Acts 15:1-35: Tradition and composition within a dramatic episode

Susan Mary Donegan, Fordham University


Exegetical problems arising from inconsistencies within Acts 15:1-35 and from comparison of this chapter with Galatians 2:1-10 have caused scholars to be interested in determining which aspects of this chapter are traditional and which are redactional. Several studies have been published touching upon this subject, but scholars have not come to a concensus about it. This paper makes a contribution to the effort--distinguishing between tradition and redaction both through a literary analysis of the pericope itself and through the analysis of Luke's material in Acts prior to Acts 15. The results of these analyses are then applied to major exegetical questions about the chapter. A study of Luke's method of composition (carried out in chapter 2) reveals a pattern by which the pericopes in Acts are arranged. This pattern directs the investigations of "Lukan preparation" in Acts 1-14. This investigation helps us to see Luke's themes and development, thus indicating where the Lukan hand has shaped the pericope under study. This study of Lukan preparation in conjunction with a more traditional analysis of the account itself (divided into five sections according to the natural divisions of the pericope) has indicated the following: (1) In dramatizing this meeting at Jerusalem Luke has spliced together the traditions of two separate meetings: one dealing with the question of Gentile circumcision (the meeting described in Galatians 2:1-10) and a later meeting which concerned itself with table-fellowship. (2) While the mention of Paul and Barnabas is surely a part of the tradition about the first meeting, it is Luke who has inserted their names after verse 5, where he turns to the second tradition. Their presence allows Luke to use them as representative of the Gentile mission. (3) Peter's speech, James' speech, and the letter containing the decision of the Jerusalem church are all Lukan compositions, although the scriptural citation and the decree are pieces of pre-Lukan Christian tradition. What Luke has accomplished through his splicing of traditions and his redactional additions is to emphasize that the early church's solutions to its problems kept the church united and preserved the continuity of salvation history from the Old Testament on through to the church of Luke's day. He informs us that the conversion of Gentiles is part of the escatological blessings which the followers of Jesus are enjoying today.

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Recommended Citation

Donegan, Susan Mary, "Acts 15:1-35: Tradition and composition within a dramatic episode" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9313759.