Acts, Book of

Acts, Book of

History of Interpretation

Acts is arguably one of the most complex books of Scripture for the interpreter because of its multiple dimensions. It is a narrative that locates the growth of the early Christian movement in particular geographical and historical settings. As Luke's second volume (Acts 1:1), it is unique in the NT in continuing the story of Jesus into the story of the church. But in it Luke also presents a portrait of the church designed to persuade (the purpose enunciated in Luke 1:1-4 covers both volumes), so students of Acts need to ask what Luke seeks to persuade his readers about. Hence, for a book so full of references to God and the Spirit, that necessarily involves asking about the book's theology. Because of its multiple layers, Acts has been a laboratory for most types of critical study, although many are theologically disappointing.

The earliest full commentary on Acts is that of John Chrysostom, a series of sermons displaying a strong concern to relate Acts to Christian life and faith in his day—at times to the exclusion of the historical focus of twentieth-century scholarship. Similar concerns can be seen in the sixteenth-century commentaries of Luther and Calvin, who regard Acts as speaking to the issues of their day.

However, it took the nineteenth-century missionary movement for Acts to become seen as a resource for the church's mission in the contemporary world. Most notably, Roland Allen, a High Church Anglican, challenged the burgeoning missionary societies of the early twentieth century to adopt a strategy more like that portrayed of Paul in Acts, developing indigenous leadership for nascent churches and handing responsibility over to local leaders. It was only in the later twentieth century—with honorable exceptions—that Allen's plea began to be heard.

Mainstream academic study of Acts, meanwhile, was strongly focused on historical criticism. Three German scholars are pivotal: Dibelius, Conzelmann, and Haenchen. Their studies focus on Luke's theology, in the sense that they believe that Luke put his own stamp on his material, in both his selection and shaping of the stories. They combine studying Acts by using the tools of redaction criticism with a thoroughgoing historical skepticism, assuming that many parts of the story did not take place as Luke described them. In large measure, they do so because they believe that Luke was reinterpreting early Christian history to come to terms with the "delay of the parousia"—the collapse of the expectation that Jesus would return soon.

Conzelmann, in particular, develops a view of Luke-Acts that centers on a threefold division of time into the time before Jesus' coming, the time of his ministry (called "the middle of time," the German title of his seminal work The Theology of St. Luke), and the time of the church; he sees this threefold division in Luke 16:16. Conzelmann proposes that Luke replaced the imminent expectation of the earliest generation with a theological interpretation of continuing history, which Conzelmann calls "salvation history" (German: Heilsgeschichte), including moving the return of Jesus into the remote future.

The debate over the "delay of the parousia" dominated Lukan scholarship for most of the second half of the twentieth century, with the result that historical questions were foreground in debate and theological questions tended to be sidelined. Thus, O'Neill's The Theology of Acts is subtitled In Its Historical Setting; it begins with a chapter on the date of Acts, and then reads the book against O'Neill's reconstructed historical setting in the first third of the second century. A shining exception to this trend is Marshall, Luke, who argues cogently that salvation is a, if not the, central theme of Luke-Acts.

In the 1980s narrative criticism grew in prominence, applied to Luke-Acts first by Johnson and later by Tannehill. Their work reset the agenda of Acts scholarship and led to more theological readings of Acts. Notably, narrative criticism's emphasis on studying the "final form" of texts, rather than hypothetical sources, means that Acts is seen holistically. Of course, analyzing Luke's presentation in Acts does not compel a scholar to agree with Luke's view (e.g., Tannehill [3] disagrees with what he understands to be Luke's view, that Christians should call Jewish people to become followers of Jesus). But it does produce a "level playing field," where scholars can discuss together what Luke's theology is. Thus, in more recent times there are stimulating and helpful studies of the theology of Acts (not all from a narrative-critical perspective).

The Message of Acts

There are numerous proposals for the theological center of Acts; in particular, "salvation" is widely seen as Luke's major theme across his two volumes (Marshall, Historian; Green 19-22). Here is a typical statement: "Salvation is the principal theme of Acts, its narrative centrally concerned with the realization of God's purposes to bring salvation in its fullness to all people" (Green 19). Although salvation is very important, and the book of Acts is the story of salvation spreading "to the ends of the earth" (1:8), a careful reading shows that God is the one who drives the story along and takes the initiatives that lead to the expansion of the believing community. And so we consider the message of Acts from this perspective.

In Acts, God is purposeful. Luke presents the church's growth as fulfilling Scripture, with a particular stress on Isaiah and the Psalms (e.g., "fulfillment" language is prominent in the key speech in Acts 13:27, 29, 33-35, 41, citing Psalms, Isaiah, and Habakkuk; see Pao). God is now bringing about these purposes (Peterson; Squires), manages events to his own ends, and directs his servants to be in the right place at the right time to bring others to know God (e.g., 8:26, 29, 39).

Acts portrays God as a missionary God, seeking first Jewish people to come to know him through Jesus the Messiah, and then drawing in Gentiles too, carrying out the program of 1:8. In the earlier sections Acts focuses on evangelism among Jews (e.g., 2:5-11; 3:11-26), and throughout the book the mission goes to Jewish people first, whether in synagogue (e.g., 17:1-3; 18:4) or a (Jewish) place of prayer (16:13-16). At the end, Paul is seeking to persuade Jewish people in Rome to become followers of Jesus (Acts 28:17-23). This shows that Acts should not be read as the story of God abandoning the Jewish people, but rather as God redefining the nature of his people (Jervell, esp. 18-25, 34-43).

As the book progresses, God pushes the believing community out among the Gentiles. At crucial points, God intervenes to direct the believers. Thus, it is God's initiative that creates and progresses Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26, 29)—a man whose castration would not permit him to take a full part in Jewish worship (Deut. 23:1). God engineers Peter's meeting with the Roman centurion Cornelius, sending an angel to Cornelius's house, using a vision to overcome Peter's reluctance to go to the home of a Gentile, and speaking by the Spirit to Peter (10:1-8, 9-16, 17-21). Then God pours the Spirit on the Gentiles, thus overcoming any outstanding hesitancy from both Peter and the Jerusalem believers (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18). When Barnabas and Saul leave the pioneering Jew-Gentile community in Antioch, it is God who calls them to do this by the Spirit (13:1-3, presumably speaking through a prophet in the gathering). When Paul and his colleagues cannot find the right way to go, God is actively preventing them from going in wrong directions (16:6-8), and God then communicates the right direction by a vision (16:9-10). Again and again Acts highlights that the redefinition of God's people is happening at God's initiative.

