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The Beginnings of Christianity as marking the end of an era is that the perspective from which it was compiled has been replaced by one which treats Acts as being basically the work of a theologian who subordinated historical fact to theological appropriateness.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.

Aug 12, 2015

The Importance of Sound Exegesis and Preaching

Here is another great quote from Stephen Farris.

“It is not that it is impossible to preach a good sermon without sound exegesis. It is, however, hard to imagine preaching a good sermon regularly without such a discipline.

Stephen Farris, Preaching That Matters: The Bible and Our Lives (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 41.

Aug 11, 2015

Three Dangers Associated with Studying Backgrounds

Duvall and Hays, in their book Grasping God’s Word, identify three dangers associated with studying backgrounds as part of the interpretive process.[1]

1. Use inaccurate background information.
2. Elevating the background of the text above the meaning of the text.
3. Letting yourself evolve into nothing more than a walking database of ancient facts.

This caution is not meant to devalue the study of backgrounds but I believe that Duvall and Hays are right to point out potential pitfalls. I have often witnessed the misuse and misapplication of background material. And this misuse and misapplication is often accompanied with an arrogant spirit of claiming to really know what a given text means.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 123–24.

Aug 10, 2015

Are You Widely-Read of Well-Read?

I was recently looking back through Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren's excellent work, How to Read a Book. This book is chock-full of insights but one in particular struck me as especially appropriate for those of us involved in the academic side of ministry, namely, the difference between being widely-read and well-read. There is too much in their discussion to reproduce here, but I do offer a little snippet to either introduce or remind you about this literary gem. 

There have always been literate ignoramuses who have read too widely and not well. The Greeks had a name for such a mixture of learning and folly which might be applied to the bookish but poorly read of all ages. They are all sophomores.

To avoid this error–the error of assuming that to be widely read and to be well-read are the same thing–we must consider a certain distinction in types of learning. Thais distinction has a significant bearing on the whole business of reading and its relation to education generally.

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, revised and updated ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 12.