Bird interviews Pervo about Acts

Today Michael Bird Posts an interview with Richard Pervo on Euangelion.

Some interesting highlights

1. How he first got into study of Luke-Acts:

2. Genre of Acts

The objective has been to read Acts in terms of popular literature. One may call it “apologetic history,” “popular narrative,” or whatever. “Historical novel” is acceptable.

Acts is best viewed as a response to contemporary issues rather than as an attempt to extract historical data from various scraps of tradition.

3. Pervo responds to critiques of Parson-Pervo on Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993]).pervo-parsons.jpg

Theological unity is different if based upon Luke or upon Acts—not to deny range of theological unity. Narrative unity is hard to argue, for two books use different methods and techniques. . . .Parsons and Pervo argue that Acts should be viewed as a sequel to a Gospel.pervo-date.jpg

4. Date of Acts: 115 AD

5. Historicity of Acts: Acts values history, but Acts as history has limited value.

6. Issues on the Western Text of Acts

7. What would you posit as the overarching purpose of Luke/Acts?

Luke and Acts are legitimating narratives, most visible in the latter. This is expressed by demonstrating continuity of several types, between Israel and the Church, Peter, James, and Paul, goals of imperial civilization and church. This reaches toward apologetics. The legitimacy in question is that of gentile, Pauline Christianity from the perspective of Israelite heritage (which some were ready to toss overboard).

8. Who was Luke?

One can only seek to reconstruct implied author: male, gentile, probably born a believer, thoroughly familiar with LXX, basic but not advanced Greek education, writing from viewpoint of Ephesus.

9. Luke’s view of the parousia

10. Uniqueness of his forthcoming Hermenia Commentary on Acts (due out in November)

Good advice for students:

pervo-acts-hermenia-commentary.jpgWhen taking up a commentary (or monograph) it is vital to identify what questions the author is seeking to answer and to evaluate the results through judging the suitability of method(s) chosen and the depth of investigation, as well as author’s presuppositions, explicit and implicit. Prefer explicit in one’s own work. . . .Surveys of research should not just argue that all who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but seek to identify the particular contribution of each predecessor.

Beware of those who pretend that showing some weaknesses in a particular argument prove its opposite. All arguments have weaknesses. Prefer those that solve more problems than they create.

11. Areas of Luke-Acts that require further exploration (esp. for potential Ph.D candidates)?

Much to be done on intertextuality and reception—i.e., look both to predecessors and successors. Literary criticism that is sensitive not only to ancient rhetoric (and modern methods) but also to historical context. [A few of Pervo’s personal axes emerge later in these two paragraphs.]

12. Favorite Luke/Acts scholars: “Best would be a combination of Cadbury, Haenchen, dropping his sarcasm, and the Venerable Bede.”


Interviews are meant to be brief overviews, so any real critique is unfair. Still, Pervo says very little about the Judean (Jewish if you prefer) context or interactions with the Hellenisic Judean community. It seems to me that a lot of Acts focuses on the conflict with Judeans (both in Judea and abroad – Diaspora). I’d be interested to see why he believes Luke is a gentile writer. Contrast this with the soon-top-be released (28 Feb) book by Strelan highlighted earlier on Euangelion Luke the Priest.

I’d be interested to hear more of his perspective on “Why demonstrating continuity is important”, leading to who is the audience.

Basically, I’m trying to get at the types of issues Bird raises in his proposed SBL paper.

Paul, Apostle to the Diaspora? (For the Pauline Epistles Section)

This paper proposes that Paul’s commission to go to the ethnē also included Diasporan Jews as a subset of this identity marker. This is indicated by (1) The flexible and often plastic nature of the terms ethnē and hellēnos for signifying Jews and non-Jews; (2) The problematic nature of Jewish identity in the Greco-Roman cities of the Diaspora; (3) Evidence of Paul’s association with synagogues; and (4) Sociological models of conversion. The paper concludes that there is some evidence for defining Paul’s apostleship to the ethnē geographically and not purely in ethnic categories.

The implications of this for Acts research are significant, and Acts likewise provides a lot of data. Too often, we isolate the Judean world from the Hellenistic or Greco-Roman dimension. When it comes to Acts, people who focus on the Greco-Roman affinities often overlook the Judean (Jewish) nature of the document. Highlighting the Diaspora nature of Paul’s ministry, as Bird appears to be proposing, should help bring these two consciousnesses back together.

2 thoughts on “Bird interviews Pervo about Acts

  1. richard pervo says:

    Was not asked about “background.” Diaspora/Hellenistic Judaism is major source of lucan themes and theology, as well as some content. Because much of this is lost, one must often point to non-Jewish sources. Lk does not seem to know much about Judea proper, e.g., its geography. Judaism is certainly the major background for Luke and Acts.
    The narrator of Acts does not understand many Jewish practices or their motivation. Note speech of 15:7-11, which presents a view of Torah not held by the observant.

  2. Ben says:

    Thank you for taking the time to comment here. I appreciate the limited nature of an interview and tried to note that disclaimer in my original post. I’ll look forward to your forthcoming commentary, and I will be especially curious to read your critiques of Jervell.

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