to read Luke and Acts together, and concludes these are not true exceptions at all. Both Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon focus on the authority of the Gospel of Luke rather than Acts. In fact, for Rowe, there is no evidence Luke and Acts were ever circulated as a unit. Acts sometimes introduced the Pauline or Catholic epistles, but no manuscript collected Luke and Acts as a two-part book.

Nevertheless I suggest there are a number of intra-textual links between Luke and Acts that support a literary unity between the two books. The introduction to both books certain link them together as a two-part work. A real problem for reading the two books together (whether hyphenated or slashed) is that there is no evidence the two books were ever considered together in the early church. In every New Testament canonical collection, Luke is placed with the gospels, Acts is set off on its own (sometimes as an introduction to the Pauline collection, but not always). Even if Luke intended them to be read together, until the modern era, no one read a book called “Luke-Acts.”

 

On Acts and Reception history, see C. Kavin Rowe, “History, Hermeneutics and the Unity of Luke-Acts,” JSNT 28 (2005): 131-157; Luke Timothy Johnson, “Literary Criticism of Luke-Acts: Is Reception-History Pertinent?” JSNT 28 (2005): 159-162; Markus Bockmuehl, “Why Not Let Acts Be Acts?: In Conversation With C. Kavin Rowe.” JSNT 28 (2005): 163-166; Andrew Gregory, “The Reception of Luke and Acts and the Unity of Luke-Acts.” JSNT 29 (2007): 459-472. [1] Andrew F. Gregory, The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period before Irenaeus: Looking for Luke in the Second Century (WUNT 2/169; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003). Gregory responds to Rowe’s use of this work in “The Reception of Luke and Acts and the Unity of Luke-Acts,” JSNT 29 (2007): 459-72.

Acts 4:32-5:16 – A Christian Community

Acts 4:32-5:16 is a vivid description of the early community of believers in Jerusalem. A text such as this provides a good opportunity to stop and think about how we ought to apply the book of Acts today.

Sometimes this group is described as living as communists since they “live in common” and seem to have re-distributed wealth.  Many traditional dispensationalists have therefore concluded that the future Kingdom will be some sort of socialist paradise with no private property, etc.  Try as I might, I cannot find this elsewhere in scripture nor am I communist so that I need to find biblical support for by economic theory!  Virtually everyone who treats this text finds some way to avoid the “living in common” aspect of Acts 4.

There is no call to sell our possessions and live “in common.”  The application is therefore rather general.  But people like Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) would argue (passionately) that the earliest community of believers were putting into practice the ethics of Jesus (including economic ethics) by living as simply as possible. They did not build enormous churches and expensive structures – they simply met the needs of people. This is all true, of course, and that early community is important for how we might “do church” in a contemporary context. This earliest community is also very similar to the ideal Christian community Peter outlines in 1 Peter 3:8-12.

CommuneFrequently this text is invoked as a model for the church to follow today, with varying degrees of specific application.  For example, Allison A. Trites includes this text in her article on church growth (“Church Growth in the Book of Acts” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 [1988]).  The reason the apostolic church grew was because the church cared for the needs of the poor and treated hypocrisy as a serious offense (5:1-11).  The point is well made – the growing church cares about the needs of people as well as the preaching of the gospel.  But does this point really come from Acts 4:32-35?

There is no question the early church sought to meet the needs of their community and the needs of the larger society as well. Even in the days of Justin Martyr Christians were interested in sharing possessions for the common good:  “We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have to a common stock, and communicate to every one in need” (Apology 1.14:2-3).

The big question is therefore: How do we apply the descriptions of the earliest Christian communities to the present Christian church? Or perhaps, should we try to apply these things to our church? Perhaps there is more going on here than Luke giving us a model for all churches at all times. I really am impressed with the recent emphasis on simplicity and I am by no means interested in any kind of “health and wealth” gospel – but I am also concerned with drawing ethical implications from this text.

Acts 4:36-27 – Who was Barnabas?

Luke gives an ideal example of a member of the early Christian community in Jerusalem: Joseph the Levite, also known as Barnabas (4:36). Barnabas is a significant figure in the book of Acts, introduced here as a member of the community at Jerusalem. The introduction of Barnabas at this point in the book is a typical Lukan literary style. He often introduces a character who will become significant later in the story (Saul in 8:1, John Mark and James, Jesus’ brother in chapter 12).

