Term Paper: Remembering Jesus the Communicative Approach

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¶ … Communicative Approach to Acts 25:30

As Jeannine Brown (2007) notes, it was Zwingli who advocated pulling verses from the Bible and doing "with them as we will" (p. 213). However, removing Scripture from its context shows little "respect for the text as communicative act" (Brown, 2007, p. 213). According to the Communicative Approach, Scripture should be accessed on its own terms, and within its own literary context. In other words, Scriptural verses are part of a larger, often narrative, whole. This is certainly the case with Acts 20:35, in which Paul tells the Ephesian Elders, "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35). The maxim that it is better to give than receive has often been quoted out of its Scriptural context. By restoring it to the narrative account provided in Acts, and analyzing it by way of the Communicative Approach, a much fuller understanding of the verse can be obtained. This paper will analyze Acts 20:35 according to the Communicative Approach and discuss it in terms of its strengths and weaknesses.

Background

The Acts of the Apostles, traditionally believed to have been penned by St. Luke around 63 AD, is written in the narrative genre. It relates the events that occurred from the time of Jesus' last instructions to the Apostles before Ascending into Heaven. Then it follows the missions of Sts. Peter and Paul and the founding and spreading of the Church. One of the key themes of Acts is the emphasis placed upon delivering the Gospel to the Gentiles -- a major factor in the spread of Christianity. Another key theme is the persecution of the early Church from its very inception. The major characters are Peter and Paul. Some of the key events of the book include miracles worked by Peter, the arrests of Peter and John, the martyrdom of St. Stephen, Saul's persecution of the Christians, Saul's conversion and baptism; Paul's missions, trials and tribulations, arrests, journeys and escapes -- and more.

St. Luke was a Gentile by birth and by profession a doctor. (According to tradition he was also an artist and is still revered by many today as a patron of both doctors and artists). An early companion of St. Paul, Luke can be said to have been influenced by the Apostle. Indeed, Luke's writings are filled with a similar zealousness found in Paul's letters. What makes Acts unique among the other Gospel narratives is that it emphasizes the nature of the work of the disciples following the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Indeed, the Acts of the Apostles is an account of the life of the early Church from the time of Christ's Ascension into Heaven up to St. Paul's preaching in Rome while under arrest. Written around 63 AD by St. Luke, it illustrates the fulfillment of Christ's promise to His Apostles to send the Holy Ghost to strengthen, sanctify, guide, and help establish His Church. For this reason, the Acts has even been called "The Gospel of the Holy Ghost." Thus, the development of the early Church and the actions of the Apostles count as the two major themes of this book. The book is dedicated to Theophilus in its introduction, but the major themes of the book reveal that it is meant to be more than its dedication implies: it may be viewed as a historical supplement to the Gospels and Epistles, and thus meant for the Church as a whole.

With this in mind, it is much easier to understand what Jeannine Brown means when she says, "I hope it is becoming clear that we ought to read books of the Bible as wholes, since that is how their authors would have intended that they be read" (p. 214). Indeed, Acts 25:30 can be illuminated more fully if it is analyzed within the context of Acts as a whole. And when Acts as a whole is viewed as a kind of historical supplement, emphasizing the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Acts 25:30 becomes particularly interesting: it connects to the missionary spirit of the Church and the promise of God to be with His church always. The laborer is connected to the missionary, and giving is connected to the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

The Strength of the Communicative Approach

Walter C. Kaiser states that "a good criterion for assessing the validity as well as the value that a theory may have for exegesis is to ask this question: Could the interpretation of a particular passage be supported even if we did not have the theory?" (Kaiser, 1994, p. 127). The question is indicative of the value of the text itself when compared to the theory meant to support it. The text, in other words, is more important than the theory, which is merely implemented to help strengthen one's understanding of the text. It is not meant to replace the text or provide inference: it is simply used to help provide a framework, or help draw out the context of the work itself. As Kaiser notes, "it is the text that must be ultimately determinative" (p. 127).

Therefore, a proper understanding of Scripture may help establish a proper understanding of Acts 25:30. The strength of the Communicative Approach is that it allows for a contextual analysis. The proper context in which Acts 25:30 may be situated is that of the whole of Scripture -- for as John MacArthur (2009) observes, the will of God is found in Scripture (p. 62). To elaborate on this point, one may say explicitly that it is in the Bible that one can find out what it means to be a Christian. It is, after all, from Scripture that we learn the various sayings of Jesus, after whom Christians model themselves. And it is Jesus who tells his followers to know and do the will of God: "Seek first the kingdom of God" is Christ's command for all of us who want to know what to do in this life. Paul elaborates on Christ's message in Acts 25:30 when he observes that it is better to give than to receive -- and good to support the weak. What he implies is that laboring in the vineyard of Christ is a better life than that which is lived simply for one's own sake. Essentially, he who gives to God, gives to all -- or, he who gives to all, gives to God.

Likewise, Leon Morris (1988) asserts that "Luke sees [His] divine purpose as intimately bound up with the love and the mercy of God" (p.16). Such a theme, discernable in Acts and in Acts 25:30 especially, would obviously be appealing to Luke the physician. The symmetry of ideas would have appealed to Luke the artist/painter. The excellent philosophy would have doubtlessly appealed to Luke the Greek. And the beauty, nobility, and kinship expressed in the gospel would, of course, have appealed to Luke the Gentile.

Luke's Objective

Therefore, before proceeding with a deeper interpretation of the text, a better understanding of Luke may be of benefit. Many early Christian writers refer to Luke as a physician (which is the reason he is to this day considered the patron of doctors). Interestingly, "scholars have argued that Luke might have been born a slave. It was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician" (Saint Luke, 2008). Yet, other scholars contradict such an idea: "Plummer suggests that he may have studied medicine at the famous school of Tarsus, the rival of Alexandria and Athens, and possibly met St. Paul there" (Knight, 2011). Nonetheless, St. Paul (Colossians 4:14), the early Church historian Eusebius, St. Jerome, and St. Irenaeus all state that St. Luke was skilled in the practice of medicine.

We also know something of his origins. Eusebius states that Luke the Evangelist had Greek roots and hailed from Syria. St. Paul excludes him from the circle of the circumcised (which means he was not a Jew). All indications point to Luke's having been a Gentile -- which would help explain why "Luke's gospel shows special sensitivity to evangelizing Gentiles" (Saint Luke, 2008). It is, of course, through Luke that we learn of the Good Samaritan, the excellent faith of "Gentiles such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27), and the leper who returned to Jesus to give thanks while the other nine did not. In this way, one can argue that Luke was appealing to the character of his own people, who had not been chosen by God, but had seen the signs of Jesus and believed.

To know more of the details of the life of St. Luke, one must turn to the Acts of the Apostles, where Luke himself describes his travels with St. Paul, joining him… [END OF PREVIEW]

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