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Discovering the book of acts and the apostles.

Is the Paul of Acts at Odds with the Paul of His Own Letters?

Here I continue my few remarks on the differences between Paul’s proclamation as recorded in the speeches he gives in the book of Acts and the views he sets forth in his own letters.  Again, this is taken from my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (Oxford, 2006).   ****************************** Further contrasts between what Paul says about his proclamation and what Acts says about it can be seen in the first major speech Paul delivers in Acts, on the first of his three missionary journeys in the book, in the town of Antioch, Pisidia (central Asia Minor).  Paul and his companion Barnabas arrive in town, and on the Sabbath they go to the synagogue for worship with their fellow Jews.  As outside guests, they are asked if they have anything to say to the congregation.  Paul stands up and delivers a long sermon (Acts 13:16-42).  He addresses his hearers as “Israelites,” and gives them a brief summary of the history of the Jewish people, down to the time of King David.  He then [...]

2024-04-04T10:39:39-04:00April 10th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

Is the Message of Paul in Acts the Same as the Message of Paul According to Paul?

In September I'm going to be hosting an online conference of Bible scholars discussing their work for laypeople at a level that most anyone will be able to follow easily.  This will be the second of our conferences, "New Insights into the New Testament" (if you don't know about the first one from this past year, focused on the Gospels, you can learn about it here: New Insights into the New Testament Conference).  The topic will be The Life, Letters, and Legends of Paul, and we'll have 8 or 10 scholars making presentations with Q&A for each. We'll be announcing the course later (date, etc.), but just now as I've started thinking about it, I've been reflecting on some of the issues involved with trying to figure out what Paul actually preached.  In addition to his hints and statements in his surviving letters, we have actual speeches allegedly delivered by him in the book of Acts in the NT.  But do these accurately reflect what he really said? I've addressed the question on and off [...]

2024-04-04T10:54:51-04:00April 9th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

A Self-Evaluation of My Self-Debate: Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable?

I have now completed my posts on the debate I had with myself in front of my New Testament class on the question of whether the New Testament book of Acts is historically reliable.   If you want to see the whole debate, just read the posts in sequence: the affirmative speech arguing Acts is indeed reliable; the negative speech arguing that it is not; the negative rebuttal of what the affirmative side said; and finally the affirmative rebuttal of what the negative side said. In class I delivered the speeches one after the other.  When “affirmative” I was wearing a sport coat, but no cap; when “negative” I was wearing a baseball cap but no sport coat – just so students would remember that it was a “different” speaker speaking. I have pointed out on the blog before that even though I do a lot of public debates, I often find them more than a little frustrating and frequently (in fact, almost always) ask myself, in the course of the debate, why I’m doing this [...]

2024-03-17T13:59:00-04:00March 24th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

Is the Book of Acts Reliable? The Affirmative REBUTTAL of the Negative Case

I have been discussing the debate that I had with myself in front of my New Testament class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.  So far I have indicated what the Affirmative side argued in favor of the resolution; what the Negative side argued against the resolution; and what the Negative side said in its rebuttal to the first Affirmative speech.  NOW, at last, I can indicate what the Affirmative side said in its rebuttal to the two Negative speeches.   You can find the posts here:  the affirmative speech arguing Acts is indeed reliable; the negative speech arguing that it is not; the negative rebuttal of what the affirmative side said Recall: in this post I’m not indicating what I really think; I’m indicating what I would argue if this were the side I was required to argue (and what I did argue in class).  Here it is: ****************************** Despite what the negative side has maintained, we remain convinced that the New Testament book of Acts is historically reliable. [...]

2024-03-17T13:58:33-04:00March 23rd, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable? The Negative REBUTTAL of the Affirmative Case

What follows is the “negative rebuttal” of the speech given by the “first affirmative” in its support of the resolution, “Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.”  If you need to refresh yourself on what the affirmative team argued, you can find it on the March 16 post, here:  The Book of Acts IS HISTORICAL! The Affirmative Argument. In the first negative speech (yesterday’s post) the negative team argued its case, without direct reference to the affirmative side.  This, now, is the negative response to what the affirmative said (the next post in the thread will be the affirmative rebuttal to the negative side) (recall: this was a debate I staged with myself in front of my New Testament class.  I didn't read this speech: I winged it.  But this is the essence of what I argued, on the negative side against the affirmative) ****************************** If you choose to go point by point through the affirmative team’s case that the book of Acts is historically reliable, you will find that they have advanced their [...]