BarnabasJoseph is a common name in the first century, so his second name might be a nickname. Luke tells us the name means “son of encouragement” although this derivation is not particular obvious. The phrase “son of ” can mean “characterized by, such as calling James and John “sons of thunder.” The name may be related to Bar-nabi, which would mean “son of a prophet.”

While this seems the most likely explanation for the name, it is not exactly what Luke says the name means. The role of the prophet is not limited to future-telling or condemnation of sin. For example, the second half of Isaiah has been rightly described as a “book of comfort” or “consolation.” Perhaps Barnabas had a personality which could speak the truth with strength and clarity, but in such a way as to bring comfort and encouragement to people as well.

Barnabas was from Cyprus. We know a community of Jews was present on Cyprus as early as 330 B.C., but they were expelled in A.D. 117. It is possible that Barnabas was in Jerusalem to serve his time in the Temple, or he may have been living in the city more or less full time. If he was wealthy, then he may have owned property in Jerusalem and Cyprus.

Luke calls him a Levite. Not all Levites were priests, but typically they were wealthy and well educated regardless of their role in the Temple. Levites could be anything from priests to doorkeepers in the Temple, but they also might be scribes or teachers of the Law. We are not told that Barnabas actually functioned as a Levite in the Temple, he may have simply been from a Levitical family. On the other hand, it is possible that he had worked in the Temple and was quite “traditional” within the spectrum of Second Temple Period Judaism. What matters here is that Barnabas was from the Diaspora, but had deep roots in Jerusalem and perhaps the Temple.

Barnabas sells some property and turns the proceeds over to the apostles. This stands in contrast to Ananias in the next paragraph, who claims to do the same thing but is not telling the truth. We are not told what the property is, although he may have owned some property around Jerusalem which was a source of income for his family while he worked in the Temple.

I think that it is important to observe here that Jews living living outside of Judea are not automatically “more liberal” on matters of Law. In fact, it seems to me that the violent resistance to the preaching of the Gospel in Acts comes first from Diaspora Jews, not the Aramaic-speaking Jews. That Barnabas has two Hebrew names, hast the title of Levite, and had some property in Jerusalem implies that he was less Hellenized and more traditional with respect to his religion.

E. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 1:788-790 for detailed information on Barnabas.

Acts 4:12 – No Other Name

When he is giving testimony in Acts 4, Peter asks if the healing of a lame man is a good deed or not. If this is an act of kindness, then it must come from God. The obvious answer seems to be yes, it is a good deed from God. If they agree it is a good deed from God, then they have a problem: Peter states the man was healed by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the one put to death by this very council only two months before!

The problem for the High Priest is obvious.  If Peter healed the man “in the name of Jesus” that means that Jesus was, at the very least, an innocent man and God is now doing miracles “in the name of Jesus.”  If Jesus was innocent, then the High Priest is guilty of killing an innocent man. If he was Messiah and actually raised to the right hand of God, then the messianic age has begun and the High Priest finds himself  “on the outside.”

The last line of Peter’s defense is a classic statement of the gospel: “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  This is a strong statement of total dedication to Jesus Christ. There is no possibility of religious pluralism, Jesus is in fact the only way, truth and life. If humans (these people before Peter or any human) expect to be right with God, they can only do it through the name of Jesus. This is really an outgrowth of the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him on his right hand (Marshall, Acts, 100). The name of Jesus is now the highest authority possible, so that Paul can say in Phil 2 that at the name of Jesus every knew will bow.

Jesus TattooThere is a remarkable boldness in this statement, but from the modern perspective of religious pluralism. The boldness is that Peter is saying this to a group of highly religious Jews who thought that they were the ones who held the right way to salvation. If you wanted to be right with God, you had to come to them and hear their interpretation of the Law and participate in worship only in the Temple, which they control.

Peter is saying that salvation now comes through Jesus, not the Temple. Little wonder why these men were shocked at Peter’s boldness!

I think this is what bothers me about popular Christianity and the rather flippant use of the “Name of Jesus.”  We have turned praying in the “name of Jesus” into code words for “I am done praying now, look up.”  People claim all sorts of goofy things in the “name of Jesus” without giving much thought at all to what that means.  It does not help to write “Jesus” out in Hebrew and tattoo it on your ankle.  This sort of thing diminishes what the name meant when Peter said, “there is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved.”

