Aug 14, 2015

F. F. Bruce on Commentaries in Acts

I found the following comments from a 1989 article by F. F. Bruce on Acts commentaries interesting. Two points were of particular interest. First, I appreciated Bruce's positive affirmation of the commentary by Kirsopp Lake and Henry J. Cadbury. Second, it is interesting to note that Bruce saw this commentary as an end of an era where commentaries. It struck me, that the tides may have shifted somewhat since Bruce wrote this. It seems to me that a number of recent commentaries (e.g., Bock, Keener) take a more positive approach to the historicity of Acts, or at least a more nuanced approach than a wholesale skepticism of Acts' historicity. In any case, here are the paragraphs that caught my attention.
Let us begin with the appearance in 1933 of the great commentary by Kirsopp Lake and Henry J. Cadbury, based on a fresh English translation of the Greek text. This formed Volume IV of the encyclopaedic work on The Beginnings of Christianity, edited by F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake and published by Macmillan. Part of this enterprise, which ran to five volumes (1920-33), covered the Acts of the Apostles, but no further part was published. Volume V was a companion volume to the commentary; it contained Additional Notes which could not be conveniently accommodated in the commentary proper. VoIumes I–III had dealt with prolegomena to the study of Acts.

It was claimed at the time, certainly with justice, that no book of the Bible had been subjected to so exhaustive a treatment in a single work as Acts received in these five volumes. While the editors probably thought of their work as launching a new era in the study or Acts, it may more truly be viewed as marking the end of an era. But while it is inevitably dated, it cannot be neglected by the student of Acts, and this is specially true of the commentary volume. This volume expounds Acts in the light of practically everything that could be said of the book at that time from the viewpoints of historical, literary and textual criticism. On the historical side, a sequel was provided by Cadbury in his Lowell Lectures on The Book of Acts in History (New York: Harper, 1955). In these he illustrated the narrative of Acts from each of the overlapping cultural contexts in which the book is set.

The main reason for viewing The Beginnings of Christianity as marking the end of an era is that the perspective from which it was compiled has been replaced by one which treats Acts as being basically the work of a theologian who subordinated historical fact to theological appropriateness. Another factor tending to play down the former concentration on arguments for or against the historicity of Acts was the new emphasis on form criticism or ‘style criticism.’  

Commentaries or other studies in Acts since the 1930s have been influenced, positively or otherwise, by the work of Martin Dibelius. This influence was intensified with the publication of his posthumously collected Studies in the Acts of the Apostles; the German text of this collection (1951) was followed in 1956 by an English translation, published by the SCM Press. Dibelius insisted on the primary importance of the ‘style criticism’ of the book. Attention should be paid, he held, to Luke’s literary creativity rather than to the story he told.

F. F. Bruce, "Commentaries on Acts," Bible Translator 40 (1989): 315.

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