Thursday, June 30, 2016

Assessing Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts

I summarized Ernst Haenchen's understanding of the purpose of Acts yesterday (here). Today I want to comment briefly on three key aspects of his model:

1. Authorizing Christianity - The suggestion that Luke wrote to secure approval for the early Christian movement as a "tolerated" religion remains very popular, at least in a modified form. Although some scholars deny that a religio licita category existed in the first two centuries CE (see Maddox, on the one hand, and the fine discussion in Keener, on the other), it is common to suggest that Luke presents Christianity in the Roman world as a legitimate and honorable religious alternative by highlighting its Jewish origins and appealing to the antiquity of its traditions in the Jewish Scriptures. (See e.g., Gerald Downing, Philip Esler, François Bovon, Daniel Marguerat, Craig Keener.)

My question is this: Does a bid for legitimacy in the Roman world adequately explain a trial narrative that appears to address and respond to Jewish concerns--in particular, concerns which I will argue elsewhere have to do with a perceived threat to Jewish identity posed by Paul's Gentile mission? Not impossible, but it seems an odd way to go about it.   

2. Jewish Opposition - Haenchen's model supposes that Jews complained to the Romans that Christian Gentiles were not legitimate Jews and hence were "hostile to the state." But when, where and under what circumstances would Jews care about Gentile Christians, and would they have been in a position to complain to the state after 70 CE? Shaye Cohen's recent comment about the "parting of the ways" seems relevant here:
    "There was no parting of the ways between gentile Christians and non-Christian Jews for the simple reason that their ways had never been united. ... [F]or gentiles who believed in Christ and for Jews who did not, there was no need for a parting of the ways, even if there was a need on occasion for polemic, apologetic, and recrimination" (From the Maccabees to the Mishnah [3rd ed; WJK, 2014], 232-3).
3. An External Audience - Haenchen's claim that Luke's apology in Acts was "designed to win over the Roman authorities" (116) has probably received the most criticism--and rightly so. C.K. Barrett's famous rejoinder is compelling: "No Roman official would ever have filtered out so much of what to him would be theological and ecclesiastical rubbish in order to reach so tiny a grain of relevant apology" (Luke the Historian in Recent Study [London: Epworth, 1961], 63).

Barrett, C. K. Luke the Historian in Recent Study. London: Epworth, 1961.

Bovon, François. “The Law in Luke-Acts.” In Studies in Early Christianity, by Bovon, François, 59–73. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Cohen, Shaye. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Downing, Gerald F. “Freedom from the Law in Luke-Acts.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 (1986): 49–52.

———. “Law and Custom: Luke-Acts and Late Hellenism.” In Law and Religion: Essays on the Place of the Law in Israel and Early Christianity, edited by Barnabas Lindars, 148–58. Cambridge: James Clarke, 1988.

Esler, Philip Francis. Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology. SNTSMS 57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Volume 1: Introduction and 1:1--2:47. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Maddox, Robert. The Purpose of Luke-Acts. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982.

Marguerat, Daniel. The First Christian Historian: Writing the “Acts of the Apostles.” Edited by Gregory J. Laughery and Richard Bauckham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Other posts in this series:
Jewish Christianity in Acts: In Search of a Sitz im Leben
Part 1: Reflections on Hermeneutics and the Purpose of Acts
Part 2: The Purpose of Acts: Some Alternatives
Part 3a: Ernst Haenchen on the Purpose of Acts
Part 3b: Assessing Ernst Haenchen 

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