Book of Acts 2020 Programme

Chairs: Sean Adams and Matthew Sleeman

Session One

Panel review and discussion of Christine Aarflot, God (in) Acts: A Narrative Analysis of the Characterization of God through God’s Actions in the Acts of the Apostles (Wipf & Stock, 2020, forthcoming)

Panellists: Julia Snyder (Universität Regensburg, Germany), James Morgan (Université de Fribourg, Switzerland), Mark Elliott (University of Glasgow); Response: Christine Aarflot

Session Two

Nicholas Moore, Cranmer Hall, Durham, ‘“He Saw Heaven Opened”: Heavenly Temple and Universal Mission in Acts’

A number of scholars in recent years have given attention to the temple theme in Acts (and Luke), arguing that the location of sacred space or divine presence passes from the Jerusalem temple to Jesus (G. R. Lanier JTS 2014) or Christian believers (J. B. Green RevBib 1994; N. H. Taylor HvTSt 2004; G. O. Holmås JSNT 2005) or both (D. H. Jung ExpTim 2017). This transfer is understood as a key component of the universal mission that Acts traces. This paper suggests that such arguments run the risk of overriding the muted but important motif of heaven as temple. I argue this by attention to three scenes: in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and in Acts Stephen’s speech and martyrdom, and the Cornelius narrative. All three episodes presuppose understandings of heavenly space in specifically cultic terms. Moreover, Jesus’ location in a celestial sanctuary does not conflict with Acts’ concept of a centrifugal mission; instead, access to divine sacred space through the gift of the Spirit undergirds the universal spread of the Way.

Richard Cleaves, University of Gloucester, ‘Reading the New Testament in Roman Britain: The Bloomberg Tablets and Archival Ethnography’

The first pieces of writing contemporary with Paul and the New Testament were published in Britain as recently as 2016. Of the 405 stylus writing tablets from the Bloomberg excavations in London from 2010 to 2014, eighty carry legible texts and bear the names of ninety-two persons. They constitute an archive of letters and legal and financial documents that give an insight into the lives of merchants and traders in Roman London from 55 to 85 CE. That world and those people would have been recognised by the people who occupied the world of the New Testament at that time. Drawing on insights into the imagination from the world of philosophy, archaeology and education, I will offer a reading of the tablets informed by the methodology of archival ethnography. That will involve a consideration of the nature of the tablets and what they tell us about the people who wrote them, leading on to a study of specific tablets which will enable us to imagine being there with those people around the time the tablets were written in the way a modern-day ethnographer would ‘be there’. I shall then offer an imagined reading of selected passages from Luke-Acts: each reading will imagine how the people responsible for the tablets might have read those passages in the light of what we know about them from our study of the tablets. Finally, I will demonstrate that the reading is warranted by reference to the commentators and their study of the language, context and other issues to do with the text. By inviting people to draw on their imagination in this kind of way they will come to read biblical texts in new ways that are rooted in the historical world of the New Testament as it can be glimpsed in Roman Britain.

Session Three

Mi Ja Wim, Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, ‘What Happens to “Good News to the Poor” in Acts 16:16-18?’

The paper explores, what happens to the slave girl in Philippi in Acts 16:16-18, asking whether Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 is still being carried out by Paul and his companions. The slave girl with a spirit of python is a radical outsider and a doubly marginalised figure in terms of her status, gender, ethnicity and religion. She is an unnamed person, owned and exploited by multiple owners for a profit-making purpose. Ironically, she is the only female slave, for that matter, the only woman who prophesies in the book of Acts, but is silenced. While Paul drives the spirit of python out from her, the question remains in what sense good news is proclaimed to this unnamed slave girl who has been held captive and oppressed by her owners. From what and whom has she been freed if she is freed at all? Why does she not feature in Luke’s narrative, given the attention he gives to an unnamed woman in Luke 7 (or a woman in Luke 13)?

Daniel Robbins, University of Aberdeen, ‘A Lukan Epistemology of Testimony’

 This paper will consider how apostolic testimony contributes and shapes the exhibited and commended epistemology within Luke’s writings. In contrast to the long-standing political readings of Acts, Kavin Rowe’s work has helped highlight the fundamentally theological horizon against which Luke understands all reality. His claim that ‘the theological vision of Acts is the outworking of a particular practical epistemology’ (Rowe, World Upside Down, 151) serves as the starting point for this paper. 

Testimony language appears in the opening and closing of both the Gospel of Luke (1:2; 24:48) and Acts (1:8; 28:23). Within the Gospel of Luke, testimony tends to describe the apostolic commission (Luke 9:1-6; 21:12-19) and thus frames much of Acts. In particular, apostolic testimony is presented as the ascended Jesus’ own prophetic speech, and not so much ‘witness to’ his speech. In Acts, when testimony occurs outside of courtroom settings, it has a dual function of proclamation (e.g. Acts 20:21, 24) and guarantee (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15). Within trial settings, the terms used to describe testimony recall the promise of divine activity (Luke 21:15) and therefore places each of Acts’ legal trials within the greater context of the heavenly courtroom of Isaiah 43:8-13. Thus, apostolic testimony seems to have a dual role of heralding of the final judgment to be rendered by the risen Christ and as epistemic guarantee. Apostolic testimony is both proclamation and paradosis.

Yet, in our current intellectual climate, testimony can feel like an odd fit for serious knowledge. This implies that Luke’s underlying epistemology and the ‘certainty’ he aims to provide differ from many contemporary epistemologies on offer. Specifically, this will likely differ from reductionist (Hume, Lackey) and anti-reductionist (Reid, Audi, Goldberg) camps within the philosophical epistemology of testimony. The paper will conclude with some tentative conclusions regarding Luke’s theological epistemology. 

Monique Cuany, Haute École de Théologie, St-Légier, Switzerland, ‘The Kontrastschema and the Christ-event in Acts’

One of the recurrent features of early apostolic preaching in Acts is the so-called Kontrastformel (contrast formula)or Kontrastschema (contrast scheme). As the terminology suggests, the speeches repeatedly present the death and resurrection of Jesus as the result of two contrastive actions: human beings killed or crucified him, but God raised him from the dead (cf. 2:23-24, 36; 3:13-15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39-40; 13:27-30). This opposition of human and divine activity, coupled with the occasional emphasis the speeches put on human ‘ignorance’ as a factor leading to Jesus’ death, has often led to the conclusion that the author of Acts views the death of Jesus as a mistake, an error without any positive connotation, which is overcome or corrected by God through the resurrection.

The present paper challenges this common reading. Through a study of the first occurrence of the contrast formula in the Pentecost speech, it highlights the shortcomings of this interpretation, re-evaluates the role of the formula in the context of the argument of the speech, and discusses the consequences of this re- examination for an assessment of Luke’s understanding of the Christ-event.