by Jaroslav Pelikan


320pp.  $29.99c

Publication Date: December 2005

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Jaroslav Pelikan (Ph.D., University of Chicago) was Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, where he served on the faculty from 1962-1996. His universally acclaimed works include the five-volume The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine and Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture.


“This significant commentary kicks off the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, which will eventually grow to a library of 40 volumes. Unlike other commentaries that are written mostly by biblical scholars, these books will be penned by theologians interested in what the Bible has to say about enduring theological questions. . . . Pelikan asks big questions: what is sin? what were the earliest creeds? what is the nature of apostleship? He is sensitive to nuances of Greek but not obsessed by them. As such, this book will be helpful to preachers and, to a lesser extent, general readers who are sometimes flummoxed by more specialized and technical biblical commentaries.”–Publishers Weekly

“Brazos’s Theological Commentaries on the Bible, of which this is the first volume, will feature theologians commenting on scripture using ancient Christian sources. The result is a treasure both new and old, more akin to medieval gloss than historical-critical commentary. Yet it is also a resource for preachers, since its format is akin to that of a modern commentary. Pelikan, perhaps the greatest living church historian, can’t get out of the first chapter of Acts without providing short essays on Christ’s postresurrection teaching, the relationship between Israel’s and the church’s messianic expectation, and Mary as the mother of God.”–Christian Century

“Preachers and teachers particularly, but thoughtful Christians more generally, have long lamented the slide of biblical scholarship into hyperspecialized studies of ancient texts in remote contexts. This first volume of a projected series of more than thirty volumes is therefore to be warmly welcomed. . . . In addition to Pelikan, the authors in the series include such notable writers as Robert Louis Wilken and Robert Jenson. Most are not biblical scholars in that guild’s narrow definition but theologians, pastors, and historians whose work reflects a profound engagement with the biblical sources. The Pelikan volume on the Book of Acts sets a very high standard for a series that promises to make a historic contribution to understanding the Bible within the living tradition that is the Church. Warmly recommended.”–First Things

“This remarkable project is especially lucky in its inaugural volume on Acts of the Apostles by the noted historian of dogma, Jaroslav Pelikan. If the rest of the commentators live up to the high standard set by Pelikan . . . the series could end up marking a turning point in the history of biblical hermeneutics. . . . One finishes this marvelously lucid book not only excited at the prospect of future volumes, but also wondering if this series will be revolutionary in another sense: Could this be a set of commentaries on the Bible that people will actually read?”–Edward T. Oakes, S.J., First Things

“[An] ecumenical series useful to both pastors and academics.”–Christian Retailing

“Jaroslav Pelikan is a good choice to help launch a series like this. He moves through the Acts of the Apostles, commenting astutely on the theological implications of key passages.”–Donald Senior, CP, Bible Today

“[Acts] has all the marks of Pelikan’s scholarship: a close reading of the Greek text; a verse-by-verse commentary on that text studded with references to the great patristic commentators; and a constant eye on the theological and homiletical possibilities of the text itself, as well as its place in the liturgical life of the church both West and East.”—Lawrence S. Cunningham, America

“[Pelikan] ranges widely in the zone between what the text meant and what it means: taking his cue from Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Chrysostom, he is focused on what the text has been understood to mean. The editors could not have found a more qualified person to probe the thick pages of the history of interpretation and Christian doctrine. One might expect a wooden catalog of ancient comments . . . but Pelikan serves up richer fare. Drawing on a stunning array of theological writings, he looks beyond the text of Acts to themes and ultimately dogmas hovering over the text. . . . For many [readers], general editor Russ Reno’s vision for the Brazos series will be satisfied: ‘We must rehabilitate our exegetical imaginations.’”—James Howell, Christian Century

“Pelikan’s inaugural volume on Acts sets a high and honorable standard for the series. . . . The extended treatment of theological topoi permits Pelikan to narrate stories of church tradition, providing developed and insightful analogies between Acts and subsequent Christian history and thought. . . . Readers who follow Pelikan’s associative histories of Christian doctrine will find much to generate reflection on Acts as source for contemporary theology. . . . Pelikan’s interpretive focus on creeds and other church traditions results in an evocative network of conceptual associations, linking words and ideas in Acts to doctrines from church history. . . . The reader’s theological understanding of Acts is enriched by Pelikan’s successful effort to place Acts in theological conversation with centuries of Christian creeds and other rules of faith.”—John B. Weaver, Calvin Theological Journal

