A Narrative Analysis of Acts 14:27-15:35: Literary Shaping in Luke’s Account of the Jerusalem Council -- By: Alex T. M. Cheung

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 55:1 (Spring 1993)
Article: A Narrative Analysis of Acts 14:27-15:35: Literary Shaping in Luke’s Account of the Jerusalem Council
Author: Alex T. M. Cheung


A Narrative Analysis of Acts 14:27-15:35: Literary Shaping in Luke’s Account of the Jerusalem Council

Alex T. M. Cheung

I. Introduction

About a decade ago, I. H. Marshall wrote in his commentary on Acts: “The language and style of Luke stand out in the New Testament and show that he was perhaps the most conscious of all its writers that he was writing literature for an educated audience and not merely pamphlets for use within a church that had no literary aspirations or interests.”1 Yet it is perhaps an irony of modern scholarship that, despite Marshall’s observation, so artistic a work as the book of Acts has to date received very little treatment from a literary perspective, notwithstanding the formidable literature this book has elicited over the centuries in historical-critical research.2

In particular, the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, where the issue of admission of Gentiles was debated and fundamentally resolved, has not, to my knowledge, been submitted to any detailed literary analysis. Acts 15 is clearly one of the most important chapters in the book of Acts—perhaps in the whole NT. Haenchen comments: “This

chapter has been the subject of passionate debate among scholars. Nearly every one of them has hacked his own way through the jungle of problems, and often it was done in a thoroughly violent fashion.”3 Yet despite all these violent attempts to extract traditions from redaction in “a conglomerate of sources” to discover “what actually happened,”4 the answer to the source-critical question remains as elusive as ever. Many commentators have eventually concluded that the Lucan theological shaping of the narrative in Acts 15 was so heavy that the account was virtually a literary creation rather than a reworking of one or more historically reliable sources.5

Taking the lead from the foundational work of Martin Dibelius and Henry Cadbury,6 modern research has gone a long way towards the appreciation of the literary nature of the account. However, many of the “literary analyses” advanced are piecemeal in character and have heavy antihistorical axes to grind. Even Haenchen’s monumental commentary, which shows great literary sensitivity, is often marred by his fundamental conviction of the incompatibility be...

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