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This is a reference work on the reliability of the Book of Acts, with particular reference to its portrait of Paul and his history. Ever since the time of Sir William Ramsey, apologists have observed that the book of Acts gets an astounding number of historical details correct, so much so that one must be inclined to accept it as a reliable account overall, or at least offer it the overwhelming benefit of the doubt.
The conventional skeptical reply tends to ignore or minimize these accuracies, and instead focuses on what are perceived as errors, incongruence’s and contradictions in Acts, especially with reference to the letters of Paul.
The purpose of this essay will be to examine those portions of Acts which relate to Paul and defend their accuracy and credibility. We will not cover at this time:
- The accuracy of Acts in terms of historical and political details already established. Readers interested in this should consult the work of
Hemer [Hem.BASH], or that of
White, who have compiled a thorough listing of these details. However, we offer here, in brief, three major points where Luke is often regarded as being in error. The first two points are handled by Glenn Miller:
- the issue of the Quirinian census;
- the issue of Theudas;
- the issue of Luke 17:11, where Luke is said to be in error because in his stating that Jesus went through "the midst" of Samaria and Galilee, he is imagining a geographical falsity in which the two nations are alongside one one another from east to west rather than from north to south. Evans [Evan.Lk, 25] replies to this charge by noting that Luke's words are literally, "through the middle of Samaria and Galilee" -- which may suggest an erroneous view as the critics suppose, but may also indicate "only that while on his way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was in the general vicinity of both provinces." The phrasing is imprecise, but can hardly be considered erroneous.
- The chronology of Acts, and correspondence with years of history. It is enough for us to note that there is a healthy range of available dates for the chronology of Acts. To name three key events [Jew.CPL, 1-2]: Paul's conversion has been variously dated from 27 AD to 37 AD; the so-called "Apostolic conference", from 43 to 51; and the trial before Festus, from 55 to 61.
- The book of Acts in areas not concerning Paul. This includes much of the first half of that book.
Before getting into specific matters concerning Acts and Paul, there are a few general areas that need to be covered. Witherington's detailed study corresponding with the objections of
Haenchen [With.AA, 430ff; Haen.AA] will serve as our outline. He finds these areas where it is commonly asserted that Luke has distorted Paul:
- Personal differences. Paul makes much of his status as an apostle, where Luke only calls him one twice, both times in chapter 14. Luke portrays Paul as a miracle worker and a
speechmaker. Paul himself makes little of his own miracles and is more of a letter writer than a speechmaker.
It is hard to see why these are problems. Part of what confuses
critics is their inability to differentiate between the genre and
purpose of Acts versus the Epistles. In the former, no one is
accusing Paul of manufacturing apostolic credentials, and the
problem of his credentials, by Luke's perspective, has already been
solved; in the latter, he is addressing that problem specifically.
In the former, the miraculous is reported as part of his missionary
work; in the latter, he is always years past his missionary work
with the congregations in question, and there is no need to bring
up the miracles he has performed -- which, in any event, not even
Acts says were performed in every city Paul visited. (Also cited is
Paul's Roman citizenship, which we will discuss below.)
event, the letters and Acts certainly do not contradict each other,
and they certainly comport well in showing Paul to be an educated
"man of the world", a loyal Jew and one whom others have strong
It should also be noted [contra Kn.CLP, 77] that
the charge that Paul was a poor speaker was made by
opponents who compared him to Apollos, an outstanding
speaker by all accounts...and thus can hardly be taken as evidence
that he wasn't capable of some decent speaking himself.
Along the same lines, Luke is charged with "toning down" Paul,
not showing him to be as much of a controversialist as the
Epistles indicate. This we grant in good stead, but find it hardly
problematic. Luke writes from the perspective of hindsight, as one
who has seen the problems come to their conclusion, and he is (like
any historian) writing tendentiously, and wants to show an overall
harmony in the church, at the same time not seeing any need to
break open old wounds long since healed. He doesn't cover over
problems completely, of course, but the critics simply need to
appreciate what point of view Luke is writing from -- and not
assume dishonesty from the start.
This may also be, we may add, the reason why Acts may not mention Paul's letter-writing activity, if any reason must be given. Paul's letters were for the sake of reproof and correction, and to bring them up would bring attention to the controversy, pain and problems the letters were associated with.
In all of this, we suggest, along with Walker [Walk.APC], that the real reason why critics are wont to see conflict between Acts and the Pauline epistles is that they are following uncritically an overreaction to the efforts of the Tubingen school of criticism, which assumed that the author of Acts knew about Paul's epistles and was actually trying to counter them by "rehabilitating" Paul. This thesis led to an extreme reaction which maintained that the author of Acts knew nothing about Paul or his epistles; and now, finally, we are getting to the point where a moderating view is emerging, and we will see the fruits of that research as this essay progresses.
Whether Luke knew of Paul's letters is another discussion. There are some, including Walker and Goulder [Gou.DL], who think that Luke knew of at least some of the letters, at least 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, and they find this evidence not in Acts, but in Luke's Gospel.
- Theological differences. Unlike the above, this matter is "more thorny and difficult to assess," and we will look at it within the context of individual passages. Generally, though, the charge is usually along the lines that the Paul of Acts seems much more observant of Jewish law than the Paul of the Epistles.
It should be noted generally, though, that Luke's Paul also violates conventions of the Jewish law regularly (i.e., like his quite often staying in the houses of Gentiles), so that the gap is not as wide as critics suggest.
- In closing, one should not demand too much from Acts, or from any single document; inevitably, where there is such a long history
to be covered in such a short space, things get left out - and we
don't need the suggestion of conspiracy to know why. Polhill points
out that one "would never guess Paul's emphasis on justification as
found in Galatians from reading 1 Corinthians." [Pol.AA, 26]
Likewise, let us not accuse Luke of malfeasance simply because he
omits something that we personally think he should have included.
[Hellenist Persecution Only?]
[Lamentation and Individual Graves Rule]
[Conflict with Gal. 1:22]
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
In even these three verses, which mark the first appearance of
the man we call Paul here in Acts, critics have found various
- The Hellenist persecution. Verse 1 has been used
since the time of F. C. Baur and beyond [Conz.AA, 61] as evidence
of some core division in the church between the Palestinian and
Hellenist "factions" of early Christianity. Supposedly, this verse
is evidence that the Hellenist wing of the church, with its idea of
Jesus as divine, was the one in big trouble, whereas the Jerusalem
church, which wasn't a great deal different from regular Jews, and
did not believe Jesus to be divine, was left alone. Thus, the
apostles could stay safely in Jerusalem without fear of
Critics, however, miss a very subtle point in this verse. It
does not say that the Apostles were not persecuted but only
says that they were the only ones who did not leave
Jerusalem. [Bck.BAPS, 428-9] This does not mean that the rest
of the Jerusalem church was not persecuted, and it does not even
necessarily mean that the Apostles were not persecuted.
One of two
options is possible; namely, either they were persecuted and they decided
to withstand the pressure, or, they may indeed have escaped
persecution -- in that regard, Witherington [With.AA, 278n] observes
that we cannot apply here the modern notion of "kill the head to
destroy the body." Even if they were despised, holy men who were
able to perform miracles, especially healing miracles, might be
left alone out of awe or respect.
It is perhaps significant, in
this light, that while Paul reports in his letters that he
persecuted the church, he nowhere says that he persecuted the
- The Lamentation Rule. Related to this, it is charged
that Luke has made a mistake in verse 2, in that there was a Jewish
regulation against public mourning of one who was stoned. [Conz.AA,
61] Conzelmann says that Jewish Christians would observe this
rule, so that it must have been Hellenists who did the burial and
mourning; hence, Luke is contradicting himself when he says that the
church was scattered out of Jerusalem in verse 1. Haenchen adds
that there were also rules against individual graves for such people and he thinks that the mourners were non-Christian
Jews, since the church was scattered. [Haen.AA, 293-4]
The problems with this argument are:
- It is not said that the mourning was public, so that there is
no assurance that it was in violation of that rule.
- Critics are also too demanding on Luke when they object that
Christians could not have been around to bury and mourn Stephen,
based on verse 1. Certainly they do not suppose that Luke is
telling us that every Christian hot-footed it out of Jerusalem
right away, or that the great persecution against Christians broke
out systematically and immediately after the death of Stephen.
[Kist.AA, 289] Luke is merely doing what many historians of the
time did; namely, arranging subject matter topically rather than according to a
- Conflict with Galatians. Finally, much is made of this passage in comparison to Galatians 1:22, where Paul states that he was "unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea." Critics allege that in saying this that Paul must also be denying that he was ever in Jerusalem and persecuted the church there. [See Haen.AA, 295-7]
It is possible that "Judea" is to be distinguished from
"Jerusalem", and that the latter was not included with the former.
(See below.) But even if not, a critical reading refutes this
argument. We must remember that when Paul says he was
unknown "by face" it does not necessarily mean that he had never been seen by the Judean churches [contra Gran.SP, 14, 110]. In the NT, "face" (prosopon) can mean simply the physical face, but in context also implies a certain degree of knowledge (cf. also 1 Thess. 2:17), and a certain degree of presence, not merely appearance. [Bck.BAPS, 376] What Paul is saying in Galatians, in denying any connection to others for his preaching, is that he was not known of the Judean churches as an intimate friend or as one who had a
relationship with them.
Obviously, he did not go around introducing
himself, or wearing a nametag or having conversations with church
members before he hauled them off.
Saul/Paul may have been known "by face" (as we understand it) to
those he persecuted, but they hardly exchanged names or business
cards, and Saul would be known to the churches only by reputation,
and separately, as one of the persons who gave them trouble when they
showed up at the door.
See also Acts 26:20 in this regard, where Paul tells Agrippa that he preached in Judea and Jerusalem after his conversion. One would point out here that Paul was not going to be preaching in Jerusalem and Judea to churches that already knew the Gospel. He would be preaching in the synagogues and marketplaces to people who needed to know the Gospel. Other than that we should also consider the polemical purpose of Galatians, in which Paul is actively trying to distance himself from the Jerusalem church in order to affirm the originality and authenticity of his own teachings.
We have elsewhere covered the matter of alleged difficulty in contradiction between the Acts 9 account and two others in Acts. Let us now look at one other objection.
The Power of the Sanhedrin to Arrest. Paul's entire
campaign as depicted in Acts has been dismissed as unlikely, for it
is supposed that he would have no authority to arrest people and
certainly no power to pull people out of Damascus.
The fact is that we have no certain information as to whether
the Sanhedrin had this kind of power [Jns.AA, 162], and there is
also a question as to whether Rome was in control of the city at
this time or the Nabeteans were. Some things to consider,
On the matter of Damascus, we do not know whether there was any
sort of extradition agreement available. We do know that Damascus
was known in Jewish history and thought as a place of refuge and
exile [Pol.AA, 234n; Dunn.AA, 120]; therefore, it is conceivable that
Jewish Christians would flee there. We also know that the Sanhedrin
had jurisdiction as a legislative body over Jews throughout the
Diaspora [Kist.AA, 329], collecting the Temple tax abroad [Dunn.AA,
121], and that Jews had the right of internal discipline in their
synagogues [Pol.AA, 233; cf. 2 Cor. 11:24].
could conceive of some sort of right of extradition,
especially since we know that the Romans granted this right to
Judaea as a sovereign state under the Hasmoneans, and that this
privilege was renewed in 47 BC [Bruc.AA, 233].
But the question is really not relevant, because we don't know whether Saul/Paul would
have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was
stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ. It may be that
he had in his possession a letter of recommendation (cf. 2 Cor.
3:1) to present to Damascus authorities in an attempt to
get permission to arrest or perhaps only extradite Jewish
Christians, and for all we know, he may have had them handed over. So, he may have been politely declined, or he may have been rudely turned away. We just don't know whether he was pursuing
a legitimate course, because he never got far enough to tell.
Beside all of this, at that time, Caiaphas would
still be high priest - and we know from the Gospels and from
secular testimony that he and his family were not exactly law-abiding citizens.
