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World’s Biggest Commentary on Acts

November 4, 2013

Through the generosity of the author, Dr. Craig S. Keener, I’ve received volume 2 of his multi-volume commentary on Acts of the Apostles.  Volume 1 appeared in 2012, and this massive tome (pp. xlii+1038) addressed various introductory issues and Acts 1:1–2:47.  Volume 2 is a bit bigger still (pp. xxxix+1152) and addresses Acts 3:1–14:28.  I understand that two more volumes are coming to complete Acts.  If they maintain a comparable size, this will mean well over 4,000 pp. commentary on Acts.  I’d hazard the guess that this will make it the largest commentary ever written on Acts (at least by a single author), and perhaps the largest commentary on any single biblical writing.

In addition to his own observations and judgments, and notice of what other/previous scholars have written on any given passage, Keener is also well-known for providing references to Roman-era literature that provide anything that might serve as a parallel or might be helpful in grasping in historical terms matters in the various NT writings on which he comments.  In this case (Acts), these references are abundant.

I can’t pretend to have delved sufficiently into either volume to offer a qualified judgment about this massive work.  That would take some time!  But it’s certain that this commentary provides a trove of information for serious readers of Acts.  There are, for example, 7 pp. on the three named figures introduced in Acts 13:1 (but I can’t find any discussion of the question of who “the Lord” was [God or Jesus] to whom worship is given in 13:2).

In any case, one cannot but be impressed that Keener has managed to produce such a huge work, and this in addition to numerous other publications.  It will be consulted frequently in coming years to draw upon his commendable dedication to providing the results of his extensive acquaintance with the historical context of the NT.

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  1. Is Acts really a first-century work?

    The Acts Seminar group, in the latest work puts it at about 115 AD.

    I think Biblical scholarship is so advanced today that now scholars even know what century a Biblical book was written in – a big advance on the scholarship of even 50 years ago.

    • Steven: Scholars are divided over the matter. It is connected with the related question of whether Acts was written by the author of GLuke and whether Luke-Acts were composed closely together in time. If it was, then (as most place GLuke in late first century), Acts is dated closely to GLuke. If, on the other hand, the two works are by different authors, or written as quite distinguishable projects by the same or different authors, then one could allow a later date for Acts. It’s not so much (or not yet clearly) an “advance” as a shift in the ways the questions are put and a continuing effort to try out this or that point of view and see how well it stands up to criticism.

  2. Thank you for the reference. Can you share his understanding of Acts 20:28, i.e. whether he ops for “Church of the Lord” or “Church of God”, and whether he agrees that the Lord or God purchased the church with “his own blood”, or, as some conservative commentators have opted with “the blood of his own [son]”.

    • Sean: we’ll have to wait a while. Vol 2 of Keener’s commentary only takes us through Acts 14.

  3. blop2008 permalink

    As soon as I read the title of the post, I knew it was Keener 🙂 !

  4. Here is his opinion of the identity of Lord from another publication.

    “13:2–3. Jewish people fasted to mourn or repent, and some fasted to seek revelations; special fasts for prayer related to mourning were called in the face of great crises such as droughts. Here they are probably simply seeking God in prayer. The Holy Spirit was especially known as the Spirit of prophecy, so “the Holy Spirit said” probably means that one of the prophets prophesied. For the laying on of hands see comment on 6:6.”

    Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Ac 13:2). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

    • Yes, and this view (that “the Lord” in Acts 13:2 = “God”) is common and may well be correct. But, given the usage of “the Lord” (ὁ κύριος) in Acts, it is not automatically clear whether the referent here is God or Jesus. It at least deserves comment, in my mind.

    • The work I quoted is 20 years old, maybe he doesn’t feel as secure about the identity anymore. I have noticed in a lot of commentaries that when some point is questionable, they just skip right over it. Acts 13:2 is no exception. I checked a number of my commentaries and no one seems to want to identify who the Lord is in this verse. However, in my opinion, I think there is more evidence in favor of God. For instance, the use of the word leitourgeō. It is possible the author is making a connection with the use of the word in the LXX concerning the Levitical Priesthood. And this might be a bit of a stretch, but using a similar word latreuō, Jesus tells Satan to serve only God. (Mt 4:10) Then we have the men ministering and fasting. On one occasion (Mt 6:18) Jesus tell his disciples that fasting is seen and repaid by the Father. And finally, they are contacted by the holy spirit, the holy spirit precedes from the Father. (John 15:26). Anyway, just some thoughts.

      You are right about Acts, It is one of the books that has the most occurrences of kyrios, and the most occurrences of using the article with kyrios, and also, the book with the most variant readings concerning kyrios. In fact the book is permeated with variant readings. So much so, that it looks like the book of Acts takes up almost a 3rd of Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary. What do you make of that?

      • Howard: Acts is a large NT writing (Luke-Acts together = ca. 25% of the entire NT), so it’s not surprising that it has a lot of the variation-units identified in the Greek NT.
        The thing about the use of kyrios in Luke-Acts is that the author uses this term (with and without the article) in ways that set up a certain ambiguity, and this seems to have been deliberate. Sometimes the referent is clearly God, and other times equally clearly Jesus. And sometimes it’s hard to determine, which is what seems to have generated some of the variants that I listed, as readers sought to dis-ambiguate certain statements.

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