Are the Acts of the Apostles examples for us to follow?

hb_24.45.2One of the perennial questions about the nature of Acts is whether it is descriptive or prescriptive—that is, whether Luke is just telling us what happened, or whether he is telling us what happened so that we might imitate it for ourselves. In other words, is Acts a particular story about what God did, or is it also (or instead) general teaching about the kinds of things God now does in the new dispensation of the Spirit? A couple of years ago, I attended a conference where one of the papers explored this question. The theme of the session was ‘Reading Luke-Acts in the light of ancient historiography’, that is, making sure we are reading it aware of the kind of expectations that Luke and his first readers would have had for these kinds of documents.

In relation to Acts, the presenter pointed out that, in the first century, there would have only really been one purpose in the presentation of ‘heroes’ of a historical story—to offer them as role models. Readers would not have given this a second thought; the characters they read about would clearly offer positive examples to be emulated. What, then, do we note about the Christ-followers and leaders of the church in Acts that we should model ourselves on? We were offered two main features.

The first is to note that prayer is a dominant and recurrent theme, particularly in the first half of Acts. Prayer or praying is mentioned 33 times in Acts; the majority, 23 occurrences, come in the first half and only ten feature in the second half, of which only six of these actually describe people praying. (It is as if, having made his point in the first half, Luke stops worrying about reporting prayer in the second half!) Quite often, we are simply told that someone prayed, but we are not necessarily told what they prayed—the words they used—whereas in the gospels we are usually told what the words are. Prayer features in a number of different ways:

  • It is the regular habit of Jesus’ followers after his ascension (1.14) and of all the believers (2.42). They were in the habit of joining prayers in the temple (3.1), and was one of the key tasks of the apostles (6.4). Individuals like Cornelius are marked out by their habit of prayer (10.2).
  • Prayer is central in decision-making (1.24) and particularly about the choice of leaders.
  • Following this, prayer is also part of commissioning people for tasks, such as those who would serve (6.6), Paul and Barnabas as they leave Antioch (13.3) and their own appointing of elders in the first Christian communities (14.23).
  • Prayer is a first response to opposition or difficulty, on the part of those facing the difficulties (4.24) as well as those concerned for them (12.5); it also includes praise (16.25).
  • Prayer precedes or leads to particular healings (9.40, 28.8).
  • Finally, it also marks key moments and departures (20.36, 21.5).

If Luke draws our attention to this throughout Acts, then he presumably expects all Christians to be so marked.

stephens-martyrdomSecondly, and not unrelated, is Luke’s language of people being filled with the Spirit. The Spirit himself is clearly a dominant theme of Acts, not just in terms of how often the Spirit is mentioned, but much more fundamentally because the outpouring of the Spirit following Jesus’ ascension is the thing which leads to the effective witness of the apostles and other disciples, in growing circles of influence ‘in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth’ (1.8).

But ten times, Luke specifically talks of people being ‘filled with the [Holy] Spirit’ or of individuals being ‘full of the [Holy] Spirit’.

  • All those gathered at Pentecost are filled with the Spirit (2.4)
  • Peter is filled with the Spirit as he preaches a second time (4.8)
  • Having prayed with boldness in the face of opposition, all the people are filled again (4.31)
  • Those who will wait on tables should be full of the Spirit and wisdom (6.3), and Stephen stands out in this regard (6.5, 7.55)
  • Saul/Paul is filled with the Spirit when Ananias prays for him (9.17)
  • Barnabas is known as a man filled with the Spirit (11.24)
  • Saul is filled with the Spirit as he confronts Elymas the sorcerer (13.9)
  • The disciples are filled with joy and the Spirit, even in the face of opposition (13.52)

This is particularly significant for two reasons. First, this language occurs hardly anywhere else in the NT, coming five times in Luke (1.15, 1.41, 1.67, 4.1 and 10.21) and once in Eph 5.18. The command in this last verse is a present imperative, having the force ‘Be continually, daily, filled with the Spirit, as a habit or matter of course’. Secondly, the notion of being filled with the Spirit has been central to charismatic renewal movements of the last several decades, and was something I was taught from Eph 5.18. So it is important to note the fact that Luke offers this is an aspect of Christian discipleship that we should emulate in the account in Acts.