“Jaroslav Pelikan offers the first volume of the series, and has set a high standard for those who follow. Reading his commentary on Acts, you have the feeling of sitting in a classroom, hearing a wonderful lecture. Rather than a perfunctory listing of the grammatical constructions involved in each text, Pelikan comments on the grammar only when it interests him, and when he thinks it illuminating. Sometimes, this results in Pelikan producing a biblical tour-de-force. . . . At other times, Pelikan will move fluidly through church history. . . . The commentary is, like any truly good lecture, wonderfully random. This means, of course, that the Brazos series can in no way replace the traditional modern, technical commentary. . . . Having done that, though, you might be left wondering, ‘Is that all there is?’ You can now turn to the Brazos commentary and enter into a wider, and often more stimulating, discussion. . . . Pelikan makes for a good read and brings a lot to the table. With anticipation, we look forward to where the series may lead.”—Peter J. Scaer, Logia

“What Jaroslav Pelikan offers us . . . is neither a commentary nor a book of homilies, but rather a set of observations on what phrases and passages in Acts might remind us of in the later history of Christian doctrine. As a sampler of vintage Pelikan tidbits, it is a scintillating piece of work, a tour de force in the history of dogma, a kaleidoscope of brilliant reflections by a generous and faithful Christian scholar.”—Brian E. Daley, SJ, Pro Ecclesia

“The comments that Pelikan has to offer on each point are truly valuable, insightful, and clearly articulated, a masterful treatment from a true master of his discipline. . . . [The series editors] have invited a diverse range of theologians and historians of theology to this project: We await with anticipation the wide range of offerings that are sure to emerge.”—John Behr, Pro Ecclesia

“The editors of the new Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible could not have found a more distinguished and erudite author for the initial volume in this ambitious new series. . . . Because of Pelikan’s enormous erudition, simply reading the book is an education in Christian history. . . . The book is a treasure-house of learned overviews of church history, combined with fascinating tidbits of information ancient and modern. . . . With its numerous artfully crafted mini-essays on doctrinal history, the commentary is best savored if taken in small, nourishing bites.”—C. Kavin Rowe, Pro Ecclesia

“One can hardly imagine a better contributor [to the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible] than Jaroslav Pelikan. Pelikan’s theological commentary on the Acts of the Apostles is a fascinating peregrination through the history of Christian thought. . . . Pelikan offer[s] a very selective verse-by-verse theological commentary on Acts that supplements the primary focus of the volume: a series of theological excurses covering a broad range of loci communes. If such is the theological journey one seeks, one would be hard pressed to find a better guide. . . . The great strength of this commentary derives from Pelikan’s vast knowledge. It is hardly hyperbolic to suggest that he was without peer in his understanding of the history of Christian tradition. Moreover, it is fascinating to follow along as Pelikan brings the Acts of the Apostles into conversation with the subsequent theology of the church. . . . Pelikan’s emphasis on theological exegesis in general, and on Orthodox theological exegesis in particular, renders this an important and helpful resource, particularly for scholars. . . . An excellent theological companion to other, more conventional biblical commentaries, showing the ways in which Acts might be viewed in relation to a variety of doctrinal positions.”—John F. B. Miller, Review of Biblical Literature

“Pelikan launches a potentially significant commentary series. . . . This book has the confidence to be quite unlike other commentaries on Acts. . . . The value of this commentary is its boldness . . . in relating doctrine and scripture. . . . Pelikan’s volume robustly demonstrates what reading enlivened by tradition and dogma can look like. It is a timely invitation to the church and the academy to question both the artificially erected barriers between doctrine and scripture and the anxiously maintained gaps between ‘then’ and ‘now.’”—Angus Paddison, International Journal of Systematic Theology

“The significance of these commentaries and the series [they] inaugurate [is] manifold, because they promise not only to serve as a means for sifting the wheat and chaff of much recently accumulated hermeneutical theory but also to offer the commentary a place at the theological table it has had difficulty attaining in modernism. . . . [Acts] is a tour de force of the history of doctrine, as Pelikan draws in his lifetime to remark upon a vast panoply of subjects.”—Steven J. Koskie, Journal of Theological Interpretation

