Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009, lv + 790 pp.,
When I taught my first elective in Acts in the early
1970s, commentaries on the book were slim pickings. Several classic older
volumes were available in reprint, such as Rackham’s and Cadbury and Lake’s
commentary in The Beginnings
of Christianity. Brief contributions
were available, such as Foakes-Jackson in the Moffatt series and Williams in
Harper’s. The most thorough and up-to-date commentary was that of Haenchen. The
situation is quite different now. With the many recent commentary series have
come a number of excellent volumes on Acts, including Barrett’s two volumes,
Bock, Dunn, Fernando, Fitzmyer, Gaventa, Johnson, Larkin, Marshall, Neil, Parsons,
and Spenser. Excellent independent volumes are the 1990 enlarged commentary by
Bruce, Tannehill’s two-volume narrative treatment of Luke-Acts, and Witherington’s
“Socio-Rhetorical” commentary. An important contribution is Jervell’s volume as
Haenchen’s successor in the Kritisch-Exegetischer
Kommentar, which is as yet
unavailable in English. Peterson shows no awareness of this commentary or of Conzelmann’s,
which is available in English. Also neglected is Fitzmyer’s Anchor Bible contribution.
Except for a few holes such as these, however, he does reflect a thorough acquaintance
with his predecessors as reflected in this comprehensive and highly useful treatment
Peterson is well qualified to write an Acts commentary.
He has participated in the multi-volume series The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting from its beginning, having
contributed an article in the first volume entitled “The Motif of Fulfillment
and the Purpose of Luke-Acts.” He also served as co-editor with I. H. Marshall
of the sixth volume, which deals with the theology of Acts. Indeed, perhaps the
greatest contribution of this new commentary is its extensive treatment of the
theology of the book.
The introduction to the commentary treats such standard
matters as authorship and date, but also matters more specific to Acts.
Particularly useful are the sections dealing with genre and literary features.
Some standard issues are treated rather briefly, such as the speeches in Acts.
These speeches comprise nearly a third of the entire text of the book and are
the primary source for its theology, and one might expect a more thorough discussion.
This brevity, however, is compensated by Peterson’s thorough treatment of the
speeches in the commentary proper. The same applies to his introductory
comments on the text of Acts. He gives only scant attention to the Western text
of Acts, which is 8% longer than the Alexandrian and Byzantine texts. On the
other hand, he makes frequent allusions to the distinctive Western readings in
the commentary and footnotes. The most valuable portion of the introductory
matters is a 44-page discussion of the theology of Acts. In addition to
considering such standard features as the theology of God, Jesus, the Spirit,
salvation, the church, atonement (or the seeming lack thereof), he also
examines less discussed topics like elements of the magical and demonic in Acts.
The emphasis on theology is continued throughout the commentary, and the introductory
sections are regularly cross-referenced in the commentary proper where applicable.
In addition to the approximately 100 pages of introductory matters, the book concludes
with 64 pages of indices, covering subjects, authors, Scripture references, and
The organization of the commentary is based on the
theme of the progress of the Word of God, which is reminiscent of previous
treatments, such as Haenchen’s emphasis on “the triumph of the Word.” The
emphasis on the Word is combined with a standard geographical outline, which is
obviously supported by the narrative flow of Acts. Peterson develops his
outline around multiple divisions and subdivisions that set forth the text in
brief sections. Every division and subdivision is provided with a summary introduction
that makes the narrative easy to follow for the reader. Sections usually end
with a brief but useful application to the contemporary setting of the church. Interspersed
throughout the commentary are a few brief notes on topics that require extra
attention, including one on the problem of OT references in Stephen’s speech
and one on contemporary application of lessons learned from the Jerusalem
Peterson’s methodology is eclectic, not being confined
to any one approach. Overall, he sets forth the meaning of the text with sound
exegesis. He often cites the Greek text in transliterated form, placing it in
parentheses beside the English translation. This is done in an unobtrusive way
that will clarify the translation for those with Greek facility without being
distracting for those with none. The commentary series is based on the TNIV translation.
Being a more-or-less “dynamic” and not a literal rendering, it will sometimes
“close the door” on other possible renderings. Peterson does not hesitate to challenge
the TNIV when he considers the best translation to be otherwise but always gives
his justification for so doing.
Peterson also uses a narrative-critical approach,
discussing the development of the narrative without using the technical
language characteristic of so many works that use this methodology. For
example, he discusses such things as “narrative asides” and “narrative time” by
noting these features in the text but without using the jargon. He also notes
rhetorical features in the text, but this is confined primarily to the trial scenes,
where the influence of rhetoric is obvious. He does not force rhetorical
categories on non-rhetorical contexts.
Peterson’s commentary provides a balanced discussion
of alternative interpretations to those advanced in the commentary, either in
the text itself or in the footnotes. He does not ride particular denominational
horses. He writes in a clear, easily understood style that is generally free of
technical language. The commentary will serve one well as a general work on the
text of Acts that reflects the best in contemporary scholarship. It will prove
useful to the pastor preparing a sermon on a particular passage, to a teacher
preparing on a limited text or the whole book, and as a textbook for students.
Its treatment of the narrative flow will also make it an excellent guide for anyone
wishing to work through the entire text of Acts.
John B. Polhill
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY