The Dramatic Qualities Of The Book Of Acts -- By: William Allen Knight

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 055:219 (Jul 1898)
Article: The Dramatic Qualities Of The Book Of Acts
Author: William Allen Knight


The Dramatic Qualities Of The Book Of Acts

William Knight

Fall River, Mass.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles is a history. It is, however, highly artistic in structure. It has to a notable degree certain qualities of the drama. Its name allies it to drama, for drama has for its distinctive field the representation of action. The word “drama” is from a Greek word meaning “an act.” An essential feature in drama is a plot —a unity binding all acts and events together. The book of the Acts has this feature as distinctly as any drama ever written.

The first fourteen verses correspond to the prologue characteristic of drama, containing, as usual, introductory statements, including “the plot.” Comparison may be made, from the “Prometheus Bound” of Æschylus to Shakespeare’s Henry 8. In the opening of this book is found something like the dramatist personae which appears at the opening of dramas. The gist of “the plot” is in the eighth verse, “Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” No drama holds to its plot with more artistic effect than does the book of Acts to the working out of this announcement. As the history proceeds, actors and their doings are brought forward and dropped according to their relation to this unifying utterance. Over and over the speech or event is*brought to a head in the word “witness,” and the Holy Spirit is never lost sight of as the empowering agency. The development of the widening range of witness-bearing is held to throughout in strict conformity to “the plot.” The first seven chapters are given to scenes in Jerusalem. In the opening of the eighth chapter “they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria,” and “went everywhere preaching the word.” The transformation of Peter comes next, and his consequent witness-bearing to Gentiles (10. 39, 41). All this is highly dramatic in its scenic setting. Peter’s part in the book culminates in his conclusive speech before the Jerusalem council, and his disappearance is marked by the midnight scene of escape from prison, the knock at the securely closed door of the prayer-meeting, and the overjoyed Rhoda within running to tell the praying band while “Peter continued knocking”! Could anything be more artistic than this narrative, or could there be a more dramatic incident fixed upon to mark disappearance from the scenes?

Meanwhile Saul has been introduced gradually, in a most skillful way from a dramatic point of view. With the disappearance of Peter, “Barnabas and Saul” (Barnabas being always fi...

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