God acts and calls people through a number of agents: angels (10:3-6), the Spirit (8:29), people (Peter, Stephen, Philip, and Paul are particularly prominent), and his word, which can be almost personified (over fifty times Acts uses "the word, " frequently qualified by "of the Lord/God," esp. in Acts 6:7; 8:14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:49; 19:10, 20).

In all of this activity God is a saving God (Green 19-22; Marshall, Historian), a wide-ranging category that includes physical healing (3:1-10 with 4:9; 14:9), reconciliation with God (2:21, 40, 47), forgiveness (5:31), and deliverance from a storm (27:20, 31). Throughout, God is the one who accomplishes these things, through Jesus (2:22; 10:38; 15:11; 16:31), who is the Savior (5:31; 13:23). Humans receive salvation by responding to the message in believing trust in Jesus (2:44; 3:16; 14:9; 16:31-32, 34) expressed in repentance and water baptism (2:38; 16:33; 22:16), resulting in becoming part of the believing community (2:39-42). Acts stresses the believers' unity (e.g., the use of homothymadon, "with one accord," in Acts 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 15:25).

The believing community is presented warts and all, to the extent that believers can be a barrier, or at least resistant, to the new moves God is making. Thus, the Jerusalem believers criticize Peter for visiting Cornelius (11:2) and are persuaded otherwise only because they see that God is acting (11:18). The argument does not go away, for more Judean believers argue that circumcision and torah-observance are necessary for salvation (15:1, 5). When this question is debated, there is repeated emphasis on what God is doing, to make clear that this is no human project (15:7-11, 12, 14-19).

So where does Jesus fit into this development? While he is not entirely absent from the narrative (e.g., 9:34), in Acts we generally hear about Jesus rather than encounter him acting personally. Jesus is the center of the apostolic preaching, especially his resurrection (2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40-41; 13:30, 34, 37; 17:3, 31), which is stressed rather more than his death. Because of his resurrection and exaltation, Jesus is able to pour out the Spirit (2:32-33). Indeed, his resurrection shows that Jesus is truly Israel's Messiah and Lord (2:36), the fulfiller of Israel's hopes and God's promises (13:32-33), and it is on the basis of his resurrection that people are summoned to repentance and faith (2:38; 17:30-31).

The question of responsibility for the death of Jesus in Acts is strongly debated, particularly because of Sanders's claim that Luke holds the Jews responsible as a race. Though there are passages in which the apostles hold "you" responsible for Jesus' crucifixion, albeit in ignorance (e.g., 2:23, 36; 3:13-15, 17; 4:10), these passages are always found in and around Jerusalem locations. By contrast, when the evangelists speak to Jews from outside Jerusalem, it is "they" (the Jerusalemite Jews and their leaders) who are responsible for the death of Jesus (10:39; 13:27-29). Luke's view becomes clear in Acts 4:27, where a combination of Herod, the Gentiles, and the Jewish people of the city are responsible for the death of Jesus. Thus Luke hints not only that God's salvation reaches to the whole world, but also that the whole world needs God to save them (on this issue, see Weatherly, esp. ch. 2).

In Acts, God is encountered personally most frequently by the Holy Spirit—when people turn to God, they receive the Spirit (2:38, a programmatic verse whose emphasis recurs in Acts 9:17; 10:43-44; 11:15-17; 15:8; 19:1-7). Considerable debate exists over the nature of the Spirit's ministry in Acts, especially whether the Spirit exclusively brings empowerment for mission. Menzies argues that a soteriological ministry of the Spirit is a Pauline emphasis not found in Luke-Acts. Others assert that the Spirit also brings people into the experience of salvation and transforms them ethically (Dunn; Turner, Power—both agreeing with Menzies that the empowerment for witness theme is the major emphasis of Luke's pneumatology, but denying that it is exclusively so). That the Spirit's work likely includes more than witness is shown by, for example, the lack of any emphasis on witness among the Samaritan converts after they receive the Spirit (8:14-24)—indeed, Peter and John are the ones who preach in the other Samaritan villages (8:25).

A second important issue is whether the Spirit comes "once and for all" to believers at conversion or whether there is a subsequent "gateway" experience (frequently called "baptism in the Holy Spirit" by today's writers, although this is not a phrase found in the NT; on the wider issue, see the helpful compact discussion in Turner, Baptism). Pentecostal scholars appeal to accounts such as the delay in the Samaritan believers receiving the Spirit (8:14-17; Menzies 204-13), or the Ephesian "disciples" who had not heard of the Spirit (19:2; Menzies 218-25). However, others note the uniqueness of the Samaritan situation, where the gospel was reaching new territory (Turner, Power, 360-75), and the fact that Paul baptizes the Ephesian dozen in water in the name of Jesus (19:5), suggesting that previously they were not Christians, but disciples of John the Baptizer (19:3-4; Turner, Power, 388-97).

Acts in the Biblical Canon

Acts is properly to be read as the continuation of Luke's Gospel, and many seeds planted in the Gospel come to fruition in Acts. Thus, the hints of Gentile inclusion found in the infancy narratives (e.g., Luke 2:32) become a major theme in Acts. The new exodus motifs found in Luke, notably the use of Isa. 40-55 (e.g., Luke 3:4-6; see Pao, esp. ch. 2; Turner, Power, 244-50), are fully developed in the renewal and restoration of Israel in Acts (Pao, ch. 4), which now becomes a worldwide, ethnically inclusive community (note the echo of Isa. 49:6 in the key verses Acts 1:8; 13:47). The Lukan emphasis on the Spirit as the power of Jesus' ministry (Luke 1:35; 3:16, 21-22; 4:1 [twice], 14, 18; 10:21; 11:13) leads to Jesus promising the Spirit's power for the apostles' ministry (Luke 12:12; 24:49; Acts 1:5), and to the Spirit's coming to equip the believers for mission and ministry (Acts 2:1-4, 16-21, 38; etc.). To read Acts apart from Luke is to impoverish and badly skew one's reading of Acts (see Walton; Wenham and Walton, chs. 11, 13).

Reading Luke and Acts together, on the other hand, can explain some puzzles. Such an approach is suggestive for Luke's apparently diminished emphasis on the death of Jesus in Acts, for Luke has told this story clearly in his Gospel and, while writing Acts, can count it as read and known. The clear statement of Acts 20:28, seeing the blood of Jesus as "obtaining" his people, is the tip of a large iceberg of understanding of Jesus' crucifixion found in the Gospel, notably in Luke 23 (Wenham and Walton 235).