2024-03-17T13:58:25-04:00March 21st, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

The Book of Acts is NOT RELIABLE! The Negative Case

I have already devoted to a post to argue the AFFIRMATIVE side to the debate resolution: "Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable"  (see the post two days ago, and for an entire post devoted to showing a major irrelevancy in the affirmative case, see the one from three days ago). In this post I will lay out the NEGATIVE case, as well as I can in this amount of space, arguing that Acts is NOT reliable.  Again, I am not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with this argument; I’m giving it as I would in a debate. ****************************** The New Testament book of Acts is not historically reliable.  Before showing that to be the case, I want to make two preliminary remarks, both of them related to the question of what it means for an ostensibly historical account (a narrative of what allegedly happened in the past) to be reliable. First, when readers today want to know whether the book of Acts is reliable, they mean that they want to know whether the events [...]

2024-03-17T13:58:14-04:00March 20th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

Arguments for “Historical Accuracy” That Are All Smoke and Mirrors.

In my next post I will be staking out the “negative” side on the debate I had with myself in class, arguing against the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.  I have already made the affirmative case; in the negative I will argue that the book is not reliable (that first speech was a set speech, prepared without reference to anything the affirmative side said).  I will then give a negative refutation of the affirmative’s first speech, and I will end with an affirmative rebuttal of the negative’s two speeches. Before I do all that, however, I need to take a time-out and explain one negative counter-argument that would take too much space if it were simply part of a longer post laying out the negative position. The affirmative side in the debate argued that based on archaeological evidence Luke can be shown to have presented accurately the laws, custom, and geography mentioned or alluded to in the book of Acts:  there really was an Areopagus where philosophers gathered, as [...]

2024-03-04T10:20:04-05:00March 17th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

The Book of Acts IS HISTORICAL! The Affirmative Argument

I am ready now to explain how I did the debate with myself in front of my undergraduate class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable. As always happens in a debate, the Affirmative side goes first and gives a prepared speech. In arguing for the affirmative, I made the following points (Note: I’m not saying I personally agree with these points, just as I’m not going to be saying that I agreed with the Negative points. I’m simply making the best case I can for both positions.): THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don't belong yet, JOIN! 100% of membership fees go directly to charity! The Book of Acts is historically reliable, as can be seen by considering three major points: First, the author of the book of Acts explicitly tells us that he was concerned and committed to present a historically accurate account of the history of the early church. The author of Acts, of course, was the author of the [...]

2024-03-18T20:28:15-04:00March 16th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

Who Cares if the Book of Acts is Historical??

The debate over the historical accuracy of the book of Acts is important, in no small measure because – as I have pointed out already – it provides us our one and only narrative of what was happening among the followers of Jesus in the years immediately after his death.  This is the key, formative period in the formation of Christianity.  How did it start as a religion?  Acts is our only surviving historical account.  But is it an accurate history? The first thing to stress is that Acts – like all histories – is highly restrictive in what it talks about.  It is not a comprehensive history and makes no pretense of being a comprehensive history.  The title “The Acts of the Apostles” was given it by later readers and scribes.  The author himself (whoever he was) does not give it a title.   And this particular title is not particularly apt, for one very important reason: most of the apostles do not figure in the account at all.  This is a narrative [...]

2024-03-12T11:09:10-04:00March 14th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates|

Important Literary Features of the Book of Acts

I am in the middle of a thread dealing with debates over the New Testament book of Acts, the first account that we have of the history of the Christian church at its very beginnings – starting with the events happening right after the resurrection of Jesus and covering the spread of the Christian faith through the Roman world up until the time Paul reached the city of Rome, presumably in the early 60s CE.  And so this is an account of the first three decades of Christianity.   It’s the only one we have of this period.  That’s one reason it is so important to know if it’s historically reliable or not – if it’s not, we have very restricted access to what was happening in these most critical years of the early Christian movement. Before I discuss the issue of Acts’ historically reliability (the subject of my debate with myself in front of my undergraduate class), I need to provide a bit more background.  In my textbook on the New Testament I [...]

