Book Review: The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC), David Peterson

Acts PNTC David Peterson Book Review

Peterson begins his commentary with a 97 page Introduction divided into two sections. The first deals with issues like Authorship, Date, Genre, Sources, Historical Reliability, Character, Structure, Purpose, and Interpretive Issues (e.g., the use of key terms, Scripture, narrative repetition, parallel and contrasting accounts, etc).

In the second section Peterson helpfully presents ten aspects of Acts’ theology covering 40 pages: God and His Plan, the Gospel, the Atoning Work of Jesus, Miracles, Magic and the Demonic, and more. The commentary proper is already quite large (626 full pages, which even for Acts is quite long), and this holistic overview of the theology of Acts helps give the teacher/pastor/student the proper perspective through which to view Acts from as they enter into the commentary proper.

Peterson brings out connections between Luke’s first and second volume and shows how Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT, saying, “From beginning to end… the ascended Lord is shown to be sovereign over every thing that happens, furthering his purpose in the world through his word and his Spirit” (27). In Acts the “growth of the word is clearly coextensive with the growth of the church…” (33). In fact, the “gospel is shown to prosper in spite of, and even because of, suffering” (33-34).

Peterson’s Aims

Peterson tries to be comprehensive, but says he writes specifically with a “bias towards theological analysis and an exploration of hermeneutical issues” (xvii). Basically, what does the text say, why does it say it, and what does it mean? Peterson is aware of the many monographs and scholarly articles that most readers will never lay their eyes on. He boils down the insights of others into a readable format for the general reader.

He argues that “Acts was written primarily for the edification of the church and for the encouragement of gospel ministry,” and he believes it has just as much relevance for us today.

Peterson is aware of the difficulty in preaching biblical narratives, and offers “more clues for understanding the purpose and meaning of various elements” of Acts. Alongside those issues are matters of interpreting texts dealing with the Holy Spirit, miracles, Christian gatherings, divine guidance, and the relevance of the OT and of Jews.

The Text

Though there’s more to Peterson’s commentary than these few points, I will try to give you a small taste of Peterson’s take on Acts.

1.8: Peterson sees this verse as “a prediction and promise of the way [the] divine plan will be fulfilled” (112). Jerusalem (Acts 2-7) comes first, then in Judea and Samaria (8-12), and then to the ends of the earth (13-28).

2.2-4: Peterson comments that the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2 “was a sign that God was about to accomplish a mighty work of renewal” (132). He continues saying that the “Pentecostal gift is God’s empowering presence with his people in a new and distinctive way, revealing his will and leading them to fulfill his purposes for them as the people of the New Covenant (133). He believes that these ‘tongues’ are different than those of 1 Corinthians 12-14, though without providing much evidence for his claim (134).

Ch 6; The Jewish leaders couldn’t stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave Stephen. Only two other references to wisdom are made, Joseph (7.10) and Moses (7.22). Stephen also shares grace and power with these two characters, “suggesting [the] prophetic authority and significance” of Stephen (240). He is “specifically portrayed as experiencing the fulfillment of Luke 21:14-15… [and is] an example for all who are on trial for their faith in Jesus and who trust in his promises” (240).

Ch 7: This chapter brings to a head the “story of the conflict between the Christian mission and the temple authorities… that first appeared in 4:1-3” (244). The Jewish leaders have consistently denied God’s prophets, his law, and ultimately his Righteous One. “Stephen’s ultimate aim is to glorify the exalted Lord Jesus and to convict those who have denied him” (244).

9.1-18; 22.6-18; 26.12-18: Here we see one of the Literary Features of Acts: Narrative Repetition. The reason why these accounts differ in wording or emphasis is because they are told from different perspectives (Luke [9]; Paul [22; 26] to different audiences (Christians reading Acts [9]; Jews [22], King Agrippa [26]).

Recommended?

The Greek Text is transliterated throughout the commentary, and Peterson has a solid grasp on the secondary literature. Peterson is an evangelical who takes the Bible seriously as God’s Word (see his NSBT volume on the Holy Spirit and Sanctification in the Christian). Peterson’s volume would suit the student and teacher quite well. Peterson’s volume would be beneficial for the (not too busy) pastor, although the pastor will want to look elsewhere for more application (e.g., Hughes; Schnabel). 

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP UK. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Why is the Ethiopian Eunuch so important?

Horse

I’ve been reading Alan J. Thompson’s latest volume in the NSBT series titled The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (my review of it here). In chapter 3, Israel and the Gentiles: the kingdom and God’s promises of restoration, he points out that Acts 1.6-8 says a lot about how the book of Acts will play out. Throughout his book Thompson shows how the kingdom of God is seen throughout Acts, how Acts continues the themes from Luke’s Gospel, and how Acts tells us that God keeps his covenant promises.

In Acts 1.6 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus answers them in verses 7-8, and many people find his answer to be an odd one. Though I can’t get into it now, Thompson believes and gives evidence for the position that the disciples did understand what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.3). The disciples ask about the kingdom of God and Israel in 1.6, and he answers them in 1.7-8.

In 1.8 Jesus gives three phrases which reflect the OT:

  • ‘when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’ (Isa 32.15)
    • This refers to the “end of the desolation of Judah and the coming of the new age with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit” (107)
  • ‘you will be my witnesses’ (Isa 43.12)
    • God’s people will be transformed, now that he is the only God and Savior, and will be his witnesses to an unbelieving world around them.
  • ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Isa 49.6)
    • A Servant representing Israel will restore Israel, and this restoration will include Gentiles (Isa 49.6 is also used in Acts 13.47, where Paul and Barnabas explain their reasoning for reaching out to Gentiles).

God will rebuild the Davidic Kingdom “through the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to the throne of David (2:30-33), the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit of the last days (2:16-17), the ingathering of the exiles of Israel (2:5, 9-11) and the repentance and turning to the Lord of Israel in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, which unite under one Davidic King (2:38-47; 4:4; 8:4-25)” (116).

Outcasts

In Acts 8.26-40, Philip comes across an “Ethiopian,” a “eunuch,” a “court official,” although after 8.27 the man is only referred to as a eunuch. Why a eunuch of all titles? Thompson shows that Luke says four things about this eunuch:

  • v34, ’the eunuch’ asks Philip about a passage of Scripture (Isa 53.7-8)
  • v36, ‘the eunuch’ asks about baptism
  • v38, ‘the eunuch’ is baptized by Philip
  • v39, ‘the eunuch’ did not see the vanished Philip again “but went on his way rejoicing” (116).

Fly Away

Luke emphasizes the fulfillment of Isaiah throughout Acts (Acts 1.8; 8.34 quoting Isa 53.7-8; Acts 13.47; and in many more places). While the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53, it is in Isaiah 56 where we see God’s promises for the eunuch. “Isaiah 56 looks forward to the time of God’s salvation when the exclusion of those with defects from the assembly of God’s people in [Deut] 32:1-7 will be overturned“ (117).


Isa 56.3 says, “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’”

In 56.5 the Lord tells the eunuchs, “I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”


The Lord will give joy to those who love and worship him (56.7-8). 56.8 ties the gathering together of Israel with the gathering together of foreigners, including eunuchs. Here in Acts 8, the “despised and rejected” eunuch is reading about the “humiliation and ministry of this despised and rejected Servant” (117).

“All the promises of God are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor 1.20). All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ. Israel looked forward to the physical resurrection, and it happened in Christ Through Christ’s resurrection Israel was and is being gathered together with Gentiles included, as the one people of God. Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two” (Eph 2.14-15). Christ, seated at the right hand of God, rules and reigns now, and we are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Baptize