As Wall (26-32) highlights, the canonical location of Acts, sandwiched between the fourfold Gospel and the Epistles, also suggests a double relationship with the four Gospels on the one hand, and the Epistles, especially the Pauline Epistles, on the other. This location highlights the uniqueness of Acts within the canon, as telling the story of the earliest believers as a continuation of the story of Jesus, and as a preparation for reading the Epistles. Without Acts, the canon would provide a diminished understanding of both the divine power behind mission and the divine passion for mission, which together drove the growth of the earliest communities. Without Acts, we would lack models of how mission works out in different situations, for we would be left trying to reconstruct events from the even more fragmentary accounts in the Epistles. Without Acts, we would find it much harder to envisage a framework for the writing and events of the Pauline Epistles (although it must be said that it is hardly easy with Acts!). Equally, Acts provides insight into the varieties within earliest Christianity, such as in the Jerusalem meeting (15:6-29), which shows up tensions between believers who emphasize their Jewishness and those wanting to be open to Gentiles—tensions that can also be seen in the Pauline corpus (e.g., Galatians, Romans, Ephesians) and elsewhere (e.g., the Jewishness of James or Hebrews), but whose landscape would be harder to reconstruct without Acts.

Theological Significance of Acts

A major issue in interpreting Acts is the extent to which it is prescriptive, saying how the church is always meant to be, or descriptive, telling us how the church was at this particular period (Marshall, Acts, 101-5). One helpful tool in deciding case by case about this issue is to consider how far Luke presents clear patterns of events. For example, 2:38-42 presents a fivefold pattern of what it means to become a Christian, involving repentance from sin, water baptism, receiving forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit, and joining the renewed people of God. This pattern keeps reappearing in Acts, not always in the same sequence as in Acts 2:38-42, but with the same elements present (e.g., 8:12-17; 10:44-48; 19:1-20). Using this "patterning" tool, we may identify three themes that address the theology and practice of today's churches.

First, Acts compels us to ask, and keep asking, what God is doing in our churches and our lives. At times the voice of God prevents believers from going the wrong way (e.g., 16:6-8), and at other times the divine call seems surprising (e.g., 8:26, taking Philip away from a growing new congregation in Samaria and to the desert). As we have seen, at times the church's instincts are misguided (e.g., 11:2; 15:1, 5).

The radical theocentricity of Acts highlights the constant temptation to anthropocentricity today, whether seen in advertising that panders to human self-centeredness or "tribalism" that will not act outside the parameters of our community. In practice, churches—and theologians—find it all too easy to believe that they need not pay attention to asking what God is doing, and therefore fall into the dangers of making God in their own image and limiting what they consider he can do to the parameters of their experience. Acts calls us to real and continuing openness to God and his agenda, and highlights the prayerfulness of the believing community, for that is how their dependence on God is expressed and experienced (e.g., 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 6:4; 9:40; 10:9; 12:5; 13:1-3; 14:23; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5; 28:8).

Second, Acts encourages an expectation that God will act and speak in order to bring people to himself. The emphasis on the expansion of the believing community "to the ends of the earth" (1:8) shows this theme on a large scale, and numerous individual incidents show God reaching out to people. Among Jews, most notably God touches the life of Saul, the persecutor of the church, and turns him round to become a passionate advocate of the faith that he attacked (9:1-22). Among Gentiles, God reaches beyond the bounds of the believing community by using angels (10:1-6) or guiding the missionaries into unexpected places (16:6-10)—and in the case of the journey to Philippi, they find themselves in prison when they follow this clear divine leading (16:19-24), a sign that to follow the divine voice and participate in the divine mission is far from an easy path. In this expansion God uses a variety of agents—most prominently the Spirit, as we noted above, but also angelic and human agents.

Western churches and theological thinkers today can easily have a low expectation that God actively seeks to draw people to himself, whereas such expectation can be stronger and fuller in parts of our world where the church is growing. Acts offers a challenge and encouragement that God truly is active in his world and has not abandoned it to its own devices in deistic fashion. Acts thus invites the construction of a theo-logy that sees God as its subject and not merely its passive object. Recent developments in pneumatological thought suggest that this emphasis is in the process of being recognized.

Third, the evangelistic speeches in Acts focus on the resurrection of Jesus, suggesting a corrective to today's evangelistic message and preaching. The speeches highlight the fact and implications of the resurrection of Jesus. A case that he has been raised from the dead is rarely offered. Most often, the evangelists are interested in communicating that it is God who has raised Jesus—the verbs used, egeirō and anistēmi, are found with God as their subject (e.g., 2:24; 17:31)—and that God's action in raising Jesus confirms Jesus' identity as Israel's Messiah and the world's Lord and judge (e.g., 2:36; 17:31). It is because of who Jesus is now known to be, postresurrection, that people are summoned to repent and turn to God (e.g., 2:38; 17:30).

This emphasis contrasts with the near-exclusive emphasis found in much of today's evangelistic preaching and christological thinking on the death of Jesus. While the cross is by no means unimportant to the evangelists of Acts, it is not the sole focus of their preaching and reflection in a way that 1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:2 might suggest, if read in isolation from the rest of that letter and the NT. Resurrection from the dead is by no means easy to proclaim to skeptical, scientifically trained, Western ears, but today's Westerners, like their contemporaries in the east and south, are increasingly open to "spiritual" dimensions to reality, and Acts encourages today's evangelists to give greater attention to the resurrection of Jesus in their proclamation. It also invites christological reflection that sees the exaltation of Jesus, in his resurrection and ascension, as a key factor in understanding who he truly is, both then and now.