At this point we may note what is regularly cited as being in tension with what Paul reports in his letters,
notably Galatians 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 11. Johnson [Jns.AA, 173-4] provides the basic outline:
- Paul highlights his trip to Arabia; Luke reports
nothing about it. In this regard, it is often said that Luke
"gives the impression" of a short stay in the Damascus area for
Paul, when he refers to "sufficient days" being fulfilled in Acts
This is an unspecified length of time but it could be short
or long. Perhaps the key to both aspects of this question is what exactly
happened in Arabia. We have no indications that Paul's mission to
Arabia had any success [Haen.AA, 334]; in fact (see next entry)
what little we know suggests the opposite. As it was Luke's purpose
to demonstrate what success Paul had in preaching the
gospel, it may be that he has suppressed the trip to Arabia
Related to this, the NRSV's use of "at once" in
Gal. 1:17 is not justified. [With.AA, 321] Paul in no way indicates
an immediate trip into Arabia.
- Paul reports that King Aretas was the one out to get him;
Luke says it was Jews. This presents an interesting debate for
those who steadfastly insist that Paul's letters are to be given
preference over Acts as they are stuck here with a case where what Paul
reports is often regarded as less probable than what Luke does.
Let's look at some various points of tension, and agreement, between Acts and 2 Corinthians on this matter.
- Luke tells us that Paul was let down
in a "large wicker basket." Paul uses a word that indicates a woven
bag or a flexible basket. [With.AA, 322n] Luke perhaps uses a
different term in an effort to be more classical. [Haen.AA, 332n]
- Who was really after Paul? Both parties would have their
motives; the Jews for obvious reasons, Aretas because of his
suspicion of Jewish preachers, helped along by his stormy
relationship with the Herod’s. [With.AA, 324]
intentional or otherwise, would not be impossible, and Luke's
omission of Aretas may be related to Paul's lack of success in the
Arabian mission (see above) - for to mention Aretas might require
Luke to explain WHY Aretas was after Paul.
- What exactly did Aretas do, and how did he do it? The answer
depends on who was in control of Damascus at the time and even
then there are many possibilities. Did he watch from outside the
city himself, or send his minions? Was he watching from the outside
because the Romans were in charge of the city and he couldn't get
inside -- and therefore did he recruit the Jews hostile to Paul to
help him on the inside?
If Aretas was in charge of the city, how
much power did he have as a client-king? How many men did he have
helping him? Although a valiant attempt has been made by Jewett
[Jew.CPL] to determine the answer to these sorts of questions,
there is simply too much left open for us to make any
Acts 9:26-30 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Gal. 1:18-19 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother.
Critics generally insist that there is no way that these accounts can be reconciled [Haen.AA, 332; Conz.AA, 75ff]. Let's look at the points of tension, again courtesy of Johnson [Jns.AA, ibid.]:
- Paul claims to have seen Peter and James; Luke says "the
apostles." This one is not very problematic, of course, since
Pete and James were "the apostles". (It should be noted that
Luke's word "apostles" in 9:27 is a generalizing plural [Bruc.AA])
- Paul leaves no room for a ministry in Jerusalem; Luke
emphasizes it. Actually, it is hard to see how this objection
works. Luke really doesn't emphasize Paul's work in Jerusalem that
much (9:28-9), and Paul says nothing that contradicts Luke. It should also be added
- Paul indicates that he saw none of the
other apostles in Jerusalem - not that he did not see any
other Christians. [With.AA, 325]
- That "churches of Judea" includes the Jerusalem church, as is
alleged by some critics, is not supported by Luke, who
distinguishes between them (8:1, 9:31).
- Acts 9:30 differs from Gal. 1:21, Haenchen tells us
[Haen.AA, 333] in "suggesting a land journey to Caesarea followed
by a voyage." It is hard to see why this is a problem: Gal. 1:21
only says that Paul went to Syria and Cilicia - it does not say HOW
he did it.
- Haenchen also objects that Luke must be reporting an
inaccuracy, for "it is inconceivable that the truth about Paul (his
conversion) should be known to Barnabas, but not to the Apostles."
[Haen.AA, 335] But Luke does not say that Paul's conversion was
unknown to the Apostles, he says that they did not believe
what they heard about it, that they were unsure whether it was a
genuine conversion. Haenchen fails to distinguish between
knowledge and belief.
[The Big Chronology Question, I]
[A Worldwide Famine?]
[Looking for Paul in Tarsus]
[Visit of Agabus]
[Correspondence with Galatians 2]
Now, to the biggest question of all – the chronology between
Acts and the letters of Paul - without getting into specific years
and dates. Galatians 2 reports a meeting of Paul and the Apostles.
Is this meeting to be equated with this meeting in Acts 11, or with
the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 [per Haen.AA, 446ff; Dunn.AA, 158;
Geor.RP, 44; Jns.AA, 269; Conz.AA, 91; Arr.AA, 149; Pol.AA, 320ff;
Mun.AA, 139; Kist.AA, 536]?
There are some who have given up on the issue
entirely, supposing perhaps that there was actually only one
meeting that Luke split into two, and so on, and so on. Most,
however, seem to have resigned themselves to equating Galatians 2
with Acts 15, and have accused Luke of anything from carelessness
It is our contention that Galatians 2 is to be equated with this
meeting recorded in Acts 11:29-30. Let's go over the fine points of
- The first matter has to do with the supposed reference to
a worldwide famine.
This has been dismissed as "a Lukan
fiction" [Lud.PAG, 11; also Haen.AA, 374] by many critics, for
while there was severe famine in selected spots of the Roman Empire
around the time of this prophecy, it was not "universal."
We would reply that, as is to be expected, Luke
only refers to the inhabited civilized "world" of the Empire, in the same way that Lucian and Josephus do in War 3.29
[With.AA, 372]. Or else, he is using a "natural exaggeration" [Nick.C, 29n] with roots in the less specific Aramaic phrase, "all
the land" – [Haenchen, Conzelmann and McLean ; Haen.AA, 377; Conz.AA, 90; McL.CC, 151]. Even so, critics go as far to argue that if there was famine in
"all" the world, then those in Antioch could hardly have been helping those in Judaea.
It should be obvious that a
famine can have far-reaching effects (even in places where there
are no direct famine-related problems) and be more severe in some
places than in others and when coupled with the social context provides an excellent
reason why the Antiochenes were going overboard to help Judaea.
First, they likely felt that they owed the Judaean churches their
lives, spiritually speaking, as the cradle of their belief.
the situation in Judaea may have been thought to be exacerbated by
a sabbatical year in 47-8, which the Antiochenes would easily
suppose to have aggravated the upcoming famine for that area, for
it would mean that there would be no local planting of crops.
History records that an unusually high Nile in Egypt (the Empire's
breadbasket) in 45, along with the high price of grain, made this
a rather tough time throughout the Empire - even in places
where there were no local famine-related problems.
might be added that charity does not always begin at home. Haenchen
may as well ask why people in America donate money to charities
working in Africa when we still have plenty of poverty right here.
Now, to the more specific matter of correlation with
Galatians. These are some of the factors in question:
- Noting verse 25, Haenchen asserts that "Luke presupposes
that Paul has remained in Tarsus ever since his withdrawal there"
[Haen.AA, 367] and proceeds from that point to argue for a
conflict with Galatians.
But Luke "presupposes" no such thing, so, it
is actually Haenchen who has presupposed what Luke is thinking. All that this
account indicates is that Paul happened to be in Tarsus at the time
Barnabas went looking for him, and this is not unlikely, since it
was, after all, Paul's home city. Presumably Barnabas, when he went
out looking for Paul, checked the most likely place first - or else
part of his seeking was going around asking where Paul was.
is presuming, of course, that when Luke says that Barnabas "sought"
Paul, it means that he had no idea where he was at all in
the first place - not even a general idea from keeping
correspondence with him.
- Haenchen also raises a minor issue in wondering why Agabus and
other prophets from Jerusalem should have visited Antioch.
[Haen.AA, 376] One may simply ask why he shouldn't have. Despite
critical assertions to the contrary, there is no reason to see the
early church as composed of standoffish communities that never
corresponded or visited with each other; if anything, the data of
the NT indicates the opposite.
- Now to specific objections to equating Acts 11 with Galatians
2, as described by Witherington [With.AA, 442ff]. It is our
contention that Acts 11:29-30 describes the meeting of Galatians 2,
and that the events of Acts 15 followed sometime after Galatians
- Paul describes in Galatians a meeting where circumcision
was discussed, and Luke says nothing about it. However, Luke
has a good reason for doing this: He has arranged his material
topically, and has therefore compressed the entire issue of
circumcision in the later account of Acts 15, where the matter came
to a head at the Apostolic Council.
At the same time, it should be
noted that Galatians 2 indicates a discussion of
circumcision, but no solution to the issue as is found in Acts 15.
- Luke refers to elders (11:30) of the Jerusalem church as
those who received delivery; Paul refers to a meeting with the
"pillars" of the church, James, Peter and John. It should be
noted here that Luke offers a close association between "elders"
and the apostles (15:6), so that it is not clear that he considers
them to be a fully separate group.
In this regard, Bauckham
suggests [Bck.BAPS, 436] that the Twelve as a group did not survive
the persecution of Herod intact, so that "elders" may include
James, Peter and John. Note that the events of 12:1-24 are said to occur "about that time" - they are not recorded as being
chronologically after the events of 11:25-30.
We will look at this matter further when we get to Acts 15.
[Speeches: General Overview]
[Appeal to Personal Christophany]
[View on Justification vs. Epistles]
[Number of Synagogue Rulers]
[Jealousy of Jewish Leaders]
[Distance Between Perga and Antioch]
Our next points of major contention do not arrive until Paul's
speech to the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch - and it is at this
point that we may discuss one of the biggest bones of contention
for Acts as a whole, the authenticity of the speeches.
one need only read the speeches aloud to realize that Luke is not
offering a transcript of everything that was said; at the same
time, he is not simply writing out of his imagination either.
Rather, as Dunn [Dunn.AA, 178] points out:
Here, as usual, Luke's intention was not to present the sermon Paul
actually delivered...but to provide in cameo form (a perfectly
rounded miniature which would take a little over three minutes to
deliver) an indication of what Paul said on the occasion.
We may be fairly sure that Paul took more than three minutes to
make his speeches. At the same time, Luke had a limited amount of
space to work with and so we find that the
speeches of Paul, while not sounding exactly like Paul, are at least
"Pauline" with Lukan rhetorical touches
taken from the patterns set down by rhetoriticians like
Quintillian [With.AA, 407ff; Wnt.BAAL, 299] that quite out of
necessity, yet were in line with the techniques of the time (i.e.,
Tacitus, for example, considered simple transcription to be both
pedantic and unworthy of serious historical writing, which also
kept in mind strategies, tactics, and results).
accuse Luke of inventing words for Paul's mouth, but this really
does no justice to Luke. He could hardly have compressed the
complexities of Paul's thought into such a small space. We are only
warranted in charging invention IF what Luke writes somehow
directly contradicts what Paul writes but this is what we do not
find at all.
It should also be noted that a difference in what
Paul preaches in Acts, and what is recorded in his letters, may be
accounted for, to some degree, by the fact that most of his Acts
speeches are missionary speeches, whereas his letters are
all to Christians. In this regard, it is interesting that Paul's
only Acts speech to Christians (Acts 20) is the place where even
critics admit that Paul sounds most like he does in his letters.
Thus, for example, consider the
objection of Haenchen [Haen.AA,411], who, noting 1 Cor. 15, asserts that "the real Paul would not
have appealed to the Christophanies before the Twelve without
referring to his own vision." Perhaps, perhaps not: Paul had a
reason to appeal to his own vision in 1 Corinthians (see our reply to Robert Price), whereas
in Antioch, he did not. One might just as well say that the
"real Paul" would not engage a whirlwind treatment of the OT,
either, but that is beside the point. Luke is not striving for
transcription here, but summary; not verba, but vox.
