Monday, May 11, 2009

The Speeches in Acts

Luke gives evidence of being an ancient historian of the first rank. So let's consider Luke's likely methodology by looking at the words of the Greek historian Thucydides, arguably the greatest of the ancient historians, in his History of the Peloponnesian War (1.22.1).

"As to the speeches which were made either before or during the war, it was hard for me, and for others who reported them to me, to recollect the exact words. I have therefore put into the mouth of each speaker the sentiments proper to the occasion, expressed as I thought he would be likely to express them, while at the same time I endeavored, as nearly as I could, to give general import of what was actually said."

Here are two interpretative considerations for the speeches in Acts. They are:
  1. Luke's own composition
  2. Summaries (read out loud Peter's speech in Acts 2 and time yourself)
All the speeches in Acts tell us a great deal about Luke and in turn about the church of his day. And as James Dunn also reminds us: " Luke has been able to draw on and incorporate tradition" and that in Luke's judgment the tradition is representative of each individual speech maker's viewpoint.

This is of course different than assuming we are reading a verbatim report of what was actually said by any of Luke's apostolic speakers.


Judy H. said...

Too bad they didn't have You-Tube in the first century so we could know EXACTLY what was said.

jakemaxwel said...

That is the truth. And in view of that, isn't it amazing how many people take them as literal history. As an English teacher and a lover of literature, I find it difficult to find a piece of writing that does not in some way reflect its time and culture. Further, nearly every piece has an agenda behind it, albeit a genuine, forthright one.