Jesus is not a magic word we use to invoke divine power, it represents the power of God for salvation.

Acts 3:20 – “The Times of Refreshing”

Water and FireIn a previous post I stated that the “times of refreshing” was a Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom, or the messianic age. Many of the Jews assembled in the Temple courts would have understood Peter’s words in Acts 3:20 as referring to the “age to come” when God restores creation to its original state. Deliverance of creation was something that at least some Jews expected at the time of the messianic age. This deliverance is described as a restoration of creation to something like Eden, a place of prosperity and peace.

1 Enoch 5:7 says that for the elect, the eschatological age will be “light, joy, and peace, and they shall inherit the earth.” Recall that Jesus said that the “meek will inherit the earth” in Matt 5:5. In 25:6, the elect will be presented the “And the elect will be presented with its fruit for life” and they will “live long lives on the earth.” In 45:5 indicates that God will “transform the earth and make it a blessing ,and cause my Elect One (messiah) to dwell in her.” Alluding to Ps 114, 1 Enoch 51:4 says that “in those days, mountains shall dance like rams; and the hills shall leap like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on that day the Elect One has arisen.”

Fourth Ezra, a Jewish apocalypse written after 90 A.D., has a number of references to the coming eschatological age as a refreshment of creation and a time of rest. In 4 Ezra 7:75 “we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation,” and in 11:46 the writer looks forward to the coming judgement “so that the whole earth, freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved.” In 13:26-29, the messiah is described as the one “whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left.”

Perhaps 2 Baruch 73-74 is the most similar to the sorts of things we read in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. In 2 Baruch 73:1, after the messiah “has sat down in eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” then “joy will be revealed and rest will appear.” Just as Acts has described Jesus as ascending to heaven and sitting on the right hand of the Father, 2 Baruch describes the coming age as a time when a messianic figure provides eternal peace from a heavenly throne.

There are more texts which could supplement this list (Jubilees 23:29; T.Levi 18:4; and T.Jud 24:1), but these serve to indicate that the idea of a messianic kingdom as a “time of refreshing” was well known in the first century.

Two thoughts come to mind from reading this data.  First, is this sort of kingdom what  people thought  that Peter was talking about? I see some evidence in Acts that the first community was looking for an imminent return of the Messiah, but how long did that belief persist?

A related second question concerns the non-arrival of the kingdom.  Why if this is what “times of refreshing” meant to the biblically literate crowds, why was there no renewal of creation or return of the Exiles? Is there a disconnection from Jewish expectations here?

Acts 1:6 – “Will You Now Restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

In Acts 1:6, some disciples wonder if Jesus was now going to “restore the kingdom to Israel.” This question is reminiscent of the Olivet Discourse in Luke 21:5-37, where the disciples ask about the coming judgment on the Temple. When they asked “when will this happen” in Luke 21, Jesus’ answer implied that it would happen very soon, within a generation (Luke 21:32).

What prompts the question is Jesus’ command to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” As Keener observes, talk of the Spirit’s outpouring was de facto eschatological in character” (Acts, 1:682). Many texts from the Hebrew Bible indicate that the eschatological age would be characterized by the Spirit of God on all his people (Joel 2:28-31, which Peter quotes in the next chapter, but also Isa 42:1, 44:3, 59:21). If the Spirit is coming, then the time of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel must be soon.

Return of the KingAfter the resurrection of Jesus, it was only natural for the disciples to think that Jesus would now enter the Temple in the power and glory of his resurrection and begin to reform the religion of Israel and begin the process of evangelizing the nations. This was a clear expectation of the Messiah’s activity. Beginning with the people of God, Messiah would either convert the enemies of Israel or destroy them. On a historical level, the question the disciples ask resonates with many other Jews living in the mid 30’s A.D.

The verb translated “restore” here (ἀποκαθίστημι) is a key eschatological term. It appears in Malachi 4:6 (LXX 3:23) and LXX Daniel 4:26, and it anticipates Acts 3:21 where the word appears in an eschatological context. The hope of Israel was that the kingdom would be restored to them as the prophets had predicted (Isa 2:2, 49:6; Jer 16:15; 31:27-34).