To object that he has failed to cover every single point that we
think Paul might have is to misunderstand the literary technique in
use. However, that granted, we may agree that a full transcript of
the speech would probably have shown Paul appealing to his own
experience as well as that of the others. [Bruc.AA, 309]
Other than that, the only claim I have found that Luke here
directly contradicts Paul is found in Conzelmann [Conz.AA, 106],
who thinks that in vv. 38-9, where Paul speaks of "forgiveness of
sins" and the law, is non-Pauline, for it modifies the
"understanding" of the word "justification" to a non-Pauline sense.
Dunn, however, recognizes
that, while this verse "reads oddly as a report of Paul's view of
the law" [Dunn.AA, 178], it is not so far off that it could not
serve as a highly summarized report. It is not proper to speak of
this as "non-Pauline" but rather as "incompletely Pauline". Or, as
Johnson notes of the speech as a whole [Jns.AA, 237] it: "may not
be Paul, but is, after all, not a bad simulacrum."
On the other
hand, not all agree with Conzelmann: Polhill [Pol.AA, 305]
considers the thought to be thoroughly Pauline, and Dunn finds some
parallels with Col. 1:14, Eph. 1:7, and Rom. 4:7, even though he
asserts that the concept behind the speech has not been fully
grasped. However, neither Polhill nor Conzelmann really give a
detailed justification for either position.
Now for some minor objections. Witherington notes [With.AA, 406]
that some object to verse 15's use of "rulers" in the plural,
saying that synagogues only had one ruler; however, this is
countered not only by Mark 5:22 but by the possibility that (as
with the high priest) the title could be retained by former rulers
of the synagogue, or by both a husband and wife over a synagogue.
Next, Haenchen [Haen.AA, 414] objects to the story in that he
sees "no real call" for jealousy on the part of the Jewish
There would be plenty of "cause for jealousy": the sight of
Gentiles being saved by a Jewish Messiah [Pol.AA, 307]; the
attention that Paul was getting in the city, after the Jewish
leaders had been there for years with little effect [Kist.AA, 493];
or, even a jealousy over a loss of distinctiveness [Dunn.AA, 183]
having perceived themselves as being the chosen people of God. Any
of these, singularly or together, could have incited jealousy.
Finally for this section, we note a minor
objection from Haenchen [Haen.AA, 415] alledging that Luke had
no real perception of the distance between Perga and Antioch, a
distance of 100 miles or so, because he reports the journey between
the two cities in such short order.
This area was a barren wasteland
in the Taurus mountain range, filled with bandits and subject to
flooding. What Luke could report of this journey would likely not
be of much use regarding his accounts of the growth of the church and the
[Use of Lystran Language]
[Reaction of the Lystrans Unrealistic?]
[Conflicts with Epistle's Theology]
[Appointment of Elders]
With this passage, the critics once again get their creative
juices flowing. Haenchen calls the whole story "incomprehensible"
for a variety of reasons [Haen.AA, 427]. Dunn, on the other hand,
tells us (with Haenchen in mind, perhaps?) that "despite
sophisticated modern Western skepticism to the contrary, there is
nothing basically implausible in the rather farcical sequence of
events and swings of mood recorded." [Dunn.AA, 189]
Finally, some critics question the validity of the account in
vv. 21-8, in particular the appointment of elders. Conzelmann
decries this practice as "un-Pauline" [Conz.AA, 112], while
Haenchen comments that the "genuine Paulines" (letters) show no
such organizing. This is related in part to the controversy in the
Pastorals on this subject;
here we need only recall that:
- Would the Lystrans have used the names of the Greek gods
Zeus and Hermes, or local gods? They probably used local names, but
Luke has probably done us the convenience of offering their
hellenic name-equivalents. [Cad.BAH, 22; With.AA, 424n] We have the
support of inscriptions in the area that list Zeus and Hermes
together in the local language. [Kist.AA, 514]
- What of the matter of the Lystrans using their native
language? This is not unrealistic. Stephanus of Byzantium indicated
the preservation of ancient languages in this region [Hem.BASH,
110], and Jerome reports in the fourth century that the Galatians
used their native languages, although the Lystrans, as part of a
Roman colony city, would also have been able to communicate with
Paul and Barnabas in koine Greek [Conz.AA, 110; contra Haen.AA,
425], though perhaps not very effectively [Dunn.AA, 190]. That, of
course, would add to the farcical nature of the whole situation.
- Is the reaction of the Lystrans unrealistic? Arrington
[Arr.AA, 145] notes that a local legend of Zeus and Hermes had the
two gods descend to the area as beggars where they destroyed an entire
city (except for two people who showed them hospitality alone).
Could the Lystrans have been wondering if history would repeat
This is important, for there are those like Haenchen
[Haen.AA, 431ff] who seem to think that the whole situation is
impossible, because they seem to presume that the Lystrans were as
intelligent and skeptical as they were.
For example, Haenchen claims that preachers proclaiming faith in a new god would not mistake Paul and Barnabas for another god
like Zeus or Hermes. Of course, this assumes that everyone in the
city who saw the healing had also heard the complete gospel message,
understood what it was all about and agreed with it; and even
then (as with Athens).
It is not necessarily true that no such
confusion would occur. As a modern, Haenchen is using
his perfect hindsight and simply fails to comprehend the grasp
that belief in the gods had upon these people.
For the same reason, his objection that it would take too long to
bring the sacrificial animals in from pasture and to weave the
garlands is simply unreasonable; would not garlands (actually, woolen
wreaths - Bruc.AA, 322) be "ready-made" for given celebrations on
the pagan calendar? Wouldn't sacrificial animals be kept at hand
for the same reason - or in case another visit by Zeus occurred?
- Is it realistic that the Jews of Antioch would travel 100
miles to bother and persecute Paul in Lystra? Yes, for two reasons:
- Paul himself travelled many miles to Damascus to persecute
- We have indications of a special relationship between these
two cities, in the nature of a social network. A tangible example
of this relationship is a statue erected in Antioch to honor that
city, which was placed there by Lystra. [Bruc.AA, 325] It would not
be surprising for the persecutors to make this trip, since the
effects of Paul's preaching would continue to be felt in their
- Is anything that Paul is reported to have said at variance
with his theology in his letters? The conclusion is not the same,
but at the same time, there is no contradiction with Romans 1:18-25, the most often cited parallel. [Pol.AA, 316] Barnes [Barn.PJZ] adds the interesting note that Paul's speech here has a number of affinities to the words of Johanan ben Zakkai, in the Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:7, which suggests that both he and Paul learned the same formulaic proof as a typical approach when explaining Judaism to Gentiles.
- "Elders" are indicated in a "genuine
Pauline" - in Phillipians 1:1.
- This practice is in line with Jewish practice of the time and
so would hardly be innovative or require any great leap of thought.
- Paul's letters also indicate leaders and paid teachers
[Wint.BAAL, 244] in Gal. 6:6 and 1 Thess. 5:12-13. Again, how
much of a leap is it to suppose that elders were also part of the
- Dunn [Dunn.AA, 193] does wonder why elders are not mentioned
in the Paulines in places where we might suppose they would be
mentioned, like where there is trouble they could help solve.
might suggest that they would not be mentioned if either the
problem came from outside forces (as with Galatia, which may have
also been a young church without elders -- see below) or they were
part of the problem themselves (as they likely were in Corinth).
[Squaring with Galatians 2?]
[No Words from Paul and Barney?]
[Galatians, an Early Letter]
[The Real Decree?]
[Acts 15:10 in the Mouth of Peter?]
[Would James Use the LXX?]
[Purpose of the Decree]
We have already presented some data in support of the idea that
this meeting is NOT the one reported in Galatians 2 and that
Galatians was written before this meeting, commonly referred to as
the Apostolic Council. Let us now shore up that argument from the
perspective of this chapter in Acts.
- One item cited as contradictory is the difference in motives
for the journey. Equating Acts 15 with Gal. 2, Dibelus [Dib.SAA,
100] points out that Paul cites a revelation as the reason for the
visit (Gal. 2:2), whereas Acts cites a community decision.
confusion is cleared up once we equate Acts 11 with Gal. 2: The
"revelation" Paul refers to is Agabus' prophecy of famine so that the
request that Paul "remember the poor" (Gal. 2:10) fits right in
with the famine situation. The aorist indicates that Paul was
already concerned about the matter before he arrived. [With.AA, 92]
- Conzelmann [Conz.AA, 116] comments on the "striking" passivity
of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15, and therefore supposes that there
can be no reconciliation with Galatians.
Of course, this assumes
that Gal. 2 = Acts 15, which we assert is not the case; however, we
may add that the "passivity" recorded is actually an instance of
rhetorical brevity by Luke. Whatever speech Paul and Barnabas made
would likely have been old ground that Luke has already covered
(not to mention, would have been to long to recount in the first
place), and unless he has some motive to do so (as with Paul's
conversion account), there is no reason for him to repeat the
- There is nothing in Galatians itself to suggest that there was
a decree (like Acts 15) in regards to Gentile circumcision or table fellowship. Paul says that Titus was not compelled to be
circumcised; the word suggests a strong sentiment, if not a
compulsion. If the decree were in effect, then there would be no
question of whether anyone would be "compelled" or "not compelled"
one way or the other, for the matter would be settled.
- There are some indications within the text of Galatians itself
that it is an early letter - which supports the equation with Acts
11. Witherington [With.AA, 817ff] notes that:
- There are no names given of leaders in the Galatian churches.
This suggests a young congregation, as does Paul's stricter
- There is no reminder to collect funds or to continue to do
so, as there is in the Corinthian correspondence.
- Paul remarks on how quickly the Galatians have abandoned the
gospel (1:6), which suggests that they haven't been with it for
- The lack of precision regarding who the Judaizers are suggests
the lack of an established social network within these churches.
Now a few other matters of note:
- Is the letter of the Council a genuine document or a
"fictitious" [Conz.AA, 120] Lukan creation? The data supports
the former conclusion. It contains several hapax legomena
(words not used by Luke elsewhere) and refers to "Barnabas and
Paul" in that order - an indication, perhaps, of another source
Luke depended on, since he normally puts Paul first. [Bck.BAPS,
- Is the setting itself realistic? Very much so. The
process depicted by Luke follows the typical pattern for resolution
of community disputes in antiquity. There would be a call for an
assembly, in which speeches would be made following the conventions
of deliberative rhetoric. The assembly would call important
witnesses, refer to any authoritative documents (in this case, that
would be the OT), and a formal document would be drawn up at the
end of the assembly, addressed to those incumbent to carry out the
indicated decision. [With.AA, 451ff]
- Would Peter really say something like Acts 15:10?
Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?
Critics suppose that no Jew would describe the law in this
fashion, as a burden which cannot be borne. Note, however, that
what Peter is saying is that it is a yoke that has not been
able to be borne, in a strictly practical sense - he is not
saying that the law itself is unbearable, although even Jesus
hinted at this to some extent (Matt. 23:4). This agrees with Jewish
conceptions of the law as on the one hand a gift of mercy and joy, but at the same time as a yoke and a burden.
At the same time, it
should be noted that for a Galilean like Peter, the required
pilgrimages, which would have taken him away from work to support his
family, may actually have been quite a burden. [With.AA, 454;
- Would a Palestinian Jew, like James, quote the LXX (Greek
OT)? This has some importance, for it is observed that the
Hebrew version of the verse that James quotes does not support his
point like the LXX does, and so it is supposed that Luke is putting
words in James mouth.
However, this objection does little justice
to the influence of Hellenism in Galilee. While not quite as
influential as the "Cynic sage" model of Jesus would suggest, there
is enough evidence to allow that James would be familiar with and
use the LXX. Furthermore, it is arguable that the Hebrew version
can indeed support the point made - Bruc.AA, 341.
- What was the decree all about? Most commentators
suppose that the decree was intended to bind the Gentiles only to
the basic laws of Noah recorded in Genesis 9:4-6, or perhaps to
Lev. 17-18 laws on sojourners [Jns.AA, 267]. However, a reading of
the material in its social context reveals something different
- The part of the decree dealing with meat offered to idols is
better understood when we realize that only the wealthy ate meat
with any regularity. Otherwise, a working-class Gentile usually
only ate meat at public celebrations at pagan temples.
