Thursday, September 16, 2010

Six Panels To Acts

By Max Strange 9/14/2010
Many people come to the book of Acts for a variety of reasons. Some do the apologetical or historical approach, others do a biographical sketch, some trace Paul’s journey’s with a Mediterranean map while others like to glimpse the good ole’ days of primitive church life. Moreover, Christians often approach Acts in a “restoration mentality” fearing that we have strayed too far into worldly ideologies, Westernization, pragmatic thinking, and/or Romish error. Unfortunately, Acts' readers have been importing much baggage, bias, and presuppositions into Luke's book and it is no wonder why Acts ends up being such a hot and highly debatable book. When the proper rules of interpretation are not first applied, debates on secondary issues commence.  Then our interpretation becomes forced by the grid we created thus making Acts into a newly transformed and hybrid proof-text toward my theological bent. No longer will it be called the Acts of the Apostles but the acts of my prejudice and the act of my new authorship. When Luke’s intent is not present, it is easy to see why water-cooler exegesis of Acts gravitate around such things as church functions and forms, water baptism and second baptism of the Holy Spirit, to tongue or not to tongue (that is the question?), the Lord’s Supper weekly or daily, etc. The A/author’s intent for the book can be more easily found when we look for the author’s intention and not our intention. Starting with an eye on Luke's structure, we begin to seek not our own intent/interests but Luke’s. His purpose (which is God's overall Christological purpose) in selecting and shaping the material, the normative patterns for the church come into focus.

Luke gives us his structure throughout Acts. These natural divisions point to Luke’s overarching theme. We see six panels in the book: (1:1-6:7; 6:8-9:31; 9:32-12:24; 12:25-16:5; 16:6-19:20; 19:21-28:30). These sections give the narrative a sense of forward movement that thrust us from Jew to Gentile lands, from Peter to Paul, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, as promised in Acts 1:8. Luke’s interest in this movement, orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, reveals small Judiastic beginnings that turn into a global-wide, Gentile-predominant phenomenon (92). These panels yield the meaning that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an unstoppable force. Powered by promise and Spirit, the triumphant expansion of the church and God’s intention for the church moves into sharp resolution. It is important as these panels surface, that we follow some key thoughts to control misuse of the text.

In reading Acts, always look for normative patterns that are elsewhere echoed in Scripture. A teaching can become a primary principle only if a pattern does exist and the rule of faith, using Scripture to interpret itself, is employed. Secondary principles, which ought not be held with a death grip, will be implicit statements that provide integrity to explicit statements. Therefore, it is crucial to not make secondary principles primary (normative for the Church). At the same time, we ought not forget that God communicates by explicit narrative in one place only to draw from typological implications elsewhere. The explicit narrative that has Moses striking the rock in the wilderness (Ex. 17:6) is used by the New Testament authors to imply through typology that it was Christ who was struck to provide living water (1 Cor.10:3; John 4:10; 7:38). So we are also cautious not to rule out typological implications as normative for the church.

Furthermore, when using history to back up a position, it must clearly be related to Luke’s intent. Do not make what was historically normal (or was normally done in church history) a binding principle for all Christians. Scripture must be explicit and implications must be clear in order to be binding.

In closing, Acts should be read with Luke’s interests in mind. His intention is indicated by the six panels found across the landscape of Acts which give the narrative a forward thrust. He shows us that God’s relentless Gospel expansion will push outward from Jewish to Gentile lands, from Peter to Paul, from Jerusalem to Rome, as promised. Once this intent is in our purview, normative principles and patterns in Acts, that are also echoed elsewhere and in harmony with Scripture, come to the fore. We hold on to explicit patterns, historic precedent, and typological implications that are primarily related to Luke’s intent. Conversely, we hold loosely those incidentals that are not related to Luke’s intent.

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