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Justo Gonzalez: Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit

Justo L. González, Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2001), 291 pages, ISBN 9781570753985.

Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit is a translation and update of González’s Hechos in the Comentario Biblico Hispanoamericano (Miami, Fla.: Editorial Caribe, 1992). González‘s discussion for each section in Acts is divided into two parts distinguished by two different typefaces. First, González makes academic comments, the text in our context (xiii). Next, he addresses issues confronting the Church both north and south, Hispanic and Anglo. Often González addresses topics at the heart of classical Pentecostalism and even of the faith movement. Although he often speaks from a Protestant-Hispanic perspective, his hard-hitting observations address both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant English speaking churches.

The academic sections are helpful to all expressions of the academy and ecclesial communities. González addresses traditional questions raised by scholars and maintains openness to the claims of the text. For example, after a discussion of the we passages, he concludes that the most simple and probable notion is to accept that the we refers, as the text would like us to think, to one of Paul’s companions, who is also the author of the book (4). He also discusses the chronology and theology of Paul as presented in the Acts and the epistles and concludes that, though they are different, they are not irreconcilable. Throughout the commentary he interacts with both English- and Spanish-speaking academicians on significant issues. This provides a wider exposure to scholars working in spheres that are often unavailable to many readers.

Although he does not address in detail questions of Luke’s pneumatology normally raised by Pentecostals and Charismatics, González does address the issue of speaking in tongues and Spirit-inspired witness. He also acknowledges the miraculous activity of the spirit. He concentrates on the social issues that the Gospel addresses such as wealth and poverty, power and allegiance to the Church and state, and polity. His is a healthy restatement of the goals of the gospel of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals and Charismatics are well advised to pay González rapt attention lest we neglect the weightier matters of the spirit.

The application sections identify the major practical issues which confronted the ancient community and challenge the present Church. Notably González accepts much of the first-century worldview. For example he cites Bultmann’s insistence that it is impossible to use modern scientific wonders and medicine and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. González objects that much of the Spanish-speaking community of faith does not agree; the truth is, however, that what Bultmann declares to be impossible is not just possible, but even frequent (84).

Justo L. González

Many of González‘s applications are quite prophetic and insightful. For example, in the section, Beware of Gamaliel! he warns that the Church often opts for fatalism and inaction by hiding behind the words, If it is a matter of God, we cannot really oppose it, and if it is a human matter, it will fail With that excuse, we allow injustice to continue rampant in our society (85). Other thought-provoking subheadings are, When the enemy Calls Us to Obedience, Between Simon Magus and Simon Peter, When Evil Produces Good, and Good Produces Evil, A Subversive Message, and Beware of Cheap theology! (which is rather expensive). González grapples with issues which confront the Church of all cultures and languages. He warns that Bible interpreters must not be carried by their own ideologies The text says what it says, whether we like it or not. The function of the interpreter is not to take the sting out of the text (76-77). González says Acts is about a strange kingdom which operates differently from all the present kingdoms. Its smallness and insignificance, like the mustard seed and the leaven, turns the world upside down in a reversal of values.

The story here is about the acts of a Spirit who makes it possible for believers to live, even amidst the kingdoms of this world, as the citizens of that other kingdom (21).

For the Hispanic Church, Acts steers her between the Scylla of mere political revolution and the Charybdis of compromise with worldly authority. González‘s commentary provides a warning to the affluent Anglo faith community that indifference to their brethren in Christ to the south and in their midst may well assure that they in the north share the fate of the rich man who gave Lazarus no aid or comfort (Lk. 16:19-31). The problem of materialism is solved by helping those who have not (Lk. 3:1-14). González‘s work is not a mere Hispanic curiosity. This commentary can be ignored by the north only at its own peril.

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: James B. Shelton, Ph.D. (University of Stirling, Scotland), M.A. (Oral Roberts University), is Professor of New Testament at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the author of Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (Wipf & Stock, 1999 reprint) as well as numerous essays in scholarly journals, books, and biblical commentaries. Faculty page

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