- The ban on sexual activity (fornication) likewise makes sense
in the context of pagan festivals where such activities were part
of the process.
- The prohibition on things that are strangled relates to a
pagan belief that strangulation of the sacrificial animal
transferred the spiritual vitality of the offering to the idol
itself. At the same time, the prohibition on blood relates to the
pagan practice of tasting of the blood of the sacrifice.
The decree, therefore, is comprehended best as a prohibition of
attending pagan feasts and all that they entailed. We see Paul taking
steps to implement the particulars of this decree in 1 Thess. 1:9
and 1 Cor. 5-10, where it becomes clear that it is acceptable to
eat the idol meat at home, such that the matter is venue, not menu.
This interpretation is supported by the Didache, which instructs
the reader "in matters of food (to) do what you can" but to "abstain
at all costs" from that sort of eating which is "the worship of
He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
These few verses offer us a big argument: Is Paul's circumcision
of Timothy in line with his gospel of grace? Or, was it just an
empty gesture invented by Luke?
The matter actually goes back a bit further to the marriage of
Timothy's Jewish mother to a Greek father. We can rather quickly
get past another of Haenchen's objections,
that such a marriage would be illegal under Jewish law (as if that
would stop anybody). We have evidence that Jews in this region
married into dominant Gentile families and though the practice was
rare, it "still took place often enough" [Haen.AA, 478n; Bruc.AA,
351; Dunn.AA, 216] and we can move onto the basic question of whether Paul
would do such a thing as described.
It is commonly supposed that
the circumcision of Timothy was a gesture of concession to the Jewish
community, Paul's way of "being all things to all men" so that he
could save a few. Timothy, whose father was Greek (as Luke is at pains
to point out), would be considered an offense and an apostate Jew,
and so the circumcision was done to facilitate missionary work
among the Jews. [Mun.AA, 155] In fact, the way Luke phrases the matter suggests that Timothy's Christian mission was already being affected by this issue.
The key objections, supported by Haenchen, take on these aspects.
First, it is said: "Circumcision without religious significance
would simply have made no sense anywhere in Judaism at the time of
Paul and in reality could never be considered." [Haen.AA, 480]
Haenchen, however, fails to distinguish between "without religious
significance" and "with a different religious significance." Paul
objects mightily to those who demand circumcision as a sign of
salvation, but he has no beef at all with those who practice it
(and the other Jewish laws) as a matter of ancestral tradition.
[With.AA, 474; Jns.AA, 289]
And, this is what the whole deal was
about; namely, showing respect for one's traditions so as to not cause
offense among those who still held them in high esteem. Thus, when
Haenchen cites various verses showing that "Paul wanted nothing to
do with the supplementary circumcision of a Christian" for "it
would inevitably awaken the fatal misunderstanding that the true
Christian simply must be circumcised," he misses the point.
In the wake of the Apostolic decree, there is no way that such a
misunderstanding would crop up, except among the terminally stupid.
The very fact that Timothy underwent the procedure, even though he
technically did not have to, would be seen as a tribute to his
Jewish side of unimaginable proportions. And, it is not as though
the matter would be left unexplained by Paul in the first
[Connection: 1 Thess. 2:2]
[Why Not Appeal to Citizenship Right Away?]
[Official's Fear of Retribution]
[The Possessed Slave Girl]
[The Charge Against Paul and Silas]
[The Apostles in the Slammer: A Host of Amazingly Stupid Objections]
[Phillipi as "Chief City"]
- To begin, we know from the epistles that something did
happen to Paul in Philippi, as recorded in 1 Thess. 2:2 --
We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know...
This is in agreement with what Luke records. As a Roman citizen,
Paul (and Silas also, apparently) would be exempt from flogging
according to laws laid down by M. Porcius Cato in 198 BC, and it
would be a matter of great shame had they indeed been treated as
Of course, this is not to say that there were not violations
of this law [Wnt.BAAL, 369-70], which leads to the
objection by critics: Why did Paul and Silas not evade the
beating and imprisonment by appealing to their Roman
For all we know, they may not have appealed to it. Paul perhaps
would be more than willing to allow an injustice to take place for
the sake of the witness of the gospel, or perhaps he
was being eminently practical, unwilling to subject himself to
the possibility of "a protracted trial with an uncertain outcome"
[Dunn.AA, 222], as indeed happened to him later on. This would be
parallel to a modern criminal pleading guilty to a lesser charge to
avoid a longer sentence.
On the other hand, it may be that an
appeal was made and was either not heard in the shuffle, or -- a
more sinister possibility -- was simply ignored in the xenophobic
and anti-Semitic atmosphere of a Roman colony. [Jns.AA, 295;
Kist.AA, 596; cf. v. 20] It is perhaps notable that Luke and
Timothy, who would be or could have been taken as Gentiles, are NOT mentioned as
being taken into custody.
Did the officials have reason to fear retribution of a
sort: Phillipi was a Roman colony with special privileges that gave
it the same legal rights as Italy, it paid neither land nor poll
taxes and citizens were given other unique rights as well.
[With.AA, 488] If Paul reported the injustice to higher
authorities, these rights could have easily evaporated.
- Is the scene with the possessed girl realistic?
Haenchen [Haen.AA, 495n] finds it hard to believe that Paul would
let such a scenario persist for as many days as is implied, but I'd
like to ask what he thinks Paul would do about it before resorting
to an attention-getting and diverting-exorcism. The girl was
shouting these things, which suggests that she was keeping
her distance. Does Haenchen suppose that Paul ought to have run
after her and caused a commotion that way? I don't think that our
critic appreciates the delicacy of two foreign Jews preaching a new
religious message in a Roman colony.
What would Paul have objected to, though - isn't this message
offered by the girl in line with his own? Not necessarily, for
First, since there is no indication of a significant
Jewish presence in Phillipi at this time (note that there is specific reference to there being no synagogue, possibly indicating less than 10 Jews in the city as a whole)
[Hem.BASH, 114] it is likely that the hearers would assume that
the "god" referred to was a pagan one, not the Jewish one and the phrase "God Most High" was applied often to Zeus, or would be assumed to apply to whatever the favorite deity of the area was [Pol.AA, 351; Teb.PS].
Second, the article is lacking in the phrase that refers to "the
way" as it could be interpreted to mean "a way," which leaves
a certain ambiguity that takes away the uniqueness of the gospel.
Finally, the word "salvation" in pagan contexts often meant health
and healing, not spiritual things. Thus, the girl served as a
distraction from the true gospel message and perhaps served to set
up expectations that Paul was telling people how to get healthy,
wealthy and wise, which would then lead to a letdown when he
preached the true gospel.
The bottom line, as Treblico [Teb.PS] argues, is that Paul had a tough choice: He could stay out of trouble of his own, and let the girl continue, but risk people being misled; or he could (as he did) do something about it, and well, look what happened. I am not surprised he waited for a while before taking action.
- What was the charge against Paul and Silas? They are
charged with advocating customs not proper for Romans to follow. Some have said that this refers to a law against Jewish
proselytizing, but we do not know of such a law until the time of
Hadrian. [Pol.AA, 353] Since we do not know exactly what Paul and
Silas were saying, we have no way of knowing what the basis of the
[Escape of Other Prisoners]
[Conditions in Ancient Prisons]
[Why Didn't the Jailer Check Around First?]
[Prisoners, Jews, and Magical Spells]
[The Jailer's Fear of Punishment]
[Dying with Dignity?]
["How Did Paul Know...?" etc.]
Now, some points regarding Paul's stay in prison:
A relatively minor note in closing. Is Luke incorrect in
referring to Phillipi as a "chief city" of Macedonia (16:12)? Some
critics perhaps read too much into this term, which is not so much
technical as it is a reference to an honor rating. Luke's account
of Phillipi as a "chief city" is right in line with the rhetorical
rules for praise of a city for the period and may in fact reflect
Luke's praise for a city he lived in or knew well. Phillipi
was the home of a famous medical school in antiquity. [With.AA, 488ff; see also Mun.AA, 161, Kist.AA, 588]
- Why didn't the other prisoners try to escape when they were
set free? [Conz.AA, 132] There have been a host of speculations
by conservatives in an attempt to answer this: They were frightened or stunned by
the earthquake; it didn't take very long for the jailer to get
things organized, etc. But, there is really a much simpler solution
that takes into account the environment at hand.
In our time of
Amnesty International and the ACLU, we are used to thinking of
prisons as places that are fairly well-kept, clean and in general conducive
to decent treatment. Ancient inmates had no such benefits
[Wans.CC] as jails were dark, badly ventilated, cramped and
sweltering. The food was poor (one inmate is recorded as having
eaten mattress stuffing; others died from hunger), it was very
difficult to get any sleep (remember that the inmates were awake
and listening to Paul and Silas singing at midnight -- NOT telling
them to shut up), and they were breeding pits for disease, fear
and dejection -- so much so that it they were compared to Hades
itself. There was also the occasional threat and practice of
If there was any reason why the other inmates did not try
to escape, it may be because, unlike the new prisoners Paul and
Silas, they were simply too weak to get up and go anywhere.
That Paul and Silas were perhaps the only ones able to
escape will come into play later.
By the same token, it is a misconception, even today, that if a
prison's walls were to fall down all of the inmates would leave
immediately -- they would only leave if the potential benefits outweighed
the cost. A "lifer" might take the chance. Someone with only a few
years left might not, because it might cost more to get caught again and risk
an extended sentence over an escape charge.
TheDigest of Justinian, which may not be relevant (see below),
indicates that death was the punishment for those caught escaping.
This comes from a late source, but that this penalty was in effect
in Paul's time (when it is all the more likely, prior to Christian
rule, sterner measures were in effect) is perhaps supported by
an account by Livy reporting that an escaped prisoner killed
himself to avoid capture. [Wans.CC, 90]
At the same time, a
relevant question is: Where would the Phillipian inmates have gone
had they escaped? Into the woods? There wasn't much to help them
make a clean getaway and not much chance of starting a new life
outside of the Roman Empire.
- Why didn't the jailer check around first? Haenchen says: "That
the official did not first look around to see who had escaped
belongs to the logic of edifying narration and is not to be
explained on psychological grounds." [Haen.AA, 497]
Haenchen should have looked into the social background
of the story. He has the answer part of the way when he notes Origen's
report that it was believed that magicians could open doors and
fetters with their magical powers, but he doesn't see that this
provides the very answer he is looking for.
It is known that, in the Roman Empire, Jews had a special
reputation as magicians. Paul and Silas were already in jail
because of an exorcism and the jailer may have known what
happened. If so, he may also have thought that these two new
prisoners were pulling some new hocus-pocus -- and significantly,
two particular magical spells known to have been used for prison
escapes were spells of invisibility and what we would call
invincibility. [Wans.CC, 92]
It may well be that the jailer
didn't check things out because he thought (in light of the opened
doors) that his magic-wielding prisoners had also become invisible or
unstoppable. And, why bother checking things out (or walking into a
trap) when that might be the case?
- Why was the jailer fearful of punishment? Conzelmann
asserts that the jailer would not have been held responsible for
the escape of the prisoners, but does not say why. [Conz.AA, 132]
Haenchen, however, cites Justinian's Digest as saying that
a jailer is not responsible for escapes due to an act of God.
As this Digest comes from 530 AD, however, and was
put together by a Christian emperor, we may ask whether it has any
relevance to this situation some 500 years earlier, especially as
it reflects a turn towards mercy we would expect from a Christian
emperor. One might as well cite the Mishnah as being relevant to
the trial of Jesus.
More relevant is a citation by Wansink from
The Passion of Andrew that records a proconsul saying this
to a jailer:
Right now, secure the door for which you are
responsible. See that you do not open it for any of the
dignitaries, even if you are won over by intimidation or bribery -
not even if I should come myself - or you will be missing your
On the other hand, Bruce suggests [Bruc.AA, 364] that the jailer
may have been committing suicide, not because of any related penalty
for escape but because of disgrace. Another possibility is that
the jailer would not have wanted to fall into the hands of his
prisoners, especially prisoners that might have had supernatural
powers. It is recorded that jail guards, especially if they were
cruel to their charges, were often killed during escape attempts
[Wans.CC, 89] and the jailer may have preferred to set the terms
for his own death rather than have his vengeful prisoners have
their way with him.
