A New Reading of Acts 18:24‐19:7Understanding the Ephesian Disciples Encounter as Social Conflict

In: Religion and Theology


This article analyses the social function of glossolalia in the narrative world reflected in Acts 18:24‐19:7. In so doing, it begins to address the lack of scholarship related to treating glossolalic references from a social scientific perspective. No treatment of this pericope succeeds to fully integrate it into a Lukan narrative programme. Through application of Berger and Luckmann’s sociology of knowledge models, this essay argues that reading Luke-Acts as the author’s legitimation of the Jesus movement’s social world is a valid, even preferred reading of this literature. Purity-related conflicts between circumcision loyalists and Jesus followers from the Gentile world dominate the second half of Acts and drive Luke’s legitimation programme. Based on Luke’s demonstration in the Cornelius episode of glossolalia as a divinely initiated marker of Gentile purity status, new social boundaries emerge that supersede circumcision. These new social boundaries represent an integral component of the Jesus movement’s revised purity map, relative to temple-centred Yahwism. This study argues that the events narrated in this passage represent a continuing social conflict between circumcision loyalists and Gentile converts. Luke narrates the events in Acts 18:24‐19:7 in order to correct a deviant baptism teaching (John’s baptism) that was propagated with the intent, based on purity concerns and prejudice, to marginalize Gentiles from full social integration into the Jesus community. Demonstrating that glossolalia functions as a social boundary marker that supersedes circumcision and that this best informs our interpretation of the Ephesian disciples pericope fully integrates this narrative event into Luke’s literary programme.

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