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ALMS OR LEGS? A CONTEXTUAL READING OF ACTS 3:1-10 IN
THE LIGHT OF AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY OF HUMAN

DEVELOPMENT

by

MCGLORY TANDO SPECKMAN

submitted in fulf"tlment of the requirements for the degree of

DOCTOR OF THEOLOGY

in the

DEPARTMENT OF NEW TESTAMENT

in the

FACULTY OF THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES

atthe

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA

PROMOTER: PROFESSOR JE BOTHA

CO-PROMOTER: PROFESSOR JN VORSTER

JUNE 1999

Page 2

DECLARATION

Student number:568-539-7

I declare that Alms or legs? A contextual reading of Acts 3:1-10 in the light of an alterna-
tive theory of human development, is my own work and that all the sources that I have used
or quoted have been indicated and acknowledged by means of complete references.

~-·· .. -?:.;? :: . ~~ ~- r.1. DATE
(Rev MT Speckman)

Page 165

well. The absence of a social welfare policy also meant that beggars were relegated to

the margins of society. Any possibility of transformation, for example, miraculous

healing, was seen as increasing the potential for self-sufficiency and it opened up pos-

sibilities for social integration (cf lepers, blind, lame, etc.). This is a form of a revolu-

tion. In this chapter then, we shall establish the significance of miracle stories for such

people as beggars and the implications thereof for the entire study .192

It may be wondered how a chapter of this nature fits in a study that deals with develop-

mental issues. It is precisely this which necessitates such a chapter. We believe that like

begging, health is a developmental issue. Illness can be a symptom as well as a cause

of underdevelopment. 193 Otherwise it would not be a concern of the United Nations and

every developed and developing nation. As it has become clear in chapter 2 of this

study, the theory of human development with which we work takes the micro-situation

as its departure-point. This involves value-systems, culture, everyday socio-economic

experiences and beliefs of a people in their micro-context. 194 In the case of the New

Testament world, everything seems to be determined by a mythical view of the world:

the earth here, heaven up there and the world beneath the earth (Bultmann in Vledder

1993:91; Hendrickx 1987). It is thought that there are always supernatural powers at

work. Experiences such as illness are often linked to the activity of these supernatural

forces.195In such a cosmology, the solution to illness is often supernatural. In the case

of Acts 3: 1-10 which is the passage in focus in this study, of importance is not only

the fact that the disability of the man had personal and communal economic implica-

tions but also that the solution to his problem is purported to have been miraculous

(Acts 3:6-7 cf Acts 2:43, 3:12, 4:12). As it will become clear in this chapter, miracles

served inter alia, the function of integrating such people as beggars and others on the

192The reader is reminded that in the introduction to chapter2 of this study, we have stated that to a certain

extent, the historical-critical method is deemed useful. It is in that context that some results of historical-

critical methods such as Form Criticism are utilised in this chapter.

193Proverbs for example, links poverty with ill-health (cf Van Leeuwen 1992).

194According to the Sociology of Literature, there is a connection between the writings and their contexts (cf

Theissen 1983:28,30). Therefore, miracle stories as recorded by writers of antiquity also convey a story

about their contexts (Hendrickx 1987:2).

195pjJch (1991 :182) suggests that there is a connection between sickness and misfortune, fortune and health.

149

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peripheries (for whatever reason) into the community. Although this approach to

miracles is new, existing research on miracles is utilised and in a sense, categorised

under different headings.

Given the vast majority of writings about miracles, 196 it is unnecessary to reinvent the

wheel by undertaking another indepth study of the phenomenon. As already stated in

chapter 2 above, we only work with the data that is relevant for the purposes of reading

the text in question. A selection from both primary and secondary sources hints at the

possibility of three concentric functions which are nevertheless implicit in the present

studies but have yet to be systematised. These are authentication, transformation and

empowerment.197 These constitute the basic structure of the present chapter. Thus the

chapter is divided in two parts: "preliminary issues" which constitute an attempt to

place this investigation in context and the "function of healing miracle stories" which is

discussed under the above three sub-headings.

4.1 PRELIMINARY ISSUES: MAPPING THE ROUTE

The aim of this section is to map out the route to be followed in this chapter, thereby

linking the present discussion to previous discussions of miracle stories. Focus is

mainly on the understanding of a miracle story, a discussion of the healing miracle in

order to help create a conceptual framework and the explication of an anthropological

model through which we view miracles in antiquity.

4.1.1 UNDERSTANDING THE MIRACLE

4.1.1.1 Definition

196See standard works such as Van Der Loos (1965), Moule (1966), Brown (1984), etc. A recent doctoral

thesis by J Engelbrecht (1983) contains a useful bibliography of both German and English sources, most of

which will not be dealt with in this study. Our criticism of secondary sources is that the majority of them are

written from a Christian perspective with a biased Christological focus.

l 97Jt should be clear from these terms that we are not contesting the historicity or non-historicity of miracles.

There is a belief however, which is rejected by, among others, Kee (1983:194), that miracles are inventions

of writers (cf Blomberg 1984:436). Scholars therefore tend to ask: "What did the writers understand by

miracles?" Our question however is: "What role did miracles play?"

150

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