Written by Andrew C. Clark Reviewed By Kenneth D. Litwak

The tendency to focus on individual verses or short passages to the detriment of the larger context or overall aims of a biblical book is all too common in biblical studies. It is therefore refreshing to read a book which seeks to examine a topic which spans an entire NT book and aims to integrate that topic into the overall purpose of the book. Parallel Lives is such a book. It focuses on the depiction of Paul in Acts, especially in its relation to similar portrayals of Peter, the twelve apostles, Stephen, Philip and Barnabas.

Clark contends that there have been major methodological problems in previous studies of the parallels in Acts, those between Peter and Paul in particular. First, there has been a lack of precision in what constitutes evidence of an intentional parallel. Second, there has been a lack of external criteria from Acts’ Greco-Roman literary context applied to the study of alleged parallels. Because of this, it is difficult to determine when a parallel is really a parallel. This book seeks to remedy that by first setting out internal criteria for determining when two accounts actually are intended by Luke to be parallel: literary genre, verbal links, order of events, and themes. For external criteria, Clark compares the Parallel Lives by Plutarch, as illustrative of Greco-Roman practices regarding sunkrisis (comparison). Clark argues that Luke’s approach was akin to that of Plutarch. While there may indeed be similarities between the approaches of Plutarch and Luke, and the notion of using Plutarch as an external control on the search for parallels in Acts is certainly helpful, it may be questioned whether the mere fact that Plutarch (or other Hellenistic authors) did thus-and-such requires that Luke used the same approach. Could Luke have followed the practices exemplified by Plutarch in some regards but not others? Might Luke have taken up a practice of Plutarch’s, or rather of the Hellenistic literary environment in which Luke lived, and transformed it to his own end? This is an important methodological issue in comparative treatments that Clark does not address but this does not negate the contribution of this book.

Based on these criteria, Clark examines possible parallels between Peter and Paul, the twelve apostles and Paul, Stephen and Paul, Philip and Paul and Barnabas and Paul. Clark admits that in many cases, the individual verbal parallels may be insufficient by themselves to make his case, but the cumulative weight is significant. He cautiously but effectively argues that there are significant parallels and that they have a significant purpose. The many parallels, especially those between Paul and Peter, and Paul and the twelve apostles show that, for Luke, there is an essential unity between the mission to the Jews and mission to the Gentiles—both are clearly part of God’s plan of salvation. Peter, and to a lesser degree, ‘the apostles’ as a group, are presented by Luke as witnesses to the Jewish people of Jesus and his resurrection. Paul, who is shown through parallels to be equivalent to Peter and the apostles in important regards, is God’s witness to the Gentiles of Jesus and his resurrection. Like Peter and the apostles, Paul has seen the risen Lord, has been commissioned to be a witness, proclaims the risen Jesus and performs signs and wonders. To make this case, Clark focuses on Paul’s conversion accounts and on the speeches in Acts. Of special note is Clark’s rejection of the reductionistic tendency to explain away textual phenomena as a result of Luke’s sources or ‘Lukan style’. Thus the parallels contribute to Luke’s larger purposes, showing unity between the Jewish and Gentile missions.

Issues with regard to Clark’s external controls need to be considered, but this is a very helpful treatment. As opposed to treatments that take an atomistic view of specific bits of Acts, Clark’s broader study is welcome.

Kenneth D. Litwak

Kenneth D. Litwak
Gateway Seminary
Ontario, California, USA