Unnecessary Literary Difficulties
by Glenn Smith
In Colin Hemer’s landmark book, The Book of Acts In the Setting of Hellenistic History, he gives a great evaluation of Acts (and some of Luke) from the perspective of a trained historical scholar. Hemer does not write from the perspective of an apologist, but from that of a historian, trained to take their perspectives. He thus does not shy away from pointing out problems as he sees them, nor listing the strengths found in Luke’s writings. He does not tie his conclusions up in nice little packages with bows.
In the section on perspectives of the ancient historians, Hemer says the following:
A complex narrative must in fact strike a clear balance between the chronological and the thematic. Chronology must be given sufficient attention if the narrative is to unfold clearly, but the actual resolution of the tension will vary according to subject, circumstances and choice. The tracing of complicated and intermeshed causes sets a premium on clarity of arrangement . . . It may be a real test of literary skill to be clear to the reader, but the thing itself is evident and critically unimportant. The choice is not necessarily one between being chronological and being unhistorical, but may be between coherence and confusion.
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If, however, a narrative is episodic, woven for instance around the impact of a personality, it is not surprising if there is a much freer variation of order between versions. The factor of topical, and variable, arrangement is apparent in the Gospels, and equally in ancient biographers like Suetonius, Plutarch, or Tacitus . . .
Some problems of sequence are problems. Some are not. Notes of time should be evaluated rather than discounted. To treat pericopae in isolation is to take them out of context. . . . Where the context is temporally or logically sequential, the case differs from the merely topical and episodic. Acts has a stronger sequential thread than the Gospel of Luke, and we must recognize that. But we should not in either case make unnecessary difficulties for ourselves…
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