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Opposition is a central theme in the Acts of the Apostles. Success in spreading the message of Christianity is not independent from conflict and suffering, but is inextricably tied to it (Marguerat 2002: 39). The account of the death of Stephen is a notable element in the development of the theme, but it runs throughout the narrative. Indeed, as Richard Pervo notes, "confinement, including arrest, incarceration, and bondage, is a literal feature of more than one-third of Acts" (Pervo 2009: 11). Acts' stories of conflict with authorities have played a key role in developing and sustaining the widespread view that persecution and martyrdom have been central to the Christian experience from the earliest days of the Christian movement. The nature and function of the opposition in narrative of Acts, however, has long been the subject of debate. Does the emphasis on opposition and conflict capture the historical realities of the first Christians? Is this emphasis shaped by the author's theology and/or literary strategies? Whatever the historical realities may be, in what follows I suggest that the emphasis on opposition and conflict in Acts has the narrative function of constructing the heroes of the narrative as "true" philosophers. The author of Acts presents the leaders of the Christian movement to Theophilus, the educated reader (whether a person or a larger entity), using widespread philosophical topoi that emphasized the conflict between the philosopher and a ruler or authority figure. The use of the figure of the philosopher at odds with a tyrant has a long history in Greek literature, but it becomes particularly prominent in second-century philosophical literature and narratives. Reading Acts alongside some of these texts allows us to see that its stories of conflict and opposition, which are consistently linked to the term parrēsia and philosophical imagery, share striking similarities with some of the ways in which Greek authors of the late-first and second centuries imagined themselves into the structures of power.



Rubén R. Dupertuis, Todd Penner







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Engaging Early Christian History: Reading Acts in the Second Century

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