Richard I Pervo, Acts: A Commentary, Hermeneia, ed. Harold W. Attridge (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2009). The author is well-known for his work in Acts, having written a number of books and articles on Acts, including Profit with Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles (1987), Luke’s Story of Paul (1990), Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (with Mikeal A. Parsons, 1993), and Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (2006).
Pervo’s commentary on Acts is part of the Hermeneia series published by Fortress Press. This series is known for its comprehensive exegetical examination of the text and an emphasis of historical-critical concerns. In this regard, this volume on Acts is a worthy representative of the Hermeneia series. The comments are often exegetically insightful and occasionally pastorally helpful. There are copious footnotes, extensive bibliography, and four indexes (Scripture and ancient literature, Greek words, subjects, and modern authors). The juxtaposition of translations of the conventional text as represented by NA27 and UBS4 with the so called Western or D-Text at certain points is also a helpful feature.
Many interpreters in general, and theologically conservative interpreters in particular will question Pervo’s conclusions on the dating of Acts to the second century (pp. 5–7), the genre of Acts as a form of popular historical novel or popular apologetic history (pp. 14–16), and the rejection of the traditional affirmation of the unity of Luke-Acts (pp. 18–19). A bigger problem in my view is the author’s ambivalence, skepticism, and at times downright rejection of the historical veracity of Acts (e.g., pp. 58, 60, 76, 115, 151, 239, 302, 331, 334, 519, 538, 684, 688). As Pervo states, “Luke’s achievement as a historian lies more in his success at creating history than in recording it” (p. 18). That being said, Pervo’s idiosyncrasies do not prevent the observant reader from gleaning helpful exegetical insights from the comments in general. His handling of syntax and text-critical issues are often quite insightful.
But, the Hermeneia series in general, and this commentary in particular is probably not the best resource for your average pastor or Sunday school teacher. Critical commentaries such as this one usually provide little to no help in communicating, applying, or illustrating the text. Therefore, Pervo’s commentary is best suited for an academic setting. In this context, one suspects that there will be more appreciation for the novel contributions propagated in this volume.