Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 29:2 (June 1986) p. 215
The Unknown Paul: Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History. By Jacob Jervell. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984.
In 1972 Augsburg published a work by Jervell entitled Luke and the People of God. It very much lived up to its subtitle, “A New Look at Luke-Acts,” and argued consistently that Luke’s writings evinced a very Jewish-Christian ecclesiology focused on the Church as renewed Israel (not “true” or “new” Israel, replacing the old) joined by Gentiles (for an extended summary and critique see D. A. Carson, ed., From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, pp. 114-119). Part of that work examined the picture of Paul in Acts and argued that, for Luke, Paul was first and foremost a Jewish Christian: a Pharisee, a loyal nomist, and ultimately “the teacher of Israel.” It seemed that Jervell was deepening the gulf between Luke’s Paul and the Paul of the epistles and that the result would be a further depreciation of Luke’s work, which some have already jostled to the sidelines of canonical significance and labelled “early Catholicism.”
But Jervell’s new work provides a thoroughly provocative step in the other direction. The position on Luke is maintained and developed; what is new—and somewhat breath-taking—is his attempt to argue that the conservative Jewish-Christian Paul of Acts is as much the real Paul as the Paul of Galatians. We are invited to nothing less than a major rereading of early Christian history.
The first essay, “The History of Early Christianity and the Acts of the Apostles,” is one of the two in the volume that have not been published elsewhere. If Luke is a Gentile, writing at a time when Jewish Christianity has collapsed (after A.D. 70), then why, asks Jervell, is he so insistent that the accusations against Stephen and Paul (of breaking the law, the traditions of Judaism, and [in Paul’s case] with circumcision) were false (even when there was a grain of truth in them) and that the Church is nomist? Why does Luke concentrate on the success of the Jewish mission and tell us nothing of a purely Gentile one—except the collapse of the attempt at Athens? And why does Acts so emphatically underscore the importance of Jerusalem? The answer to these riddles, suggests Jervell, is that Stephen was actually more liberal than the Church of Luke’s day, which was positively Jewish-Christian (if not in numbers, at least in theological clout). That thesis requires a rewriting of NT history as it is normally understood.
The second essay, “The Mighty Minority,” offers the skeleton of such a rewrite. Jervell argues as follows: (1) Gentiles were fully and freely accepted by the Jerusalem Church, and Paul’s mission as uncontroversial, before the council in 48. (2) The council, ...
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