2024-03-04T10:53:13-05:00March 13th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles|

What is the Book of Acts About?

To understand a debate about whether the book of Acts is historical, I first have to explain -- by way or reminder or by way of ... minder -- what the book of Acts is actually about.  After this post I'll lay out how I debate (with myself) whether what it says can actually be seen as historically accurate. The first four books of the NT are Gospels, followed then by the book of Acts.  The Gospels each, in their own way, present accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The book of Acts picks up where the Gospels drop off, by describing the activities of Jesus’ disciples after he is raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven. One key fact to bear in mind is that the author of Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke.  There really should be little debate about that (although as with every historical claim, there is *always* some debate!).  You can see for yourself just by reading the first few verses of Luke and then [...]

2024-03-14T12:20:03-04:00March 12th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles|

Did Paul Get Along with the Other Apostles?

I mentioned in my previous posts that there are discrepancies between Paul’s letters and the book of Acts in both major and minor ways, and in my last post I dealt with some differences that appear when one looks closely at the details (the issue I addressed: what does Paul do immediately upon his conversion).  There are many instances like that throughout Acts:  if you compare what Paul has to say with what Acts has to say, on the same topic or about the same  event, you will find differences, and often these differences matter a lot to the overall narrative. There are also of differences that emerge from the overall portrayal of Paul and his Christian mission.   In this post I’ll deal with one example, Paul's relationship with the other Apostles. In both Acts and Paul's letters its clear that Paul had relations those who were apostles before him, chiefly the former disciples of Jesus (Peter, John, etc.) and Jesus’ own brother James, who was to become the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  [...]

2023-06-26T18:48:12-04:00June 29th, 2023|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

After Paul Converted… Does the Book of Acts Contradict Paul Himself?

Is the account of Paul's life in Acts at odds with what Paul says himself?  If not, are the stories in Acts just invented out of whole cloth? Some people who responded to my previous post on the historical trustworthiness of the book of Acts suggested that maybe its author “Luke” (we don’t know the author’s real name, so we may as well call him this) wasn't just makin' stuff up, but had sources of information available to him for the book of Acts, just as he clearly did for the Gospel (e.g., the Gospels of Mark and Q). I think this is absolutely right, he almost certainly did have sources.  It should be clear that he wasn't simply creating complete fictions about Paul: that there are numerous close parallels in Acts to what Paul has to say about himself.  So there is a historical gist to his accounts on some level.  At the same time, almost all these parallels also contain striking discrepancies from Paul.  So Luke had sources, but the sources were not [...]

2023-06-16T11:35:37-04:00June 28th, 2023|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

Was Paul Authorized to Persecute Christians?

Who gave Paul the authority to persecute Christians?  The book of Acts suggests it was the authorities in Jerusalem.  Can that be right?  In fact, is Acts right in what it says about Paul generally? The questions matter:  Acts provides our oldest surviving narrative description of the first thirty years of Christianity, and the only narrative source of the life of Paul (before the legendary Acts of Paul from a century or so later).  It's a terrifically interesting book.  What can we say about its historical accuracy? I was browsing through posts from the good ole days of the blog "in the beginning," and came across a brief thread from, well, eleven years ago that addressed these kinds of questions.  I thought would be worth reposting it here. My posts started in relation to a question I received. ****************************** QUESTION: You mention in your book "Did Jesus Exist?" that Paul started his persecution of Christians in the early 30s. If he was tasked with hunting down Christians by the Sanhedrin he must have had a [...]

2023-06-16T11:30:24-04:00June 27th, 2023|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

You Don’t Think Peter Wrote 1 and 2 Peter?

In my previous post I indicated that I didn't think Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter.  One of my main reasons for thinking so is that I'm pretty sure Peter could not write.  These books were composed in highly literate Greek by someone skilled in Greek composition.  To be able to compose a book took years and years of training starting with childhood.  Everyone we know like that was elitely trained and connected with a wealthy family, almost always in an urban area.  Not, for example, a rural Aramaic-speaking daylaborer from a remote part of Galilee. But couldn't Peter have "written" these books some other way -- e.g., by having a secretary or scribe do it for him?  I dealt with that question many years ago on the blog (based on much fuller discussions in my books Forged and Forgery and Counterforgery, if you want to see more of the evidence and logic) and still think the same thing.  As it turns out, there is New Testament evidence about Peter’s education level.  According to Acts [...]

