Acts of the Apostles: “Has any opera such variety?”

From the Brazos theological commentary on Acts, noted historian of church dogma, Jaroslav Pelikan, writes:

“Moses . . . was a powerful speaker and a man of action” (7:22 NEB) is the characterization of the Jewish lawgiver Moses by the Christian deacon and protomartyr Stephen here in the Acts of the Apostles (a title that is apparently not original), echoing Philo and Josephus (→7:22), as part of his capsule history of the people of Israel since the days of “our father Abraham” (7:2). It also echoes Homer’s characterization of Achilles as “both a speaker of words and a doer of deed” (μύθων τε ῥητῆρ . . . πρηκτῆρά τε ἔργων). It could be applied to the entire narrative of the book of Acts itself.

Acts is a book of frenetic action amid a constantly shifting scene: conspiracy and intrigue and ambush, hostile confrontations and fierce conflicts sometimes to the death, rioting lynch mobs and personal violence (→28:31), “journeyings often” (2 Cor. 11:26 AV) and incessant travel on an Odysseus-like scale all over the Mediterranean world (→27:24), complete with shipwreck and venomous serpents, “chains and imprisonment” (Heb. 11:36), followed in at least two instances by a successful jailbreak, though only with the aid of celestial mechanics (5:17–20; 12:6–11; 16:26–28), famine and earthquake, crime and punishment (as well as a great deal of punishment, sometimes even capital punishment, without any real crime ever having been committed).

Gerhard A. Krodel quotes the eloquent description of the book by Edgar Johnson Goodspeed:

Where, within eighty pages, will be found such a varied series of exciting events— trials, riots, persecutions, escapes, martyrdoms, voyages, shipwrecks, rescues—set in that amazing panorama of the ancient world—Jerusalem, Antioch, Philippi, Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, Rome? And with such scenery and settings—temples, courts, prisons, deserts, ships, barracks, theaters? Has any opera such variety? A bewildering range of scenes and actions (and of speeches) passes before the eye of the historian. And in all of them he sees the providential hand that has made and guided this great movement for the salvation of mankind.


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