- How did Paul know the jailer was going to kill himself? How
did Paul's cry reach the jailer? How did Paul know that none of the
other prisoners had escaped? These objections are commonly
tendered by critics [Conz.AA, 132; Haen.AA, 497n] but there is
really no way to answer these questions without knowing the
specifics of the architecture of the jail (i.e., where each person was
exactly as events unfolded, how many prisoners there were, what
condition they were in, where they were from, why they were in jail
in the first place and for how long (see above), etc.).
the objections themselves are simply a matter of refusing to deal with history in
greater than two dimensions, Haenchen's assertion that explanations
of the situation are "both pathetic and comical" notwithstanding.
However, it is worth noting that the jailer was likely to have
been a military veteran [Kist.AA, 596], of the sort not possessed
of any particular imagination and accustomed to carry out actions,
orders and duties on the spot without question. Additionally, we do not have
any evidence remaining of the Phillipian jail, but if typical, it
had an outer perimeter where inmates were free to walk and visit
with friends and relatives, and an inner court of strict
confinement where Paul and Silas were kept. This leaves plenty of
possibilities for the sort of interactivity the story portrays.
Ramsey, for example, suggested that the jailer looked inside and
saw only darkness, whereas Paul could see his backlighted outline
from the inside. I would suggest that Paul sought out the jailer to
keep himself and other prisoners from being punished for attempted
Acts 17:7 They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.
This relatively short section gives us a few items of
discussion. A key question relates to the charges brought against
Paul and Silas by the Thessalonian authorities. It may relate to a
decree promulgated by Caesar banning predictions, specifically
those that attempted to foretell changes in rulers or that
suggested the demise of current rulers. The city of Thessalonica
could have been censured for harboring anyone who made such
predictions; hence, it makes sense that bond should be posted to
keep the missionaries out of the city.
It is also possible that
people were on the lookout for troublesome Jews in light of the
recent Claudian expulsion. We have a record of a stern letter
written by Claudius to the city of Alexandria, warning them about
Jews fomenting trouble. [With.AA, 508-9; Hem.BASH, 167]
One critical objection [Conz.AA, 135] asks why it is that the
prominent women of the city could not keep Paul and Silas from
being kicked out or persecuted, but in light of the decree of
Caesar, I doubt if the objections of a few citizens would have had
Another objection thinks that Luke has severely
underestimated Paul's time in Thessalonica, giving him only three
weeks there, but it should be noted that Luke is only telling us
how long Paul preached in the synagogue, not how long his
Thessalonian mission was overall. [Wnt.BAAL, 246-7]
Finally, one of the more famous objections finds an
incompatibility between the travels of Timothy, Paul and Silas
recorded in Acts and in 1 Thessalonians. [McL.CC, 150-1] But even
many liberal critics admit that harmonization is possible [Conz.AA,
130; Haen.AA, 513; see also Ston.AA, 10; Hem.BASH, 186; Wint.BAAL,
246; With.AA, 510; Pol.AA, 364; Bruc.AA, 374-5] and, given the
circumstances (Paul and Silas barred from the city, while Timothy
apparently was not), I do not think that such harmonizing is
unacceptable, especially since this is, as Johnson notes [Jns.AA,
388], the place in Acts where we otherwise find the highest level of
correspondence with Paul's letters. For once, we agree
with Haenchen [Haen.AA, 513], who writes:
...(T)o recount at each point what Timothy did or
where he stayed (for instance during the time Paul and Silas lay in
jail) would have detained Luke unduly, without contributing
anything for the edification of the reader.
Another solution notes that the plural in 1 Thess. 3:1 may be
being read too literally and may instead refer to Paul alone, not himself along with Silas and Timothy. [Mun.AA, 177; more cautiously, Haen.AA,
[Alleged Contradictions with Romans]
[The Unknown God - Singular?]
In this section, Paul makes his speech in Athens to the members
of the Areopagus, and critics quite often act as dismissively as did the
Areopagus. Much of the focus turns upon alleged contradictions
in natural theology versus the book of Romans. To begin:
- Dibelius in particular [Dib.SAA, 32ff, 60ff] found much to
- He found a "clear" contradiction in that the focus of Romans
was cosmological, whereas the focus of the speech was teleological
- to which I ask, how is this any more contradictory than someone
like William Lane Craig using both types of argument?
- It is said that Romans 1:23-5 has an indignant attitude
towards idols, whereas Acts 17:29 is milder, only offering
To this, we may reply that Luke has perhaps "cleaned
up" and civilized Paul's speech a bit, in the service of brevity,
but there is certainly no substantial contradiction. Luke has
already indicated that Paul was disturbed by the idols he saw in
Athens (the word he uses is used in the LXX to refer to God's anger
at idolatry - Ston.AA, 11) and Paul's disgust before the Areopagus
may have emerged more in tone of voice than in actual words.
is also perhaps a deliberate ambiguity in Paul's use of the word
deisdaimonesteros; it can mean "devoted" in a positive
sense, or superstitious or overly scrupulous in a negative sense.
[Pol.AA, 370] Do we have a case here of Paul delivering a
calculated insult, but one that won't get him in trouble because of
- It is argued that in the speech, knowledge of God is provided
by a relationship to God, whereas in Romans, there is no concern
for this subject "at all." This is hardly a case of contradiction - and again, we may freely suppose that this complex aspect of the
matter was lost to the need for brevity.
- It is said that in the speech, Gentile hearers are "called to
the family of God" whereas in Romans, man is estranged and at
enmity with God. I don't see that the gulf is that wide here, but
it should be pointed out that the speech is essentially a
missionary endeavor so that we may expect a more kerygmatic twist than in
a letter to those who already believe.
- Conzelmann [Conz.AA, 147] finds many typical Pauline features
missing from the speech, including justification, the wrath of God,
faith and law (to a Gentile audience?), the return of Jesus (I
don't think the Athenians were ready for that), and others - but
we may suggest that he is being far too demanding, as with these other
objections, on what is essentially a summary.
rate, Hemer is surely correct that this was a presentation before
pagans "for whom Christological refinements would have been
meaningless at this stage." [Hem.BASH, 118]
- Other differences that are noted include: The speech, unlike Paul's letters,
contains no castigation of Gentile immorality, though it does refer
to culpability in stressing that the times of ignorance are over; therefore, castigation is implied rather than directly stated.
In Romans it is said that Gentiles know God but do not worship Him,
whereas in Acts they worship God but do not know Him. Paul,
however, does not say in Romans that the Gentiles have an inherent
knowledge of God, only that they can deduce His presence and
existence from the natural world. Indeed, Hoerber points out [Hoe.PA] that the language of the speech is quite telling: The word "finding" is in the optative sense, indicating uncertainty (as in, "if perhaps they find") and is joined with a verb that is used in Homer and in the LXX to suggest "blindly feeling around" and looking for unsuccessfully.
In short, while the two passages do somewhat differ in emphasis they are "far from irreconcilable" in their presentation. [With.AA,535]
The differences cited by Dibelius, therefore, are not
substantial, and for the most part can be understood as caused by
Luke's need to compress what was undoubtedly a lengthy speech into
something more manageable. [see also With.AA, 518ff; Dunn.AA, 231]
- It is worth noting that the reactions of the Areopagus are quite what we would expect: The Epicureans would sneer at the Resurrection, while the Stoics would indicate that they wanted to hear more on the subject. [Croy.HPP]
- Finally, it is sometimes objected that there was no such altar
that referred to an "unknown god" in the singular [Conz.AA, 140],
though we have found inscriptions dedicated in the plural. It is
probably sufficient to dismiss this as an argument from silence,
but in fact we have some literary indication of altars to an
"unknown god" in the singular found in the work of Diogenes Laertius
[Ston.AA, 18], and Livy in his Roman History refers to the
Judaea and says, "the god worshipped there is unknown" - thus
providing a possibility for a parallel. [With.AA. 522]
There isn't a great deal to object to in this section. One
common critical misunderstanding asserts that Paul left his place
of residence in v. 7, when in actuality all that is indicated is a
change in teaching venue. [With.AA, 549; Kist.AA, 653] There is
also some debate over the leadership of the synagogue being
credited first to Crispus (v. 8) and then to Sosthenes (v. 17).
Most will accept this as simply indicating a change in leadership
after the conversion of Crispus (as indicated in Paul's letter to
the Corinthians) or a case of more than one synagogue ruler
[With.AA, 556n notes a case where an infant was listed as the head
of a synagogue but, obviously, more were needed than that], but
Ludemann is a notable exception. [Lud.PAG, 172ff] Ludemann prefers to see
error in the text.
Some also object to Paul's act of cutting his
hair, as being contrary to Paul's doctrine of grace [Haen.AA, 546], but this relates back to the distinction between observing for the
sake of necessity and out of respect for ancestral traditions, and
at any rate, was probably an act of gratitude by Paul that was not done for
the sake of blessing. [With.AA, 557; Bruc.AA, 398] It is also
sometimes objected that this sort of vow could not take place
outside Jerusalem, but the rule cited [m. Nazir. 3:6, 5:4] only
indicates that the vow had to be completed in Jerusalem, which is
where Paul was headed.
[Expense of the Scrolls]
[Silver Shrines and the Role of Alexander]
Here we have yet another story that critics have tried to tear
to pieces, but to little avail.
- The first matter is that of the Jewish high priest named
Sceva, whom Conzelmann dismisses as a "purely legendary figure"
[Conz.AA, 164]. Haenchen agrees and dismisses all attempts to prove his historicity as "suffer(ing)
from the fact that they do not properly separate the historical
question and the question of Lucan composition." [Haen.AA, 565]
However, those with more respect for Luke note that Ephesus, being
a highly syncretistic environment, would be just the place for
"sons of Sceva" to ply their trade posing as sons of a Jewish high
priest, which is what most commentators who accord Luke some
credit think is the case. Incidentally, it is never
said that Sceva himself is in Ephesus, only his supposed
sons. These sons may well have taken the title "Sons of Sceva" [taking
advantage of the Jewish reputation for magical prowess] in the same
way as we might take "Madame Houdini's Fortune-Telling and
At the same time, it is possible that Sceva
was an actual high priest, but not a ruling one. Josephus uses the
term to refer to those who were not ruling high priests. [With.AA,
580-2; Kist.AA, 688; Hem.BASH, 121 - the latter adding that Luke
might have put "sons of Sceva" in quotation marks had those been
available in that time] Dunn [Dunn.AA, 259] compares the sons of
Sceva similarly to "strolling exorcists" and con artists of the
Haenchen adds that the "story would be worthless if only a few
rogues had been beaten up by a demon", [Haen.AA, 565] but one
wonders how this is so. The point made - one perfect for the
syncretistic environment of Ephesus - is that the name of Jesus is
not merely a magic word, and that Jesus is not just another god to
be added to the pantheon of gods. Haenchen is once again estimating
"worth" by modern standards.
- A second aspect of the Sceva story that is often pegged
involves the burning of the scrolls - not the burning itself (for
such actions are a well-attested paradigm in the ancient Roman
Empire [Jns.AA, 341; With.AA, 582] but the value of the material
ascribed by Luke, which Haenchen puts off as incredible [Haen.AA,
Haenchen offers no data regarding the cost of such
items, Kistemaker [Kist.AA, 691], though, offers at least the notation
by Bauer that a drachma was equal to 18 to 20 cents (in Bauer's time, much
earlier this century). The population of Ephesus was about 200,000,
and it was city famous for magic, so much so that scrolls with
spells and formulas on them were referred to as "Ephesian writings",
[With.AA, 582-3] so that there would no difficulty in obtaining
enough material to equal the cost. The total cost of the scrolls,
at any rate, may have been around $10,000 - equal to about 400
hardback books today, and may I assure the reader as a former librarian,
that it would not be hard in such a large city to find that many
books; therefore, even in these pre-literate days, Luke's total isn't
really excessive as Haenchen supposes.
