Most of the essays in this collection are drawn from papers offered in the Society of Biblical Literature Acts section in 2013 and 2014. Barreto explains in his introduction that the contributors to the volume all approach questions regarding masculine identity and the exercise of power from the basic premise that “identities are human constructions” (p. xii). Nevertheless, as Matthew Skinner stresses in his afterword, this focus on how the book negotiates these humanly constructed discourses frequently raises questions concerning the theological outlook of Acts—“how the book understands the nature of God and God’s activity, as well as how the book depicts and instructs communities of Christ-followers” (p. 157).
The first four essays deal with masculinity in Acts. This is new territory since Luke-Acts gender studies usually focus on Luke’s view of women. But as Christina Petterson points out in her essay, in Acts, the female is entirely dependent on the male and the book “presents a narrative of socially stratified men” (p. 16). Since “phallogocentric language” is easy to demonstrate with respect to women in Acts, Petterson uses the example of Paul and Timothy in Acts 16:1–5.
Colleen Conway picks up this theme by observing that most biblical scholars default to the common protocol for Greco-Roman masculinity and then ask whether Luke subverts these norms. She defines this criterion of masculinity in the Greco-Roman world as mastery of others, proven by constant competition with other men. Manliness was always a morally positive quality, while being effeminate was morally reprehensible. Conway then argues that the author of Acts wants to portray his heroes as ideal men who can take their places in the upper echelons in the masculine Roman world (p. 19).
Brittany Wilson traces some of these themes using Peter and Paul as examples. She argues that Luke provides a reconfiguration of what it means to be a man in the Roman world, but this is neither subversive nor accommodating. For Wilson, Luke is reconfiguring Roman ideals: sexual power gives way to sexual asceticism, paternal power becomes a fictive family, political power becomes faithful submission to political power, and military power becomes participation in cosmic warfare between God and Satan (p. 47).
The final essay of the first section examines the circumcision of Timothy. Christopher Stroup makes the suggestion that circumcision is a “gendered, cultural act” in which Paul (an ideal Greco-Roman male) exercises power over Timothy. Of the essays in this first section volume, Stroup provides the most detailed survey of gender in the Greco-Roman world.
The second part of this volume collects five essays on the theology of Acts as it relates to the Roman Empire. Usually empire studies examine how Acts may reinforce or reconfigure imperial values (p. 157), but these essays focus on how Acts envisions living within the Empire at the discourse level. The section begins with a reprint of Steve Walton’s 2002 article “The State They Were In: Luke’s View of the Roman Empire.” In his response to the essays in part two of the book, Mikeal Parsons calls Walton’s essay the “best survey available of where scholarship has been” on the “messy question” of Luke-Acts and politics (p. 141).
Matthew Skinner extends Walton’s literature survey to more recent scholarship (including Kavin Rowe and post-colonial criticism). Skinner concludes empire studies in Acts are in a “messy state” at the present time, possibly because Acts has “arrived late to the party hosted by empire studies” (p. 120). Although these new methodologies have reinvigorated a stale debate, there is need to clarify how the theology of Acts relates to the Roman world. Skinner makes six useful proposals to move the discussion forward.
Bruce Winter examines the application of Roman law in the book of Acts and the implications for the historicity of Acts. For Winter, a key theme of the book is its claim that the gospel continues to go out “without hindrance” (ἀκωλύτως, Acts 28:31) despite Rome’s uneven distribution of justice (p. 127). He surveys several examples to show Roman law was sometimes enforced properly (Gallio at Corinth) and at other times it was disregarded (Felix at Caesarea).
Mikeal Parsons and Barbara Rossing respond to the previous three essays as well as a paper presented by Warren Carter at the 2014 conference but published separately in New Testament Studies. Parsons agrees with Skinner’s assertion that disentangling the tensions and ambiguities of the book of Acts is difficult, but he suggests the more we listen to Luke’s story the more likely we are to hear what Luke says rather than our own socio-political realities (p. p. 147). Rossing’s response examines the eight uses of the word οἰκουμένη as evidence for anti-imperial perspective in Acts. By contrasting Roman imperial texts and the book of Acts, she concludes all the references to οἰκουμένη in Acts are anti-imperial, most notably the accusations against Paul in Thessalonica (p. 154).
Although there is some relation between the two themes of this book, it would have been more useful to focus more deeply on a single theme and expand the number of essays. Despite this criticism, the volume is a valuable contribution to the study of Roman culture and book of Acts.