the weblog of Alan Knox

More on interpreting Acts

Posted by on May 15, 2009 in blog links, scripture | 6 comments

Interpreting Acts is often very difficult. Interpreters and methods differ as to whether to understand Luke’s book as “formative” or “normative”.

If Acts is “formative” (or “descriptive”), then Luke was simply describing how the early church developed and how the early believers lived.

If Acts is “normative” (or “prescriptive”), then Luke intends his historical writings to form how we live today.

Adrian Warnock discusses this in a post called “Acts – A Model For Today?” He quotes another blog as follows:

But more importantly why should formative and normative be exclusive categories? If God worked in particular ways to establish churches and the worldwide missionary endeavor, would it be so very strange if he continues to do so? Is it not better to say that what was formative for missions and church-planting should generally be normative for missions and church-planting? If we don’t see it in our situations today, it is our situation and experience that needs to be aligned to the New Testament pattern, not the other way round. The main difficulty I have with the formative-not-normative argument is that it leaves me with the freedom to decide which bits I should apply as relevant today and which bits I can avoid. I don’t think Luke wants us to decide what to apply; I think Luke wants us to apply all of it.

I tend to agree with this quote, with one caveat: I don’t think Luke was intending to tell us what is “normative for missions and church-planting”. Instead, I think Luke was intending to tell us what is normative for those following Jesus – that is, all of us, not just “missionaries” or “church-planters”.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-15-2009

    And the Freedom to move within Christ rather that is church planting, missions…. I don’t think these folks had such labels, they were excited about their new life in Christ and because of that they were eager and available to be used by Him. We have too many categories and barriers and leaders and movements and all of these things get in our way.

  2. 5-15-2009


    I agree completely! They were excited about their new life in Christ and they made disciples wherever they went? Where did they go? Wherever the Spirit sent them! They didn’t worry about whether or not they were missionaries, or church-planters, or pastors, or whatever. They listened to the Spirit, followed him, and made disciples.


  3. 5-15-2009

    Alan & Lionel-

    That's tremendous.


  4. 5-16-2009

    I totally agree that we (all Christians) have to be “available to be used by Him”, we have to be willing servants. But something seems to be missing here. You talk alot about how the Spirit makes people “go”, but what about when the Spirit calls people to “stay”.

    By reading these posts some people might get the impression that ‘staying’ at home, in their current job, etc. isn’t spiritual enough. God is even in the “ordinary”.

    It seems to me that much of the N.T. exhortations to “patient endurance” and “contentedness” are aimed at encouraging Christians in times when they weren’t “excited” (which was probably most of the time). These admonishments were(are) necessary to teach Christians that ‘normally’ God calls us to stay right where He has us and to learn to be content no matter what our circumstances.

    Please know that I’m not trying to be argumentative. I hope I’m not coming across that way. I have simply seen too many Christians fall into despair because they thought that if they couldn’t discern, feel, or see the Holy Spirit moving constantly in their lives, they were in sin.

    Do you have any thoughts on when the Spirit leads us to stay?


  5. 5-16-2009




    The imperative is to follow the Spirit wherever he leads. If he leads “there”, then I go there. If he leads “here”, then I stay here. Whether “there” or “here”, I follow the Spirit, and I live to make disciples wherever he leads.

    I think the misunderstands stems from the fact that when someone says “follow the Spirit”, there is an assumption that that means “follow the Spirit somewhere else”. It doesn’t. If the Spirit wants me “here” (and I think he does), then I stay here. I don’t go “there”, until the Spirit leads me “there”. I hope that makes sense.


  6. 5-16-2009

    Fantastic post. I agree completely.