- The story of the uproar in Ephesus is likewise sometimes
subjected to criticism. Haenchen expresses incredulity that the
Asiarchs of the city would "send (Paul) a warning note" right away
(which is not what the text says, but why couldn't they anyhow?) and
asks why the priests of Ephesus were not involved in the situation
(which the text does not say they were not); why Demetrius is not
further mentioned in the story; and he deems the actions of the
clerk incredible (which they simply are not, and he gives no real
reason to suppose that they are; on the other hand, Plutarch
advised local officials to "keep your eyes upon the orators", so
that we might expect the clerk to take the actions he did).
[Haen.AA, 574-6ff; see also Jew.CPL, 19] Such comments and
objections only reflect a poor grasp of the social situation at
hand. [With.AA, 585dd; Sto.RA]
- The Asiarchs were officially attached to Rome's imperial cult,
not that of Artemis so trouble for the cult of Artemis was good news
for them, and a riot that reduced the status of Ephesus could only
be in their favor power-wise.
As far as warning Paul, this is not
at all unlikely. Paul was a cultured man and a Roman citizen, while
the Asiarchs were men of wealth and high status. [Dunn.AA, 263] Paul
would not be unlikely to have been known to the Asiarchs
and have cultivated some sort of relationship with them during his
long stay in Ephesus, for there would not be many Roman citizens in
a free Greek city like Ephesus.
Paul, then, would be a member of
their core constituency. One of the Asiarchs may have even been his
patron and pulled some levers to get him into the lecture hall of
Tyrannus. Furthermore, the Asiarchs were also responsible for ensuring that the Emperor was not offended, and that included preserving the rights of Jews (and at this stage also, Christians, as a "neo-Jewish" movement) in their area.
- The priests of Ephesus might well have participated, and Luke
may not have recorded it since the tradesmen were the instigators
and the focus; however, it is also possible, in the syncretistic
environment of Ephesus, that they saw Paul as no real threat.
us recall, also, that the mob was hastily organized, and as Luke
advises us, some did not even know what the gathering was for --
are we to suppose that Demetrius posted fliers or sent messengers
asking for the priests' participation? The matter was for the most
part one of economy and upward social mobility and therefore of little
- The story of the riot itself is little different, and may hearken to similar stories from the period. [Sto.RA, 73] Philo and Josephus record similar accounts in which Jews argue that because their opponents riot, Jewish rights ought to be confirmed by the Romans. Luke (and the Christian movement) are taking advantage of similar claims for toleration and autonomy among the Jews.
- Finally, it is no surprise that Demetrius disappears when
things get really deep. Luke portrays him as an incompetent speaker
who exaggerates his case greatly to rally support such that once he saw that things were getting out of hand, it would be no shocker (even if
Luke is exaggerating for rhetorical purposes) to suppose that he
slunk away - lest responsibility for any ensuing actions (like the
loss of privileges for Ephesus) be set on his shoulders.
- A lesser objection notes that there have been found no silver
shrines of the sort that Demetrius is said to have made of Artemis.
We do have terra cotta figures of temples and metal
replicas (bronze, for example) of other temples and shrines;
however, so that (with the consideration that a silver item was
unlikely to have survived without being melted down for its value)
this argument has little force. [Cad.BAH, 5; With.AA, 590]
- A note of confusion for some commentators has been the role of
Alexander in the whole affair. Witherington [ibid., 596]
persuasively suggests that he was a local Jew who was trying to
disassociate the local Jewish community from Paul's work. He was
shouted down, not surprisingly: The Jews were commonly resented for
the special privileges they were accorded, such as those they had
in Ephesus. The "instructions" shouted to him might have been an
explanation of what the ruckus was all about.
Finally for this section, Kreitzer [Krei.NC] notes a touch of historic realism that may shed some light on the vehemence of the demonstration and some of the terminology used by the crowd. The timing of Paul's visit seems to have coincided with a time just after a special issue of commemorative silver coins which featured an association of the Emperor's wife Aggripina with the goddess Diana. Such a special issue coin would have been a source of pride for the Ephesians and made them especially vehement in their "defense" of the goddess Diana.
Little is made of this particular section, where even critics
admit that the Paul whom Luke portrays sounds a great deal like
Paul in his letters, which makes sense, because it is the only
speech that Paul makes in Acts to fellow Christians. The speech
contains some Lukanisms, but nothing un-Pauline at all, and a great
number of parallels can be established to Paul's letters (see
The only objection I have seen so far comes from
Haenchen [Haen.AA, 596], who wonders why it was
"necessary" for Paul to extol himself. "Necessity" is not the only possible cause for things, and at
any rate, Paul here is following the typical convention for
farewell speeches of the period, which included: farewell
instructions, warnings of evil ahead and lessons drawn from the
life of the one departing. [Jns.AA, 362-3; Dunn.AA, 269]
Some question why Paul did not stop at Ephesus itself, and had
the elders of Ephesus come and meet him at Miletus. Conzelmann
suggests that Paul was banished or expelled from Ephesus and wanted
to avoid trouble. [Conz.AA, 167] Witherington suggests that Paul
purposely selected a ship that did not stop at Ephesus, perhaps
because of enemies there, or because of the various delays he might
encounter (i.e., having to see friends; a long loading-unloading time of the ship; delays caused by poor harbor conditions
at Ephesus - Hem.BASH, 125).
Comments have also been made about the
supposed strangeness of Paul's travelling methods [Conz.AA, 171] which is
answered by many possibilities: Paul's desire to avoid pirates who would steal the money from his collection for Jerusalem
[With.AA, 602] or Jewish pilgrims who might have plotted against
him for carrying it on behalf of the unpopular Christians [Geor.RP,
123]; or, perhaps the simplest solution that it was just because of the
vagaries of travel in the ancient world, where you caught as catch
[21:4 and 10]
[The Collection: Why the Silence?]
[James' Reminder to Paul]
There is also minimal controversy seen in this section.
Some find contradiction in the prediction of verse 4; however, even
as liberal a critic as Conzelmann [Conz.AA, 178] asserts that what
was offered by the Spirit wasn’t a command not to continue the
journey, but merely an outpouring of "concern of those to whom the
Spirit unveils the future."
Witherington [With.AA, 629] notes that
this verse does not follow Luke's usual pattern for saying the
Spirit spoke through someone. A minor issue is sometimes made over
the fact that Agabus is introduced, as though for the first time in
verse 10 as a minor figure, but there is no reason why this is
problematic since Luke likely composed his story in pieces, and may not have been assured that he would feature Agabus more than once in the final text.
Perhaps the key issue in this section is the so-called
"collection" Paul has made for the poor in Jerusalem, which he
sometimes mentions in his letters. Luke here undoubtedly narrates
Paul's voyage back to Jerusalem which was intended to end with the
delivery of the collection, accompanied by Gentile representatives
from the churches. And yet, Luke offers only one allusive
indication that Paul even has the collection with him (Chapter
24). Why is this so?
Some suppose that Luke was ignorant of the collection [Geor.RP,
122] but this does no justice to Luke. The simplest and best answer
is that one of Paul's worst fears was realized (Rom. 15:31) -- the
collection failed in its ultimate purpose, and that is why Luke is
not mentioning anything about it. It is possible, however, to see
more clues in Acts itself. [With.AA, 642ff]
Let us note, first of all, that Jerusalem at the time of Paul's
visit was a much more unsettled place. This was the heyday of the
sicarii, a time of Jewish nationalism, and of poor-to-mediocre Roman governors who only made things worse. Conspiracies,
street battles, and ambushes were "regular events." [Bck.BAPS, 65]
Now enter Paul: Coming to Jerusalem with a party of Gentiles in
tow, after having sojourned for an extended period in the heathen
Gentile nations, associated with the belief that these Gentiles
have the blessing of God while most Jews do not. Making matters
worse, he has been accused (as both Acts and his letters tell us)
of encouraging Jews to abandon their traditions and things like
circumcision and he has been on a mission offering the salvation of a
Jewish messiah to Gentiles.
On the other hand, what of the Jerusalem church? James the Just is in charge (where are Peter and John?), and he welcomes Paul, but
we know that initial opposition (of a sort) to treating Gentiles differently came from the Jerusalem church (Acts 15). Paul was
instrumental in meeting that opposition.
Given these factors, there is a rather ominous possibility that
Luke is purposely and intentionally passing over a major failure in Paul's mission,
or with the retrospect of someone who has seen the
problem solved so it doesn't matter. Paul comes to Jerusalem with all
of this money; James suggests that he undergo a ritual and pay for
the expenses of some Nazirites - why?
Munck [Mun.AA, 209] found
such a turn of events doubtful, and even Johnson [Jns.AA] seems
surprised. But we suggest that it is actually a clue as to what was
happening. Given the tension of the time and place, the collection
money could easily have been misinterpreted as some sort of bribe
to get Paul out of "hot water" for having forsaken Jewish
traditions. It is also possible, as Georgi surmises, that the
collection was "increasingly understood as an unmistakable -- and,
hence, highly provocative -- demonstration of the fact that
traditional biblical and Jewish eschatological expectation was
being reversed" in that Gentiles were the ones providing Jews with
blessings. [Geor.RP, 117]
The collection may also have been
interpreted as an infringement upon the Temple tax of the Jews
[Nick.C, 61], and in fact, may have been interpreted as illegal
under Roman law [ibid., 88ff], which would give Luke another reason
not to mention it.
Either way, Paul could have been in hot water;
and therefore, James -- ever the wise middleman -- suggests a "bold
and imaginative" [Dunn.AA, 284] compromise measure (albeit one,
Georgi says wryly, that is "situated somewhere between Scylla and
Chaybdis" - Geor.RP, 124-5) and a gesture of loyalty. He would
undergo the standard ritual of purification for those who had sojourned in unclean lands (Num. 19:12), and pay the expenses of
the Nazirites (a gesture like that performed by Herod Agrippa I,
back in the early 40s AD, which was received positively) -- perhaps
using the collection money or perhaps using his own money.
saw it, this pious act by Paul might satisfy any implications that
Some object that the faith-minded Paul would take such a
vow, but these arguments fail on the same points as those re: the
circumcision of Timothy...and in this case, also show "too little
imagination for the realities of a crisis situation." If Paul were
not willing to compromise on such issues, it is doubtful that he
would have gone to Jerusalem in the first place. [Dunn.AA,
But it never got done, and therein lies another mystery. Why
didn't the Jerusalem church come to Paul's defense? Had the tide
turned against him? Was James not able to help? Did they help,
and are we simply not told because Luke has other things on his
mind? [Dunn.AA, 289] Did they help, but was it to no avail? Was
there a conspiracy? Was it simply the fact that there were risks in
helping the imprisoned, especially one like Paul who had been in
jail several times in his career and thanks to this was "like the
crucified Messiah, a stumbling block for a number of the first
Christians"? [Wans.CC, 148]
We have no way of knowing - it may be any one or all of these factors, or some as yet un-discerned.
Finally, some wonder about the fact that James is made to
remind Paul (v. 25) about the letter distributed to the churches,
as though he knew nothing about it. [Jew.CPL, 19] Most likely, this
is not cause for suspicion, but merely Luke "exercising his
accustomed authorial right to remind the reader of important
points", [Jns.AA, 376] which given our proposal above, might be
considered very appropriate.
[Is the Speech Irrelevant?]
[Contradiction with Phil. 3:4-11?]
[Sticks and Stones: Would Paul be Allowed to Make a Speech?]
[Tarsus or Jerusalem?]
