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A Narrative-Critical Exegesis of the Jerusalem Conference and Apostolic Decree

A Narrative-Critical Exegesis of the Jerusalem Conference and Apostolic Decree

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Published by Matthew G. Hysell
An exegesis of Acts 15:1-35 through the lens of narrative criticism.
An exegesis of Acts 15:1-35 through the lens of narrative criticism.

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Published by: Matthew G. Hysell on Mar 05, 2009
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1 Newman Theological CollegeEdmonton, Alberta, Canada
A Narrative-Critical Exegesisof the Jerusalem Conference and Apostolic Decreein the
 Acts of the Apostles
15:1-35
 by M. G. Hysell,
M.A., M.Th. (Cand.)
 BST-822: Luke-ActsProf Dr Adrian Leske28 July 2008
 Revised 4 March 2009
 
2
Introduction
The fifteenth chapter of the
 Acts of the Apostles
1
represents the turning-point of the Church in theApostolic Era, one that will feature prominently in the theology of St Paul of Tarsus.
2
In fact, it is only
after 
this turning-point (chapters 16-28) that St Paul emerges as the prominent character, if not the
main
 character, in the epic. Despite the plural “Apostle
 s
” in the
inscriptio
, it can really be said that theEvangelist’s second volume is really about Sts Peter 
and 
Paul, with the latter taking front stage in the firstfifteen chapters. On the other hand, it might be equally valid to call this document the “Acts
of the HolySpirit 
,” since it is the activity of the “promise of the Father” (
 Acts
1:4b) that guides the history recordedtherein. The role of the Holy Spirit—even more than Peter and Paul—may be better understood as themain character of the macro-narrative. The Holy Spirit thus becomes the
raison d’être
for not imposingthe Torah upon Gentile Christians and, more to the point made by the Evangelist, for the Gentile mission.Effectively, it is the
 Holy Spirit 
that succeeds the Torah as the standard of righteousness before God.In the essay that follows, the fifteenth chapter of 
 Acts
, usually identified as the story of the‘Jerusalem Conference’ or ‘Apostolic Council’
3
, will be interpreted through the lens of 
narrativecriticism
.
4
This exegetical project has been divided into six sections: (1)
 first approach
, with a survey of the text itself; (2)
closure of the text 
, marking the boundaries of the micro-narrative within the Lukancorpus; (3)
 plot 
, an outline of the story’s quinary scheme; (4)
characters
, listing each of the players in thedrama; (5)
 setting 
, the geographical locations that occupy the narrative; finally, (6)
narrative voice
, the
1
The
inscriptio
 
PRAXEIS APOSTOLWN
is not found in any textual witness prior to the third century. According to the best evidence, the first ‘systematician,’ St Irenaeus of Lyon, gave the title
 Acts to the Apostles
to the sequel of 
The Gospel  According to Luke
. See D.
 
A.
 
C
ARSON
, et. al.,
 An Introduction to the New Testament 
(Leicester: Apollos, 1999), 181.
2
See, for example, J.
 
D.
 
G.
 
D
UNN
,
The Theology of Paul the Apostle
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Inc., 1998), 128-161.
3
 
My preference is for the title ‘Jerusalem Conference’ rather than ‘Apostolic Council’, since the latter gives an impressionof a kind of ‘Sanhedrin of the Twelve’ or that the office of the Twelve constitutes a quorum. Moreover, the Evangelist makes itabundantly clear by his formula «
 
[
oi`
]
avpo,stoloi kai.
[
oi`
]
presbu,teroi
» (in various cases: accusative in v. 2, nominative invv. 6 and 23, dative in v. 22) that the Apostles exercised a leadership in conjunction with the ‘presbyters.’ The title ‘JerusalemConference’ seems a more fitting description because it reflects the role of the Mother-Church, the source of the controversy(albeit obliquely stated), and the participation of the
 evkklhsi, a
at Jerusalem in the controversy.
4
For an analysis of 
narrative
criticism, see R.
 
A
LTER 
,
The Art of Biblical Narrative
(San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1981),hearafter A
LTER 
,
 Biblical Narrative
; D.
 
M
ARGUERAT
and Y.
 
B
OURQUIN
,
 How to Read Bible Stories: An Introduction to NarrativeCriticism
(London: SCM Press Ltd, 1999), hereafter 
 
M
ARGUERAT
and B
OURQUIN
,
 Bible Stories
; M.
 
