Reviews of

The Hope of Israel

In Baker Academic, Book of Acts, Brandon D. CROWE, John Mark Tittsworth, Luke-Acts, Resurrection on December 4, 2020 at 3:00 pm

2020.12.20 | Brandon D. Crowe. The Hope of Israel: The Resurrection of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. pp xvi + 239. ISBN 9780801099472.

Review by John Mark Tittsworth, independent scholar. 

The Hope of Israel contains three chapters that analyze specific texts about “the resurrection in Acts” (pp. 19–102), followed by four others that synthesize the “theological significance of the resurrection in Acts” (pp. 104–93). Before all this, Crowe introduces “the state of the question” about the resurrection in the book of Acts (pp. 3–18). He notes that this topic “is widely regarded to be important for theology in Acts” (p. 13), but only few have devoted more than a few pages to the matter. Crowe engages with biblical scholarship throughout the work, but when he maps his argument onto systematic theology, he is necessarily limited. Thus, the second part of The Hope of Israel brings a biblical theology of Jesus’s resurrection in Acts into dialogue with exemplars from the Protestant Reformed tradition, such as Geerhardus Vos, Herman Bavinck, and Francis Turretin.

Chapters two, three, and four, examine how Peter, Paul, and other characters in Acts discuss Jesus’s resurrection. Crowe rightly devotes the most space to Peter’s Pentecost sermon, Paul’s first speech in Acts 13, and Paul’s defense speeches in Acts 21–26. Other speeches receive their due as well. Peter portrays Jesus’s resurrection as integral to: the apostles’ message about Jesus, their rationale for urging Israel to repent, their interpretation of prophetic Scripture, and the effusion of the Holy Spirit (pp. 21, 27–29). Peter’s other speeches in Acts bear out these associations in several directions (pp. 30–46). 

As with Peter’s first speech, Paul’s first speech in Acts 13:16–41, 46–47 uses Jesus’s resurrection as its key point (pp. 49–50). Crowe enumerates four parts to the promise that God made to the fathers (Acts 13:32) and fulfilled in association with raising Jesus: an unending Davidic reign, outpouring of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of all God’s people (pp. 54–57). In the defense speeches of Acts 21-26, Paul depicts Jesus’s resurrection as the ground of his conversion and mission, as well as the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures (pp. 78–82).

In general, Crowe handles data about Jesus’s resurrection from Acts in a satisfying way. A few exceptions relate to transferring explicit ideas from other Scriptural texts into claims about Acts or Luke-Acts. One example should suffice. Crowe said “glorify must refer to the resurrection and/or ascension of Jesus” in Acts 3:13 (p. 31). If this phrase came from the writings of John or Paul, Crowe’s assertion would need no supporting argument. The other thirteen uses of δοξάζω in Luke-Acts invariably denote oral praise– not an entrance into an exalted state. Crowe could have established criteria to make the case that this occurrence of δοξάζω did break from Luke’s pattern of use because of the influence of Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (cf. Barrett: “there can be no question that the [Servant] figure is to be seen here,” Acts, p. 194), but simply asserting it begs the question. 

The result of this transfer of ideas into Acts without establishing a method for doing so is that Crowe sometimes shows us the theology of Acts and other times shows us that Acts can be read to comport with Crowe’s reading of other texts—prophetic or Pauline. Similarly, readers interested in relating the Paul of Acts to the Paul of the Epistles might wish for more methodological clarity in Crowe’s handling of Acts 13:38–39 (pp. 61–65). 

The second part of The Hope of Israel considers the theological significance of the resurrection in Acts for accomplishing salvation (historia salutis), experiencing salvation (ordo salutis), upholding Scripture’s veracity, and binding the NT writings together. Since Acts treats Jesus’s resurrection as “the great turning point in the history of salvation” (p. 105), the chapter on historia salutis shows how most of the significant events and ideas are related in the narrative to Jesus’s resurrection. Both χριστός and κύριος apply to Jesus by virtue of his resurrection and must be understood in light of it. Crowe argues that Acts 2:36 signals more than an epistemological shift (i.e., humans now perceive that Jesus is Lord and Christ). There is a newness to Jesus’s “experience of lordship”– a phrase that needs clarification –and a new era in salvation history (p. 114). Besides the titles, Crowe shows that Acts associates the evidences of the new era (effusion of the Holy Spirit, move away from the temple, and relativizing some Jewish social markers) with Jesus’s resurrection (pp. 115–24). 

