Thompson, Alan J. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Edited by D. A. Carson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011.
This is a superb theology of the book of Acts. Thompson’s identifiers the reign of Christ as the main theme of Acts, and he does an excellent job demonstrating the present reign of Christ while also showing that the suffering of Christ’s marks Christ’s reign in the present with triumph to follow. Related to this central theme are the themes of resurrection, the preaching of the gospel, the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God, the gift of the Spirit, and the end of the temple system and the Mosaic law.
These are massive topics, but Thompson works through them with good sense and with clearness and brevity. As an example of how Thompson works through these themes, the following is my summary of Thompson’s chapter about the law in Acts.
Thompson’s view of the law in Acts can be summed up in chapter 6’s subtitle: “the law is no longer the direct authority for God’s people” (175). Thompson observes that there are those, like Jervell, who hold that for Luke “the law is not invalidated, abridged or outmoded” (176, quoting Jervell), and there are those who align Luke with the Pauline teaching that Christians are under “the law of Christ” rather than the law of Moses. That is, the observance of the Mosaic law is not required for salvation, but, because it is now a matter of “indifference,” the Mosaic law can be observed for other reasons (e.g., “to win those under the law”) (176-77). Thompson argues that Acts presents the locus of authority having shifted from the Mosaic law to the apostles (1:2, 8, 21-23, 25-26; 2:37, 42; 5:17-42) (178-89). In some places in Acts the emphasis is on the law being fulfilled, such as when Acts 4:34 indicates that Deuteronomy 15:4 is being fulfilled because there are no poor among them. Note also Acts 6:2-4 in which widows are cared for in fulfillment of Deuteronomy (180-81). However, in other instances the emphasis is on the abrogation of the law. Thompson argues that the dietary laws are shown to be abrogated in the Cornelius account (“In the narrative of Acts, Peter has clearly made the connection between the vision concerning the abrogation of food laws (Acts 10:15) and the association with and acceptance of Cornelius (10:28; 11:12; 15:9)”; 182). Likewise in Acts 15 circumcision is clearly not required for salvation (184). Regarding the “requirements” of Acts 15:20; 15:29; 21:25, Thompson rejects the idea that this is requiring Gentiles to “keep that part of the Law required for them to live together with Jews” (184, quoting Jervell) and the view that these “are essentially ad hoc requirements just for this situation out of concern for the sensitivities of Jews” (185). Instead, he adopts Witherington’s view that these four items were connected to “pagan practices associated with temple idolatry.” In other words, keeping the Mosaic law is not necessary for Gentiles, but turning away from idolatry is (186-87). Paul’s circumcision of Timothy does not tell against this view of the law because Timothy was not circumcised out of necessary obedience to the Mosaic law. His circumcision was voluntarily and was for the purpose of enabling ministry to the Jews without hindrance. Likewise with Paul’s fulfillment of the temple vow. Paul is willing to keep the law out of concern for “Jewish sensibilities,” even though his message remains “the proclamation of Jesus as the one who fulfils and replaces the temple” (190-91).