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Read with care
on 18 October 2010
This could so easily have been a great book. Unfortunately, it is full of unsubstantiated allegations that are presented as though they were undisputed facts. Indeed, if you read the book without looking up all the references, you will be seriously misled, as the references are often at best irrelevant to the claims that they supposedly support, and not infrequently they totally contradict them. cf., for instance p 173 and fn 62, the text of which is on p. 177.
It is amusing to see the typically American modesty of the author, who on the front cover and the title page describes his own book as "An Extraordinary Guide". Perhaps it is indeed extraordinary, although whether in a good or a bad way is for the reader to decide.
The main bulk of the book is a re-telling of the story recounted in the book of Acts, perversely most of the time without references to Acts, which frequently makes following the story in the original text extremely difficult. The book could have been made both a lot shorter and at the same time more useful if the reader had instead been referred to the original Bible passages, which is done in the case of the letters, but not in the case of Acts.
A chronological New Testament reading plan would have been of more help to most Christians, although I recognise that Viola's linking passages and explanations would be needed to understand fully the alleged sequence of events.
Here is the reading plan that I have made up, based on the sequence of events as claimed by this book:
Acts 1 - 14
Galatians 1 - 6
Acts 15:1 - 35
James 1 - 5
Acts 15:36 - 18:6
1 Thessalonians 1 - 5
Acts 18:7 - 11
Acts 18:12 - 19:20
Acts 19:21 - 20:1
Acts 20:2 - 3a
Acts 20:3b - 28:31
Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians (61AD - dates according to Viola)
1 Timothy is written by Paul (from Philippi in Macedonia) (63 AD)
Hebrews is written (probably by Apollos, Barnabas or Silas) (64 AD)
Titus written (by Paul in Macedonia to Titus in Crete) (65 AD) (Luke as amanuensis)
Viola says that John's Gospel and 1,2 & 3 John were written in 65 AD.
Peter writes 1 Peter from Rome in 65 AD (transcribed by Silas (Silvanus))
67 AD Paul writes 2 Timothy from Rome to Timothy in Ephesus. Luke is the scribe.
67 AD Peter writes 2 Peter from Rome to the churches in NW Asia
68 AD Jude, the half-brother of Christ, has a copy of 2 Peter. He writes his letter.
70 AD John is exiled from Ephesus to Patmos, which is 50 miles SW of Ephesus. He writes the book of Revelation.
Needless to say, scholars dispute some of these dates.
The gospels (whenever they were written) describe of course the events that preceded the beginning of the book of Acts and are thus not included in this reading plan, which is about the New Testament church. They should, quite simply, be read before starting on the history of the church.
The author places heavy reliance on tradition for many of his claims. Unfortunately, there are often contradictory traditions, for instance, as regards where certain apostles died. Viola does refer to this in footnotes. However, he never seeks to justify the decisions he takes as to which traditions are correct and which should be rejected. cf pp 173 and 177, for instance.
On p 177 the author refers to his book "Pagan Christianity" for the explanation of what happened next. It is interesting that "The Untold Story" totally undermines the criticisms of rhetoric that are made by the same author in his other book. None of these contradictions are addressed.
This book can be regarded as a possible starting-point for a consideration of the chronological ordering of the New Testament letters in relation to the events recounted in the book of Acts. It cannot be viewed as the final, authoritative word on the matter.