In addition to these observations, I think I would also want to note two other things which are recurrent features of the portraits in Acts which perhaps Luke would have us emulate:

  1. It might sound rather obvious, but everyone who features, named or unnamed, at whatever level of leadership in the Christian communities, is involved in some sort of proclamation or explanation of the good news about Jesus.
  2. Equally obvious is the fact that this proclamation consistently provokes opposition of one kind or another.

In my early days of Bible reading, I was introduced to something called the Swedish Bible study method. In the version I was given, one of the questions was to identify from the passage ‘A warning to avoid or an example to follow.’ It looks as though Acts gives us plenty of these! But a final observation is that, for Luke, these things don’t come about by human effort; they are an overflow of the work of the Spirit. Tom Wright has observed that Paul never instructs his readers to go around telling their friends about Jesus—but it does appear to have just happened.

(This material first posted in November 2014.)

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22 thoughts on “Are the Acts of the Apostles examples for us to follow?”

  1. Hi Ian,

    As one who has experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I read your post with much enthusiasm.

    Apart from the key points which you’ve raised, I think that the mission focus in Acts has two other hallmarks:
    1. Intentional preaching to the devout and religious about the person and work of Jesus Christ being central to the fulfilment of God’s prophetic witness and their hopes of ultimate redemption from the destruction of this world.

    Even after Herod’s persecution caused the dispersal of many followers out of Jerusalem, the mission out of Antioch focused on spread the message of Christ through the synagogues of Asia Minor.

    Even in Phillippi, Paul preaches at a location ‘where prayer was wont to be made’. Should we be evangelising our churches.

    2. Role of the miraculous and unexpected, incidental opportunities which challenge onlookers to the reality that Jesus is alive. The miraculous is the mechanism for extending the gospel message beyond those assumed to be its intended recipients.

    There are numerous examples of the latter:
    a) Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2);
    b) Healing of the lame beggar (Acts 3);
    c) Earth tremor in response to prayer defiant of suppressive authorities (Acts 4);
    d) Miraculous insight into deception of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5);
    e) Philip’s evangelism in Samaria accompanied by healings and exorcisms (Acts 8);
    f) Saul’s heavenly vision of Christ (Acts 9);
    g) Peter’s dream and miraculous direction to preach to Cornelius and his household.

    It should also be noted that Philip and Stephen were not formally appointed to preach, but to attend to providing for the temporal hardships of destitute widows)

    3. Fearlessness and prioritising the message above the fear of offence.

    In Acts, the gospel offends the religious authorities intent on curtailing the widening impact of Jesus’ teachings. The gospel eventually offends the ruling class (Thessalonica) and threatens commercial enterprise (Philippi and Ephesus)

    There are many more examples, but, how might these principles affect our understanding of mission?

    How should mission deal the reality that, although requiring planning, it should never become so rigid as to be unable to accommodate the pursuit of unexpected opportunities and the involvement of those who lack formal authorisation?

    I’d be grateful for your thoughts.

    • Dear David
      Some Charismatics claim that healing should be widespread. I have asked dozens who have been Charismatic for thirty or more years, if they have seen a physical miracle as a result of their own prayer or the like. Something like a raising from the dead, or a malformed limb straightening. None have. But they can all tell stories about some big church somewhere else at a different time.
      From my reading of the texts it seems that most healings cluster round the Apostles.
      What is your experience? How often?
      I suspect that the claims that it should be widespread and the relative paucity of matching experience show a misreading of the text.

      • Hi Dave,

        I’m almost sorry that I mentioned the role of miraculous. The focus of Ian’s post was about being filled with the Spirit, which, in the scriptures, is more characterised by fearlessness and generosity in the midst of adversity, than by the ability to work miracles.

        I’d point you to the experience of my Dad being healed, which I related below. Yet, I have the sneaking suspicion even this will not pass Chris B’s litmus test of an ‘in your face’ miracle.

        This is despite:
        1. the doctors being unable/unwilling to operate to find the bleed;
        2. the doctors promising to end his daily six-pint blood transfusions the next day,
        3. the doctors being unable to administer clotting agent because of the danger of an embolism from the clots in his lungs,
        4. the immediate stanching of his massive continuous bladder haemorrhage, after we prayed for him,
        5. The evidence which St. George’s Hospital can provide of his treatment and discharge.

        To some, this does not rise to the level of a bona fide miracle. And even if clears that hurdle, the next is your question: How often?

