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

23 “[W]e should be careful not to jump to the unwarranted conclusion that this judgment necessarily invalidates the doctrine of evidential tongues. Nevertheless, this is precisely the conclusion that is usually drawn. The reason is clearly articulated by Fee, who suggests that normative theology at this point must be grounded in Luke’s ‘primary intent’ or ‘intention to teach’. But surely this is overly restrictive. Not all questions of normative teaching are rooted directly in the intention of the author. [Larry] Hurtado [in Initial Evidence 191-192] notes the oft-cited illustration of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is not taught explicitly in the New Testament but developed on the basis of inferences from biblical teaching. Is it not valid to inquire about the character of Luke’s pneumatology, and then to wrestle with the implications which emerge from his pneumatology for our contemporary questions? Only ‘the most severe form of biblicism’ would deny the validity of this sort of exercise.

“An exclusive focus on an author’s ‘primary intent’ or ‘intention to teach’ too often leads to a form of tunnel vision which ignores the implications of an individual text for the theological perspective of the author. … [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’. Each piece of evidence must be taken seriously as we seek to reconstruct the theological perspective of the biblical author. … This task of reconstruction cannot be limited to a survey of the ‘primary intent’ of isolated passages; rather, it calls for a careful analysis of the theological significance of the author’s entire work.” Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 246-248, italics added.

24 “It was once commonplace among interpreters to affirm that authorial intentionality, that is, the author’s purpose for writing a document, is the essential criterion which governs the reader’s understanding of the text. But the question of authorial intentionality is complicated by a variety of factors. These include whether the purpose is explicit or implicit and whether it is simple or complex—that is, whether there is one primary purpose, or a combination of primary, secondary and even tertiary purposes. Consequently, several dangers attend the search to determine authorial intention. One danger is the all-too-common tendency toward reductionism, putting forward the claims of one purpose to the exclusion of all others. Another danger is to confuse the use to which the document, in whole or in part, might be put with the purpose of the document. The most insidious danger is to identify the interests and agenda of the interpreter as those of the author.

“Though the question of Luke’s purpose has proven to be problematic it is not a matter for despair. The most satisfactory answer to the question of Luke’s purpose lies in the recognition that it is multiplex. This multiplex purpose not only has a historical dimension, as the reader would expect since the genre of Luke-Acts is historical narrative, but it also has both a didactic or instructional dimension and a theological dimension. Luke himself identifies this multiplex purpose, beginning with his prologue (Lk. 1.1-4). . . .

“Using the genre, or medium of historical narrative, Luke teaches Theophilus and his extended audience in a variety of ways. These include … (1) proof of prophecy; (2) precedents and patterns. …

“For example, Peter’s witness to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10.1-48) is the historical precedent which justifies the salvation of the Gentiles by grace apart from the works of the Law (Acts 15.6-11). This same episode also makes explicit the pattern for Spirit-baptism which Luke has earlier implied in his programmatic Pentecost narrative. … And so, by reporting the pouring out of the Spirit, first upon the disciples, and, subsequently, upon Cornelius and his household, and also by reporting Peter’s statements which connect the latter gift of the Spirit to the former, Luke teaches that here is a pattern of Spirit-baptism. It is an inaugural reception of the Spirit of prophecy attested to by the sign of speaking in tongues.” (Prophethood 22-25)

25 Cf. W. and R. Menzies, Spirit and Power 37-45; Kydd 7-11, 14-15; Elbert writes to the point, relating the didactic view of Luke-Acts to its contemporary genre, “Pentecostals’ view of narrative and their application of its didactic intentions is entirely consistent with, and essentially the same as, how it was regarded in the Graeco-Roman world at the time Luke-Acts was written, where the narrative-rhetorical tradition was regarded as a means to persuade with clarity and plausibility, to set forth vivid examples and precedents, and to provide the reasons for why such actions occurred. Therefore, one may appropriately mention that the criticism or condemnation of using Luke’s narrative to establish what Luke expects believers to pray for and what Luke expects God to do in answer to prayer—because Lukan characters who bear witness to Jesus also pray and receive the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit—is, from the perspective of Pentecostal tradition, negative criticism that misunderstands Luke as having only strictly historical motives, not theological motives,” (“The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Review Article,” Trinity Journal 23NS, No. 1 [Spring 2002] 81-101: 83-84).

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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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