The Increasing Word of God (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20): Theological Praxis in Luke-Acts

In three narrative summary statements in Acts (6:7; 12:24 and 19:20) Luke asserts that the “word of God grew (or increased)” ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ηὔξανεν. Most commentators interpret this expression to mean the geographical spread of proclamation, or the numerical expansion of the church corresponding to OT precedents (Ex 1:7), earlier passages in Acts (2:47; 4:4; 5:14), and the subsequent statement in 6:7 (καὶ ἐπληθύνετο ὁ ἀριθμὸς τῶν μαθητῶν). However, such conclusions are inadequate for three reasons: First, Luke explicitly states that it is the “word of God” that grows, not the church or number of disciples, and this is quite an unprecedented and innovative utterance. Second, the conceptual application of αὐξάνω as a metaphor (Tannehill 1990, 2:82) based on an organic function suggests qualitative as well as quantitative characteristics. Instructive are Aristotle’s three characteristics of growth: increase of magnitude, transformation, and preservation of essence (Gen. corr. 321a). Third, its precise, three-time repetition in key places (Holladay, 2017) shows its weightiness, as such, for Luke’s narrative. Indeed, the meaning of this expression has a far more holistic depth and nuance than geographic expansion, spread of information or quantitive increase of believers. First, the “word” in Luke-Acts is vitally significant for Luke’s project signalled by its impactful presence in the prologue (Luke 1:2), referring to the message of the Gospel. Second, the concept of the growth of the word of God in Acts appears to emerge from Jesus’ parable of the sower (Luke 8:4–8; Mark 4:1–9; Matt 13:1–9), in Luke’s version of which Jesus most deliberately calls the seed the word of God (Lk 8:11; cf. Matt 13:19; Mark 4:14). This conceptual link suggests quantitative, qualitative and consequential aspects of growth or increase that are manifested as the word is actualized among God’s people throughout Luke-Acts. Indeed the word of God (or of the Lord) is not only proclaimed and taught but also in Luke “heard” and “done” (8:21), “held fast” resulting in fruitbearing (8:15), “kept” (11:28), and in Acts “received” (8:14; 11:1), “glorified” (13:48), “witnessed to” by signs and wonders (14:3), and God’s means for edification and sanctification (20:32). Further, Paul is “occupied” (ESV) with the Word (Acts 18:5), perhaps in order to testify, suggesting a more holistic idea than simply proclamation. And, in 20:2 λόγος seems to take on a singular, abstract quality, so that Paul encouraged the Macedonians with literally, “much Word” (λόγῳ πολλῷ), in accord with the singular “Word” that grows. In the final statement (19:20) the adverbial οὗτως κατὰ κράτος indicates that the manner of the increase was the transformative response of the community to divine power (19:11–19). All of this suggests that the Lukan idea of the “growth” or “increase” of the Word of God can be understood and appropiated as holistic and dynamic theological praxis among God’s people.

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