New Book on the Genre of Acts

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I announce publication of the thesis of yet another of our recent PhD students, Dr. Sean Adams, who is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow here in the School of Divinity:

The Genre of Acts and Collected Biography.  Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 155.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2013.

The genre of Acts continues to be a debated topic in New Testament scholarship. Despite its literary relationship to the Gospel of Luke a majority of scholars assign these books to two different genres: Luke is traditionally viewed as a biography of Jesus, and Acts as a history of the early church. Comparing in detail the structure and content of Acts with the formal features of history, novel, epic, and biography, Adams challenges the dominant view that Acts is a history, arguing that the best genre parallel for the Acts of the Apostles is in fact collected biography; the first monograph-length work to argue for such a perspective.

By taking this view Adams addresses a number of interpretive issues. For example, it helps explain the structure of Acts, its focus on the disciples and the advancement of the Christian message, and its need to delineate in-group and out-group members, particularly through their interaction with either Peter or Paul. Additionally, it provides an interpretation for the ending of Acts that not only understands the existing ending as an intentional composition by the author, but also explains why Luke did not recount Paul´s trial and death. The shift away from Paul to the preaching of the kingdom of God reinforces the thrust found in a number of collected philosophical biographies that a disciple is only as important as his faithful adherence to and proclamation of his master´s teaching.

In this work Adams models a fluid and flexible perspective on genre. More than just a collection of formal features, Adams shows that genres are to be understood in light of their cultural context and relationships to other genres. Moreover, genres form a dynamic system whose boundaries are constantly in flux. This flexible and malleable understanding of genre provides a strong warning to biblical scholars and classicists who might be tempted to apply rigid generic definitions.

The publisher’s link on the book is here.

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About larryhurtado

I'm a scholar in New Testament and Christian Origins, currently Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh (since 1996), and previously Professor in the Department of Relgiion, University of Manitoba.

6 responses »

  1. “Additionally, it provides an interpretation for the ending of Acts that not only understands the existing ending as an intentional composition by the author, but also explains why Luke did not recount Paul´s trial and death. The shift away from Paul to the preaching of the kingdom of God reinforces the thrust found in a number of collected philosophical biographies that a disciple is only as important as his faithful adherence to and proclamation of his master´s teaching.”

    I agree that this is a potential explaination.

    But the death of James and Paul were seen by almost all Christians then as being of uttermost importance.
    Now if Luke was faced with two choices for edifying the early Church:

    a) stopping with the proclamation of the Gospel and not mentioning at all what happened to Paul and James afterwards

    b) describing in very glorious terms how Paul, Peter and James died for the sake of Christ

    which one of these two options seems the more likely to have built up the faith of the first Christians?

    What if more, even if he had written b), Luke would have been clever enough for emphasizing that the proclamation of the Gospel was more important than the glorious deaths of the three heroes.

    To my mind, this fails as an explanation of Luke’s silence.
    I find it still reasonable to believe that Luke did not mention these events because he was utterly unaware of them, living 3000 years earlier than the first time humans invented a time travel machine.

    • Lotharson (your name? Can we use names, please. It’s just polite social graces.) What’s your basis for claims such as “the death of James and Paul were seen by almost all Christians then as being of uttermost significance”? Evidence? And what does “uttermost significance” mean? And I’m baffled at what your final two paragraphs are supposed to mean. But maybe you don’t intend any serious conversation?

      • Hello I am Marc from France, at your service!

        I’m really sorry if you perceived my comment as being offensive, this wasn’t my intention at all.

        The last paragraphs were an humurous attempt to say that Luke wrote acts before their deaths. I like science-fiction :=)

        ““the death of James and Paul were seen by almost all Christians then as being of uttermost significance”? Evidence?”

        Well, James, Paul and Peter werre view as the most important leaders at that time. So it seems pretty likely that the death of the three heroic apostles was of significant interest to most early Christians.

        What is your own evidence that most Christians didn’t care much about the death of the three apostles?

        Friendly greetings from Europe.

      • Hello I am Marc from France, at your service!

        I’m really sorry if you perceived my comment as being offensive, this wasn’t my intention at all.

        The last paragraphs were an humurous attempt to say that Luke wrote acts before their deaths. I like science-fiction :=)

        ““the death of James and Paul were seen by almost all Christians then as being of uttermost significance”? Evidence?”

        Well, James, Paul and Peter were viewed as the most important leaders at that time. So it seems pretty likely that the death of the three heroic apostles was of significant interest to most early Christians.

        What is your own evidence that most Christians didn’t care much about the death of the three apostles?

        Friendly greetings from Europe.

      • Marc: Thanks for clarifying your earlier comment. Two responses: (1) I don’t have to disprove your assertion–you would have to prove it; (2) In querying your claim that the deaths of these three were “of uttermost significance,” I don’t intend (or need) to show that they were “of no significant interest”. That’s a false dichotomy. Significant? Yes. E.g., the references to deaths of Paul & Peter in 1 Clement. How significant? And for how many? Hard to say.

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