        However politely couched, it’s hard to ignore the pointed criticism that both you and Chris B level at the ‘charismatics’ here. In your case, they’re ‘telling stories of healings about some big church somewhere else at a different time’, while, in Chris’ comment, they’re holding ‘so called ‘miracle meetings’ advocated particularly by some pentecostal denominations and are predicated on the same power manifest in Acts (certainly they use scriptures from Acts to justify their activities and claim miracles) on closer examination, prove not to be the case.

        In contrast, Luke highlighted the effect of divine grace through the apostles’ miraculous ministry in this way: ‘And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need’. (Acts 4:33 – 35)

        Perhaps, more than anything else, this kind of generosity with surplus means in the face of another’s need is the hallmark of being ‘filled with the Spirit’. That’s far more important than performing ‘stonking’ miracles which make society to view us ‘somewhat differently’.

        • Dear David
          Thanks. I am pleased for your family and Dad. I have a handful of similar wonderful events.
          Ian’s post brings Acts as an example, typically lively ‘Charismatics’ emphasise healing in preaching and song – but when explored more fully have sparsity of example. In my view, exaggeration leads to more difficult pastoral questions when the majority do not receive divine healing.
          I don’t have a worked out theology of suffering and healing. As you point out, the outworking of love is the big issue – a central Jewish identity. Living out of knowing God.
          So, yes to all those other things! The Acts 2 and 4 speak more of Jubillee to me – with other models if generosity elsewhere.

        • David,

          God forbid that it should fall upon me to determine what constitutes a litmus test as to whether a miracle has occurred or not. You seem to take offence that I am suggesting your fathers healing was not a miracle – I am not at all saying that -perhaps indeed it was – and I am glad he was healed- but that’s not what I am getting at here. Ian’s original title was are the *Acts of the Apostles* examples for us to follow? So what were some of those miraculous Acts and can -and do we follow them?
          Here is a list.
          Peter heals a lame man Jerusalem 3:1-11

          Ananias and Sapphira struck dead Jerusalem 5:1-10

          Apostles perform many wonders Jerusalem 5:12-16

          Peter and John communicate the Holy Spirit Samaria 8:14-17

          Peter heals Eneas of a palsy Lydda 9:33, 34

          Peter raises Tabitha, or Dorcas, to life Joppa 9:36-41

          Peter delivered out of prison by an angel Jerusalem 12:7-17

          God smites Herod, so that he dies Jerusalem 12:21-23

          Elymas, the sorcerer, smitten with blindness Paphos 13:6-11

          Paul converted Road to Damascus 9:1-9

          Paul heals a cripple Lystra 14:8-10

          Paul casts out a spirit of divination Philippi 16:16-18

          Paul and Silas’s prison doors opened by an earthquake Philippi 16:25, 26

          Paul communicates the Holy Spirit Corinth 19:1-6

          Paul heals multitudes Corinth 19:11, 12

          Paul restores Eutychus to life Troas 20:9-12

          Paul shakes off a viper Malta 28:3-6

          Paul heals the father of Publius and others Malta 28:7-9

          Now even a cursory reading of these passages suggests that these miracles were on a different scale and magnitude to what passes as miracles today. I am particularly struck by Paul’s ‘healing multitudes’, raising the dead seemed a regular occurrence, blind seeing, and cripples walking -all par for the course for the Apostles – and all of this was incontrovertible.

          Healings in Pentecostalism have been around a long time. However Dr William Nolen who did some seminal work in investigating some of the healing claims of Pentecostals (and had no particular axe to grind) – in particular Kathyrn Kuhlman who had one of the greatest Pentecostal healing ministries ever, concluded that many of them did not actually happen. Other studies have been done which showed a similar pattern. Now note that I am not saying that they could not have happened but what was investigated was found either to be false or could be accounted by biomedical explanations and this appeared to be so in the majority of cases. But whatever did happen it did not appear to be like what we see in the book of Acts.

          However, I return to my original point. Are the miraculous Acts of the Apostles examples for us to follow, or was the scale of them a product of their time? -God’s way of authenticating the birth of the church if you like? That is why I am interested in extra-biblical accounts of miracles in the early church. However, notwithstanding your perfectly valid point about the grace of God and the generosity of the early church, when we see enough miracles occurring of the ‘stonking’ kind that are shown to us as examples in Acts and we are fairly used to seeing them, then I would be more inclined to agree with the other points you make.

