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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 58, 2010

DAVID G. PETERSON, The Acts of the Apostles (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, and Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2009).
Pp. lv + 790. 44.99.

In this book the ‘commentary’ component is a straight-forward ‘exposition’ of the text of Acts. Acts is presented as “a work of edification for Christian believers” (575). The extensive Table of Contents includes a virtual analysis of the narrative of Acts. The commentary is organised by sections and sub-sections which regularly have their own introduction. The author is generous in his citation of other modern scholars, notably C. K. Barrett, F. F. Bruce, L. T. Johnson, I. H. Marshall, R. C. Tannehill and B. Witherington. There are also frequent references to the collection of essays, Witness to the Gospel. The Theology of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 1998), edited by I. H. Marshall and David Peterson himself. Although Peterson does cite primary sources for the social and historical setting of Acts, quite often he modestly depends on secondary sources. Sometimes he criticises others for undue speculation, but he himself often uses the adverb “presumably” in spelling out what Luke does not explicitly report. The commentary is based on Today’s New International Version, which is not quoted in full. This translation is frequently corrected by Peterson, who actually works with the Greek text (cited in transliterated form). Considerable attention is given to textual variants. While many of the variants noted are “Western,” Peterson regards them as mostly secondary.

The “Introduction” (1–52) includes coverage of authorship, date, genre, sources, historical reliability, editorial techniques and textual criticism. Peterson cautiously identifies the author as Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col 4:14) and companion of Paul according to the ‘we” sections of Acts. Acts may reasonably be dated “in the 70s,” or even “as early as 62–64” in view of Luke’s ignorance of Paul’s letters, lack of mention of Nero’s persecution, and failure to report the result of Paul’s Roman imprisonment (5). Peterson seems satisfied with the genre of historical monograph for Acts (15). He does raise the question of how Luke could have known certain things. But he perhaps too readily assumes that Luke must have had sources, rather than demonstrating that he did have sources for a particular event. Peterson concludes his assessment of the reliability of Acts with a borrowed phrase: “Luke recounts a confessional history” (25).

Among editorial techniques Peterson briefly treats summaries, inclusions, key terms, scripture quotations, speeches, narrative and significant geographical, cultural and social indicators. While each speech has features distinctive of the particular speaker and audience, there are also common themes respectively in speeches addressed to Jews and those addressed to Gentiles. Narrative repetition (Paul’s call; Peter’s visit to Cornelius) can be explained partly by the different perspective of the narrator (Luke as author; Paul or Peter as characters) and the audience, and partly in terms of the cumulative effect. The situation is similar in the trial speeches of Paul. Parallel accounts of Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul emphasise continuity in salvation history and the unity of the Jewish and Gentile missions. Contrasting accounts, such as those of Barnabas over against Ananias and Sapphira, make a theological point.

“The Theology of Acts” (53–97) deals in ten sections with God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, salvation, gospel, atonement, mission, miracles, magic and the demonic, and the church. In these sections Peterson does not aim to be comprehensive, but “to summarize and systematize some of the conclusions reached in the Commentary about major theological themes” (54). This systematic treatment paves the way for the commentary. In particular, the first section appropriately treats the overarching theme of the plan or will of God in prompting a balanced mission to Jews and Gentiles.

The intended readers of this commentary are those “who lead churches, teach the Bible regularly in any context, or engage in missionary activity” (xvii). Thus Peterson quite often includes words of application or exhortation in introductory or concluding comments. But perhaps Peterson’s lucid exposition would have achieved the same result without explicit exhortation. The book includes a bibliography and indexes. The abbreviated methods of citation announced in the Bibliography are not consistently followed. And there is some repetition in footnotes, where a cross reference might have sufficed. Some misprints or similar errors occur, mainly in footnotes and especially in transliterated Greek. A few non-Greek examples may be mentioned: “Herodean” for “Herodotean” (25), “Phrygian-Galactic” for “Phrygian-Galatian” (453) and “Luke’s nephew” for “Paul’s nephew” (621). In general this is a readily intelligible commentary. And since Peterson clearly sets out a range of views of other scholars, this up-to-date commentary can be profitably used by a wide range of readers.

Review by
Darryl W. Palmer
Centre for Classics and Archaeology
The University of Melbourne VIC 3010