Does Luke Have Contradictory Views of the Atonement?

I return now to the seemingly simple but inordinately complicated question I received that has led to this short thread over the past week or so on Luke's understanding of why Jesus died.  In the thread so far (in case you haven't read it) I've argued that Luke (author of both the Gospel and Acts) did not have a doctrine of atonement.  He certainly thought that Jesus had to die: but Jesus' death is not what brought a reconciliation with God (= salvation) per se.  It made people realize their personal guilt before God, leading them to repent.  Because they repented, God then forgave them.  Jesus' death, in other words, was a motivation to return to God, it was not a bloody sacrifice that took away sins. With that as background: here again is the question. QUESTION: Although the gospel of Luke doesn’t have an atonement message, what are your thoughts about Acts 20:28 [were Paul is recorded as saying:] Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit [...]

2022-06-20T18:37:49-04:00July 7th, 2022|Acts of the Apostles, Early Christian Doctrine|

The Spirit in the Life of Jesus

I have pointed out that the earliest Christians believed they were living at the end of time and that in fulfillment of the promises of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament prophet Joel, they (or at least many of them) believed God had sent his Spirit to guide and direct them in these final days before the Kingdom of God arrived.  We find this idea in the letters of Paul (our first Christian author), in the book of Acts (e.g., on the Day of Pentecost in ch. 2), and elsewhere in the New Testament. In this post I want to point out that when later Christians told their stories about Jesus they took this belief that the Spirit had come upon them and applied it to the (earlier) life of Jesus, saying that the Spirit was particularly manifest in his life, since he was the one who inaugurated the end of time. You get some a whiff of that view already in the Gospel of Mark.  When Jesus is baptized in the opening chapter, the [...]

The Coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost

In a previous post I discussed the prophet Joel, who used a disaster that had struck as the occasion to make his proclamation about the will of God.  A horrible plague of locusts had hit the land of Judah that had decimated the crops and food supply; Joel proclaimed that it was a warning from God that if his people did not return to him, matters would get worse – they would be invaded by a foreign army from the north (the Assyrians) and face massive destruction.  This would be the “day of the LORD,” which was not to be seen as a happy prospect. But as with many prophets of coming destruction, Joel also indicated that God would have pity on his people if they would turn to him in repentance.  After the horrible events to come, God would bring salvation to Judah, removing the foreign threat and restoring the earth; there would be abundant rain, plentiful crops, productive livestock.  The years of drought, famine, and military invasion would end, and all would be [...]

2021-05-11T20:36:47-04:00May 29th, 2021|Acts of the Apostles, Early Christian Doctrine|

Does Luke Present Different (Inconsistent!) Views of Christ?

In a recent post I tried to show that the author of Luke-Acts (same person; let's call him Luke) presented an "exaltation" Christology -- that is, that he thought Christ was not originally a divine being but had been exalted to divinity at some point of his existence; but unlike most of our other sources, he affirms *different* moments when this happened: at Jesus' birth, his baptism, and his resurrection.  (See the post if this is not ringing a bell: ). I ended the post by saying I would explain how Luke could have it all three ways.  And as a reader pointed out to me, I never posted the post!  So here it is.  I dealt with this specific issue on the blog some years ago, and I may be older now, but I'm no wiser, at least as far as this question goes.  Here's what I said then and would continue to say now: ******************************** Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise [...]

Very Early Understandings of Christ in A Later Book of the NT

I have been trying to show that one of the oldest understandings of Christ in the early Christian movement -- in fact, *the* earliest in my view (and many other scholars), even though later it came to be declared a "heresy" --  is that Jesus started out as a human, nothing more, but came to be exalted by God to become his Son, the Lord. I have long called this particular understanding of Christ an "exaltation" Christology: God exalted Christ to become a divine being.  It stands in contrast with a view that I have not dealt with yet, the one that became the dominant one eventually (but which arose later), and "incarnation" Christology, which stated that Christ was a divine being who became human (not a human who became divine), a view best known, in the NT, from the Gospel of John.  (Exaltation Christologies are often understood to be "low" because they locate Christ originally here on earth among us mortals; incarnation christologies are correspondingly "high" because in them Christ originally came from heaven [...]

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