“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:1,2).

Theological history can be defined as “a narrative of interrelated events from a given place and time, chosen to communicate theological truths.”[1] Like the Gospels, Acts is also a narrative, but unlike the Gospels, which are more bibliographical, focusing largely on Jesus, Acts focuses on several key church leaders, particularly Peter and Paul, and how the Holy Spirit empowered these early evangelists to move forward spreading the Good News. Attributed to Luke, and commonly accepted as a sequel to the Gospel bearing his name, its proper interpretation revolves around a balanced emphasis on the history, theology, and the adventure of Acts.[2] Determining what is normative and what is descriptive for modern church application is complex;[3] thus, we should begin by asking basic narrative questions and looking to Luke for direction in differentiating between theology and history.[4] To help with differentiating between theology and history, it is important to pay particular attention to the author’s intention, identify distinctions between characters, consider the verse in light of its literary context, and identify normative passages in view of repeated themes and patterns.5 The key to interpreting the genre is recognizing the author as both a historian and theologian.

I believe that it is possible to read Acts for doctrinal purposes keeping in mind a balanced approach, not all that unlike how we should probably approach the rest of Scripture. In fact, correctly interpreting and applying the book of Acts requires the same attention to context, negotiating distances, and the theological principles being conveyed. Consider the tremendous impact of the personal witness of believers recorded throughout the book, such as Peter’s speech to the puzzled onlookers at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) or Paul’s appearance before Festus (Acts 25:1-22). Acts demonstrates the strength and power of united prayer, such as the shaking of buildings by prayer and praise (Acts 4:31, 16:25-26). Finally, Acts demonstrates the unity that was present among all who put their trust in Jesus (Acts 1:14, 2:1, 44-46, 4:24, 5:12. I believe that the book of Acts shows us today what a church can do through the power of the Holy Spirit filling and overflowing through the lives of the faithful. 

“New Testament letters are generally longer than other ancient letters and fall between the two extremes of informal, private letters and the more formal, literary letters.”6  “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:1,2, ESV).[7] Generally speaking, the form of NT letters, also called epistles, consist of an introduction, which usually identifies the author, the addressees, includes a greeting as well as a prayer; the body, which addresses situations facing the audience and most often makes up the largest part of a letter; and a conclusion, which may consist of a variety of elements such as travel plans, introductions, further greetings, prayers, and benedictions.8 But not all NT letters conform to this form, for example, Hebrews lacks a typical ending, and 1 John does not identify an author or a specific addressee. 

NT letters include many of the same elements one might find in a modern day letter, for example, exhortations, a diatribe or an apologetic, or introductions or recommendations. Similarly, first-century writers might have employed the genre of letters for much the same reasons we might write letters today, including addressing pressing situations as with the letters to Christians communities in the physical absence of the author. Moreover, the letters do not merely function as substitutes for the writers, they are also authoritative. 9 Regardless of the reasons for writing, the letters are all situational, which make historical and literary contexts critical for proper interpretation; therefore, we must be able to identify the unique issues being addressed as well as distinguish between universal principles and any context-bound or culturally limited applications.10 Three specific issues should be taken into consideration by the interpreter when attempting to discover the theological principles of a NT letter. First identify the theological principles explicitly stated by the author, then identify why the author gave the specific instruction to discover the theological principle, and finally, identify the broader context to assist in locating the theological principle11 in order to bridge Scripture with audiences today.

[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, & Robert L. Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2017), 418.

[2] Ibid., 419.

[3] Scott Duval and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word Workbook: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 309.

[4] Ibid., 275-277.

5 Ibid., 300-304.

6  Duval and Hays, 256.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

8 Ibid., 257-58.

9 Ibid., 253.

10 Klein, Blomberg, & Hubbard Jr., 542.

11 Duval and Hays, 262.

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