Acts 13:16-19 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment."

My question is not about this specific text, but about a hermeneutical method. However, I'll use this text as an example:

My understanding is that most people believe this was spoken in Aramaic (to Jews) and written in Greek. How accurately was the author (let's call him Luke) trying to portray the original spoken text:
-Was Luke trying to give a word-for-word translation of Paul's speech?
-Was Luke trying to give a thought-for-thought translation of Paul's speech?
-Did Luke know the gist of Paul's speech and simply try to give the sense of it?
-Did Luke summarize Paul's long speech into a few short verses?
-Did Luke himself write what he thought it likely that Paul would have said in such a situation?

NB! This is NOT a question about the historicity of the speeches, but about authorial intent.
This question is about whether the New Testament authors intended us to interpret the speeches in the first five books of the New Testament as exact translations of what the speaker said, as periphrastic translations, as simply the gists of what the speaker said, as summaries, or as what the author feels the speaker should have said.

Oh, and if you choose to use quotes from Thucydides, quote him IN CONTEXT.

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    Great question. I hope you stick around!! – Jas 3.1 Nov 8 '13 at 5:07

Areas of study can be found more interesting to some than others. That said, I confess I have not studied this topic at all. However, I know where I can get information from for an answer.

To start, the following came from: https://bible.org/seriespage/21-putting-past-perspective-acts-1313-52

The third point in the “Characteristics of This Sermon” section, Mr. Deffinbaugh states:

This sermon was a very brief capsule of the gospel and not a full-blown sermon or exposition. Some may feel that Luke merely summarized Paul’s message, abbreviating its length. I am inclined to think otherwise. I do not think Paul was given unlimited time to speak; he was asked to give a “word of exhortation” which seems to imply a briefer word and not a full-blown exposition. This message gave the gospel in a nutshell, and those interested could follow up with Paul and Barnabas personally.

The entirety of the “Characteristics of This Sermon” is also a good read. Following this section is “The Argument of Paul’s Sermon” with verses 16-23 being the first in this section. Here, Mr. Deffinbaugh states:

Paul is laying a foundation for his sermon by reviewing the history of the nation Israel from the time of its choosing by God - the days of Abraham - to the time of David’s enthronement. The thrust is to underscore God’s sovereignty and Israel’s sin, God’s faithfulness and Israel’s failures.

Now in: https://bible.org/seriespage/acts-introduction-outline-and-argument we have a section regarding the “Occasion and Purpose” of the book of Acts. After reading through this section, we come to Mr. Wallace’s section summary:

Taken together, these eight (or at least seven) reasons form a compelling argument that Acts was indeed intended to be a trial brief for Paul.

At the same time, one criticism should be mentioned here: If Acts is really intended (in part) to be a trial brief for Paul, then how does Luke fit into this picture? Since both works really belong together, the purpose of Acts is seemingly the purpose of Luke-Acts. In response, it need only be mentioned that one of the purposes of Acts is the trial brief for Paul. It is true that Luke does not neatly fit into this purpose, though it does fit into the broader picture of apologetic of Christianity before the Roman government. The occasion for Acts necessitated the publication of Luke, but it did not thereby dictate the purpose of Luke.

So, given the above, I believe the hermeneutical method used by Luke for Acts 13:16-19 has to be more a literal word-for-word translation with what Paul actually spoke. And if not literal, then he very accurately captured the actual thoughts Paul really spoke about.

But for me, capturing thoughts wouldn’t make sense because it would seem much more difficult for a writer to write an entire book this way. Or is this the only area where Paul's thoughts were captured? I think it would be so much easier to simply write what was spoken. But that is probably just my opinion.

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  • The question states that it is not about this specific text, but about a hermeneutical method. Do you believe that the authors (who were originally anonymous) knew and reported exactly what was originally said? – Dick Harfield Nov 12 '13 at 0:45
  • @DickHarfield - In review, I see my focus was only on Acts 13:16-19 rather than an inclusive comment for all speeches in the gospels and Acts. However, I believe by virtue of the references cited and my belief that Luke wrote Acts and strove to be an accurate historian (Luke 1:1-4), that this section is an accurate, word for word, account of what was originally said. The writer knew the person and the message he was recording and did not need to interpret (or apply hermeneutics to) anything. – Warren Nov 12 '13 at 15:35
  • I see that although Acts was originally anonymous, you believe that Luke really was the author. This still raises the issue of how he reported exactly what Paul said, especially if there is no record of Luke being there at the time. It also raises the issue of whether Jesus really quoted from the ancient Greek play, the Bacchae, in the Hebrew language ("It hurts you to kick against the goad[or 'pricks']" - Acts 25:14), or whether Luke was just this once using a form of allusion. – Dick Harfield Nov 14 '13 at 21:22
  • True, I believe the author of Acts wrote the Gospel of Luke and was Luke the Evangelist: <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_the_Apostles> <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luke_the_Evangelist> I then take the “we” sections of Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16) as evidence Luke was a traveling companion of Paul. I feel quite confident he would have asked Paul if he was unsure of something he was going to write. Also, Paul may have actually read and provided input to the book, but this is just conjecture on my part. <bible.org/seriespage/introduction-acts> – Warren Nov 15 '13 at 19:11

In ancient times, it was normal even for historians to paraphrase what they thought the person would have said in the circumstances. Readers understood that the authors could not possibly have known what someone said, and accepted the speeches on that basis. in the case of Acts 13:16-18, we can say that Luke himself wrote what he thought it likely that Paul would have said in such a situation.

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    Can you support your claims with any reliable sources? – Dan Nov 6 '13 at 0:05
  • It is hard to find exact quotes to support something I learnt long ago, but I may be able to come close - Richard Holland, 'Nero: The Man Behind the Myth', pp 241-4: "Even if the ancient historians had an original document in front of them – for instance, the actual wording of a speech – they would be extremely reluctant to quote from it directly. As a matter of professional pride, they would seek to create their own, more eloquent version." – Dick Harfield Nov 10 '13 at 6:02
  • Another quote that indirectly supports what I said in my answer. Euan Cameron, 'Interpreting Christian History', p104, writing of the fourth-century Christian historian, Eusebius: "Unlike classical historians [implicitly including 'Luke'] Eusebius had no taste for inventing speeches and inserting them into the mouths of his characters." – Dick Harfield Nov 10 '13 at 7:38
  • Do your sources support their claims with any reliable sources? – Niobius Nov 13 '13 at 13:11

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