Sources: Raymond E. Brown, The New Testament: an Introduction (Doubleday, XX); Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3d ed. (Oxford, 2004); I. Howard Marshall et al., Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters and Revelation (IVP, 2002), chapter 21.
What Is (Church) History? A common conviction: History is "what really happened."
Common complications: Subjectivity, selectivity, bias, limitations, politics, culture, power, agenda, etc. seem to inform the historical process.
A nuanced view:
History is the purposeful narration of past events.
Christopher Nolan (Memento): "narrative is a controlled release of information."
Historical criticism asks:
Why and how is the release of information being controlled (e.g., according to historical genre)?
Who is narrating? Where is the narrator located (e.g., which social community)? What is the narrator's rhetorical purpose?
Also: Why and how is the reception of information being controlled?
Who is receiving the narrative? Where is the receiver located? What is the receiver's rhetorical purpose?
How responsible were ancient historians to the past they tell?
Lucian, 39: "The sole task of the historian is to tell it just as it happened" (Brown, 318 n.94).
How free were ancient historians to tell it their way?
Lucian of Samosata, How to Write History 58: "If some one has to be brought in to give a speech, above all let his language suit his person and his subject ... It is then, however, that you can exercise your rhetoric and show your eloquence."
Church history is the Christian community's faithful remembrance of its past.
A modern task: Find the events "behind" the text. A more faithful task: Trust a trustworthy narrator.
The Acts of the Apostles (especially Peter and Paul)
Acts is volume II of "Luke-Acts."
Its main characters are still Jesus (1:1), the Spirit (1:4-5), and the Apostles (1:8).
Acts chronicles several transformations with remarkable subtlety.
One hinge is Luke 24-Acts 1 (from Jesus to Peter: "Jerusalem").
Another is chs. 6-8 (from Peter to others: "Judea and Samaria").
A third is chs.
9-15 (from others to Paul: "the ends of the earth").
The Church is apostolic Israel (ch. 1, cf. 3:25-26, Acts 24:10-21, Acts 26:1-23, Paul's farewell speech in 20:16-38).
The power of the Church is the Spirit of Jesus (2:1-42, 3:1-10, 8:4-17, 8:18-24, 19:1-20).
The good news is the apostles' preaching (sermons in 1:16-20, 2:14-39, 3:12-26, 4:8-12, 5:29-32, 10:34-43, 13:16-41 [and 4:24-30, 7:1-53, 17:22-31, 20:18-35?]) and interpretation (8:26-40).
The way of the cross is the Church's politics (4:1-31, 5:12-42, 6:8-8:3, 21:1-36, 22:22-26:32).
The Church is one (2:41-46, 4:32-37, 6:1-7) holy (5:1-11) fellowship.
The Church is universal (mission to Samaritans in 8:4-17 and Gentiles in 10-11/13:13-52/17:16-34 and ramifications for all in 15:1-31/21:20-26).
The way is transforming of persons (Paul's conversion in 9:1-31, 14:8-20) and the world (16:16-40, 19:21-41, 28:1-10).
Mission continues (1:6-11, 28:14b-31's anticlimax).
An apologetic question: Is this narrative trustworthy?
An interpretive question: Over the course of (Luke-)Acts, is the fellowship the same? changing? progressing? evolving? apostasying?