Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview with Craig Keener on Acts, vol. 1: Part II

Yesterday, I posted part one of my interview with Craig Keener. Here is part two of our conversation about the first of a four-volume commentary on Acts. I highly recommend this resource. It will be the go-to Acts commentary for the foreseeable future. Get your copy here, and be on the look out for volume two, slated for release in September which can be viewed here.

6. In what way does Acts 2:40 shed light into how Luke records speeches in Acts?

Craig Keener
Luke is explicit that he has merely summarized Peter’s speech. In one way that is not surprising in light of ancient historiography, but in another way it differs from what we would expect in the typical speeches of elite ancient historians. Ancient historians did not give verbatim reports of speeches—which aside from other considerations was not possible—but their best reconstructions of speeches. In the case of the better historians using speeches in earlier historians, that might mean paraphrasing earlier speeches but following them closely (though Josephus was known to make up new speeches, and even Tacitus took plenty of liberties when he desired). It seems that when possible, most historians wanted to capture the gist and then depict it graphically. Regarding speeches in ancient historians in general (I’ll return to Luke in a moment), the rules of ancient historiography were different from those of modern historiography. That does not make them bad—just different. Ancient historians might know the basic message of a speech given on an occasion, and then use what they knew about the speaker, the occasion, and the principles of rhetoric to give their most plausible reconstruction of a full speech. That is, they were interested in approximating the sort of thing that was likely said and not just reporting the fewer exact details in their sources. By fleshing it out they made it more realistic, more like what would have been said on that occasion. That is a different approach from the way we write history today, but it’s a good approach so long as you understand that those were the rules with which they were working. How much concrete material they had to work with varied from one historian and one speech to another. At the same time, though Luke is writing ancient rather than modern historiography (the latter of course did not yet exist), he has merely speech summaries. That is, he does not flesh out full speeches the way that more elite rhetorical historians normally did. No one thinks that he’s giving us the speeches verbatim, but Luke does have concrete information about the early apostolic message. In fact, one speech (Paul’s in Acts 20:18-35) even purports to be a direct eyewitness report, and, consistent with that claim, includes even specific language easily paralleled in Paul’s letters and some midrashic connections of which Luke himself makes nothing. Luke summarizes, as Acts 2:40 shows; he does not try to show off his rhetorical skills with lengthy speeches. With many scholars, I think that Luke offers the gist of apostolic preaching and gets us as close to his sources (in Acts, probably usually oral sources) as was possible.

 7. Regarding Luke’s use of the OT in Acts, does he expect his audience to be familiar with the scriptures of Israel?

 The short answer is Yes. Writers normally have a target audience where they take certain background information for granted; like most others, Luke probably also welcomed other hearers who were not as well-informed as his target audience. But compare the massive number of Scripture citations in Luke-Acts with the two snippets from Greek poets in Acts 17:28—it’s clear which thought world is the primary one shared between Luke and his target audience. I have enjoyed drawing on the entire range of ancient literature to illumine the customs and ideas we find in Acts, but the literary canon that Luke and his target audience share is Scripture.

8. How does Acts serve as a model for cross-cultural mission in today’s church?

 Some today assume that if Luke was writing history, he had no interest in theology. That, however, is a completely false dichotomy. Ancient historians expected readers to use their accounts as positive or negative examples—models. Luke uses OT examples that way; he also shows the Jerusalem mission (exemplified especially in Peter) and the Diaspora mission (exemplified especially in Paul) replicating many of the acts of Jesus, because Jesus’s mission continues through his followers. The pivotal point between Luke’s two volumes, highlighted at the end of the Gospel and the beginning of Acts, is Jesus’s commission to bring the message about him to the nations. The disciples are to do this empowered by the same Spirit who empowered Jesus in volume 1; the gift of the Spirit is for all believers in each location (see Acts 2:38-39), so they can partner in continuing the original disciples’ mission. Following the biographic mode of historiography used by some ancient historians and easier to grasp on a popular level, Luke focuses on primary characters such as Peter and Paul while devoting less space to unnamed disciples who spread the word to Antioch and elsewhere. Luke also is happy to finish his second volume in the heart of the empire. Nevertheless, Rome does not exhaust the “ends of the earth” announced as the goal in Acts 1:8; the book is open-ended, recapitulating earlier scenes but prefiguring the rest of the church’s mission. The Gentile mission (or perhaps more technically, the Diaspora mission) that Paul helped advance so firmly in Acts 13—28 is a mission that was continuing. Luke expects the church to continue to carry on the mission, and to continue to depend on the power of the Spirit to do so.

  9. Views of women varied in antiquity. Where does Luke’s presentation of women fit on this spectrum?

 That is a subject of great debate today, but I believe that Luke’s perspective was on the more positive end of the spectrum. His two-volume work opens by comparing Mary (Jesus’s mother) favorably with Zechariah (John’s father). Rhoda in Acts 12 and the women at the tomb in Luke 24 are initially wrongly disbelieved by others, but they bear the truth. Luke often pairs male and female examples in Luke-Acts, including as prophets (Simeon and Anna in Luke 2; Agabus and Philip’s four daughters in Acts 21). Men get more speaking parts even in most of these cases, but that may be partly based on what information Luke had available given his sources. What seems clear to me is his ideal stated in Acts 2:17-18, one of the key, programmatic texts of Acts: the Spirit’s empowerment to announce God’s message in Christ was for all people, young and old, male and female. Certainly women are heavily involved in spreading the gospel in many parts of the world today (such as in China) and in the recent past (such as an estimated two-thirds of the nineteenth-century Protestant missions force). Many have looked to Acts 2:17-18 as a model for God’s empowerment for both genders. Personally, I believe that Luke would have been pleased had he seen this use of his message.

  10. When Luke describes the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, he places special emphasis the ability to speak in tongues (2:4 ff.). Is Paul describing the same phenomena in 1 Cor 12; 14?

Before comparing the two, let me mention that Luke’s emphasis on tongues-speaking fits his larger emphasis on mission that I have just noted above. Several times in Acts when people receive the Spirit, they worship in tongues—a point that Luke might wish to emphasize because it highlights the primary function of the Spirit’s empowerment that Luke notes. If God’s people receive the Spirit to carry the message across cultural boundaries (cf. Acts 1:8), what more conspicuous symbol of this empowerment could Luke narrate, where he has it available in his sources, than that those so empowered often worshiped in other people’s languages? Luke’s emphasis differs from Paul’s at this point. Paul is countering an abuse of the spiritual gift of tongues (mostly functioning in private prayer) by highlighting the value of intelligible speech through the gift of prophecy. Despite their different emphasis, I believe both Luke and Paul are referring to the same spiritual experience of tongues-speaking. On the day of Pentecost, others are present who understand the languages (how that works is another, much-debated subject); this does not happen on a natural level in the other passages in Acts or 1 Corinthians (though Paul speaks of a spiritual gift of interpretation). Nevertheless, “tongues” literally meant “languages,” and it’s hard to believe that Luke and Paul independently coined the same expression to refer to two different kinds of spiritual experiences. Rather, I believe they envision the same basic experience, but view it from different angles and for different settings. It may have taken on a special form for the setting in Acts 2, but I understand it as the same gift. In Acts 2, Luke seems to treat it like a reversal of Babel. Once God divided languages to divide peoples; in Acts 2, he divides language to bring his people together. We might also see it as a beautiful foretaste of the time when all peoples and languages will be before God’s throne.

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