The Place Of The Book Of Acts In Reading The NT -- By: Gregory Goswell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 59:1 (Mar 2016)
Article: The Place Of The Book Of Acts In Reading The NT
Author: Gregory Goswell


The Place Of The Book Of Acts In Reading The NT

Gregory Goswell*

* Gregory Goswell is academic dean and lecturer in OT at Christ College, 1 Clarence Street, Burwood NSW 2134, Australia.

Abstract: In ancient manuscripts and early canonical lists the book of Acts is never placed next to Luke’s Gospel; rather it is linked to the Gospels as a canonical block. In this way it helps to bridge Gospel and Epistle. By depicting the harmonious relations between Paul’s Gentile mission and the Jewish mission of James, Peter, and John, Acts provides a context for the apostolic witness of the letters that follow. The title normally assigned to the book, the “Acts of the Apostles [plural]” suggests a similar function. Prefixing the Pauline Corpus with Acts promotes a particular reading strategy, signifying that Paul’s letters, like his ministry as depicted in Acts, are directed to all believers (Gentile and Jewish) and promote their unity in a common gospel. The alternate logic of having the Catholic Epistles follow Acts is that this order draws attention to the fact that Acts features apostles other than Paul (notably Peter) and that Paul himself proclaimed the gospel to Jews as well as to Gentiles. The outcome is that Acts is an important part of the “glue” that secures the theological unity of the NT as a whole.

Key Words: Acts, canon, macrostructure, Pauline Corpus, Catholic Epistles, unity

In current study of Luke-Acts, this two-part Lucan corpus is viewed by most scholars as a natural unit for the purposes of elucidating the meaning and significance of these key biblical documents.1 There is, of course, much in favor of such an approach, for it accords with the grammatico-historical orientation of many practitioners within contemporary NT studies.2 It is not, however, the only valid methodology and needs to be supplemented by the insights and perspectives provided by reception history.3 The two approaches are sometimes set at loggerheads, but there is no necessity to do so. Ancient hermeneutical practice cannot be allowed to coerce the contemporary reading of Scripture,4 but exegetical humility

demands that we give serious consideration to how earlier generations of believers read and interpreted the Scriptures.5

Part of the reception history of the book of Acts is encoded in the various extant canonical orders, for the position...

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