Allen, R. Missionary Methods. Robert Scott, 1912; Conzelmann, H. The Theology of St. Luke. Faber & Faber, 1960; Dibelius, M. Studies in the Acts of the Apostles. SCM, 1956; Dunn, J. D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. SCM/Westminster, 1970; Green, J. "Acts of the Apostles." Pages 7-24 in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. R. P. Martin and P. Davids. InterVarsity, 1997; Haenchen, E. The Acts of the Apostles, trans. R. M. Wilson. Blackwell, 1971; Jervell, J. The Theology of the Acts of the Apostles. Cambridge University Press, 1996; Johnson, L. T. The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts. SBLDS 39. Scholars Press, 1977; Marshall, I. H. The Acts of the Apostles. NTG. JSOT, 1992; idem. Luke. Paternoster, 1970; Menzies, R. Empowered for Witness. JPTSup 6. Sheffield Academic Press, 1994; O'Neill, J. C. The Theology of Acts in Its Historical Setting. SPCK, 1961; Pao, D. Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus. Baker, 2002; Peterson, D. "The Motif of Fulfilment and the Purpose of Luke-Acts." Pages 83-104 in The Book of Acts in Its Ancient Literary Setting, ed. B. Winter and A. Clarke. A1CS 1. Paternoster/Eerdmans, 1993; Sanders, J. T. The Jews in Luke-Acts. SCM, 1987; Squires, J. T. "The Plan of God in the Acts of the Apostles." Pages 19-39 in Witness to the Gospel, ed. I. H. Marshall and D. Peterson. Eerdmans, 1998; Tannehill, R. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts. Vol. 2 of Foundations and Facets. Fortress, 1990; Turner, M. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Grove, 2000; idem. Power from on High. JPTSup 9. Sheffield Academic Press, 1996; Wall, R. "The Acts of the Apostles." NIB 10:1-368; Walton, S. "Where Does the Beginning of Acts End?" Pages 448-67 in The Unity of Luke-Acts, ed. J. Verheyden. BETL 142.Peeters, 1999; Weatherly, J. Jewish Responsibility for the Death of Jesus in Luke-Acts. JSNTSup 106. Sheffield Academic Press, 1994; Wenham, D., and S. Walton. A Guide to the Gospels and Acts. Vol. 1 of Exploring the New Testament. SPCK/InterVarsity, 2001.

Steve Walton



See Art, the Bible and; Formalism; Literary Criticism; Music, the Bible and; Western Literature, the Bible and

African Biblical Interpretation

African Biblical Interpretation

For most of the first two millennia of Christian history, the geographical center of Christianity has been the northern hemisphere. During this century a radical shift has been taking place. Most of the Western world is now secularized, with church membership shrinking drastically and Christian influence on the wane. The situation in the southern hemisphere, and particularly in Africa, is quite different. The churches have grown at an amazing rate such that there are now almost a half a billion Christians on the continent. As Christians in Africa have taken responsibility for the many dimensions of their common life, there has emerged a vibrant biblical scholarship, most of which is little known outside of Africa.

Patristic Exegesis

Biblical scholarship is not a new thing on the African continent. Some of the most important biblical exegetes from the patristic period lived and worked on African soil. "African fathers" like Origen and Augustine are considered an important memory for modern African Christians to reclaim. Although the ancient North African and Nubian churches are now gone, the ancient Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches continue to thrive in difficult circumstances. More work is needed to help us to understand this tradition of exegesis.

Missionary Exegesis

In the modern period Western missionaries brought Christianity to Africa. This missionary heritage is an ambiguous reality for modern Africans. Although grateful for those who sacrificed much to carry the gospel message, most Africans are also suspicious of the Western cultural baggage, which informed missionary readings of Scripture. One cannot spend many days in Africa before one hears this story: "When the white men came, they told us that our way of praying was wrong—one should not pray with one's eyes open but with one's eyes closed. So we closed our eyes to pray. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible but the white man had the land." The missionary who came with the Bible was also the interpreter of the Bible. Many African clergy and biblical scholars today (at least from the so-called "mainline" or "mission-founded" churches) were trained by white teachers who, to one degree or another, have used Western methods of exegesis and engaged the text with Western presuppositions. Many of the Bible versions available in African languages were translated by missionaries with an inadequate grasp of African languages and cultures. Most textbooks in African theological colleges and universities today were written in the West and reflect those needs and interests. Few African interpreters consider this "missionary" exegesis to be adequate.

White South African Exegesis

White South African exegetes have tended to concentrate on text-critical and literary-aesthetic issues. The racist apartheid system, which formed the basis of South African society for much of the twentieth century, was sometimes defended by biblical interpreters (Smit). There is now, however, a growing community of biblical scholars in the white community in South Africa who are supportive of exegesis that is engaged in the struggle for what Gerald West calls "survival, liberation and life" (West, Academy, 114).

Liberation Exegesis in South Africa

Sharing much in common with American black theology and Latin American liberation theology, liberation exegesis in South Africa has found its primary motivation in employing the Bible as a liberating tool. Black biblical scholars living under apartheid could not ignore the fact that they lived within an oppressive system. Some (Boesak; Tutu) have focused on the text itself, finding liberative themes such as the story of the exodus and Jesus' concern for the poor. Others (Mosala) have looked behind the text for the ideology that produced it, claiming that the Bible and its readers need to be liberated from the Bible before it can be a liberative tool (cf. West, Hermeneutics).

Biblical Exegesis in Independent Africa

A growing corpus of biblical interpretation is emerging in independent sub-Saharan Africa. Little of this literature is satisfied with the historical-critical paradigm that tries to sever exegesis from the hermeneutical task. While often using Western exegetical tools, African readers always make the attempt to relate the text to their contemporary situation. The context of the reader (the world "in front of" the text) tends to be a higher priority than the context of the text (the world "behind" the text).

Actually, this individualistic way of stating the issue needs correction. No African would consider the individual alone as the interpreter. John Mbiti sums up the worldview of the African with the words "I am, because we are" (Mbiti, Religions, 108). The dialogue, therefore, is not so much between reader and text as between community and text. The African reader of the text cannot be separated from her or his context in the community.

Biblical interpretation in sub-Saharan Africa is done in the context of mission, culture, suffering, and faith. African Christians are aware of having been "evangelized," of having received the gospel message from the West. This gospel came in a package that included Western church structures (and denominational divisions) and assumptions. In short, even the best missionary endeavors had an imperialistic dimension. It has been a concern of African interpretation to discern the difference between the gospel and Western cultural imposition. To take a notoriously difficult example, when missionaries came to Africa, some condemned polygamy as un-Christian and unbiblical. When the Bible was translated into African languages, it did not escape notice that many of the great heroes of the faith had more than one wife. Examples of this kind can be multiplied. One of the first attempts to deal with the "missionary" context was Mbiti's Cambridge doctoral thesis published as New Testament Eschatology in an

African Background. The original title "Christian Eschatology in Relation to Evangelisation of Tribal Africa" reveals how crucial the mission context is for African interpretation (cf. Okure,"Parables").

