Hurtado on Keener on Acts

Keener on Acts of the Apostles
by larryhurtado

Of the making of commentaries on biblical writings, there is much, increasingly so (it seems) in recent decades, often in various series, each with its own intended focus, readership, and approach. One of the most prolific writers of commentaries is Craig Keener, with hefty tomes on the Gospel of Matthew (1999), the Gospel of John (2 vols, 2003), and now the first of a 4-volume commentary on Acts of the Apostles: Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1, Introduction and 1:1–2:47 (Baker Academic 2012).

Acts has received a good deal of attention from scholars, including earlier multi-volume projects. The most well-known of the latter is certainly the 5-volume work edited by F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, Part 1: The Acts of the Apostles (1920-1933). More recently, there was the 6-volume project overseen by Bruce Winter, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting (Eerdmans, 1993-1998, the 6th volume of which, however, appeared on its own and with a different title than originally projected: Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts, eds. I. H. Marshall & David Peterson).

But, to my knowledge, Keener’s 4-volume project (running well in excess of 2.5 million words) is by far the largest single-author work on Acts to date. He is justifiably grateful to the publisher (Baker Academic) for accepting this massive work for publication.

Keener’s strong suit has always been his impressive acquaintance with the literary environment of the New Testament. He is able to provide copious citations of texts (especially “pagan” texts) of the time, offering readers many opportunities to ponder possible relevance for appreciating a given passage in the NT. He is also remarkably thorough in citing other scholars.

This initial volume (running nearly 1,100 pages) comprises an extensive Introduction in which, after giving “considerations for reading this commentary” (pp. 3-43), Keener addresses at length all the issues currently in play about Acts: “Writing and Publishing Acts”, “Proposed Genres”, Acts as a Work of Ancient Historiography”, Acts and Paul”, Speeches in Acts”, Miracle-stories in Acts, Date, Authorship, intended readership, purpose, Acts and “Israel’s Story”, Lukan emphases, “Unity and Structure of Luke-Acts”, geography, and “Luke’s Perspectives on Women and Gender”. The matters take up the first 640 pages.

The remainder of this volume (pp. 641-1038) is a detailed analysis of Acts 1:1–2:47. In this material as well, Keener conducts a dialogue with a rich assortment of other scholars (in the footnotes), as well as providing exegetical comments on the text of Acts. It will take more time than I’ve yet been able to devote to it to explore adequately the contents and to judge the merits of Keener’s massive project. But anyone concerned with Acts is best advised to take account of this extensive study from a widely read and dedicated scholar.

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  • Greg Metzger

    Keener’s output is nearly amazing as Ben’s! How do you both do it? Craig’s two-volume work on miracles is also getting strong praise.

  • Paul N. Anderson

    Thanks, Larry, Craig indeed does excellent work and is judicious as well as thorough. After reviewing his massive commentary on John, citing as many as 20,000 references to ancient contemporary literature, I asked him how he accessed and kept track of all that primary literature. With digitalized collections nowadays, I was anticipating a new program or research engine that made such research possible. But Craig just said:

    “Note cards. I have a file cabinet with note cards in it, which I use to help remind me where I’d found things earlier.”

    In my view, AMAZING!

    So, thanks, Larry, and Craig, for the great and helpful work! I’m still planning to get the NT essays of Cadbury out, having gotten four or five of his books back into print.

    Paul N. Anderson

  • Ben Witherington

    Craig is a certified no sleeper, and me as a Wesleyan think, why waste a third of your life in bed???? :)


  • Scott

    With all those note cards, I hope he has fire insurance !

  • Beth Petrie

    …plus, he’s pretty much the “poster child” for ADHD…

    I took his NT Intensive last spring – assumed it’d be taught by a TA or something, so imagine my surprise and delight to discover that it was the real deal! :-)

  • Mark Fairchild

    Craig is also one of the most humble and caring persons that you would ever meet. We can all learn a great deal from him, not only from his scholarship, but also from his character.

  • Marc Axelrod

    I bought this for my Kindle.I think it is wonderful, but I suspect most pastors will say less is more, and turn to Schnabel, BWIII, Bock, or Peterson. the book of Acts is currently very well served by clear, concise commentaries.