Chapter six considers how individuals experience salvation in Luke-Acts, positing essential continuity, the argument of the prior chapter notwithstanding. He characterizes ordo salutis as “the shared experience of God’s people that does not fundamentally change” (p. 130). Succinctly, “Luke…emphasizes continuity across the ages” (p. 131). With this frame, Crowe draws out examples of continuity: divine promises fulfilled, “covenant continuity,” exclusive statements about salvation in Jesus (which imply that OT salvation depends on Jesus), and key comments about OT characters (pp. 131–32). Yet Crowe’s definition of ordo salutis that includes continuity across the testaments by definition relegates the novel experiences in Luke and Acts to historia salutis (p. 131). 

For example, Cornelius “appears to be part of God’s righteous remnant” before Peter arrives (p. 135), even though the Gentile needs to hear and to respond to the message about Jesus (p. 136). Crowe says, “Cornelius’s specific experiences are not programmatic for future generations,” so they seem to have unique status in the history of salvation (p. 135). Yet, “the Holy Spirit must have been applying the benefits of Christ’s work even before Christ completed his work in history” (p. 143). If Cornelius had already experienced the work of the Holy Spirit, what was new for Cornelius? Pointing to “an eschatological outpouring that equips the people of God for service” begs the question. Acts 10–11 do not speak of Cornelius’s life subsequent to meeting Peter. Readers do not know what changes the Holy Spirit wrought in this Roman officer. We do know that Peter extends forgiveness in Jesus’ name to his hearers (Acts 10:43) because Cornelius and his household need to hear that message in order to be saved (Acts 11:14). 

Crowe concludes his discussion: “Luke…speaks clearly about the unity of the salvation wrought by the covenant-keeping God” (p. 145), but not so much in the described—more in the implied—experiences of Cornelius, Zechariah, and Elizabeth. At the end of the chapter, Crowe cites popular voices from the Protestant Reformed tradition that emphasize continuity in ordo salutis across the ages, the NT only increasing clarity and freedom (pp. 145–46). Readers of Luke-Acts from other traditions might not find the Lukan emphasis on newness so harmonious with the Reformed emphasis on continuity.

Chapter seven builds a case that Acts uses the fact of the resurrection to defend Scripture’s truthfulness. The first premise is that Acts appeals to Scripture numerous times to interpret Jesus’s resurrection and to enjoin repentance on the audiences (pp. 150–52). The second premise adds a “maximal approach to finding the resurrection in the Old Testament” based on Luke 24:25–27, 44–47 (p. 152). The section elucidating this “maximal approach” for reading the Old Testament christologically needs methodological clarification to prevent Crowe from overstating Luke’s view. A cautious second premise might be: Luke 24 considers Scripture to provide corroboration for the report to the disciples about Jesus’s resurrection. The final section of chapter seven pieces together an argument from the first two premises. For clarity, Crowe should have sorted evidence in Luke-Acts into two categories: (1) Scripture’s message about a general resurrection and (2) Scripture’s relation to Jesus’s resurrection in particular. 

Regarding the first category, Luke-Acts does affirm that people who know Scripture ought to believe in a general resurrection, but it does not imply that Jews—or anyone—who know(s) Scripture are logically inclined to believe in Jesus’s resurrection. In the second category, Jesus’s resurrection only defends Scripture’s truthfulness for people who accept the apostles’ interpretations of Scripture. In other words, if Acts uses Jesus’s resurrection to defend Scripture, it was an intramural exercise. None outside the Church would necessarily find the defense compelling. 

In the final chapter, Crowe considers how Acts relates to the other parts of the New Testament, both in textual traditions and in handling Jesus’s resurrection as a topic (pp. 189–91). Crowe ends with implications that represent historical Christian theology. 

Over all, The Hope of Israel fills a surprising gap in scholarship. Readers should find several trajectories for expanding Crowe’s arguments, some challenges to different Christian traditions to explore Acts’ treatment of Jesus’s resurrection in connection to soteriology, and interesting associations for unpacking implications in textual traditions and historical theology around Acts and the New Testament canon. 

John Mark Tittsworth
Independent Scholar
johnmark_t@yahoo.com

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