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The Acts of the Apostles: Luke’s “Part II” The narrative bridge from Jerusalem to Rome
“Thinking with narrative” • Essay by Porter Abbott (in reader) spoke of thinking with narrative, “narrative negotiation.” • Narrative involves the negotiation of conflict, frequently of opposing perspectives. • Oppositions are spread over a temporal grid; narrative moves between them. • A kind of “thinking through” oppositions, conflicts. • A useful way of approaching Luke/Acts, which can be described as a “narrative bridge” constructed between the early 1st cent. Galilean/Judean world of Jesus and the late 1st cent. world of Gentile Christianity.
The implicit oppositions in Luke/Acts • “The Way” is a Jewish thing. • Jesus born into Judaism. • His life is rooted deeply in Israel’s history. • Its language is Aramaic. • Concepts of movement are Jewish: Davidic messiahship, “kingdom of God,” coming judgment, etc. • Teaching was in the context of Palestinian Judaism: parables, law. • All of his followers were Jewish. • Thought structures don’t really engage the patterns of the Hellenistic world.
But . . . • By mid 80s C.E. “the Way” is a gentile thing. • Spread throughout the cities of the Mediterranean world. • A majority of its followers now are gentiles. • Its language is now Greek. • Jerusalem and the Temple have been destroyed. • All of Jesus’ original followers are dead. • His brother James no longer leads the movement. • Israel’s Law (and circumcision) no longer bind its followers. • Judaism now irrelevant?
Which is true? • Was Paul too successful? • The issue is identity. • Which makes it seemingly impossible to have it both ways. • Luke/Acts extends the question over its narrative grid. • Many episodes of Acts contain narrative elements that express one or the other, or both, perspectives. • Attempting to “resolve” these issues. • But many are incompatible or not easily resolved. • And so extended over the narrative grid and given alternating validity? • A narrative of conflicting Christianities that works to validate both understandings.
End of Luke/beginning of Acts • Gospel ends with Jesus’ “ascension,” his prediction that the “repentance and forgiveness of sins” is to be proclaimed “to all nations.” • “Beginning from Jerusalem.” • And disciples return to Jerusalem, “continually in the Temple blessing God.” • Acts seems to begin with the same, or similar, event. • A promise of “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” Jesus ascending, and his prediction that they will be witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” • And, again, the disciples return to Jerusalem.
Pentecost and prolepsis • Prolepsis = narrative anticipation. • “The Holy Spirit” a Lukan theme. • (Still two and a half centuries away from Trinitarian definition; here it means something like the “spirit of God.”) • The role call of ethnicities anticipates the spread of the way: 2:7-11). • “All devout Jews” – these are Jews of the diaspora. • Simultaneous translation! • Apostles not drunk – it’s only nine in the morning! • Peter now plays the interpretive role that Jesus had played in the Emmaus episode, interpreting Scriptures. • Prophecy from Joel – “in the last days” a pouring out of Spirit. • Davidic messiahship – and resurrection. • 3,000 persons join the movement. • The ideal community of 2: 43-47. See also 4:32ff. • Ananias and Sapphira story the obverse?
Recapitulation • Again and again episodes in Acts seem to recapitulate events in the Gospel of Luke. • E.g., the question to Peter at 2: 37 repeats the question to John the Baptist at Luke 3:10, and Peter’s reply is similar: “repent and be baptized.” • Peter recapitulates Jesus’ healing of the cripple at the Gate of the Temple; see Luke 5: 17-26. • In chapter 5, people bring the sick out so Peter’s shadow can fall on them – as the crowds had touched Jesus. • In Chapter 9, Peter cures a paralytic named Aeneas, a disciple named Tabitha (Gk. Dorcas) – as Jesus had healed the widow’s son at Nain (which in turn recalled a miracle of Elijah). • Later, Paul will raise the boy Eutychus from apparent death. • A kind of concatenation of healers: Jesus > Peter > Paul. Connected by the “spirit” that Luke sees working.
Beginning from Jerusalem • The first seven chapters, first quarter of Acts, details this part of the history. • Peter appears to be the leader of the community at this point. • Arrest, release, re-arrest, release by an angel (5: 19), threat of execution. • But saved by Pharisee Gamaliel (5: 34). • Everything centered on Temple (5: 42). • Thematically: a sense of inexorable, spirit-directed spread of the movement. • Tension between “Hellenists” (i.e., Greek-speaking Jews) and “Hebrews” (Aramaic-speakers) quickly resolved.
Stephen – a recapitulation of Jesus? • Similar charges against Stephen: he preaches against Temple and Law. • Retells in summary the Hebrew Scriptures, esp. relating to Law and Temple. • Probably the high priest has heard this story before??!! • But this must be the story that the gospel had represented Jesus telling the disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24: 27). • Stephen’s conclusion becomes the breaking point with Jerusalem and Temple. • Stephen sees Jesus at right hand of God (recapitulates the Transfiguration in gospel?). • And dies with a version of Jesus’ dying words: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this against them.” • And “all” – except apostles – are scattered through Judea and Samaria. • (Historically, the church remained in Jerusalem until the mid 60s. James, Jesus’ brother, was executed in 62.)
The next turning point -- Saul • Luke makes the story very dramatic (Saul/Paul never tells the story this way). • (Alas, no horse, as Caravaggio had painted.) • But a light from heaven, a voice, blindness. • Analogous to Zechariah’s muteness at beginning of Luke? • Now the instrument “to bring my name before gentiles and kings.” • “Confounds” the Jews of Damascus. • But no street cred! He must be a double agent? • The summary of 9: 31. Another marker.