After Acts: Exploring The Lives And Legends Of The Apostles, by Bryan Litfin
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
For the most part, this book is immensely enjoyable to read. The author takes a subject of importance but also considerable challenge and discusses it in a way that will make many readers more familiar with the writings of the early supposed “Church Fathers,” and that will hopefully encourage a great deal more study about these interesting people . That is not to say that the author and I have similar views in certain areas of the legitimacy of the Hellenistic authorities cited here, but rather the author does a good job at bringing somewhat vague areas into greater clarity that will be of great aid to professed Christians in being able to better weigh and balance claims about what ‘tradition’ says. That itself is a worthy purpose, and makes this short book of less than 200 pages a genuine joy to read. Given the frequency that discussions about the extrabiblical travels and behavior and fates of the apostles appear in sermon messages and writings, this book does a good job at showing the intellectual scaffolding that exists in making claims about the apostles.
In terms of its contents, this book is organized in a very pleasing fashion, even if its contents are not as complete as one would wish. The book begins with a chronology that places the traditions in a temporal context and then a thoughtful explanation of the diverse sources, some of which are widely accessible as the ante- and post-Nicene Fathers, which determine what is meant by church ‘tradition’ in the jargon of pastors giving extrabiblical discussions in sermons. The author then has chapters about the traditions that have been recorded about Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Mary, Thomas James, the other apostles, Peter, and Paul. Included in these chapters are many familiar stories, such as the beheading of Paul or how it was that Peter, who was not even mentioned in Romans, came to be associated with that city at the end of his life–coming to the reasonable conclusion that his stay in the city may not have been for very long. Each chapter concludes with a report card that gives subjective but on the whole reasonable grades about various claims made about the person or people within the chapter. No claim gets an F, but several get a D, and quite a few claims are given A’s, so this is not an ungenerous judge.
A large part of what makes this author an enjoyable one to read, even where there are differences in perspective, is that the author manages to combine two very unusual qualities. On the one hand, the author is a genuine textual conservative who has a high degree of respect for the Bible. On the other hand, the author also has a great deal of thoughtful as a textual critic when dealing with the nonbiblical texts such as the writings of Papias, Clement, Irenaeus, and Eusebius, all of whom appear relatively frequently in this book. Ultimately, this is a book that deals with matters of possibility and probability rather than certainty, and the author does a good job of showing the critical nature of his task in assessing the likelihood of various accounts. The historiography on the whole is sound and the author comes off as appealing and easy-going in his judgment. One is correspondingly encouraged to be easy-going and generous in one’s own judgment of the author, which is makes for a pleasant reading experience all around.
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