Book Review – The New International Commentary on Acts (F F Bruce)

The book of Acts is something of a hermeneutical minefield, due to the many different ideas of how to apply the various practices and experiences of the early church and apostles. Bruce mainly avoids comment on these issues, preferring to simply help us get to the bottom of what the text is saying, and showing how the author achieves his purpose of demonstrating that Christianity was not an illegal or subversive religion. He provides excellent background information on the historical, geographical and political features that provide the setting for the book of Acts. It is also a useful source of information for correlating the biographical information in the epistles with Luke’s account.

Although Bruce is willing to discuss matters of theology, he nowhere attempts to develop a Lukan pneumatology or ecclesiology which is probably a good thing, given how controversial these would prove to be (and in any case it is doubtful that Luke expected his writing to be used in that way). His comments are also fairly terse in passages where a less technical commentary might offer some more devotional thoughts. For example, while Bruce provides background details on all the people and places named in Acts 20:4, he only comments briefly on Paul’s great statement in Acts 20:24. Having said that, where he does permit himself briefly to expound a text, his insights are often profound. I actually found the final section of the commentary to be the most enjoyable, as Bruce attacks some of the petty criticisms of Paul from other commentators who judge him for some of his statements during the trial narratives.

It is in fact often when he is engaging with other commentators that the best of Bruce comes out. He is never overt about his personal faith or direct with the moral or theological lessons he draws out, but as he takes down other arguments he leaves the reader to fill in the blanks. He states that Paul is Luke’s hero, and in places hints that the same could be said of himself.

The NICNT commentaries do a good job of keeping secondary issues out of the main text by making extensive use of footnotes and this volume is no exception. Bruce provides his own translation of Acts, and each section of text is followed with a brief introduction before the comments which are usually on one or two verses at a time. This format means that people studying individual sections can get a good sense of context. As with other NICNT commentaries, the introduction is comprehensive without being long-winded. Bruce tentatively accepts Luke as the author but does not presume to suggest his own date (other than saying it is a first century composition), preferring to summarise the options.

Those who need some quick points of application for sermons or Bible study groups may find that this commentary is too “academic” for their liking. However, for those wanting to wrestle with the text themselves, it gives the firm footing of properly understanding the historical context that is necessary before trying to extrapolate principles for today’s Christians.

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