Interview with Robert Wall on Acts in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Series

 

Robert W. Wall (ThD, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979) is the Paul T. Walls Professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University where he has taught since 1978.

Robert Wall’s books and articles — whether aimed at other scholars or clergy — originate in the ferment of the university classroom and in conversation with his students and colleagues. In both his published research and classroom teaching, Dr. Wall approaches the Bible as a sacred text — a “production of the Holy Spirit” — and in a manner that forms a clearer understanding of God for the people of God.

His books include: A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible: Learning to Read Scripture’s Story, with David Nienhuis (Baker Academic Press, 2015), Why the Church? (Reframing New Testament Theology, Abingdon Press, 2015), and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in the Two Horizons commentary series (Eerdmans, 2012). Follow the link at the bottom of the page to Dr. Wall’s Amazon page to see his other books.

The Reverend Dr. Wall is a Seattle native, an avid sportsman, and a dedicated Seattle Mariner’s fan. He is an elder of the Free Methodist Church who enjoys an active ecumenical ministry of preaching and teaching adult Bible studies in congregations of various faith traditions.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Acts?

I had taught a regular course, Luke-Acts, as part of our Bible curriculum for years—ever since my arrival at SPU in 1978. Class prep, student interaction, marking their papers gave me a pretty good feel for the narrative plotline. It also gave me a feel for the questions that weren’t being addressed by current work on Luke’s narrative—the bit of Luke-Acts criticism that interested me the most. During the 1990’s—perhaps even before that—I began to publish journal articles to stake out some of those questions. Eventually this attracted the attention of the editors of the New Interpreter’s Bible who then invited me to write a commentary on Acts.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

When writing a commentary for a series, the interpreter’s intentions must align with the intentions of the series. NIB is one of the world’s most widely used commentaries by the church’s clergy—that is its audience. But the editors (L. E. Keck was my editor and I worked closely with him) allowed me to add hundreds of footnotes that engaged a range of (most English-speaking) scholars over a variety of interpretive/exegetical issues. Perhaps for this reason, the commentary (along with Tom Wright’s commentary on Romans with which it’s paired in volume 10) is used in seminary classrooms and by scholars in their research.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Acts?

I would first of all hope that it contributes to the various ordinary uses of scripture within a faithful community of practice: sermon preparation, Bible studies, personal devotions, as well as helping a community organize itself for the missio Dei in the world. But, then, its principal intellectual contribution to a scholar’s study of Acts is my application of a “canonical approach” to scripture. I read Acts as Acts, not as the second volume of Luke-Acts, and in doing so emphasize the distinctive role of its theological narrative within scripture and for the church. (Also the way Acts uses Israel’s scripture provides a normative example of the hermeneutics of Jesus set out in Luke’s recension of the Great Commission in Luke 24:44-49.) This role is discerned by tracking the earliest (pre-canonical) reception of Acts in the church (especially by Irenaeus), its placement within the emergent NT canon, its relationship with the fourfold Gospel and two Letters collections, and so on. My work over the last decade or so has attempted to shift the focus of modern biblical criticism from the point of a composition’s origins—focused by authorial intentions and the social world that shaped its message, genre, etc.—to the point of its reception as scripture or as canonical.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I was at Tyndale House in Cambridge on sabbatical when I wrote a first draft or the first half of Acts. Lots of people there were also working on Acts—typically using more “traditional” approaches to its narrative. More than a particular passage, what is memorable are those conversations with others about interpreting Acts. Almost daily “a-ha” experiences. During this time, too, I became increasingly convinced of the importance of reading Acts with scripture—its intertextuality really did drive my reading of several key passages, especially Acts 15. I became convinced that this narrative of the second Jerusalem Council provides a hermeneutical key for reading the two NT letter collections, Pauline and Catholic, together as mutually glossing witnesses to God’s economy of salvation.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Certainly the importance of a covenant-keeping community for a ministry of reconciliation. But reading/studying scripture is an act of Spirit-led worship. The student’s love for God will in fact deepen as the effect of Bible study.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Acts?

Good question! Depends on what the endgame is. When preparing to preach Acts is a different endgame than preparing a scholarly bit on Acts to publish. For most faithful students of scripture, here are my top go-to commentaries. Frankly, I’m somewhat less concerned with a linguistic analysis of the narrative or certainly the social world in which the narrative is earthed. These goods are delivered by more technical commentaries such as [Richard I.] Pervo (Hermeneia) or [Craig] Keener’s massive, no-stone-unturned commentary on Acts (Baker). I use both. But for most students, I like [Beverely R.] Gaventa [Abingdon], [F. Scott] Spencer [IBT], [Darrell] Bock [BECNT], [C.K.] Barrett [ICC], [David] Peterson [Pillar] —scholars of the church whose exegetical and expositional work is routinely related to the formation of disciples.

Let me add this footnote to this list: many people overlook commentaries on books that are hidden within multi-volume commentaries such as the New Interpreter’s Bible. They look for and use commentaries of individual books that are published as such. In fact, all the commentaries I recommend in the above list are published individually as self-standing volumes within a commentary series. My commentary on Acts, e.g., is book-length but is included in a much bigger volume that includes Wright’s commentary on Romans and Paul Sampley’s commentary on 1 Corinthians—both of which are also book-length. People miss these commentaries because of it.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I’m working on a theological commentary of Hebrews. Just finished a book, co-authored with my colleague, Daniel Castelo, on the nature of the Bible, The Marks of Scripture: Rethinking the Nature of the Bible (Baker Academic).


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