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The Speaking in Tongues Controversy: A Narrative-Critical Response, Part 2

Oss draws this issue closer to the subject at hand, i.e., authorial intent, writing “[Luke] intentionally created the relationship between tongues and Spirit-baptism in his narrative, along with the specific function of tongues as evidence, in order to communicate that relationship to his readership as a prescribed paradigm.”22

The foregoing Pentecostal scholars mentioned have addressed the issue of Luke’s intention by examining the genre in which Luke wrote and thus discerning a strong intentionality on Luke’s part to present tongues as a signification of Spirit-baptism. Others have questioned elements of the presupposition within the authorial intent argument itself. Robert Menzies responds to Fee, writing, “The question of Luke’s intent, which looms so large in Fee’s argument, is clearly subordinate to the more fundamental question outlined above [i.e., the prophetic-empowerment rather than soteriological character of Spirit-baptism, and its universal character]. For if my description of Luke’s ‘distinctive’ pneumatology is accurate, then Luke’s intent to teach a Spirit-baptism distinct from conversion for empowering is easily demonstrated. One need only establish that Luke’s narrative was designed to encourage every Christian to receive the Pentecostal gift. And, since Luke highlights Pentecost as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning an outpouring of the Spirit upon ‘all flesh’ (Acts 2.17-21), this appears to be self-evident” (Empowered 239). Later in the same work, he writes the following of Fee’s conclusions regarding intent and the early Pentecostals’ use of “naïve appeals to historical precedent” (239):

[T]he value of a passage for assessing the theological perspective of a given author cannot be reduced to its “primary intent.” A passage must be understood in terms of its original setting and intention, but the theological freight it carries may transcend its “primary intent.”23

Stronstad echoes Menzies sentiments and develops an understanding of Luke’s intent based on the Greco-Roman culture of which Luke and Theophilus were a part.24

Elbert’s research confirms the 21st-century reader’s need to understand the Greco-Roman narrative-rhetorical tradition if he is to appreciate the literary artistry of Luke and come to understand what Luke intends to teach Theophilus:

If Theophilus was a literary minded person, as Luke appears to be, a person educated in the Empire where rhetorical training was mandatory in the schools, he would naturally expect Luke to illustrate ongoing prophetic fulfillment by examples and precedents in characters’ lives within the framework of the two scrolls (or papyrus codices) dedicated to him. Such an expectation on Theophilus’ part would be quite consistent with the accepted rhetorical procedure of illustrating main points with examples and precedents in the traditional standards of narrative composition, as set out in the contemporary treatise of Theon. Theon’s instructional effort builds on solid rhetorical tradition concerning the necessity and the quality of the expected examples and precedents. Any real thematic paradigm that fulfilled prophecy beyond narrative time would have to be illustrated by examples and precedents in order to be convincing within Graeco-Roman narrative-rhetorical culture. (“Luke’s Fulfillment” 3-4)

Inasmuch as we are all Theophiluses, it would serve us well to become familiar with the literary medium with which Luke communicates to Theophilus, and not assume that he uses a medium contemporary to ourselves.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2006

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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