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.
[General Areas] [Acts 8:1-3] [9:1-9] [9:10-25] [9:26-31] [11:25-30] [13:13-52] [14:6-28] [15:1-35] [15:41-16:5] [16:11-40] [17:1-15] [17:16-34] [18:1-28] [19:1-41] [20:1-37] [21:1-26] [21:27-22:29] [22:30-23:35] [24:1-27] [25:1-26:32] [27:1-28:10] [28:11-31] [Conclusion]
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.)
In any 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 feelings about.
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 issues.
- 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 Apostles.
- 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 strict chronology.
- 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, however:
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].
Therefore, we 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 intentionally.
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]
Cooperation, 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 determination.
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.
- 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 9:23.
[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 to deception.
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 dispute.
- 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.
Second, 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.
Finally, it 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.
This 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.
- 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.
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.
Quite simply, 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).
Critics commonly 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 synagogue leaders.
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 Pauline mission.
[Incomprehensible Story?] [Local Gods] [Use of Lystran Language] [Reaction of the Lystrans Unrealistic?] [Jewish Travel] [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]
- 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 Christians.
- 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 area.
- 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. [With.AA, 429]
- 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 package?
- 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.
One 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?] [Motive Factor] [No Words from Paul and Barney?] [The Decree] [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.
This 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 details.
- 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 attitude.
- 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 very long.
- 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, 438]
- 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; Bruc.AA, 337]
- 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 dead gods."
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 place.
[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 Acts describes.
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 citizenship?
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 three reasons.
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 charge was.
[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:
- 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 torture.
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 head.
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.).
Therefore, 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 escapes.
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 any teeth.
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, 534n]
[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.
There 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 its ambiguity?
- 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.
At any 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.
[Sceva's Circus] [Expense of the Scrolls] [The Uproar] [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 Travelling Circus."
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 period.
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.
Let 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 religious concern.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 With.AA, 610).
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 could.
[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.
As James saw it, this pious act by Paul might satisfy any implications that arose.
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, 285]
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."
I am 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 event.
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, 664]
- 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 dictated it.
- 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, 1838]
- 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]
Ludemann, 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]
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]
[Paul's Conscience] [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 do have:
- Some critics find verse 1 hard to square with Paul's part in
the death of Stephen and other Christians. [Haen.AA, 637]
However, 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.
- 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]
Do the 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.
Beyond 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, 230].
- 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 bribe.
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 Nero)
- 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?] [Maltan Snakebite]
The account of Paul's voyage has been the subject of not a few "landlubber's objections."/P>
- 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 speeches?
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.
Concerning 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 space, but generally, this position is refuted by Witherington. [With.AA, 755, 765]
- 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 controversy:
- 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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