My Problem with Luke-Acts
I am having a problem with Luke-Acts. While it is undoubtedly true that Luke-Acts is a single literary unit, the fact of the matter is that they were split canonically — Luke is sandwiched between the gospels of Mark and John, while Acts functions as a spearhead of narrative jutting into the epistles. One might almost be tempted to call Acts’ canonical location “liminal.” It is this transitional character I am having troubles with.
The fact that Acts has this strange function in the New Testament canon that doesn’t coincide with its literary unity makes me wonder if I can push Acts even further back in my Intro class next semester. The class will start with some general introduction into the Hellenistic context of first century CE Palestine and then transition into analysis of the four gospels. I am tempted at this point to move into a discussion of letters in the ancient world and the genre of the epistle, followed by a day or so in the epistle of James.Only after James will I move to a discussion of Acts.
I think that Acts makes a great setup for a discussion of Paul and his letters, but I think discussing James after Paul is how the book has gotten a bad rap to begin with. By fronting James, the continuity between the its message and the gospels is stressed and I can compare James’ message to Jesus rather than to Paul. (N.b. I’m not advocating by this arrangement an early date for either the gospels or the letter of James. I’m looking for an order that works pedagogically rather than chronologically.)
On one level, this transition makes a whole lot of sense. I think it will give students a better narrative for discussing New Testament writings and perspectives. However, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m some how doing violence to the text of Luke-Acts by taking half a book that has already been displaced and moving it even further apart.