          • Chris,

            Ian’s post focused on three key virtues to emulate, as exemplified by the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles
            1. Prayer
            2. Infilling of the Holy Spirit
            3. Readiness to proclaim/witness to the good news of Christ in all circumstances and environments.

            Since these points are fairly uncontentious, I guess that this boils down to you asking whether following the example of the apostles should extend beyond those characteristics explicitly mentioned by Ian.

            My own point (2) was simply that, in furtherance of God’s message, a mixture of supernatural intervention and inexplicable coincidences complemented the intentional evangelism of Samaria and of Asia Minor’s synagogues.

            In support of following that example in modern times, I cited my eye-witness experience of my father’s healing is to demonstrate that supernatural intervention continues to this day. Of course, if speculative uncertainty could explain away my father’s healing in biomedical terms, it might also explain away the healing of the woman with the issue of blood.

            If anything, my consternation is not so much with whether you accept my father’s recovery as an authentic healing as it is with the speculative uncertainty, which pervades Western society.

            Your own concerns over the potential harm caused by the bogus claims of ‘miracle meetings’ may well be entirely valid. That is, if, with sufficient faith, people could be healed on a scale commensurate with the multitudes healed through the apostles, then there’s the dangerous and unsatisfying implication that anyone who suffers chronic illness is simply lacking in faith.

            By way of contrast, there is the equally dangerous converse notion that prayer should be accepting of the cessationist or, at least, diminutionist position.

            And this skepticism over any claimed resurgence of the miraculous extends beyond just prayer for healing to the expulsion of unclean spirits (often explained away as a primitive description of mental illness) and, of course, speaking in tongues. Ergo, the assumption is that none of these abilities are normative aspects of the Christian mission.

            Comfortably for those who hold to this position, the comparatively higher numerical growth of Pentecostal churches is simplistically attributed to the gullibility of their adherents.

            However, in the scriptures, the miracles are not just instances in which God’s compassion is exhibited supernaturally. They appear as divinely inserted exclamation marks, giving particular emphasis to what God is saying to a people en masse.

            In Nazareth, the sparsity of miraculous healings was no indictment on individual sufferers. Christ’s sermon in Luke 5 points to this by referring the Israelite widows in Elijah’s time. It did signify that the relative scale of healing would be inappropriate to any society in which insurmountable skepticism towards Christ predominates. At the same time, there is ever our moral responsibility for to alleviate suffering by natural means, wherever possible.

            Finally, miracles do not always enhance the credibility of God’s messengers. Instead, while extending the reach of the gospel beyond human intentions, they provoked alarm, worldly fears, repression and cynical contempt.

            ‘He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31)

        • Dear Chris
          Thanks for that. It is a better piece! I will use it myself! Thanks!

          Yet I do question his assertion that has no stats to back it up. “We should also bear in mind the obvious fact that people who believe God always wills to heal, as many Pentecostals and Charismatics do, pray for far more healings, and see far more healings, than people who don’t.”
          How much more? As an example, a few years ago a major such group put up a testimony that they had seen an increase in creative physical healing. When I asked the leader for details, it was that they had seen a total of two physical healings in the previous 12 months or so. (which is brilliant of course, but hardly the inference of the testimony). That total was an ‘increase’. So what were the facts in previous years? The context as of hundreds if not thousands of prayer encounters.

          In contrast, a local church that doesn’t do services the same way, saw a spontaneous healing of somebody’s foot, unexpectedly during a “foot washing” in the Easter services. In front of folk.

          The fact is, that the majority, even in Charismatic Churches are not healed. (In the UK at least) It’s not just the sets of illnesses Andrew mentions.

          Of course, people like to be prayed for, like having prayer ministry in one form or another. Sadly, realistically, it’s one of the few opportunities some have to be given personal attention and listened to.

          I think, but I don’t have a sown up theology, is that the most powerful marks of the kingdom are the out working out of Love God and your neighbour as you love yourself. Love God, Love People. Healings (I do have a handful of healing stories of my own) are more occasional gifts that can encourage. And it’s these things (a life of love) which Jonathan Sachs brings out in Jewish history. The felt presence of Father God in family, synagogue and so on.

          Thanks Chris. I like your other posts on this topic too.

          • Dave,

            But why stop at healing being a more occasional gift?

