The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 8

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by Neil Godfrey

This is the continuation with the next bit of something I tried to work out a while ago. A series of many more “bits” will follow this one to suggest that the author of Acts was using the “we-passages” as a rhetorical device to advance the theme of Acts as a “mini-epic” telling the tale of a new founding myth for Rome/the church….

i. Chief city, Roman colony
This first we-passage introduces the Roman reader to much more than a journey by Paul and an anonymous “we” to start a church in Macedonia. Firstly, the target city, Philippi, is introduced with the double descriptor of being “the chief/first city” and “a colony”. If “colony” label tells us it is a Roman outpost. The exact meaning of “chief-city” is a point of some discussion among scholars but for my purposes I am taking the gist of the words from their rhetorical effect as I suspect that may have sounded to original readers. The city is “the” prominent city of some kind that is also an extension of Rome.

No other city in Acts is given any comparable descriptor. So we have Paul (and “we”) being divinely led to travel to a colony that is at the same time a “first city”, and as such an extension of Rome. The Roman theme dominates the ensuing events there. Paul’s accusers stress that they are “Romans” (16:21). Paul asserts his own status as a Roman (16:37). The punch line in the little story turns on the theme of “being Roman”.

Even the name of the city, Philippi, in this context cannot help but remind the reader that this chief Roman outpost is actually the inheritor of the earlier “world conquering” Macedonian kingdom of Philip. (Obviously the author had no say in the choice of name of the city, but in a narrative we look at what words the author selects to use, return to, avoid, and so on.)

We thus have three separate pointers (the name Philippi and the descriptors chief city and colony) to indicate that this divinely destined city is meant to be seen in some sense a representative or outpost or reminder of the world ruling Rome itself.

(Incidentally, 2 Cor.8:1-2 informs us that the Paul of the epistles saw Macedonia as a generous but poor church: the author of Acts, however, has a reason to create a Macedonia that is marked by great wealth.)

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Neil Godfrey

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