The Book of Acts

By F.F. Bruce
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1988). xxiii + 541 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
4.2 (Fall 1993) : 228-229

A few years prior to his death, F. F. Bruce revised his 1954 commentary on the Book of Acts, replacing the American Standard Version (1901) text with his own ad hoc translation and incorporating thirty years of additional relevant research. In this revision, his goal is to make the wall between the first and twentieth centuries transparent, and to cause not only the voice of Luke but also the word of God to be heard by his readers (xvii).

The author devotes careful attention to the origin and purpose of Acts. While noting the important role played by the book as a challenge to Marcion's second-century heresies, thereby cultivating theories of a second century authorship, he rejects such notions, and contends that "the historical, geographical, and political situation presupposed by Acts, and for that matter by Luke-Acts as a whole, is unmistakably that of the first century and not of the second. This is specially true of Paul's invocation of his Roman citizenship and his appeal to Caesar" (6). Different from some scholars, he dates Luke's composition after the death of Paul -"at some point within the Flavian period [A.D. 69-96], possibly about the middle of the period" (12) -arguing that Luke's purpose extended beyond his desire to give information to Theophilus only. Luke also "gave an intelligible history of the rise and progress of Christianity, and at the same time gave a reasoned reply to popular calumnies against it . . ." (12). He debunks the idea that Luke's narrative purposed to serve as evidence for Paul's defense in the imperial court, noting that "there is much in Acts that would have been quite irrelevant forensically . . ." (12).

At times, the text is investigated with greater depth and precision than at others. His description of the apostles' choice of a replacement for Judas is thorough and lucid, for example. Contrary to an oft expressed opinion, the selection of Matthias was not inappropriate. Besides Paul's not possessing the qualifications set Book Reviews 229 forth in 1:21-22, Bruce maintains that such a view "betrays a failure to appreciate the special character of Paul's apostleship" (48). Such thoroughness is lacking, however, in his discussion of Acts 2 where he allots only minimal space. With superficial brevity, he concludes that the cosmic disturbances of Joel 2 referred to by Peter found fulfillment in the events surrounding the death of Christ a few weeks earlier (62).

He has full treatments of Stephen's sermon and stoning, Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and the introduction of the gospel to the Gentiles at the conversion of Cornelius, with insights from historical and extra-biblical data highlighting the text. He treats the time frame of the Jerusalem Council succinctly, but adequately, concluding that the "Jerusalem conference of Gal. 2:1-10, the Antioch controversy of Gal. 2:11-14, and even the writing of the letter to the Galatians itself . . . antedated the council of Acts 15" (283).

The inclusion of many historical and extra-biblical insights amplifies one's understanding of the text, especially the events surrounding Paul's appearances before Felix, Festus, and Herod Agrippa II. Footnotes -rather than end notes- including terms and phrases in Greek and Hebrew characters are very helpful to the serious student. With the addition of recent scholarship, this commentary remains one of the finest expositions of Acts for both pastors and laymen.