The Acts of the Apostles

Written by David G. Peterson Reviewed By Carl Park

In the preface to his new commentary on Acts, David Peterson presents himself as a pastor-teacher to readers. He explains that he has aimed to distill scholarly work for a wider public and to understand Acts in relation to contemporary gospel-ministry. He discusses concerns about divisive issues (e.g., priorities for mission and the work of the Holy Spirit) related to Acts and recognizes discomfort with preaching from narrative for many teachers of the Bible. Judged against these pastoral concerns, Peterson has written a fine introduction to Acts.

Peterson begins by addressing major issues in scholarship about Acts. Who was the author? When was it written? What is its genre? Is it historically reliable? How does narrative criticism elucidate the book? What is the relationship between the Western, Byzantine, and Alexandrian textual traditions? Peterson’s approach resembles a NT Introduction chapter on Acts; he presents the most widely discussed answers to those questions, then offers his own conclusions on which view is most convincing. To summarize, Peterson concludes that the author is Luke, the second-generation Christian physician mentioned in NT epistles. Luke probably wrote Acts in the mid-seventies, but perhaps the early sixties. Acts is both a confessional and reliable history, written in the style of Jewish and Greek historiography; it is a “theological history,” focused on the fulfillment of biblical promises and purposes. Although it represents a different genre from Luke’s Gospel, Acts is its sequel; they cohere thematically, narratively, and theologically.

The last two points are significant in that, first, they represent a sharp deviation from the approach of the two most recent English commentaries on Acts, one written by Richard Pervo and the other by Mickeal Parsons, which do not affirm such unity between Luke and Acts and whose interests do not lie in matters of historicity. Second, the conclusions that Acts is a theological history and that it follows the Gospel of Luke provide the justification for what may be the most helpful part of the introduction, an essay on ten key theological themes in Acts. Not meant to be a comprehensive list, its scope is limited to theological themes for which Peterson perceives development from Luke’s Gospel. These ten are God and his plan; Jesus as Messiah and Lord; the Holy Spirit; salvation; the gospel; the atoning work of Jesus; witness and mission; miracles; magic and the demonic; and the church. This essay, by Peterson’s own admission, contains limited interaction with alternative views, but it provides an excellent theological summary of Acts for Bible teachers. It offers a solid base from which to understand Acts as a whole, rather than atomistically, and a meaningful context into which an intimidated teacher can place historical and literary matters.

Providing such an introduction is no mean accomplishment, and it may come at a cost to the scholar who wants more detailed argumentation for these themes, as well as interaction with more recent and diverse secondary literature. This possibly illustrates the challenge of writing a commentary that aims to blend “scholarship and pastoral sensitivity” as the Pillar series does; if not, it certainly reflects the challenge of writing a comprehensive, detailed commentary on a book as long as Acts.

Overall, however, Peterson handles the challenge of writing for both scholars and pastors quite well. The commentary is organized in outline form, with helpful introductions to sections and subsections. He bases his study on the Greek text, converses articulately and graciously with major voices in scholarship, and provides appropriate material from primary sources. His lucid writing makes the reading enjoyable and easy, a welcome feature for both the scholar and the pastor. Peterson also maintains a thread of ministry-minded, sometimes homiletic, conclusions to many sections. For example, discussing Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders, he writes, “Covetousness spoils relationships and hinders the work of the gospel, since those who are seeking to advance themselves materially will be tempted to evaluate their contacts and ministry opportunities in economic terms” (p. 573). It might be added that for these points of application some kind of systematic treatment of the prescriptive/non-prescriptive nature of Acts could be useful (this would align with Peterson’s focus on hermeneutics and contemporary application) for readers who wonder why, for example, we should follow Paul’s Areopagus model by speaking within our hearers’ ideological framework (pp. 504–5) but generally not expect to see signs and wonders with our preaching (p. 383).

Peterson’s comprehensive and coherent commentary is a welcome addition to recent Acts scholarship. A pastor or theological student who wants a well-written introduction to major issues and themes in Acts, with an eye toward application of the text for the contemporary church, will certainly appreciate this contribution.

Carl Park

Carl Park
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois, USA

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