Isaiah 2:2-4 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

In fact, Luke began his first book with the hope of the coming Messiah in the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:69-74) as well as the words of Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:24-32).

The disciples expect Jesus to tell them that he is in fact about to restore the Kingdom and take his father David’s throne in Jerusalem. Much like the crowds in Luke 19:11, the disciples expect the Kingdom of God, as described by the prophets, to arrive at that moment.

Yet it is no surprise when Jesus reminds them it is not for them to known when the kingdom will be restored. The idea of an interim period between the present and the coming kingdom is well known in Second Temple Period Judaism. For example in 4 Ezra 4:33-37 the prophet asks “How long and when will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” The answer in this late first century text is that “the time of threshing is delayed for the righteous—on account of the sins of those who dwell on earth.” The interim is to be used wisely. The new age will certainly dawn, but in the meantime the righteous will continue to labor. Many of Jesus’ parables have a similar theme (the Ten Virgins in Matt 25:1-14, for example).

As for the disciples, they are called to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth. To some extent, the kingdom is about to begin in the Temple in a manner which is not unlike what many expected. That the kingdom would be given to a group of Galileans rather than a faction within Judaism (Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) was not expected at all. These men are quite literally the most unlikely group of people to be commissioned with the task of announcing the Messiah to Israel and then the rest of the world!

Book Giveaway – The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008)

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnSummer is over and it is time to get back into the swing of a new semester.Actually, I just finished teaching an Early Fall OT Survey course for freshmen, so I have been swinging things for a while. But I still want to celebrate the beginning of a new school year with the traditional Reading Acts book giveaway. As regular readers know, I occasionally purchase a book and when I put it on the shelf I discover I already owned the book. Although this is embarrassing (and possibly a sign of old age), it is good news for readers of this blog since I usually set the book aside for a giveaway.

First up this year is a volume of essays on The Gospel of John and Christian Theology edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). According to the Eerdmans website, the book is now out of print, although print on demand copies are available. The essays in the collection were first presented at the first St. Andrews University Conference on Scripture and Theology in 2003. This explains the diversity of essays in the book from biblical studies to theology, including “big names” such as Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf and Jürgen Moltmann.

Here is the table of contents:

  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism, Stephen C. Barton
  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism Miroslav Volf
  • Christianizing Divine Aseity: Irenaeus Reads John D. Jeffery Bingham
  • Anglican Approaches to St. John’s Gospel, Rowan Williams
  • Glory or Persecution: The God of the Gospel of John in the History of Interpretation, Tord Larsson
  • The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel; From What Perspective Should It Be Assessed?, C. Stephen Evans
  • The Fourth Gospel as the Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, Richard Bauckham
  • Bridging the Gap: How Might the Fourth Gospel Help Us Cope with the Legacy of Christianity’s Exclusive Claim over Against Judaism?, Stephen Motyer
  • Anti—Judaism, the Jews, and the Worlds of the Fourth Gospel Judith Lieu
  • “The Jews Who Had Believed in Him” (John 8:31) and the Motif of Apostasy in the Gospel of John, Terry Griffith
  • “The Father of Lies,” “the Mother of Lies,” and the Death of Jesus (John, 12:20-33), Sigve K. Tonstad
  • The Lazarus Story: A Literary Perspective, Andrew T. Lincoln
  • The Raising of Lazarus in John 11: A Theological Reading, Marianne Meye Thompson
  • The Lazarus Narrative, Theological History, and Historical Probability, Alan J. Torrance
  • The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth, Martin Hengel
  • The Testimony of Works in the Christology of John’s Gospel, Murray Rae
  • On Guessing Points and Naming Stars: Epistemological Origins of John’s Christological Tensions, Paul N. Anderson
  • Narrative Docetism: Christology and Storytelling in the Gospel of John, Kasper Bro Larsen
  • “The Truth Will Set You Free”: Salvation as Revelation, Anastasia Scrutton
  • God in the World—the World in God: Perichoresis in Trinity and Eschatology, Jürgen Moltmann

To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.  There are no geographical limits, I will ship this book to the winner where ever they live.

I will announce the winner (and the next giveaway) on Friday morning, August 31, 2018.