Centre for the Study of Christian Origins

New Book on the Genre of Acts


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.