ACTS: THE QUESTION OF HISTORICAL PRECEDENT (Part 7)
Acts: An OverviewThe exegesis of Acts includes historical questions like, what happened? But also the theological ones such as, why did Luke select and shape the text in this way? When reading Acts you must think paragraphs, like in the Epistles, but also move beyond that to think whole narratives and sections of the book. Also, like the Epistles, is it a good idea to read Acts in one sitting.
You will notice as you read Acts that at every key juncture, in every key person, the Holy Spirit plays the absolutely leading role. The following observations should help in understanding what Luke was and wasn’t concerned with accomplishing with this Scripture.
1. The key to understanding Acts is Luke’s interest in movement, orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel from its Jerusalem-based, Judaism-oriented beginnings to its becoming a worldwide, Gentile-predominant phenomenon. Any statement of purpose that does not include the Gentile mission and the Holy Spirit’s role in that mission will surely have missed the point of this book.
2. The following are things that Luke does not tell us or is not concerned with. First, he has no interest in the biographies of the apostles. Second, he has little or no interest in church organization or polity. Third, there is no word about geographical expansion except one in the one direct line from Jerusalem to Rome.
3. Luke’s interest does not seem to be with standardizing things, bringing everything into uniformity. The diversity that this creates probably means that no specific example is being set forth as the model Christian experience or church life.
4. However, it is thought that Acts intention is to serve as a model. But the model is not so much in the specifics as in the overall picture.
The Hermeneutics of Acts: It is thought that unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is only narrated or described does not necessarily function in a normative way—unless it can be demonstrated on other grounds that the author intended it to function this way. In general, doctrinal statements derived from Scripture fall into three categories. (1) Christian theology, what Christians believe. (2) Christian ethics, how Christians ought to behave. (3) Christian experience and Christian practice, what Christians do. Within all of these categories exist two levels of statements referred to as primary and secondary. The primary level refers to things explicitly stated in Scripture. The secondary level is comprised of statements that are derived only incidentally by implication or by precedent. What is important to note here is that almost everything Christians derive from Scripture by way of precedent is in our third category, Christian experience or practice, and always at the secondary level.
The following principles apply to the hermeneutics of historical narrative:
1. The Word of God in Acts that may be regarded as normative for Christians is related to what any given narrative was intended to teach.
2. What is incidental to the primary intent may reflect the authors understanding of things, but it does not have the same didactic value as what the narrative was trying to teach.
3. Historical precedent, to have normative value, must be related to intent. If it can be shown that a given narrative is to establish precedent, than such precedent should be regarded as normative, speaking to all churches, at all times.
It should be noted, especially in cases where the precedent justifies a present action, that the precedent does not establish a norm for a specific action. The decision as to whether patterns or practices are repeatable should be guided by the following considerations. First, the strongest possible case can be made when only one pattern is found, and when that pattern is repeated in the New Testament itself. Second, when there is ambiguity of patterns or when a pattern occurs but once, it is repeatable for later Christians only if it appears to have divine approbation or is in harmony with what is taught elsewhere in Scripture. Third, what is culturally conditioned is either not repeatable at all, or must be translated into the new differing culture.
(This post is a summary and partial abridgement of Fee And Stuart’s book “How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth.” It is based solely on Fee And Stuart’s work and any help that this content gives should be credited to God’s grace through their effort. In other words, give God glory, thank Fee and Stuart and buy the book.)