Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Purpose of Acts: Some Alternatives

In his excellent but now rather dated introduction to scholarship on Acts, Mark Allan Powell organizes proposals about the purpose of Acts into six major categories, which he admits are not mutually exclusive:
  1. Irenic - Acts was written to unify Petrine and Pauline branches of early Christianity (F. C. Baur).
  2. Polemical - Acts was written to respond to and reject heresies within Christianity--either Gnosticism (Talbert) or Jewish Christianity (Jack T. Sanders).
  3. Apologetic - Acts was written to respond to opposition from either Roman or Jewish outsiders. In some forms of this view, Acts is addressed directly to the outsider audience as an attempt to persuade them that, for instance, Christianity should be recognized as a legal religion, as Judaism was (Haenchen). Others argue that Acts was written to Christians to enable them to respond to opposition from outsiders. Jacob Jervell, for example, suggested that Acts was written to a Christian church facing opposition from Jewish opponents. 
  4.  Evangelistic - Acts was written to encourage non-Christian readers to convert to Christianity or to provide a model for Christian witness to non-Christians (F. F. Bruce).
  5. Pastoral - "If the book of Acts is addressed primarily to believers, then Luke's purpose may be to strengthen their faith and to offer them pastoral guidance" (17).
  6. Theological - According to Hans Conzelmann, Acts responds to "a theological crisis in the life of the early church" caused by the delay of the second coming of Jesus.

  7. Mark Allan Powell, What Are They Saying about Acts? (New York: Paulist, 1991), 13-19.
This is a helpful orientation to the topic, but it will not take us very far if we are concerned primarily with the way in which proposals about the purpose of Acts account for the function of the extensive trial narrative in Acts 21-28: I would not have guessed from reading Powell's summary that Ernst Haenchen gave tremendous weight to the trial narrative in the latter chapters of Acts, and insisted that the book was written to legitimate the Gentile mission as well as to convince a Roman audience to treat Christianity as a legal religion. More on Haenchen in the next post.

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