2012 Book of Acts

Session 1

Hannah Cocksworth (University of Cambridge)

Acts 1.1: a “secondary preface” to Luke-Acts?

The aim of this paper is to explore the question of whether, from the point of view of narrative criticism, Acts can be shown to begin with a preface which parallels the preface of Luke 1.1-4. The paper will, first, explore the narratological role of the preface. It will be shown that the preface plays an important part in the beginning of the discourse of a narrative and in particular in creating a ‘contract of reading’ between the implied author and the implied reader. Secondly, the paper will explore the way in which Luke 1.1-4 fulfils the function of the narrative preface, particularly through setting up a ‘contract of reading’ in terms of the narrative’s content and purpose. Thirdly, the opening of Acts will be explored in light of the previous investigation and in comparison with the role and function of the preface of Luke 1.1-4. It will be argued that at the beginning of Acts story and discourse converge and begin simultaneously; there is no separate discursive beginning. This not only provides a contrast with the beginning of Luke’s gospel, it also further eliminates the possibility of a narrative preface. Therefore, the paper will conclude by arguing that, from the point of view of narrative criticism – and contrary to the view of some scholars – Acts 1.1 does not constitute a narrative preface.

Justin Mihoc (Durham University)

Acts 1-5: A History of Beginnings


Beginnings are re-enacted and experienced again and again throughout history, as Tacitus asserts. And, as I shall argue in my paper, the opening chapters of Acts were written to testify the reality of a new creation or beginning that has been accomplished with the birth of the Christian Church.

In my presentation I aim to demonstrate that the author of Luke-Acts displays a great interest in beginnings, as it is noticeable throughout Acts. Furthermore, he has a specific purpose for rendering these foundation stories. The implied reader is deliberately presented with continuous commencements, being forced to reflect on the rationale and importance of the inaugurating events for the Christian life and faith. Therefore, Acts 1-5 is to be seen as a key to understanding the Christian modus vivendi.

The account of the first five chapters of Acts consequently follows the author’s agenda of recounting the history of the new creation, a creation similar to the foundation narratives of Genesis, but essentially different in purpose. And the fact that the content of this opening narrative describes a story of origins is by no means incidental. Luke’s skilful style and design created a masterpiece of theological thought, which will subsequently become the standard history of the beginnings of the Church in the following centuries.


Session 2

Dr Susan Docherty (Newman University College)

Acts in its Jewish Context: Literary Structures and Genre


The issue of the genre of the Acts of the Apostles continues to be a source of lively debate within New Testament scholarship. This discussion has been greatly enriched by comparative studies of Graeco-Roman literature, such as those by, for example, Richard Pervo and Loveday Alexander. This paper proposes to approach the question of literary genre by considering the relationship of Acts to Second Temple Jewish writings. Whilst the Jewish background of Luke-Acts has certainly not been ignored by scholars, there is scope for further investigation of this aspect of its context, and a new tool is now available for this purpose, through the very recent work of a team of Jewish scholars at the University of Manchester (Alexander Samely, Philip Alexander, Rocco Bernasconi, together with Robert Hayward from Durham) on an AHRC funded research project entitled "The Literary Structures of Ancient Jewish Literature". They have developed an inventory tool to identify structurally important literary features, which they have systematically applied to major corpora of early Jewish texts, including the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls and pre-Talmudic rabbinic works. This research has provided a new terminological framework for the analysis of ancient Jewish literature and led to the creation of a database containing a short literary profile of every complete extant text from the period 200 BCE to 700 CE. These results should facilitate clearer comparisons between the Jewish texts themselves, and between these texts and other bodies of ancient literature, including perhaps the New Testament. Detailed information about the project, its findings and associated publications can be found at: http://www.llc.manchester.ac.uk/research/projects/ancientjewishliterature/.

This paper will begin with an overview of the Literary Structures project, its aims and key conclusions, and an explanation of the inventory tool. This resource will then be applied to Acts, and the resulting literary profile compared with those obtained by the Manchester team for specific Jewish texts. This will enable some conclusions to be drawn about the genre and context of Acts, and also about the applicability of the inventory to other New Testament writings.


Scripture and the Apostolic Proclamation of the Cross in Acts

The post-resurrection references to the passion at the end of Luke emphasize the necessity of Christ’s suffering as a fulfilment of scripture.  According to the resurrected Jesus, all the scriptures testify to the divinely determined ministry of the messiah, and the suffering of Jesus is presented as a central element of his scripturally ordained messianic vocation (Lk 24:25-27; 44-47).  The universal declaration of scriptural fulfilment at the end of Luke’s gospel is then matched in Acts by a variety of quotations and allusions from particular scriptures, so that the apostolic witness to the passion shows how Jesus has indeed fulfilled that which is written in the law, the prophets, and the psalms (cf. Lk 24:44).  Taking Jesus' final words in Luke's gospel as a cue, this paper will consider the apostolic proclamation of the cross in terms of its resonances with the sub-sections of scripture listed in Lk 24:44.  The paper will contend that the diverse passion references in Acts reinforce the Lukan emphasis upon the fullness of Jesus’ fulfilment of scripture in his suffering.  With this insight in mind, the paper will conclude by considering the much-debated question of the scriptural background to the centurion’s declaration in Lk 23:47.  

Session 3

A King and Ruler Takes His Stand: Herod’s Role in Luke-Acts in Light of Acts 4:24-28

While scholars are aware of the expanded role Luke grants to Herod Antipas compared to the other synoptics, they have not explored the repetition of the name ‘Herod’ as a literary phenomenon in Luke-Acts. My overarching thesis is that the author of Luke-Acts melds several distinct historical individuals into a single, stock character who serves as a representative political opponent of the key protagonists of the works. Specifically, this paper will argue that Acts 4:24-28 contains the central Lukan reflection on ‘Herod’ in Luke-Acts. Luke’s naming of Herod in this context is odd given the fact that Herod plays no role in the immediate context. However, this leads the reader to recall not only Herod’s antagonism toward Jesus (Luke 9:7-9; 13:31; 23:6-12), but also the antagonistic role ‘Herod’ plays throughout the narrative of Luke-Acts (Luke 1:5; 3:18-20; Acts 12:1-25). I will proceed by demonstrating that the author portrays Herod at Acts 4:24-28 as: 1) both king and ruler and 2) a representative political opponent. Next, I will offer a brief overview of the pertinent passages in Luke-Acts that demonstrate this consistent characterisation, which will show that several different historical figures are combined by the author to create this opponent, ‘Herod.’

The Contribution of Sociolinguistic Variation to Insider-Outsider Dynamics in Acts

This paper explores how the speech patterns attributed to various characters in Acts correlate with both their own social identities and those of their addressees. The paper argues that sociolinguistic variation in Acts contributes to the narrative’s portrayal of Christians as a social group bounded in different ways with respect to non-Christian Jews and non-Christian gentiles. The outsider status of both Jewish and gentile non-Christians is highlighted linguistically as Christian characters speak differently amongst themselves and when addressing non-Christian characters. Christian insider language in Acts reinforces the narrative’s depiction of the believing community as a distinct social group. Linguistic boundaries are not drawn unilaterally, however. Sociolinguistic variation in Acts also suggests that non-Christian gentiles are socially more distant from Christians than are non-Christian Jews. This dynamic highlights the narrative’s interest in the close, yet contested relationship between Jewish and Christian identity.