III. The Role of Acts of the Apostles

Now that we know the nature and role of the Gospels, how does Acts of the Apostles fit into the picture of doing NT theology?

Continuing and not contradicting or changing the narrative testimony of the Gospels is Acts of the Apostles. Within this narrative (also penned by the third Gospel writer, Luke), Jesus’ mission carries on. It does so in a manner different from, though doubtlessly expected by the Gospels (See, e.g., Matt 8:11; 28:19-20; Mark 12:9-10; Luke 13:29; 20:16; 24:47-49; John 10:16; 11:52.). This is especially noticable in the apostles’ mission and the fruit of Jesus’ ministry through them, the church. That Luke and Acts were possibly considered one continuing narrative in the early church is also telling of the prevalent continuity they have with the Gospels’ witness (Compare, for instance, Luke 1:1-4 and 24:47-49 with the continuation of his unique message in Acts 1:1-8; or Luke 1:55, 79, 2:32, and 3:6 with the new mission for a regathered ‘Israel’ to be a light to all nations in Acts 1:8, 2:1-39, 11:15-18, and 28:28-31).

If this is the case, with such obvious continuities linking these narratives together, then why the (seemingly) deliberate separation of Luke’s second volume, Acts of the Apostles, from his first, [The Gospel] According to Luke, in the traditional canon? In one sense, this separation is thought to be meaningful. It serves not merely as an introduction to the historical figure of Paul or the post-Easter-empowered disciples, but also as an interpretive bridge between the Gospels and the epistles, especially those included in the Pauline corpus. Acts of the Apostles provides narrative testimony to the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament (e.g. Acts 2:17-18 [Num 11:29; Ezek 36:27; Joel 2:28-32]; Acts 8:14-25 [Ezek 37:15-19]; Acts 13:47 [Isa 42:6; 49:6; cf. Isa 2:2-4=Mic 4:3-4]; Acts 15:13-19 [Amos 9:11-12; cf. Isa 45:21; Jer 12:15-16; Hos 3:5]) and Jesus (e.g. Acts 2:1-36 [Luke 24:47-49]; Acts 10-11 [John 10:16]; Acts 13:46-47 [Luke 13:29]) and sets up an apostolic missionary context in which to read the remainder of the NT (e.g. Paul, Peter, James, or John).

Considering the several centuries that passed before the canon developed its final form, such a reading could arguably be anachronistic; however, for the purpose of NT theology, which seeks to explain the overall unity within the diverse testimonies of the text as we do have it, this observation is astute (cf. Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 108-14). That is, since the Gospels are telling one redemptive story, and Acts of the Apostles undeniably continues the events their narratives (esp. Luke’s) expected, and prepares the NT reader for the Pauline corpus, then let us not miss the grandeur of the theological forest for the individual (though necessary) historical trees. Yes, Luke’s two-volume work should be read as a narrative unit, but this does not hinder the overarching theological message uniting the books of the first third of the NT, and anticipating the second third. Acts of the Apostles, therefore, should serve NT theology as bridge from the Evangelists’ Jesus traditions to Paul’s (and the other apostles’) interpretive epistles.

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3 Responses to “III. The Role of Acts of the Apostles”

  1. Brandon Says:

    Dr. Wellum (whom I wish you could meet) went over this yesterday in class. Except he went specifically from Acts 17. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone more articulately spell out the goal of doing Christian theology in our day and time. It was outstanding. And…I think he’s Canadian…so he sounds like D.A. Carson when he talks (aboot instead of about, and oot instead of out)

  2. zbowden Says:

    A hermeneutical bridge perhaps?

  3. Bret Rogers Says:

    Yes, perhaps a “hermeneutical” bridge. I find the speeches of the Apostles most fascinating in Acts, especially in their use of the OT. How about Stephen’s in Acts 8, or Paul’s in chapter 13? Wow, talk about some amazing help in understanding the testimony of the canon and the redemption we have in God’s Son, Jesus Christ!

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