[Acquisition of Citizenship]
[Citizenship Not in Letters]
- Dibelius [Dib.SAA, 159] asserts that Paul's speech is
"irrelevant" to the matter at hand, that he brought a Gentile into
the Jewish Temple, and from this proceeds to draw further conclusions,
which are all unnecessary. We may note that Paul never got to
finish his speech, the thrust of which, up until he was interrupted,
was that he was a loyal Jew -- which we suggest would have
eventually gotten around to proving that he would never profane the
Concerning the content of the speech itself, Conzelmann
[Conz.AA, 186] objects that "Unlike the historical Paul (Phil. 3:4-11), the Lukan Paul does not regret his earlier zeal for the Law,
he only condemns the false conclusions he once drew from it."
hard-pressed to see how there is any practical difference. This is
like saying that one does not regret one's excitement over
something, just the fact that they broke a vase because they got
excited. The two are intertwined inextricably in the context of the
Using the same passage, Haenchen [Haen.AA, 643] wonders
how Paul can appeal to his training here when he referred to his
past experience as "dung" in Philippians. The answer is that even "dung" can serve
a useful purpose in the context of places where you are confronting
people who are asking questions that the experience itself answers.
- The biggest issue: Was Paul really allowed to make a
speech here? Even a moderate like Dunn finds the whole scene to be
"contrived." [Dunn.AA, 290] Let's look at some key objections.
- Haenchen weighs in, first saying that it
is unrealistic that the soldiers would carry Paul, for that would expose
him to having stones thrown at him. [Haen.AA, 61; also Conz.AA,
Well, no one accused soldiers of being brilliant, but this
may have been the only way to get Paul to safety quickly, if his
feet were bound. [Pol.AA, 454] At any rate, the fact that the
people were later flinging dust, not stones, seems to indicate that
there weren't any stones in the area.
- It is alleged to be "incomprehensible" that Paul would be able
to quiet down the rowdy crowd. [Haen.AA, 620] But Luke does not say
that the crowd went completely silent, he only indicates that they were less noisome than they were before. [Jns.AA, 384; With.AA,
- And the biggest -- it is thought incredible that the tribune
would even grant Paul's request to speak. [Haen.AA, 620] Some have
answered that the request was permitted out of courtesy [Kist.AA,
774]; others suggest that the tribune was momentarily overwhelmed
by Paul's credentials, [Jns.AA, 384] but the matter is probably a
bit more complex than that.
Witherington [With.AA, 663ff] notes
that Paul's claim to be a citizen of Tarsus gave him a social
status that may have been higher than even that of the tribune, and
the tribune would have been unwilling to offend by not respecting
Paul on this point. This combined with other factors as: The fact that
Paul first showed respect for the tribune's authority by asking
permission to speak to him; the fact that Paul spoke educated
Greek; and the fact that the tribune may have unintentionally
slurred Paul by saying that he was an Egyptian, would combine in
the context of this heavy honor-and-shame society to set up a
situation where the tribune quite nearly owed Paul the favor of
letting him speak.
It should be added that since the tribune
probably did not know Hebrew or Aramaic, he could not follow the
speech and thus only took action when the reactions of the crowd
- Was Paul really from Tarsus, and did he spend his childhood in
Jerusalem? This is an important point for those who would suggest influence of Hellenistic mystery
religions on Paul. The formula Paul offers in his speech is a known
fixed literary unit from this time to indicate the basis of one's
education and nurture, and by that accounting, in Acts Paul is
clearly said to have been raised in Jerusalem. [VnU.TJ]
a critic of Van Unnik in this matter, acknowledges this, but
accuses him of "too rashly neglect(ing) the redactional tendency of
the formula." [Lud.PAG, 39n] This is little but presumption associated with form criticism; it is merely assumed that anything that appears "redactive" must therefore be fictional. Yet, one might go through any work (including Ludemann's own) labeling any secondary comment "redactional" and arbitrarily calling it fiction on that basis.
Thusly, the evidence of Acts is unequivocal. Do Paul's letters
agree? Paul claims to have risen in Judaism as a sort of prodigy (Gal. 1:14). Since we have no evidence of Pharisees being trained outside of the Holy Land, [With.AA, 669] the evidence presently indicates that Paul spent his formative and educational years in Jerusalem.
- How did Paul get Roman citizenship? We cannot be sure, but
Dunn [Dunn.AA, 299] notes that many Jews were sold into slavery
after 60 BC, and that freed slaves (and most were eventually freed)
were granted citizenship rights which were passed onto their
descendants. Another possibility is that Paul's father was granted
citizenship for some special service to Rome (i.e., perhaps for making tents for the
It should also be noted that the officer's objection about
the price of citizenship has some interesting confirmation. Later
in the reign of Claudius, anyone could buy citizenship cheaply; it
is said, by Dio Cassius, for only "a few scraps of glass." Note
that the tribune's name was Claudius - a sign perhaps that he had
bought his citizenship under the auspices of that Emperor BEFORE it got cheap to do so. [Hem.BASH, 170]
Another possibility is that
Paul's citizenship derived from a time when Seleucus Nicator gave
Jews citizenship in the cities he founded. [Bck.BAPS, 367]
Some doubt that Paul was a citizen because he doesn't mention it
in his letters. There was really no reason for him to mention it,
but the fact that many of his churches were in Roman colony cities
points to his Roman citizenship.
Some also ask why he only brought
it up in this story when he was about to be flogged. The simple
answer is that it would have been the wrong thing to admit within
earshot of the crowd, and secondarily, if Paul did not have a full
grasp of Latin, he may not have realized what was happening until
they got the straps ready. [With.AA, 677-683]
[In Chains Overnight?]
[Why Was the Sanhedrin Needed?]
[Could the Tribune Call for a Meeting?]
[Could the Tribune Attend the Meeting?]
[Would the Pharisees React This Way?]
[Angels and Spirits and the Saducees]
[The Letter, the Size of the Escort, and the March]
[The Assassins' Vows and Sanhedrin Participation]
We now arrive at Paul's first trial, before the Sanhedrin. There
are probably a great many nuances to this story that we will never
appreciate because we do not know exactly what Paul's relationship
was to the Sanhedrin prior to his conversion, or if he knew anyone
on the Sanhedrin personally. But, we will make do with what we
- Some critics find verse 1 hard to square with Paul's part in
the death of Stephen and other Christians. [Haen.AA, 637]
one may ask if the critics think that those killings were Paul's
only sin, if that's how we are to look at this verse.
Even so, by his
theology, Christ had absorbed his sin. Moreover, we would expect
Paul to be speaking only of that which was relevant to the case at
hand -- in this case, whether he profaned the Temple and was a loyal
Jew. The persecutions wouldn't be relevant here.
- Why was Paul kept in chains overnight, especially since Luke
tells us that the tribune got shaky when he found out Paul was a
Roman citizen? [Hane.AA, 639; Conz.AA, 191] I think that a more
nuanced reading is called for in this verse. The tribune
undoubtedly removed Paul's chains right away (although he did keep
Paul in protective custody), but Luke has only mentioned it where
he has to emphasize that Paul appeared before the Sanhedrin as a
free man, not as one convicted of a crime.
It should also be noted
that the word "chains" is NOT in the Greek. It is only said that
Paul was "released" -- and this would make sense as protective
- Conzelmann finds difficulty and wonders why the tribune did
not simply question Paul himself [Conz.AA, 191] but went to the
One may as well ask why Jesus was arrested and first tried by the Jews. The purpose of the Sanhedrin "trial" (and
it was more likely an evidentiary hearing that was part of the
Roman cognito process and not a trial) [With.AA, 684] was to
determine the nature of the offense. If it was a matter of Jewish
law, Rome could wash its hands of the affair; hence, it makes sense
that the Sanhedrin would be consulted first, in order to perhaps
cut the matter to the quick and relieve Rome of responsibility.
- Did the tribune have the ability to call a meeting of the
Sanhedrin? It's not unlikely since the procurator normally resided in
Caesarea and only made periodic visits so that the tribune was therefore
the person in charge of administration and peace-keeping, and he
could hardly do that job without being able to get the Sanhedrin
together. [Pol.AA, 453]
At the same time, the Sanhedrin may have
been quite glad to comply with the request to meet. [Kist.AA, 807]
Paul's supposed lack of recognition of the high priest may not
have been sarcasm, as some suppose, but may have been because of the
high priest having to rush to this meeting and not having had time
to secure his formal attire. [With.AA, 686]
It is also thought unrealistic that the tribune would be allowed
to attend the hearing as a Gentile [Haen.AA, 640] but Luke does not
say that the tribune was there in the hall; in fact, that Paul was
allowed to be slapped, and that troops had to be summoned
(23:10), indicates the opposite. [With.AA, 687n]
- Is the reaction of the Pharisees realistic? Some say no.
Haenchen [Hane.AA, 641] finds the disputing unlikely, "as if they
had not already worked together for many years in the High Council
and sufficiently known their theological difference."
That would make us wonder why shows
like Crossfire and Meet the Press survive, but there
is a further interesting possibility behind this event. We know
that the church included some Pharisees, and we know that the
church and the Pharisees, even if they disagreed on theological
points, would certainly agree on matters against the Sadducees --
and notably, would have similar disdain for the corruption of the
present high priest, Ananias. Was Paul perhaps the beneficiary of
a peculiar alliance between the Jerusalem church and the Pharisees?
It is also worth noting that this is more than a "divide and
conquer" strategy to cause confusion by Paul. It was in Paul's best
interest to be judged by Rome rather than the Jews, for the latter,
he no doubt perceived, wished to find him guilty. If Paul shows
that there is no agreement by the Jewish rulers on what he is
charged with, Rome will have to be the ones doing the judging.
Finally, Luke's comparison of what the Sadducees and Pharisees
believed in (v. 8) has caused some confusion as well, for angels do
indeed appear in the Torah that the Sadducees accepted as
authoritative. [Haen.AA, 638n] Witherington and Viviano argue that what Luke
refers to here is a Jewish belief that the deceased spent the time
between their deaths and resurrection in the form of an angel or a
spirit. [With.AA, 692; Viv.SAR]
- How did Luke get hold of the letter written by the tribune?
Critics are content to charge fabrication, but the letter could
well have been read aloud in Paul's presence, [Kist.AA, 825n] as may have been the norm in a society where 95% of the people were illiterate.
- Some suggest that the number of soldiers said to accompany
Paul is an exaggeration by Luke designed to make Paul look
important. However, let us recall the social situation described
above, and also note that the road being travelled was not exactly
Triple-A approved for safety. It was a dangerous route that had to
be taken; on this very road an imperial slave was robbed of a
significant amount of money, and sometime after Paul 33,000 troops
of the Syrian governor were attacked by some badly-equipped Jewish
insurgents -- and almost lost, until they decided to abandon their
heavy equipment and sneak away at night. [Bck.BAPS, 66]
critics really think that the force described is excessive considering the danger of the journey, the "white-hot" [Ehr.AA,
222] resentment towards things non-Jewish, and add to it the increased population at the time due to a festival -- I think not.
Conzelmann goes on to object that the whole episode is "sheer
fantasy" and that "Luke is unaware that secrecy and such a display
do not fit." [Conz.AA, 194] But simple troop movements were common
enough not to arouse suspicion [Kist.AA, 824], and the plotters
would have no idea that their secret had been uncovered.
this, Haenchen wonders of the "great demands upon the poor infantry"
[Haen.AA, 648] for making the 40 mile journey (2 x 40 = 80 miles
total) to and from Caesarea (though the text does not say that they
left from the latter "immediately" as Haenchen insists; however,
the circumstances would encourage a quick trip).
We should give little credence to modern scholars wondering about the
allegedly fantastic exertions of ancient people who were far more
fit than moderns are. The trip to Caesarea was not terribly difficult.
It was done in the cool of the night, and was mostly downhill; the
trip itself comports with recorded marches in the Gallic
Wars and in Plutarch.