            You might accept that the instances of demonic possession are more than just an ancient attempts to describe inexplicable mental aberration. If so, do you also view the ability to expel demonic influences (exorcism) as an occasional gift?

            If so, I wonder which spiritual gifts, mentioned by Paul, do you consider to have persisted into the 21st century?

            Hopefully, the normative gifts would include more than just those which more easily relate to cessationist church ministry in Western society.

  2. What I would like to know is at what time in the history of the early church did miracles of the kind we read in the book of Acts start to die out? In Acts we read that many signs and wonders were performed by the Apostles and these were of a dramatic and indisputable nature similar to those performed by Jesus. This gave the church credibility in preaching its message.

    These days what we tend to see are ‘miracles’ of the “my leg I was a few mm shorter that the other and is now the same length” variety or rather vague nebulous complaints that by my observations, are more the product of wishful thinking and embellishment than supernatural power.

    It would be nice to follow the Apostle’s example and perform the kind of miracles they did wouldn’t it?

    After all there are plenty of sick people out there.

    • Hi Chris,

      Is Mark 6:5 applicable here? Has our society become so rationalist as to explain away everything.

      Let’s say (as in the case of my father, who was treated at St. Georges Hospital, while suffering terminal prostate cancer), that a man was admitted to hospital bleeding profusely from his bladder.

      Let’s also say (as with my father) that, for several days, he is receiving transfusions amounting to six pints of blood a day, but to no avail.

      Let’s also say (as with my father) that he has clots in his lungs, which prevent the doctors from either operating to locate and close the haemorrhage, or from administering a clotting agent to stanch it.

      Let’s also say (as with my father) that the doctors, in recognising the man’s terminal condition, sadly decide that they will have to stop the futility of the transfusions the next day and let him die.

      Let’s also say (as with my father) that his son has been estranged from him for decades; that he stands around the bed with his half-brothers asking the living God through Jesus Christ for even a few months to get to know his Dad, with whom he has only just made peace.

      Let’s say (as with my father) that you can go to St. Georges Hospital in Tooting and locate the records with show that the haemorrhage stopped inexplicably the next day. And that the man got to know and become close to his estranged son and only only after reconciling properly, he died ten months later.

      Would that be a miraculous answer to prayer? Or just another unexplained coincidence?

      Most people in the UK would prefer the latter despite the evidence.

      • David,

        You may well be right about Mark 6:5. and I am glad to hear about your father. All I am saying is that if the contemporary church was performing miracles publically of the kind we see in Acts and on the scale we see in Acts, then I think our society would view us somewhat differently. This isn’t really happening – certainly not in the way it did in the book of Acts.

        Now this may be because the power of the Holy Spirit was dispensed in a way then, which it is not now either by God’s design or as you imply, by our faithlessness. But these so called ‘miracle meetings’ advocated particularly by some pentecostal denominations and are predicated on the same power manifest in Acts (certainly they use scriptures from Acts to justify their activities and claim miracles) on closer examination, prove not to be the case.

        Note that I am not saying that miracles do not happen today but I don’t see them happeniing in the way they did in the book of Acts as an example for us to follow. And I mean in your face miracles -blind seeing, cripples walking, deaf hearing, dead being raised -indisputable and overpowering stonking evidence of the power of God for all to see.

        I do not want this thread to get derailed into why God does and does not heal. As a lay pastor I have found these kind of arguments are not very helpful to people who are sick and they don’t really want to hear us making excuses for God.They want to be unequivocally healed.

        As I stated earlier, I am interested to know just how far into early church history the healing power of God was manifest as it was, and onhe same scale, as we read in the book of Acts -or did it die off after the apostles? Do there exist records of the early post-apostolic church manifesting the power of God as it was in Acts and was it recorded by contemporary historians? I am not too versed in early church history to answer this question but I would really like to know.

        • Hi Chris

          I can’t help you on the historical question but when I was studying Acts I heard something which was quite helpful. There is a distinction between God’s covenanted and unconvenanted blessings – that is, between what God *can* do and what God *promises* to do.

          Acts shows what God *can* do. But, as our experience today shows, it is not always like this! I’ve heard that in places like China where the gospel is growing rapidly, miraculous happenings are more common. If miraculous healings like that happened today in the UK – certainly with any frequency – people wouldn’t be attracted to the gospel so much as to what they could get out of it. Acts makes clear that it is the Word which has priority (Acts 4:31, 6:7, 12:24, etc).