Closely related is the reality that African interpretation is done within the context of African culture. Exegesis comparing African cultural practices and ideas with similarities found in Scripture makes up the largest part of the growing corpus of published African exegesis (LeMarquand, "Bibliography"). It has long been noted that there are similarities between the biblical world and the African world. African OT scholars in particular have highlighted the continuity, as well as the discontinuity, between the two worlds. On the basis of linguistic and cultural similarities, a few have tried to trace genealogical relationships between the Bible and Africa. Most are content to see analogical relationships between these cultures and to mine the similarities in order to illumine the text or find biblical principles for dealing with analogous issues in the modern African context. Some African scholars argue that finding parallels between biblical and African traditions serves an apologetic purpose: if the biblical world is similar to our African world, then the Bible must be a good thing! Others have a more kerygmatic approach, seeing the purpose of comparison in the heuristic value that the elucidation of similarities has for helping African readers to understand the text: moving from African tradition (the known) to a biblical text (the unknown) enables biblical understanding.

Examples of this comparative approach abound. For example, does the Kikuyu taboo on counting help us to understand the guilt that, according to 2 Sam. 24:1-10, David felt after conducting a census (Githuku), or does the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5 help African church leaders to deal with problems of spirit-possession in Africa today (Avotri)? A major problem felt by interpreters in the West—the presence in the biblical text of stories of miraculous occurrences—is not considered to be an interpretative problem by most African interpreters. The latter usually assume belief in the unseen world and its effects on the visible world (LeMarquand, "Relevance").

Suffering is pervasive in modern Africa. War, hunger, exploitation, and tyranny cannot be bracketed out of interpretation. In an eloquent plea for a "relevant" exegesis, Nigerian scholar Teresa Okure argues that exegesis without hermeneutics is useless. To urge the exegetical community never to forget that exegesis must always be the servant of the community, she appeals to the Nigerian proverb that says, "The legs of the bird that flies in the air always point to the ground" (Okure,"Parables"). The exegete cannot ignore human need.

In the West, scholarship has been done primarily within the academy. In the interest of "objectivity," critical methods are used to uncover the meaning of the text in its original context. The faith stance of the reader is considered to be irrelevant (or problematic) in the "unbiased" search for truth. In Africa, there is more of an attempt to acknowledge the place of the faith of the biblical scholar. Almost all exegesis in Africa is "confessional" and written for the edification of the believing community. The meetings of the Pan-Africa Association of Catholic Exegetes, for example, open with prayer and include the daily celebration of the Eucharist on their agenda. Papers are discussed not only in the light of critical exegetical methods and relevance to the African situation, but also in the light of the regula fidei.

Problems and Emerging Concerns

The most pressing problems for African biblical exegesis are practical. There is rarely enough money for African scholars, seminaries, and universities to buy books. Most scholars are writing in their second or third language. Publishing houses in Africa have a small market for scholarly books. War, political unrest, and lack of clean water play havoc with the running of theological institutions.

On the other hand, biblical studies in Africa is beginning to garner attention, both inside and outside of the continent. The Society of Biblical Literature has encouraged the interaction of scholars from the global community, including Africa. The African Journal of Biblical Studies (published in Nigeria), The Bulletin for Old Testament Studies in Africa (published in Norway), and a number of helpful monographs and collections of essays by African scholars provide vehicles for disseminating biblical scholarship. The global exegetical community can no longer ignore African scholarship. African contributions provide enriching biblical readings for scholarship and for the body of Christ.

Within the exegetical community in Africa are a number of emerging concerns (Dube): Can the liberationist perspective from South Africa and the more culture-focused questions of the rest of the continent be mutually beneficial? How can the readings of "ordinary" or "popular" readers enrich scholarship? How can scholarship best be a help to the Christian community? Will postcolonial models of interpretation be of benefit?

Beneath these readings from Africa, a unifying theological issue can be discerned. The search for common ground between the Bible and African culture raises the issue of general revelation. In the face of African colonial and missionary history, which often tended to vilify African cultural and religious practices, many contemporary African theologians and Bible scholars are concerned to show that God had not abandoned Africa before the missionaries came. Just as God was at work in the cultures of the Bible, so he was at work in Africa. Some on the more radical side have even suggested that African culture should be considered "the OT" for Africans, God's special revelation for African peoples (see the essays in Mukonyora, Cox, and Verstraelen). Most have not taken this road, however. Several African scholars appeal to the story of Paul's preaching in Athens as a model (Acts 17:16-34). In this text Paul begins his preaching from the culture of Athens, showing how God was close to all people and known to all, at least to some limited degree. Likewise, Africans can be assured that the God they had known and worshipped for millennia was not an evil God, but the same God who has now fully manifested himself in Jesus Christ. The same God who in the past provided rain, food, children, and health in response to the prayers of African peoples has now been fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Certainly there is discontinuity between African religion and the biblical revelation since all cultures (and Africans are quick to point out that this includes Western cultures) participate in the fall. Biblical revelation is unique and necessary but not completely new. God's work in Christ is seen as a completion of God's kindness, which was always known in African societies, in which God did not leave himself without a witness (Acts 14:17).

See also Augustine; Culture and Hermeneutics; Liberation Theologies and Hermeneutics


Avotri, S. "The Vernacularization of Scripture and African Beliefs: The Story of the Gerasene Demoniac among the Ewe of West Africa." Pages 292-310 in The Bible in Africa, ed. G. West and M. Dube. Brill, 2000; Boesak, A. "The Relationship between Text and Situation, Reconciliation and Liberation, in Black Theology." Voices from the Third World 2, no. 1 (1979): 30-40; Dickson, K. "Continuity and Discontinuity between the Old Testament and African Thought and

Life." Pages 95-108 in African Theology en Route, ed. K. Appiah-Kubi and S. Torres. Orbis, 1979; Dube, M. Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Chalice, 2000; Githuku, S. "Taboos on Counting." Pages 113-17 in Interpreting the Old Testament in Africa, ed. M. Getui, K. Holter, and V. Zinkuratire. Peter Lang, 2001; LeMarquand, G. "A Bibliography of the Bible in Africa." Pages 631-800 in The Bible in Africa; idem. "An Issue of Relevance: A Comparative Study of the Story of the Bleeding Woman (Mk 5:25-34; Mt 9:20-22; Lk 8:43-48) in North Atlantic and African Contexts." Th.D. diss., Wycliffe College/University of Toronto, 2002; Mbiti, J. African Religions and Philosophy. Heinemann, 1969; idem. New Testament Eschatology in an African Background. Oxford University Press, 1971; Mosala, I. Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa. Eerdmans, 1989; Mukonyora, I., J. L. Cox, and F. J. Verstraelen, eds. "Rewriting" the Bible: The Real Issues. Mambo, 1993; Okure, T. "'I Will Open My Mouth in Parables' (Matt 13.35): A Case for a Gospel-Based Biblical Hermeneutic." NTS 46 (2000): 445-63; idem. The Johannine Approach to Mission. Mohr/Siebeck, 1988; Smit, D. "The Ethics of Interpretation—and South Africa." Scriptura 33 (1990): 29-43; Tutu, D. "Some African Insights and the Old Testament." JTSA 1 (1972): 16-22; West, G. The Academy of the Poor. Sheffield Academic Press, 1999; idem. Biblical Hermeneutics of Liberation. Cluster, 1991.

Grant LeMarquand

Alexandrian Interpretation

Alexandrian Interpretation

See Allegory; Hermeneutics; Jesus Christ, Doctrine of; Literal Sense; Patristic Biblical Interpretation



Allegory is primarily a method of reading a text by assuming that its literal sense conceals a hidden meaning, to be deciphered by using a particular hermeneutical key. In a secondary sense, the word "ldquo; allegory" is also used to refer to a type of literature that is expressly intended to be read in this nonliteral way. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a well-known example of allegorical literature, but it is doubtful whether any part of the Bible can be regarded as such. The parables of Jesus come closest, but they are not allegories in the true sense. The apostle Paul actually used the word allegoria, but arguably this was to describe what would nowadays be called "ldquo; typology" (Gal. 4:24). The difference between typology and allegory is that the former attaches additional meaning to a text that is accepted as having a valid meaning in the "ldquo; literal" sense, whereas the latter ignores the literal sense and may deny its usefulness altogether. Paul never questioned the historical accuracy of the Genesis accounts of Hagar and Sarah, even though he regarded them as having an additional, spiritual meaning as well. Other interpreters, however, were often embarrassed by anthropomorphic accounts of God in the Bible, and sought to explain away such language by saying that it is purely symbolic, with no literal meaning at all. It is in this latter sense that the word "ldquo; allegory" is generally used today.

Allegory began in the Hellenistic world as a means of interpreting the Homeric poems. The obvious immorality of so many of Homer's divine heroes could not be accepted as the basis for instructing children in morality, and so the commentators of Alexandria devised ways of interpreting it figuratively. The fornication of the gods was understood to picture cosmic events that could not easily be described. By the first century BCE it had become a standard hermeneutical tool, and was widely used by Philo of Alexandria (d. 50 CE), a Jew who wanted to demonstrate that the OT was the true source of Greek philosophy. Perhaps the most famous of his allegorical conjectures is the way in which he interpreted the meeting of Abraham with the three men (or angels) at the terebinths of Mamre (Gen. 18). Noting that Abraham addresses them in the singular as "Lord," Philo supposed that this indicates the presence of a triad in God. The Pythagoreans believed that three was the perfect number, and so finding this number in the divine being was part of demonstrating God's perfection.

Philo did not believe that God was three, of course, but later Christian exegetes took up what he said and used it as an indication that God had revealed himself, even in the OT, as a Trinity of persons. Such recycling reveals one of the major motives for allegory among early Christian exegetes, who needed to find a Christian meaning in every OT passage. Interestingly, their main hermeneutical principle was one still regarded by many people today as valid, that the clearer parts of Scripture must be used as the basis for determining the meaning of the harder parts. Allegory was not used to establish Christian doctrine, but merely to discover it in texts that, on the surface, appear to be talking about something else.

The locus classicus for Christian allegory was the Song of Solomon, which became and remained a favorite of medieval interpreters. It was universally agreed that the literal sense of the Song could not possibly be its "real" meaning, since God would not have inspired a tale of seduction. Given that assumption, and the belief that the Scriptures speak of Christ, those who interpreted the Song had to find a way of reading it that would reflect the relationship between Christ and his church. Two main strands of allegory sprang up: one stressed the identity of the woman as the church, and the other said that she stood for the soul of the individual believer. These strands were frequently interwoven, so the text could be applied to either the individual Christian or the body of the church, depending on what seemed most likely in the eyes of the interpreter.

The Song of Solomon rapidly established itself as one of the most popular OT books and inspired many great spiritual classics. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) preached eighty-six sermons on it, which are still in print and widely read today. In the nineteenth century the missionary Hudson Taylor wrote Union and Communion, which remains a staple devotional book among evangelical Christians. So deeply entrenched was the allegorical reading that when it was challenged, George Burrows actually wrote a commentary defending it (1859), which is also still in print! The power of this tradition is perhaps best seen in the popularity of a modern chorus: "He brought me to his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love" (Song 2:4 KJV). Almost everyone automatically interprets this as referring to Christ and the fellowship of his church, even though it apparently has nothing to do with either.

Theologically speaking, allegory relied on the belief that Scripture was an object analogous to the human body. Just as we are composed of flesh, soul, and spirit, so the Bible has a corresponding literal, moral, and spiritual sense. This was the teaching of Origen (ca. 185-254), which became the basis for all future interpretation. Origen believed that it was essential to get the literal sense right, because only it could provide the clues needed to interpret the other senses correctly. When the literal sense was clear, it did not need any elaboration, but when it was not, interpreters had to take recourse to one or both of the other possible meanings. Origen did not limit the use of this technique to obscure passages only, but applied it to any that lacked an immediate pastoral application. For instance, in Origen's view the episode of Jesus cleansing the temple, while it might have been historical, could not be taken literally as an example of appropriate Christian behavior, and so he allegorized it into the purification of the soul from all evil thoughts and desires. Given that the NT teaches that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, this interpretation seemed merely to be using a well-known spiritual principle as a means to interpret an otherwise inapplicable text.

It is often difficult to distinguish the moral from the spiritual sense of interpretation, but broadly speaking, the former deals with our life on earth and the latter with our relationship with God. Jacob's ladder, for example, was to be interpreted in the spiritual sense, because it was the way of ascent to God. Jacob (Israel) failed to climb it because he—the OT people of God—was asleep in God's house (Bethel). In this way, the story came to symbolize both the apostasy of Judaism and the spiritual blessing given to Christians, who are privileged to stand with the angels in the presence of God.

Allegorical interpretation is often fanciful but seldom harmful because it is generally based on theological truths that can be proved from the clearer parts of Scripture. Only at a late stage did it become the basis for certain doctrinal formulations, like those of Roman Catholic Mariology, which Protestants uniformly reject. In the late twentieth century, a new form of "postmodern" allegory made its appearance, based largely on psychological archetypes supposedly present in our subconscious. It differs from classical allegory partly because of its fixation with particular symbols (many of which are assumed to be sexual) but mainly because it is oriented toward a secular, humanist interpretation of reality and eschews the divine dimension of traditional theology. In some respects, and particularly in its interpretation of sexual symbolism, postmodern allegory is more rigid than its classical counterpart, which enables its proponents to claim that it is "scientific," though this has been disputed by its detractors, many of whom are theologians and biblical scholars.

In sum, allegory as a hermeneutical method has generally fallen into disfavor since the eighteenth century, but it can still be found at the popular level, and recent interest in literary criticism has revived interest in it, at least to a limited extent. It is even conceivable that allegory may be a valid way to interpret certain parts of the Bible, though it is most unlikely ever to become a general hermeneutical principle.

See also Medieval Biblical Interpretation; Parables; Patristic Biblical Interpretation; Spiritual Sense; Typology


Daniélou, J. From Shadows to Reality. Burns & Oates, 1960; Edwards, M. J. Origen against Plato. Ashgate, 2002; Fletcher, A. Allegory. Cornell University Press, 1964; Hanson, R. P. C. Allegory and Event. 2ded. Westminster John Knox, 2002; Whitman, J., ed. Interpretation and Allegory. Brill, 2000.

Gerald Bray



See Intertextuality; Relationship between the Testaments

Amos, Book of

Amos, Book of

The book of Amos is widely regarded as the earliest legacy of the "writing prophets" and as a paradigm of the prophetic genre. Amos's main theological contributions are the uncompromising censure of the social injustice prevalent in Israelite society in the eighth century BCE, together with the concomitant threat of a severe divine punishment.

History of Interpretation

"Precritical" Readings.

The members of the Qumran community were particularly interested in passages that illuminated their own beliefs and practices. These include Amos's reference to David's "fallen tent" (Amos 9:11), which was reinterpreted in line with their own missionary expectations (4QFlor 1.11-13), and the threat of Israel being exiled beyond Damascus (5:26-27), which was seen to justify the community's own existence "in the land of Damascus" (CD 7.14-21).

In the Talmud, a range of passages from the book of Amos is used for a variety of ceremonial, ethical, paraenetic, and apologetic purposes (see y. ʿAbod. Zar. 39a, 40 on Amos 4:4; b. Nid. 65 on 4:6; b. Moʿed Qat. 25b, 28b on 8:9; and b. Hul. 59b-60a on 3:8).

With Origen's commentary (see Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.36.2) having been lost, Jerome's work of ca. 406 CE is the earliest and most important commentary of the patristic period. Jerome offers primarily historical exegesis, paired with a christological understanding of the prophet's message. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodore of Cyrrhus, exponents of the Antioch school, while aware of the text's metaphorical and salvation-historical dimensions, similarly favored literal readings. Even Cyril of Alexandria, who was strongly indebted to Jerome, sought to avoid the excesses of mystical-allegorical interpretation associated with the school of Alexandria (Dassmann 340-44).

In the patristic writings, quotations from Amos were often restricted to the same dozen verses. For instance, 4:13 played an important role in dogmatic discussions about the creatureliness of the Holy Spirit (advocated by the Pneumatomachs), and 8:9 was frequently understood to refer to the darkness that came over the land at Jesus' death. Amos 5:18-20 was interpreted as referring to the horrors of the final judgment, 9:6 and 9:11-12 were understood christologically, and 8:11 was used by preachers to instill in their audiences a hunger and thirst for God's word (Dassmann 344-50).

Amos in Modern Perspectives.

Modern research on Amos shows the same trends as the scholarly investigation of the OT prophets generally. From the 1880s to the 1920s, scholars focused on the innovative impetus of the prophet, understood as an "ethical monotheist," whose task it was to announce the divine ethical imperative (Wellhausen; Duhm). This stress often went hand in glove with a search for Amos's ipsissima verba, the very words of the prophetic genius.

From the 1920s onward, form and tradition critics reversed this trend. They focused on the social and institutional settings (such as the Israelite cult or certain wisdom circles) of the speech forms used by Amos and understood the prophet largely as a transmitter of traditional theological convictions (Reventlow).

While these approaches were most concerned with the oral stages of the prophet's words, redaction criticism, which originated in the 1960s, attends to the book's literary prehistory and attempts to trace its stages of growth (Wolff). Contrary to their predecessors, redaction critics affirm the value of redactional contributions, rejecting pejorative labels such as "secondary" or "inauthentic" (Jeremias).

Simultaneously with the redaction-critical quest, other scholars have begun to focus on the text's final form, investigating the structure, poetics, or rhetorical nature of the book (Carroll R., Contexts; Möller, Prophet). Yet another recent trend is to concentrate on the contribution made by the reader in the generation of meaning.

The Message of Amos

As with every text, our appreciation of Amos's message depends on a variety of hermeneutical decisions. One of these is well illustrated by Brevard Childs's comment, made vis-à -vis redaction criticism's interests in the text's literary prehistory, that historical interpretation of the redactional layers of Amos often runs counter to the perspective demanded by the literature itself (408). Thus, while redaction critics might regard some material as later additions to the prophet's message, the book's canonical form invites a reading that treats the text as what it purports to be: the words of the eighth-century prophet Amos (1:1).

We should also recognize that the book is addressed to subsequent Judean readers, who would have seen Amos's struggle—and ultimate failure—to convince his Israelite audience of the imminent divine punishment in the light of the catastrophic events of 722 BCE. Read from this "past-fulfillment perspective," the book thus becomes a powerful warning, admonishing its readers not to repeat the stubborn attitude of their northern brothers and sisters, lest they too face the divine judgment.

An Outline of Amos's Message.

Following the superscription (1:1) and motto (1:2), a series of oracles threatens Israel's neighbors with a divine punishment for their atrocious war crimes (1:3-2:5). Yet, the series eventually culminates in a judgment speech against Israel (2:6-16). Amos thus singles out God's people as the prime target of punishment, which is presented as the divine response to Israel's oppression of the weak and marginalized.

The book then gives the ensuing debate between Amos and his complacent audience (5:14; 6:1-3; 9:10; Möller, Prophet), who reject his message of judgment, relying instead on their cherished theological traditions. Amos's reinterpretation and subversion of concepts like the exodus (2:9-10; 3:1-2; 9:7) and the day of Yahweh (5:18-20), his "hymns" extolling God's destructive powers (4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6), and the acerbic criticism of Israel's religious activities (4:4-5; 5:21-23)—these are all best understood from the polemical perspective demanded by this dialogical context.

Amos 3-6 contains five judgment speeches (chs. 3 and 4; 5:1-17, 18-27; ch. 6) introduced by "hear this word" or "woe to you who..." They reiterate the threat of a divine punishment, arguing that its annunciation was unavoidable (3:3-8). They also corroborate God's verdict (3:9-11; 4:6-12; 5:10-13) and underline the absurdity of the social injustice prevalent in Israelite society (6:12).

The visions in Amos 7:1-8:3—together with the embedded narrative report of Amos's clash with the priest Amaziah, which confirms the hostile attitude of Amos's audience (7:10-17)—underline that the punishment, while not desired by Amos, will not be averted (7:8; 8:2). Another judgment speech (8:4-14), introduced by "Hear this," repeats some of Amos's charges before giving way to various announcements of judgment.

In the final vision (9:1-4), this judgment is depicted as actually occurring, while 9:8-10, in line with the book's implied distinction between culprits and victims, identifies the "sinful kingdom" and "all the sinners among my people" as the prime targets of the divine punishment. An image of future restoration, agricultural abundance, and security in the land concludes the book (9:11-15).

Amos and the Canon

Amos and the Twelve.

Recent scholarship has stressed the unity of the Book of the Twelve. On this view, echoes such as that of Joel 3:16a (4:16a MT) in Amos 1:2 are understood as indicating a deliberate linkage and juxtaposition of the two writings. Yet from a canonical perspective Amos's message of judgment might just as fruitfully be compared with a passage like Hab. 1:12-17. While Amos readily depicts the divine judgment as an enemy invasion, Habakkuk, in raising the question of theodicy, offers an intriguing canonical counterperspective.

Amos and the OT.

Regardless of the historical relationship between the prophets and the Torah, in canonical perspective Amos is presented as presupposing some of Torah's stipulations (cf. 2:8 with Exod. 22:26; 3:12 with Exod. 22:13). As Douglas Stuart has shown (xxxi-xlii), Amos also frequently employs the language of the pentateuchal blessings and curses.

Amos in the NT.

The NT quotes Amos twice. In Acts 7:41-43, Amos 5:25-27 is understood as referring to the Israelites' idolatry during the wilderness period. In Acts 15:13-18, James applies the rebuilding of David's fallen tent (Amos 9:11-12) to God forming a new people for himself from among the Gentiles.

Some statements in the letter of James about the rich and their treatment of the poor (James 2:6-7; 5:1-6) also show a connection with Amos's message or, more likely, that of the OT prophets generally.

Amos and Theology

There has been a tendency to regard Amos as the harbinger of an inescapable and all-encompassing divine judgment. Others have rejected this construal of the prophet as the messenger of a nation-murdering God, arguing that the prophetic proclamation is instead aimed at repentance. A possible way out of this impasse is suggested by sociolinguistic approaches like rhetorical criticism and speech-act theory, which can help to demonstrate that the possibilities of inescapable doom and of mercy invoked by repentance both inhere in the use of prophetic judgment oracles (Möller, "Words").

Yet our construal of Amos's theology is also affected by judgments about the authenticity of passages such as the salvation oracle in Amos 9:11-15, which is frequently understood to contradict the prophet's uncompromising message of judgment. From a canonical perspective, the oracle does represent an important contribution to the book's theology. Since recent sociolinguistic approaches refute historical criticism's literalistic fixation on the supposed discrepancies of the surface text, they actually invite us to regard this salvation oracle as an integral part of the prophet's original message.

A "full" theological reading thus entails an appreciation not only of Amos's denunciation of the social injustice prevalent in Israelite society and the concomitant threat of an impending divine punishment. It also includes the prophet's vision of a restored people, who once again will fully enjoy life in the land. The oracles against foreign nations (Amos 1-2), furthermore, point to God's sovereign control of this world and his determination to hold the nations responsible for their oppressive and inhumane treatment of the weak and powerless.

In current theological discussion, Amos has been inspirational particularly for Latin American theologies of liberation. They have appropriated its message in an attempt to change existing political and economic structures and create a society marked by solidarity with the poor and "sacrificial service in the struggle to eradicate oppression" (Carroll R., Contexts, 19).

See also Prophecy and Prophets in the OT; Rhetorical Criticism


Carroll R., M. D. Contexts for Amos. JSOT, 1992; idem. Amos. Westminster John Knox, 2002; Childs, B. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Fortress, 1979; Dassmann, E. "Amos." RACSup 1 (2001): 334-50; Duhm, B. Die Theologie der Propheten. Marcus, 1875; Jeremias, J. The Book of Amos. Westminster John Knox, 1998; Möller, K. A Prophet in Debate. Sheffield Academic Press, 2003; idem. "Words of (In-) Evitable Certitude?" Pages 352-86 in After Pentecost, ed. C. Bartholomew et al. SHS. Zondervan/Paternoster, 2001; Reventlow, H. G. Das Amt des Propheten bei Amos. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962; Stuart, D. Hosea— Jonah. Word, 1987; Wellhausen, J. Die kleinen Propheten. 4th ed. De Gruyter, 1963; Wolff, H. W. Joel and Amos. Fortress, 1977.

Karl Möller

Anagogical Sense

Anagogical Sense

See Medieval Biblical Interpretation



At the very heart of Scripture there appear to stand contradictory axioms—what Frederick Ferréhas described as "the prima facie conflict between repeated Biblical warnings that God is wholly incommensurable with his creation and... explicit statements on the Deity's purposes, emotions, and characteristic modes of behaviour" (94). On the one hand, the Bible appears to imply that God must so utterly transcend finite created reality that statements with God as referent must mean something different from what they would if their referent belonged to the created order. On the other hand, the Bible clearly suggests that human creatures (operating with a creaturely vocabulary and conceptuality) can indeed refer to God and understand that to which they are referring on the basis of his Self-revelation to contingent and finite human minds. So how can the same terms refer to both domains?

When we affirm that the apostle Paul loves, Mother Teresa loves, and God loves, are we really saying the same thing of the transcendent and eternal God that we are saying of the apostle Paul or Mother Teresa? This poses a dilemma. If we assume that the word "love" is used univocally of humans and also God, we seem to risk the charge of anthropomorphic projection—treating God as if "he" were simply another human cr