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Thanks to Zondervan Academic for the review copy!
Eckhard J. Schnabel is the Mary French Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Thanks to Zondervan, you can watch him explain why the study of Acts is important in this short video:
Clearly Schnabel cares about the study of the book of Acts. So much so that the manuscript for his volume on Acts in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series was twice as long as contracted (12). The result of his efforts is a commentary that is well over 1000 pages. In fact, it is so long, the print edition was shortened to make it manageable (it still outweighs the ESV Study Bible) and the excess is being made available in the Kindle edition (once it is published). Specifically, the full manuscript that will be published in the electronic edition will contain more In Depth sections focused on historical and geographical questions, more in depth discussion of lexical, grammatical, and historical matters, more extensive documentation of and interaction with the work of other Acts scholars, and longer Theology in Application sections (12).
As it stands, it is still a stellar volume. Schnabel’s hope for the volume is that the “explanation of Luke’s account of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of the life and growth of the church between Jerusalem and Rome encourages and challenges preachers and teachers, evangelists and missionaries, pastors and students, to learn:
- from the commitment of the first missionaries and church leaders
- from their courageous loyalty to Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and as the only Savior
- from their unchanging commitment to understand, apply, and teach the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, in the work of Jesus Christ, and in new revelation that helped them grasp the significance of Jesus Christ
- from their consistent devotion to the task of proclaiming the Word of God to Jews and Gentiles, to believers and unbelievers, irrespective of geographical, cultural, economic, or religious distance
- perhaps most importantly, from their conviction that all achievements in ministry, all conversions, and all new congregations are the work of God, who is active in the life and in the mission of the church through the risen and exalted Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit” (11)
Given those goals, he has his work cut out for him, but maybe that’s why the work blossomed the way it did. The introduction is rather extensive for this series, and even includes a Chronology of Early Christian History (43-46). From there, the commentary proper follows the familiar ZECNT pattern:
- Literary Context
- Main Idea
- Translation and Graphical Layout
- Exegetical Outline
- Explanation of the Text
- Theology in Application
Though he mentioned there would be more In-Depth sidebars in the full manuscript electronic edition, some of note in the print edition are:
- The Speeches in Acts (127-129)
- The Self-Understanding of The Early Church (176)
- The Self-Understanding of The Church in Jerusalem (288-290)
- The Reception of the Holy Spirit and the Samaritan Believers (410-411)
- Pure and Profane Animals (488-490)
- Paul’s Missionary Work (548-549)
- Epicureans and Stoics (724-725)
- Appeal to the Emperor (992-993)
- The Ending of Acts (1062-1063)
Additionally, he includes sidebars and cities central to Paul’s mission work (e.g. Corinth and Ephesus), so I’m guessing there are either more of these in the expanded edition, or more detail on the cities already included (or both). In any case, this is a work that is sensitive to the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of the text, and goes into detail on all fronts. The final result is probably more detailed than Bock, but less than Keener to give you an idea of its placement, though to be fair, the latter’s is a multi-volume project. In that case, this may be the best one volume Acts commentary that covers exegetical detail and theological application. And given Schnabel’s work in early church history, he certainly brings that scholarly expertise to the text.
Like I’ve said with other ZECNT volumes, I found this useful in teaching Acts as well as for sermon prep. The latter because of the format, the former because of the Theology in Application sections. I didn’t go in depth in Acts in class, so I didn’t use the Explanation of The Text sections as much as I might have liked in order to get a feel for this commentary. But, what I did survey, I found helpful in elucidating Luke’s work in Acts.
If you’re really serious about studying Acts, Schnabel’s work is one to add to your library. Not sure if its worth waiting on the eBook before you pull the trigger, but he’s definitely written a very helpful exegetical commentary on Acts that is historically grounded and theological sensitive to the setting of the early church and its importance for Christian mission today.