A.
 
P
OWELL
,
What is Narrative Criticism?
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), hereafter P
OWELL
,
 Narrative Criticism
; the classical text on the studyof narrative is none less than Aristotle’s
 Poetics
, for which the standard English text is
 
J.
 
B
ARNES
,
The Complete Works of  Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation
, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 2316-2340, hereafter A
RISTOTLE
,
 Poetics
.
 
3
‘script’ of the story and whether the author makes himself present. Due to constraints of space, this essaywill not discuss the
temporality
of the story
5
; suffice it to say, however, that the vast majority of scholars place the event of 
 Acts
15 in
ca.
 
A
.
D
. 49/50
6
 
1. First Approach
7
 The
 Acts of the Apostles
, composed most likely by St Luke the Evangelist, serves as the sequel to the
Gospel According to Luke
. Whereas the first volume narrated the story of Jesus from his nativity until theAscension, the second volume narrates the story of the Holy Spirit in the life of the earliest Church. Likethe
titulii
of the gospels,
PRAXEIS APOSTOLWN
most likely was not affixed to the autograph(s). D. A.Carson, J. Douglas, and L. Morris plausibly suggest that it was in fact St Irenaeus of Lyons who gave thevolume its present title, if not at least echo a prevailing custom New Testament nomenclature in theChurch.
8
In point of fact, the title is offered in the context which will take up the topic of this paper, i.e.,the Jerusalem Conference, in his
 Against Heresies
(III. 13. 3). He says regarding the relationship between
 Acts
15 and
Gal 
2, “If, then, any one shall, from the
 Acts of the Apostles
, carefully scrutinize the timeconcerning which it is written that he went up to Jerusalem on account of the aforementioned question, hewill find those years mentioned by Paul coinciding with it” (emphasis added).
9
 The textual tradition of 
 Acts
“circulated in the early church in two quite distinct forms, commonlycalled the Alexandrian and the Western.”
10
For the purposes of this essay, NA
27/28
, usually echoing theAlexandrian text-type, will be given primary attention. Significant differences are carried by by the
5
M
ARGUERAT
and B
OURQUIN
,
 Bible Stories
, 85-101; P
OWELL
,
 Narrative Criticism
, 72-74.
6
M
ARGUERAT
and B
OURQUIN
,
 Bible Stories
, 87; R.
 
E.
 
B
ROWN
,
 An Introduction to the New Testament 
(New York:Doubleday, 1997), 287, hereafter B
ROWN
,
 Introduction
; T.
 
C
ORBISHLEY
, “The Chronology of New Testament Times,” in R.
 
C.
 
F
ULLER 
, et. al.,
 A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture
(Camden: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1969), 899, 901.
7
M
ARGUERAT
and B
OURQUIN
,
 Bible Stories
, 3-17.
8
D.
 
A.
 
C
ARSON
,
 
D.
 
J.
 
M
OO
, and L.
 
M
ORRIS
,
 An Introduction to the New Testament 
(Leicester, UK: Apollos, 1999), 181. Seealso F.
 
J.
 
F.
 
J
ACKSON
and K.
 
L
AKE
,
The Acts of the Apostles
, vol. 4:
 English Translation and Commentary
(Grand Rapids, MI:Baker, 1979), 1.
9
A.
 
C.
 
C
OXE
, “Irenæus Against Heresies,” in P.
 
S
CHAFF
, ed.,
The Ante-Nicene Fathers
, vol. 1,
Apostolic Fathers with JustinMartyr and Irenæus
(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 437.
10
The best discussion of the ‘Alexandrian’ versus the ‘Western’ Text is to be found in B.
 
M.
 
M
ETZGER 
,
 A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 
, rev. ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 222-383 [hereafter, B.
 
M.
 
M
ETZGER 
,
Textual Commentary
]. See also R.
 
J.
 
D
ILLON
, “Acts of the Apostles,” in R.
 
E.
 
B
ROWN
, et. al.,
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
(Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990), 725 (hereafter 
 NJBC 
). M.-E.
 
B
OISMARD
has provided a volumecomparing the Western Text and the critical text,
 Le texte occidental des actes des apôtres : reconstruction et rehabilitation
 (Paris: Editions Recherece sur les civilsations, 2000).

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