The last post consisted of strong support for the primacy of exegesis, which might be simplified to “digging.” Well-conducted exegesis includes a range of sub-disciplines, including investigation into the historical and cultural backgrounds of the author, the text, and the original audience, along with analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself.
Often, I muse on things in the exegetical vein, but self-imposed constraints lead to time for but one exegetical post here at the end of September. What should it be? . . .
Maybe some current work from 1Corinthians (I’m engaged in this study with a group)? Something from past digs in Ruth or Galatians? I could merely list some links to previous posts that demonstrate exegetical concerns. I have a whole list of items to take up from the Gospel of John. Maybe one of those, as an example? Or—just today, I got very excited again about Philemon . . . I read the decades-old Moffatt translation of that beautiful letter today and thought that it might be the best published translation I’ve seen. Of course, my own modification of my friend Greg Fay’s translation is even better. 🙂 How about a post on Philemon?
What I’ve come down to is none of the above; instead, I’ll share a question or two, and an observation or three, arising out of an Acts group study in which I have the pleasure of participating this fall.
- In Acts 13-14-15, author Luke has Paul and Barnabas starting and finishing a “missionary journey.” That there is something of a full circle in this section may be seen by comparing 13:1-2 with 14:26-27; an inclusio may been observed here. Although this is certainly no epiphany, and although it may be seen just as well in English as in Greek, noting the beginnings and ends of sections can help immeasurably in interpretation.
- Various themes and emphases may be observed in Acts, e.g., the work of the Spirit, the missionary activities from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria and beyond. Also, throughout Acts, thoughtful readers will see a wealth of material that treats the move from Jew to non-Jew (gentile). This topic is no mere trifle to be ignored; it is arguably a major theme of Acts, seen in Paul’s synagogue preaching and yet-obvious push toward non-Jews, the Jerusalem conference, and more. At that point in history, the group of believers was both Jew and non-Jew. One thing dawned on me for the first time tonight in this light: from a literary standpoint, certain repetitiveness in Acts texts may constitute a strong emphasis on the move from an Israel- or Jew-centric faith toward one that is inclusive of all non-Jews, as well. Consider these three examples:
- In chapter 10, Peter has the vision/dream/trance that leads to the evangelization of Cornelius’s household. The next chapter involves a significant amount of repetition as Peter retells the incident.
- In chapter 15, the Jerusalem conference involves some repetition (cf. 15:19 and 15:22-29).
- Chapter 21 involves repetition of chapter 15’s themes.
- Further on the Jew==>gentile theme. . . . In 15:14, James (this one is presumed to be Jesus’ brother and is not, in any event, the apostle James who had already died) used the name “Simeon” instead of Peter”—perhaps pointing up a Jewish emphasis before heading down the gentile path later in the verse. The choice of “Simeon” over “Peter” or “Cephas” may hint at the major transition that was occurring over time, not to mention that it may also show James’s wisdom in noting Peter’s Jewishness for the sake of any hard-line “circumcision party” members in the group.
- There is some evidence in chapter 15 of standard rhetorical forms of the day, leading the reader to see even more emphasis within a) the actual discussion/debates that occurred, and b) Luke’s depiction of them.
- On a smaller scale, but related to #2 above, I note that presbuteros (elder), a word used sparingly by Luke, appears in Acts 15:7: “And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.” It strikes me to ask of Luke’s text whether there is any reason we should assume these elders are elders in the “Jerusalem church” as such. Could this use of “elders” be more respective of synagogue/Jewish tradition? Not that those referred to weren’t Christ-ian; everyone involved in these discussions and debates would have been believers in Jesus as Messiah. But perhaps those referred to as “elders” here were not appointed as church elders in the same sense as those of 14:23; maybe these were simply Jewish old men (≈ “elder,” not necessarily a churchy word) who has accepted Christ.
What I hope, based on the above questioning, is that
- this has shown my own inclination, although inadequate, to dig into the actual text of scripture, gleaning from each text on its own
- it also has moved some readers to incline themselves even more toward this type of study
And, to the point that was made in the last post about not rushing to apply texts before we understand them:
→ It is incumbent on us to make observations about a text, understanding it as thoroughly as we can, before we try to make an exemplary pattern for all time.
One highly significant thing to be observed throughout Acts is that there was a rather seismic shift taking place among the believers in Yahweh, in the 30s, 40s, and beyond. This shift was, simply put, the inclusion of gentile believers in the group of God’s people.
B. Casey, 9/16/15
P.S. For understandable, responsible, overview information on Acts, I recommend these bite-sized videos (3 minutes each, by Dr. Gary D. Collier) on sections of the book: