Lectionary Year A
May 5, 2002
Acts 17:22-31

Step III: Composition

A. Immediate Context

(JFC) Pre - The first 21 verses of Acts 17 pick up Paul and Silas journeying from Thessalonica to Athens. At their first stop, Paul, as was his custom, argued in the synagogue and persuaded some converts to join them. However, some of the city officials became jealous and apprehended and tried Jason for entertaining them and claimed the new converts were claiming another king "contrary to the decrees of the emperor". The officials received bail for Jason and let him go. Next, Paul and Silas went to Beroea and to the synagogue where they found more who received the New Interpretation of the Scriptures, the Old Testament, of course, which Paul used in his "arguments". Word reached back to Thessalonica and officials from there sent a delegation to rabble rouse the people in Boroea so Paul let the believers there send him on to the coast (to get a boat to Athens) while Silas and Timothy left him with instructions to rejoin him when they could. It distressed Paul to discover so many idols in Athens, so he set up his soap box in both the synagogue and the market place there and spoke of Christ the risen Savior. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers took exception to his points. Nevertheless, they took him to the Aeropagus asking him to explain what he meant by what they called "this new teaching that you are presenting." Luke closes that paragraph with an analysis that the citizens in Athens, both natives and visitors liked to discuss new ideas.

Post - Acts 17:32-34 indicate that some hearing Paul's words of our text believed and joined the as yet unnamed movement while others remained skeptical and said they wanted to hear more later. Then, Paul left to go to Corinth in chapter 18, where he stayed with fellow tent makers Aqila and Priscilla with whom he worked (apparently, to found the Church there) where he argued every Sabbath to convince the Jews and Greeks to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

B. Organization of the Compositional Whole

(JFC) As noted previously in these pages, some commentaries call this book The Acts of the Apostles, others, the Acts of God, still others, The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Will 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) It has been previously stated in these pages, that 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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