woensdag 6 februari 2013

Review of: Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (ANTC), Abingdon Press, 2003; in: Interpretation

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (ANTC), Abingdon Press, 2003.

Review in: Interpretation 2005 59: 304
Review door: Paul W. Walaskay
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/59/3/304.full.pdf+html

The Acts of the Apostles
by Beverly Roberts Gaventa
Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Abingdon, Nashville, 2003.
392 pp. $28.00. ISBN 0-687-05821-X.

ONE SEARCHES FOR AN APPROPRIATE metaphor to describe the scholarly activity focused on Luke-Acts over the past forty years. Two important summary studies describe the intense interest in Luke-Acts as a "storm center" (W. C. van Unnik, "Luke-Acts: A Storm Center in Contemporary Scholarship," Studies in Luke-Acts [Nashville: Abingdon, 1966] 15-32) and "shifting sands" (Charles H. Talbert, "Shifting Sands: The Recent Study of the Gospel of Luke," Int 30 (1976) 381-95). One could also imagine the sheer volume of this scholarly interest as an explosion, though an explosion sustained and controlled through such venues as the ongoing study groups sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature. Beverly Roberts Gaventa's recent contribution to studies in Luke's second volume brings together much of the best contemporary (and classic) research on Luke-Acts. The commentary reflects both the quantity and quality of contemporary research on the book of Acts (the bibliography is impressive; one could add Daniel Marguerat's recent book The First Christian Historian: Writing the "Acts of theApostles[Cambridge University Press, 2002], probably published after her commentary went to press).

The series for which this commentary is written—the Abingdon New Testament Commentaries—is intended for theological students, and also "for students in upper-level college or university settings, as well as for pastors and other church leaders" (p. 15). Commentaries in this series are to "take full account of the most important current scholarship and secondary literature [They are] to analyze the literary, socio-historical, theological, and ethical dimensions of the biblical texts themselves" (p. 15). It is clear that Gaventa meets these and all the other criteria established by the editors of this series. Her commentary is clearly written, lucid, concise, and, where needed, appropriately expansive in exploring important issues of language, text, and context.

The preface offers typical thanks to all who contributed in making this work possible. However, the second sentence of the commentary is curious. Gaventa writes that the Acts of the Apostles has been introduced to many readers "as a history of the earliest Christian communities, beginning in Rome and concluding in Jerusalem...." (p. 17; my emphasis).

The commentary proper begins with a thirty-five page introduction that focuses on narrative aspects of Acts, including a review of Luke's cast of characters (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church and its people—Peter, James, Paul, and others should be remembered as witnesses and apostles rather than leaders and heroes), and the various "locations" of Acts (historical, canonical, and ecclesial). The final two sections of the introduction include a literary map for the journey through Acts, a brief review of some Lukan literary features (repetition, speeches, stories, the "we" passages, and genre possibilities), and an orientation to the commentary. In her overview of Acts, Gaventa suggests a bimodal structure. Following the Prologue (1:1-2:47), Part I focuses primarily on the Jerusalem Christian community, with the climax occurring at 10:1-11:18 (the conversions of Cornelius and Peter; 3:1-15:35). In Part II (15:36-28:31), the focus shifts to Paul and his mission, leading to a second high point at chapter 26 (Paul's speech to the Roman court at Caesarea). The narratives that follow each of these two parts are denouement, as Luke leads the reader to the close of each section.

Unlike many commentaries that primarily take a historical approach to the book of Acts, Gaventa's emphasis lies elsewhere. As she says, her approach "is not ahistorical, and certainly not anti-historical" (p. 59). While the events, actions, behaviors, and speeches that occur on the human plane are important to Luke, Gaventa reminds us that the Evangelist is more concerned to convey the story of God's actions through the characters in Acts. The divine necessity (dei) and plan (boulé) undergird the entire narrative from the original apostles of Jesus gathered together in a rented upper room in Jerusalem to Paul who talks with any who care to hear the gospel in his rented room in Rome. Gaventa provides constant and careful reflection on Luke's theological agenda, making a significant contribution to the growing collection of contemporary commentaries on Acts.

A pattern pervades this commentary. The book of Acts is divided into eight major sections, and each is introduced with a brief overview. Subunits are likewise introduced, followed by a detailed analysis of the text, and completed by a reflection on Luke's theological contribution to the readers of his story—a neat three-part structure. Gaventa's introductions are concise and clear and the analyses of the text are substantial and enlightening. Here she shows the stuff of a seasoned Bible scholar and teacher. Seminary students in particular will benefit from her occasional exegesis of the Greek text and her attention to textual variants. Her lucid explanations of the persistent problems with the texts and translations of Acts will appeal to specialists and general readers alike. Gaventa often provides her own translations of the text that illuminate the nuances of Luke's language. She offers a particularly nice translation of Acts 20:20-21 that brings out the significant pairs in Paul's farewell address to the Ephesian elders (p. 286). Paul has been
proclaiming... to you and teaching you
publicly and at home
to Jews and to Greeks
repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus
This is an elegant summary of Paul's witness.

Finally, Gaventa's theological reflections flow naturally from her analysis of the text. However, while one recognizes and appreciates the need for a commentary that emphasizes the theological perspective of Luke, it would be nice, on occasion, to see a bit more attention to the human plane—Luke's world. One wonders, for example, what someone in the late first century might have thought about Luke's use of the phrase "Lord and Messiah" as applied to Jesus (2:36; p. 79). While it is true that Luke gives little indication what content the titles of Jesus carries (see the long list in Acts 3:12-26, beginning and ending with "servant" [pais])y he does appear to use them purposefully. While we might not know what Luke intended with these titles, we can consider what impact they might have had on those who heard them in the context of the early Roman Empire. Fortunately Gaventa returns to the potential political impact of Luke's christological titles later in the commentary (pp. 171,174).

While Gaventa assists the reader as she travels with Luke's narrative among the urban centers of the Empire, a few more details about the cities visited by the apostles would be helpful in thinking about the social contexts of their ministry. Additional attention to political and social contexts might help "flesh out" Luke's theology—a theology that seems deeply rooted in this world, the world of the Roman Empire. Jesus as Lord and Messiah had (and has) serious implications and consequences for those who live under his lordship and messiahship.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of commentaries available to deal with the horizontal plane of the Acts of the Apostles. This is one that takes seriously the vertical dimension of Luke's narrative. We should be thankful that Gaventa has brought it to light.

Paul W. Walaskay

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