Ross Harmon’s Review of ACTS: CHRISTIAN STANDARD COMMENTARY, by Patrick Schreiner

Published on January 15, 2024 by Eugene Ho

Holman Reference, 2022 | 352 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Ross Harmon


Acts is one of half a dozen contributions, out of both the New and Old Testaments, to the Christian Standard Commentary series. Patrick Schreiner stands alongside his father, Thomas Schreiner, and other scholars including Gary Smith and David Garland who have contributed to the series. The series seeks to provide the exegetical and theological interests of the biblical books, including a focus on the biblical book’s teaching for the church (back cover). Further, the series desires to affirm traditional elements of modern commentaries, contain literary analysis, and represent the tradition of ancient commentaries (x–xii). Speaking in his volume on Acts, Schreiner states that the commentary focuses less on technical aspects, although rigorous work was conducted, and caters to the church and pastors in particular (xiv). Schreiner’s Acts has strong endorsements from experts in New Testament studies, with one recommendation coming from the author of perhaps the most extensive and academic commentaries on Acts, Craig Keener. These recommendations say that the commentary will enlighten even the most studious scholars of Acts, high praise this review will discuss following a summary and critique (inside fold). 

In accordance with most commentaries, the volume begins with an introduction, containing many customary elements such as identifying major themes, the purpose of Acts, and a discussion about the author (3). Schreiner proposes that seven themes best capture the theology of the book of Acts, but he admits more may be added (6). Schreiner’s seven themes align with God’s salvation plan, beginning with the Father, followed by Christ incarnate, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and ending with believers’ witness to the nations (6–7). As it pertains to reading Acts theologically, Schreiner states that the commentary is theological, which means that he “will not shy away from jumping to other canonical and biblical-theological connections…[and will consider] the entire Christian canon to enlighten the reading” (xv, italics original). Schreiner dates the book loosely around AD 75 (59–60), and presents Luke, the companion of Paul, and most likely a Gentile, as the author (57–59). Moreover, he finds the book of “Acts is historically reliable from an ancient perspective” (62). As for the purpose of Acts, Schreiner suggests not limiting Luke to having only one but rather several, e.g., theological, pastoral, and evangelistic purposes (39).

To capture the contents of Schreiner’s commentary of Acts in full, or even in part, would be a daunting task to write and read. Consequently, this summary will focus on the overall approach and tone of the commentary. What stands out in this commentary is the degree in which biblical theology is highlighted. Schreiner places significant emphasis on the theological reading of Acts. In fact, the theological reading of Acts is heavily prioritized throughout the commentary, primarily by the author making biblical connections across Scripture. For example, Schreiner discusses how Judas is an archetypal example of death (101-02), how the authoritative position of Jesus reflects the Spirit dwelling upon David after Saul (178n98), and that Ananias is a “new Abraham (Gen 12:4), Moses (Exod 3:11), and Gideon (Judg 6:27)” (305). For a further example, one could turn to a helpful table that shows the parallels between the Exodus Narrative and the Second Temple Narrative (212). Yet, Acts is more than an account of the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. The commentary is in-keeping with the series objectives as it also incorporates elements of traditional modern commentaries, literary analysis, and ancient commentary elements (71–74). Aligning with the series objective, Schreiner includes many of the staples that one comes to expect in commentaries, including Second Temple background information and Greek grammatical analysis, although the latter is provided sparingly or perhaps selectively. 

Acts: Christian Standard Commentary is recommended to pastors, lay leaders, and congregants. The commentary is recommended for three primary reasons: (1) A focus on biblical theology, (2) readability, and (3) a modern tone. The resource is not without some minor misgivings: (1) an unclear presentation of methods and terminology related to biblical theology, and, at times, (2) a lack of depth or no explanation of biblical connections.

Although not worthy of a lengthy comment, Schreiner’s work is easy to read. Pastors will find the pages simple to consume because of the author’s intentionality in limiting footnotes and overall length (a single volume). Also contributing to readability are the numerous visual aids throughout the book, with a table depicting “Doublespeak in Athens” as an exceptional example (488–90). Further, the lay leader or congregant will find a common modern vernacular (i.e., not highbrow scholar talk) and bridges to modern culture, e.g., reference to C.S. Lewis (149) and mention of televangelists (519) to make reading more enjoyable. The focus on biblical theology is a clear point of advantage for the commentary, and the reader will find it across the volume, not just in small, dedicated sections. Thus, this commentary stands apart from some others whose focus lies elsewhere, such as on linguistics or historical matters (see xiii for examples of these alternative commentaries). 

A downside to Schreiner’s commentary is the unclear terminology associated with biblical theology and the lack of explanation of some biblical connections. The reader will not find definitions for technical terms like “allusion,” “subtle allusion,” “echoes,” or “typology.” In fact, based on Schreiner’s use of the aforementioned words, the reader may be unable to discern a difference in the meaning among them. For some, flexible use of these terms may cause no issue, but for others, the undefined use of the terms may cause frustration or confusion. The most detrimental element of the commentary are the few moments where biblical connections have a lack of explanation (i.e., little commentary to explain biblical relationships, references having only a single footnote or no footnote). Two examples can suffice: (1) Schreiner notes in one section, “I will refer to many intertextual connections…but I will not have the space to develop [components of them]” (108n101); (2) Schreiner writes, “One can almost hear Paul call out with the psalmist” (603), but there is no clear articulation concerning the relationship between the passage and the OT, e.g., the presence of an allusion. The concern is that the reader must seek additional resources before teaching these biblical references. However, pastors and theologians who have access to appropriate sources can successfully overcome the few times that further explanation is not provided. Thus, in a real way, one of the greatest assets of the book contributes to its weakness, i.e., an abundance of biblical theology.

This review ends with an evaluation of the endorsements’ praises. Does Schreiner’s work provide scholarship that will cause readers to gain “fresh insights” and that “even veterans of Acts…will learn [from]” (inside fold)? The answer is yes. Schreiner’s work is profitable for all who study Acts, but it is most useful, and thus recommended, to pastors and laypersons. 


Ross Harmon
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Holman Reference, 2022 | 352 pages

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