Osvaldo Padilla. The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History, and Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 264 pp. $26.00
The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History, and Theology is an advanced introduction to Acts that deals with some of the typical topics of prolegomena (e.g. authorship, genre) as well as subjects not typically addressed in an introduction to Acts that are more unique to Padilla’s project (e.g. the theology of the speeches and interaction with philosophical hermeneutics and postliberalism). Chapter 1 addresses authorship, and here Padilla affirms Lukan authorship and argues that Irenaeus’s conclusion on the matter was derived from prior tradition. Going beyond typical introductory debates on authorship (hence advanced!), he engages with philosophical hermeneutics and narrative criticism to show why authorship matters for interpretation: “if it matters for our Christian faith whether the events described in Acts happened or not – then the identity of the author is indeed important. The reason for this is the crucial category of eyewitness” (35-36, emphasis original).
In the next chapter Padilla covers genre, first providing a brief history of genre theory and then summarizing and evaluating the major proposals for the genre of Acts. His own conclusion is that Acts is a “Hellenistic historical monograph in the Jewish tradition” (62), and Padilla justifies this suggestion robustly by looking at predecessors (e.g. OT historical books, 1-2 Macc., etc.) as well as analyzing the form, subject, features, and preface of Acts. This chapter concludes with a reflection on how seeing Acts as a historical monograph aids our interpretation of this text. In Chapter 3 Padilla examines how Luke wrote history. He begins by looking at the preface to the Gospel According to Luke; in showing how it’s filled with both historiographical and theological terminology, Padilla demonstrates that Luke was a theological historian. Next, he looks at Luke as storyteller and shows how Luke compresses stories for theological effect and how he presents a cohesive narrative for theological purposes. This chapter concludes with a look at the professionalization of history and postmodern historiography. One of the key things Padilla aims to demonstrate in this chapter is that the theological and storied characteristics of Acts do not prevent it from being reliable history.
The next two chapters deal with the speeches of Acts, with the first looking at speech-writing in ancient history. There seems to be a spectrum, but Padilla argues that Luke was on the end that was concerned about providing an accurate summary of what was said. At the end of this chapter Padilla’s evangelical convictions come out, which will delight evangelical readers and frustrate others. He affirms the importance of historical work and being open to the conclusions wherever they may lead, but also notes that we trust the veracity of the speeches because they are part of Scripture. The second chapter on speeches expounds upon the theology of five key speeches in Acts: Peter at Pentecost (2:1-41), Stephen (7:1-53), Peter at the home of Cornelius (10:24-48), Paul’s speech in Athens (17:16-31), and Paul’s speech before Agrippa (26:1-32). This is obviously the most theologically rich chapter of the book and one that every Christian would enjoy and benefit greatly from, even those who do not have interest in introductory matters. The final chapter provides an overview of postliberalism and then looks at how its main proposals can help us answer the question of how Acts justifies its truth claims.
The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History, and Theology is a must-read on Acts for advanced Bible college and seminary students as well as advanced lay students of the Bible. I used the word advanced not just because Padilla himself refers to this book as an advanced introduction (hence it might be too difficult without some prior exposure to these subject matters), but also because there’s a good bit of Greek (more than I’ve ever seen in an IVP book), none of which is transliterated. While there is some overlap with traditional matters of prolegomena on Acts that you’d get in the introduction of a solid commentary, what’s presented here is conversant with the latest scholarship on Acts; even discussions of “typical” topics are informed by new proposals. But what is unique about this book (new questions, new perspectives) is certainly worth the price of the book. I appreciated the robust chapters on speeches (which I assume was influenced by Padilla’s Cambridge dissertation on speeches in Acts), as well as the interactions with philosophical hermeneutics and postliberalism (pretty rare in biblical studies books!).
Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!