          Anyway, I found this distinction helpful when I heard it.


        • Dear Chris Bishop
          I have a book on my shelf called “The Life of Dorothy Kerin” she always referred to herself as “Jairus’ daughter” and was a mystic. She was raised from the dead in 1912 and eventually opened a place of healing. She opened Burrswood and built the Church of Christ the Healer.
          Burrswood is in Kent and is still operational and can be found on the Internet.

          My daughter was healed of severe asthma at New Wine in the youth tent back in the early 1980’s. She fell down in the Spirit and felt her chest being manipulated as she lay there. The young people with her put her on a skateboard and pushed her back to us in the coffee lounge as she could not walk for about hour! She still has some wheeziness and hay fever but has had no severe attacks or need of artificial ventilation since.

      • Dear David
        this is actually a reply to a reply you made to me – but the system doesn’t put a reply button to that on my computer!

        You asked “but why stop at healing being …..”

        I really haven’t got worked out. What I see in the UK is something like this (for churches broadly like New Wine churches)
        1) They are hopeful, positive
        2) They yearn for more of the Presence of God and Power of the Spirit.

        In my view they also give the appearance of / infer that they have more of the Power of The Holy Spirit in supernatural ways than they actually do.

        I think it is great that in big meetings, some are healed, as Tricia says about her daughter who was mostly healed of Asthma.

        I have a handful of similar true stories.

        Yet, it is still a tiny minority, however faithful the particular church is.

        Chris Bishop posted a link to an Andrew Wilson set of thoughts, which I think is a fuller reading of the whole of scripture.

        So I’m saying that Father God does heal a few – but I observe that more faith, more prayer, more exuberant meetings do not result in a great increase – it’s still small numbers, small percentages. Seeing that writ large makes me wonder if we are reading scripture wrong.

        Andrew Wilson says he knows of none being healed of particular conditions anywhere. He asks if that’s really down to lack of faith. I am basically asking that of any conditions that people are not healed of. He also notes a raft of other scriptural reasons why people may not be healed.

        You ask about the other gifts. My observation is the same for them. Lots claimed, some true. So, lots of the prophetic claimed – some are real. Lots of ‘blessed words’ – no bad thing – but mostly human sources.

        I don’t like that! I’d much prefer more true healing, prophecy, generosity etc

        The marks of the kingdom that are most impressive to me are all around love. Love God, Love People, Generosity. These are things we can give ourselves to. The great things in Acts 2 and 4

  3. And I have a question about prayer meetings. I suspect prayer for the early Church wouldn’t have been equivalent to the commonplace modern Christian first-Wednesday-evening-of-the-month-from-8.00pm-to-9.00pm prayer meeting, with people sitting around in circles, half of whom are praying aloud while the other half are wanting an opportunity to pray quietly. So if the praying habits of the early Church in Acts is something to be imitated, then what would this have meant in practice for them and for us?

  4. Hi Ian

    1. I’m just thinking about your second point on being filled with the Spirit. If Acts offers us examples to follow, how would you say we should emulate that today? You don’t really answer that question, other than pointing to renewal movements.

    I think it’s interesting that at no point in Acts does anyone ask to be filled with the Spirit. They ask God for boldness to spread the Word, and he fills them with his Spirit to accomplish his mission. I’d say that seems like a good model for us to follow today!

    2. I’m always a little wary of using extra-Biblical literature to control how we read Biblical literature. Not that we can’t gain some good and useful insights! – but take the gospels for example. Some see them as ancient biographies (‘bioi’). But clearly they are more than that – they don’t simply adopt the format. Jonathan Pennington talks about them as ‘bioi plus’ – they are their own genre. I’d say it would be the same with Acts.

    There may be many ways in which we are supposed to emulate the ‘heroes’ of the story, but there are also ways in which we are not: for example, we’re not apostles, and so there will be ways our ministry is both like and unlike theirs.

  5. Dear Ian, thank you for this fascinating analysis.

    In terms of our current paractice I wonder how one should reconcile this with the much simpler guideline in Galations 2 v 10 ” All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”

    Should we be living according to the Acts agreement or does the Galations one now suffice? Although I would argue that remembering the poor is a much huger and more neglected demand than the more individual inward looking morality and food laws!


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