Lectionary Year A
April 28, 2002
Step III: Composition
A. Immediate Context
(JFC) Pre - The first 54 verses of Acts 7 tell of Stephen's replying to the high priest's
asking if all the things mentioned in chapter 6 are true. These things include the spreading of God's word, membership in the movement's increasing and the disciples' choosing seven godly men to assist with provisions for widows, orphans and visiting sojourners visiting in homes. They also "did great wonders and signs among the people" (6:8). The council objected to such advancements and so fabricated stories to discredit the disciples, etc. Then, Stephen starts his defense with Abraham's call, the move to Haran, Abraham's sons and grandsons, Joseph's time in Egypt, its famine and Moses' stories and his leading the Exodus. Next, Stephen tells the stories of Joshua, David and Solomon. He indicates that the Sanhedrin members and subjects are among those violating God's Commandments and Covenants. These stories enraged the high priests.
Post - Acts 8 begins by stating that "Saul approved of their killing him." It further states that "That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem." Stephen was buried, Christians scattered themselves throughout Judea and Saul ravaged the believers' homes and imprisoned their families. The scattered faithful witnessed, healed and exorcised to the great delight, pleasure and appreciation of those whose needs they met. Philip, Simon, John and Peter are mentioned specifically. They baptized and laid on hands for the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch is recorded at the end of this chapter, in 8:27-39.
B. Organization of the Compositional Whole
(JFC) Some commentaries call this book The Acts of the Apostles, others, the Acts of
God, still others, The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Willimon's Interpretation Commentary states, "The prologues say that a major purpose of Luke-Acts is to provide an orderly and accurate account of what has happened (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1,2)." Acts continues the narrative of the Christian movement from Jesus' resurrection through Peter's work in Jerusalem and Paul's trips, ending with the one to Rome. The first half of the book, chapters 1-12, reports events in Jerusalem as the second half (chapters 13-28) follows Paul on his missionary journeys. Some note the geographical divisions: in Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), throughout Judea and Samaria (chapters 8-12) and "to the end of the earth" (chapters 13-28). Paul speaks with and preaches to Jewish audiences six times (2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:9-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43 and 13:16-41) and twice with and to Gentiles (14:15-17 and 17:22-31). There are four "we passages", 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18 and 27:1-28:16. They seem to indicate Paul has a companion (see Philemon 24) on these trips ("from Asia Minor to Philippi, later from Philippi to Jerusalem and, via Caesarea, to Rome." According to Munck, (Anchor Bible), that companion might well have kept a journal of their activities along the ways.
C. Issues of Authorship
(JFC) Although Acts seems to be written in the style of the Gospel of Luke, since that
Gospel is anonymous, the identity of the author of Acts is also unknown. Munck terms Luke and Acts, "one continuous work"; Baird (Interpreter's One Volume Commentary) claims Acts is, "the second volume of the historical work Luke-Acts". And, "the common addressee", Theophilus, links together both works, Luke, the Gospel, and Acts, the book of church history, according to Holladay (Harper's Bible Commentary). In that this historical narrative ends with Paul's imprisonment on the way to Rome, and inasmuch as his actual martyrdom is not mentioned, it seems this book was composed about that time, 65-67 CE. However, Holladay attests, "At the earliest, Acts cannot have been written prior to the latest firm chronological marker recorded in the book - Festus's appointment as procurator (24:27), which on the basis of independent sources, appears to have occurred between A.D. 55 and 59. At the latest . . . it is commonly dated in the last quarter of the first century, after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 . . ."
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