“This is a new commentary series with an exciting idea: theological interpretation! While that should not be anything new, it is refreshing to see with an ecumenical cast of commentators. . . . Each chapter of Acts, in addition to brief textual commentary, also has three theological topics. . . . [This] was exceptionally helpful. . . . Near the end of the commentary text itself, Pelikan provides a very useful chart that gives references in Acts for recipients of Pauline letters from Romans to 1–2 Timothy, excluding Colossians, Titus, and Philemon.”—Liturgy, Hymnody, & Pulpit Quarterly Book Review

“The commentary serves as a rich storehouse of information on historical theology, providing [Pelikan] with the opportunity to expound on the intersections of Acts with the major teachings of the church. . . . The book will be of great value to all who are interested in the reception history of Acts and in theological interpretation of biblical texts.”—Shelly Matthews, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

“This is a most unusual commentary—quite clearly the product of Pelikan’s distinguished academic career and his personal ‘return’ (as he put it) to the Orthodox Church. . . . The living presence of the tradition is this commentary’s greatest strength. By allowing the doctors of the church to speak freely, Pelikan reminds us of the profound insights of the ancient church and helps to liberate us from what C. S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery.’. . . This book is thoroughly Pelikan’s work, and some of the sections of theological commentary demonstrate his theological and historical insight. . . . His best reflections are also the most unexpected. . . . Pelikan has left us with a work of impressive scholarship and ecclesial fidelity. His commentary on Acts is a promising start to what I expect will be a landmark commentary series. In this rich and detailed text, Pelikan has given new meaning to the words of Chrysostom, ‘Paul is sailing even now with us.’”—David W. Congdon, Princeton Theological Review

“This project is generating lively debate. . . . Listening to this conversation may help clarify important hermeneutical issues that continue to live within the Reformed theological community. The relationship between ‘biblical theology’ and ‘systematic theology’ could certainly be clarified with the help of this effort. Fortifying the relationship between the theological academy and the church could be another dividend. And recovering the role of the church’s regula fidei within exegesis may well be a third benefit. . . . The entire enterprise of restoring theological exegesis to its rightful place deserves our attention. This volume illustrates for us much of its promise.”—Nelson D. Kloosterman, Mid-America Journal of Theology

“The inaugural volume of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible sets a brave precedent for the rest of the series. . . . The commentator regards the Biblical text in the light of two millennia of Church teachings as well as scholarly textual analysis, and the result is unlike anything published within recent memory. . . . Excellent cross-references and helpful footnotes simplify study, whether for scholarship or devotion. Series editor R. R. Reno of Creighton University could have found no better author for this volume than Pelikan, whose familiarity with the history of Christian tradition is encyclopedic and, as important, apparent in his own life. Given his background, Pelikan’s forceful claims for canon law and the necessity of the Magisterium in interpreting Scripture are special delights. This book evinces again Brazos’ growing reputation for high quality. Pelikan’s Acts and future volumes in the series will become essential for all seminary and academic libraries. This reasonably priced book will be welcome[d] by priests, students, and interested laity.”—Daniel Boice, Catholic Library World

“Any new book by Jaroslav Pelikan is an automatic read for me. I cannot think of another writer whose erudition in the service of the church fires my mind and soul more than him. . . . [Acts] exemplifies his hearty and unapologetic embrace of Christian orthodoxy. . . . Whether treating matters of history, theology, rhetoric, philology, the Greek and Roman classics, textual variants, creeds, councils, art, music, and the early mothers and fathers of the church, Pelikan displays a deft and judicious touch, an eloquent writing style, a staggering command of the sources, and a sensitivity for ‘the predicament of the Christian historian’. . . who must abide by the canons of his discipline while not suppressing his own vibrant faith commitment.”–Daniel B. Clendenin,

“This commentary series is designed to be unique; and certainly, Acts is like no other modern scholarly commentary. . . . Pelikan [is] . . . probably the most well-respected Church history professor in the academic world. . . . As one would expect knowing Pelikan’s career and is evidence in the theological discussions, he is very aware of doctrinal nuances in the Lutheran, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions. . . . I personally enjoyed reading Acts due to the early Church and Eastern Orthodox emphases.”–Robert J. Cara, Reformation21