I think Witherington puts it well, to the
likes of Haenchen and Ludemann: "Armchair scholars are ill-equipped
to make pronouncements about the historical likelihood of such
ancient journeys in such periods of time." [With.AA, 697]
- What about those poor fellows who took that vow and failed to
kill Paul. Wouldn't they starve to death? Not necessarily as even
liberal critics admit that they could have gotten out of the vow if
circumstances had gone beyond their control [Haen.AA, 645n], although
one can only cite a late Mishnah provision in this regard [Arr.AA,
- Would the noble members of the Sanhedrin have been in on the
plot? Haenchen [Haen.AA, 645n] cites a Mishnah rule saying that
Sanhedrin members should not support zealots, but we know well
enough that this hardly serves, especially in the social context
referenced above. Really, we need only suppose that no more than a
couple of Sanhedrin members were in on the plot (if any at all),
and "that the circumstances of the time encouraged or excused such corruption would be no surprise." [Dunn.AA, 307]
Little controversy emerges from this section. Haenchen [Hane.AA,
655] wonders how the short term of Felix can be reconciled with the
statement that he served "many years"; this is said perhaps because
the reference includes Felix's previous service in the area as an
administrator under Cumanus [Hem.BASH, 172; Jns.AA, 412] --
assuming it isn't just a bit of calculated flattery, of course.
Hanechen [ibid., 662] also finds it unrealistic that Felix would
call upon Paul several times to listen to the Christian message,
but I think this is because Haenchen perceives that Felix had a
"real interest" in the message, when in all likelihood all that
Felix cared about was getting on Paul's good side to secure a
Of interest to me is a comment made by Haenchen [ibid., 662-3],
in which he says that the "contradiction" alleged above "can
admittedly be resolved by a reference to the unfathomable enigma of
the human soul." But, he says, "before we mount this heavy
artillery...we ought to reflect that this contradictory portrayal
immediately becomes comprehensible when we consider the
major lines of Luke's presentation."
Put succinctly: It's easier to
assume that Luke is lying for the sake of the kerygma than to deal
with the complexities of human emotion that scholars like Haenchen find so distressing, because such
complexities tend to refute their theses of Christian origins.
Finally, it is sometimes wondered why there was such a delay in
Paul's case. Luke's explanation of doing a favor to the Jews is not
out of touch. Felix wasn't very popular [Kist.AA, 853], and he may
have been unwilling to risk further trouble by having to decide in
Paul's favor (which he probably would have had to do). Also, it was
not unusual for a departing governor to leave cases pending.
[Bck.BAPS, 25; With.AA, 716]
Haenchen [Haen.AA, 667-70] raises some objections in this area, but
his criticisms are "not substantial when the case is seen in legal
terms with due regard for the complexity of the forces at work."
Haenchen was also not up-to-date on Roman legal proceedings in his
criticisms. [Hem.BASH, 130-1; With.AA, 720]
And, what are some of these "forces"? First, we should recall as
noted above that Paul knew it was in his best interest to stay out
of Jewish custody; and yet, he was faced with governors who wanted to do favors to the Jews. Caesar was his best protection (in this
case, Nero -- not quite insane yet).
Festus, however, was in a spot.
He had to write charges against Paul, and do it right, and make
sure that the charges were sufficient and substantial; or else, his
competence would be called into question. Hence, it is only natural
that he should have called upon Agrippa for consultation, for
Agrippa, the expert in Judaism, would "provide excuse enough for
Festus either for giving way to the pressures of the Jewish council,
or for acceding to them." [Dunn.AA, 231]
Festus' statement that it
seemed unreasonable to send a prisoner without writing a charge is,
of course, an overstatement, and a nuance that escapes Haenchen.
Obviously no one in their right mind would really do such
a thing, and Luke's readers would know this, and appreciate the
political satire behind the comment -- as they would the self-serving tone of Festus' report.
These two questions remain:
- Is the panoply of pomp that Luke describes excessive? Not at
all -- Josephus records two similar events [Jns.AA, 428], and here
Agrippa is probably paying his first respects to the new governor.
[Hem.BASH, 180] (The title used in 25:26 was most common in Egypt
and the East, and became more frequently used beginning under
- How did Luke know what Festus and Agrippa said to each other?
He (or Paul) could have overheard, or he could have found out from a
court informant, or he could have deduced what was said based on what
he knew had happened.
[Julius and Paul as Shipboard Advisors]
[Paul's "Speech" in the Storm]
[Is the Dinghy Scene Realistic?]
The account of Paul's voyage has been the subject of not a few
- Haenchen asserts that, contrary to verse 11, the centurion
would not be able to play any part in deciding on the ship's
course, and would be incapable of deciding on technical and
nautical problems. [Haen.AA, 700] He offers no support for this
assertion, however, and does not even consider whether the
centurion's participation was permitted out of social courtesy and
respect, or whether the centurion might have had some
knowledge of sea travel.
- Similarly, it is argued that Paul could in no way have been
consulted, for he was a "highly suspect prisoner." [Haen.AA, 700n;
see also Conz.AA, 216] One wonders what this has to do with Paul
being an experienced traveler (and a person of some social
status) who would be worthy of consultation [With.AA, 763], an
explanation that Haenchen is aware of but dismisses as "thoroughly
- Paul had not travelled this sea route before, where the
captain and owner had. One wonders how Haenchen knows what routes
Paul had travelled in his life, but even so, there is nothing
special about the exact route. Someone who has travelled in
mountains in the Carolinas is surely of some use for travelling in
the Rockies, or vice versa, and the loss of time in battling winds
thus far "would readily suggest to such a seasoned traveler as
Paul that there was too little realistic hope of any further
progress." [Dunn.AA, 338]
- Luke had a desire to make Paul look good by giving him
foresight (i.e., once again, Haenchen prefers to suppose the easy
explanation of redactional fabrication over the complexities of
human interaction and history).
In that regard, the respect accorded
Paul is not improbable. Wansink notes that there are "(n)umerous
examples...of guards treating prisoners with dignity, even with
care" [Wans.CC, 85], and Witherington notes that Julius offers Paul
the same sort of courtesy one might expect one Roman citizen to
give another, especially when the accused had yet to be convicted
of anything. [With.AA, 759]
- The speech of Paul in v. 21 is thought of as improbable, being
made in the howl of a gale and the pitch of a ship. [Haen.AA, 704;
Conz.AA, 218] One may grant that Luke is probably not intending a
fully literal presentation here and just reflects the gist of
what Paul told all of the crew members as the storm itself
progressed. We hardly expect Luke to recount 20 and 30 times
what Paul said at different times and in different places
throughout the ship.
On the other hand, v. 21 seems to suggest that
everyone is seated and below decks, so that a single speech is not
impossible, and from a literary point of view was not regarded as
an impossibility. [With.AA, 767]
- Also considered "unrealistic" [Haen.AA, 706] are the events of
verse 30, where Haenchen asks, "would the owner and captain not
have noticed what the sailors were about?"
Assuming that they were
not in on what was happening themselves [Kist.AA, 93], or were otherwise
occupied on the ship, perhaps not. Luke notes that they had created
a perfectly legitimate reason for what they were doing, dropping
out the sea anchor. Are the owner and captain necessarily going to
argue the point, any more than Paul is going to stand and make
Our critic also supposes that "no seaman would think of
leaving the safety of a ship in a boat to get to an unknown and
rocky coast at night" [Haen.AA, 706], an objection which, barring
Haenchen's credentials as a seaman and ancient mariner, I see no
reason to believe. Hemer,
[Hem.BASH, 148] a Hellenistic historian, rightly castigates
Haenchen for his skepticism, noting that the ship may have broken
up at any time, so that those whose personal tastes preferred
direct action to waiting around passively would not hesitate to
abandon the ship. [Hem.BASH, 148]
Moreover, the untrustworthiness of sailors, and a similar story of incompetence and abandonment of
a ship in a lifeboat, is found in pagan literature of the time. [Jns.ASA, 454] Haenchen, ibid., 710, is aware of this, but merely and arbitrarily dismisses it as even more improbable fiction.
Conzelmann [Conz.AA, 220] also wonders how the entire crew of
sailors would fit in a lifeboat, leaving us to wonder how he
perceives that ALL of the sailors were in on the plan.
verse 42, Haenchen objects by supposing that escape was only
possible once the prisoners reached shore. [Haen.AA, 708] In the darkness and confusion, it would be of no
difficulty for one or more of the prisoners to propel themselves
gradually further away and thereby escape.
- A general charge that has appeared of late in the works of
Ludemann and Pervo asserts that Luke is writing edifying fiction
rather than a historical account. This issue could take up more
generally, this position is refuted by Witherington. [With.AA, 755,
- It is sometimes objected that poisonous snakes do not live on
Malta, and that they do not fasten themselves on people's hands.
The former aspect is seldom heard today, for we are well aware that
1900 years of human influence can all too easily lead to
extinctions. However, there is a Maltan snake that is a
constrictor, and may have been believed to be poisonous. Note that
Luke does not say that the snake was poisonous -- we cannot apply
modern taxonomic categories here. The snake in question,
Coronella austriaca, does look like a viper,
[Hem.BASH, 153] and many ancients thought that all snakes were
poisonous. Luke quite realistically portrays the belief that
snakes were agents of divine vengeance. [With.AA, 777-8]
And so, we come to Rome - and a few minor points of
- Verse 14 seems to read strangely to those who
think that Luke is somehow getting ahead of himself. It is
suggested that it be read as either "And so we started for
Rome" [Kist.AA, 954-5] or as "Here is the way...". [Jns.AA]
- It is thought "impossible" [Haen.AA, 727] that the Roman Jews
should be so ignorant of Christianity, and some critics suppose
this to mean that there are no Christians in Rome at this time.
More likely, however, Luke is rhetorically
expressing the Roman Jews' hurried and definitive disassociation
with anything to do with the case against Paul. The Jews had sympathizers in Rome, including Nero's second wife, but they also
had the usual problems with anti-Semitism and very little in the
way of financial resources. The last thing they needed was to get
involved with Paul's case and risk exposure to persecution and a
counter-suit by getting involved in a case against a Roman citizen.
Our study is now complete, and I think it is fair to say that most of the critical conclusions that have been reached about the historicity of Acts are based either on misperceptions or insufficient knowledge.
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Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988.
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- Bck.BAPS - Bauckham, Richard. The Book of Acts in its
Palestinian Setting. Eerdmans: 1995.
- Bruc.AA - Bruce, F.F. The Acts of the Apostles.
- Cad.BAH - Cadbury, Henry J. The Book of Acts in History.
NY: Harper, 1955.
- Conz.AA - Conzelmann, Hans. The Acts of the Apostles.
Fortress Press: 1987.
- Croy.HPP -- Croy, N. Clayton. "Hellenistic Philosophers and the Preaching of the Resurrection." Novum Testamentum 39/1, 21-39.
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Apostles. NY: Scribners, 1951.
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Trinity Press Int'l, 1996.
- Ehr.AA - Ehrhardt, Arnold. The Acts of the Apostles.
Manchester U. Press, 1969.
- Evan.Lk - Evans, Craig A. Luke. Peabody, Mass.: Henridckson, 1990.
- Geor.RP - Georgi, Dieter. Remembering the Poor.
- Gou.DL - Goulder, Michael. "Did Luke Know Any of Paul's Letters?" Perspectives in Religious Studies Summer 1986, pp. 97-112.
- Gran.SP - Grant, Michael. Saint Paul. Weidenfeld, 1976.
- Haen.AA - Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971.
- Hem.BASH - Hemer, Colin. The Book of Acts in the Setting of
Hellenistic Historiography. Tubingen: Mohr, 1989.
- Hoe.PA -- Hoerber, Robert G. "Paul at Athens." Concordia Journal, April 1995, 202-5.
- Jew.CPL - Jewett, Richard. A Chronology of Paul's Life.
Fortress Press, 1979.
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Apostles. Liturgical Press, 1992.
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Apostles. Baker, 1990.
- Kn.CLP - Knox, J. Chapters in a Life of Paul. Mercer U.
- Krei.NC - Kreitzer, Larry J. "A Numismatic Clue to Acts 19:23-41." Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, 1987, pp. 59-70.
- Lud.PAG - Ludemann, Gerd. Paul Apostle to the Gentiles. Fortress Press, 1984.
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Academic Press, 1996.
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Strategy. Naperville: Allenson, 1966.
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London: Tynadale, 1949.
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Experience and Rhetoric of Paul's Imprisonments Sheffield
Academic Press, 1996.
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Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting. Grand Rapids:
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