2015.06.12 | Craig S. Keener. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Volume 2: 3:1-14:28. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. Pp. xxxix + 1153. Hardcover. $59.99. ISBN 9780801048371.
Review by Justin A. Mihoc, Durham University.
This review was published in RBL 6/2015, here.
This commentary, as well as the ever growing amount of scholarship on Acts, attests the still intensifying interest in this New Testament book in recent years. A number of other serious Acts commentary projects are expected to appear in the near future and to bring in new exegetical perspectives (Steve Walton; Heidi Hornick and Mikeal Parsons; Martin Meiser, to name but a few). The much-awaited second installment of Craig S. Keener’s four-volume commentary on the book of Acts continues on the same note as the previous volume.It represents, undoubtedly, a tour de force and much more than a mere verse-by-verse exegetical treatment of the biblical text. It certainly looks exhaustive in its magnitude, and is intended for the widest possible readership, from students to researchers and pastors. Thus, it is indeed a research tool that cannot be ignored by anyone seriously engaged in the interpretation of Acts.With this volume, Keener covers the first half of Acts in over 2,000 pages. As in the previous volume, no translation or Greek text is included. Similarly, the bibliography and indexes (for both tomes) are to be found on a CD-ROM.
In the first volume (published in 2012), Keener makes his intentions very clear, and notes that his method is ‘primarily social-historical rather than social-scientific’ (p. 25), and involves a thorough rhetorical examination. Thus, there is little treatment, if any, of social-scientific, text-critical, and reception-historical approaches. The biblical text is interpreted from a social-historical or sociorhetorical standpoint, dealing particularly with the literary and stylistic dimensions of Acts. Keener attempts to explore the authorial intent of Luke as an ancient historian, and thus emphasises the accuracy and historical value of the account. The commentary typically follows the same structure as the previous volume: the text is treated sequentially and thematically, following the narrative, each successive pericope being introduced briefly and then analysed in more detail verse-by-verse.
One of the greatest feats of Keener’s opus magnum is the wealth of ancient sources (both Jewish and Greco-Roman) and modern scholarship it references throughout the volume. Also extremely useful and usually extensive are the twenty excurses it contains. For example, the one covering various aspects related to ‘Slaves and Slavery’ spans over 37 pages (pp. 1906-42) and provides rich and insightful information drawn from Greco-Roman (and a few Rabbinic) sources. Likewise, the much briefer excursus entitled ‘Views about the Temple’ (pp. 1322-24), introduced in the analysis of the Stephen narrative (6:8-8:1a) provides concise and valuable evidence for the diversity of opinions regarding the function and nature of the Jerusalem temple. This digression, just like all the others in Keener’s commentary, offers necessary information for understanding the social, historical, and theological context of the narrated events. In some instances the author refers the reader to the first volume for detailed discussions and excurses, as for example in his exegesis of Acts 4:32-35 (pp. 1175-76). Thus, repetition is generally avoided, and the unity of the entire work is suggested (the pagination is also continuous). While it can certainly function as a reference apparatus, Keener’s commentary also expresses a unified vision and seems to follow a coherent progression.
In his commentary, Keener places a great emphasis on and is keen to defend Luke’s historical accuracy, despite acknowledging the rich symbolism and theology that Acts conveys. For example, when discussing the Ananias and Sapphira story (Acts 5:1-11) he argues that ‘a historical core’ can be identified in the names of the transgressing couple. Since Sapphira’s name holds no symbolic value, Keener notes, ‘her name fits almost exclusively the right location and social class and hence suggests reliable tradition’ (p. 1184). He makes no parallel between the couple of sinners in Acts 5 and the Genesis story of the primordial couple, which might suggest a more profound narrative arrangement on Luke’s part. While the historical value of Acts cannot be readily dismissed, it can be argued that Luke had a conscious intention to convey the story of the first Christian community in a very scripture-like manner. It is my understanding that the first chapters of Acts were meant to imitate the Creation account of Genesis, whereby the reader of Luke-Acts is stimulated to understand the beginnings of the Church to be in direct connection with the beginning of the cosmos, and even to interpret it as the fulfillment of the first creation.
As mentioned above, the bibliography and indexes are found in PDF format on an attached CD. I suspect that this helps to keep the price somewhat affordable, considering the weight of this commentary. However, while the document is searchable, it is still incomplete as two other volumes are yet to appear. Since it is an electronic document, it would have been useful if it had been tagged and it had a document map for easier browsing. One can only hope that, when completed, the commentary will become available as a tagged electronic resource in the current bible software, perhaps at a reduced price.
While some may see the length of this work to be a weakness, I consider its comprehensive style an advantage for anyone interested in a thorough and systematic treatment of Acts. It certainly does not replace other similar works, but rather complements them and, in some ways, brings together the extensive research focused on the second Lukan book in recent decades. The valuable and broad references to the ancient sources provide the reader with a detailed set of evidence for the rhetorical and theological framework of Acts.
Keener’s third volume (covering Acts 15:1-23:35) has now been published, and the fourth, and final, is expected to be published next year. It will complete what has already become, and will certainly remain for a long time, a standard reference work in Acts studies. His encyclopedic opus is certainly to be praised and valued by scholars as the most extensive study of sociorhetorical exegesis of Acts.
Justin A. Mihoc
j.a.mihoc [at] durham.ac.uk