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Does the Book of Acts Accurately Portray the Life and Teachings of Paul?

A fundamental question has recently come to me, which involves one of the central issues in the study of the life and teachings of Paul.  As most members of the blog may know, there are thirteen books in the NT that claim to be written by Paul, six of which are widely thought not actually to be by him.  But that means, on the positive side, that we almost certainly have seven letters actually written by Paul, so that if we want to know about him, we can turn to his own writings (unlike, for example, Jesus, from whom we have no writings).

We also, however, have the book of Acts, the fifth book of the NT, which gives a narrative of the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world, as the faith moved from being a sect within Judaism to becoming a world-wide religion for both Jews and Gentiles.  The key figure in that transition, and the main character in the book of Acts, is Paul.

But can we trust that wuat the book of Acts says about Paul is accurate?  That its author actually knew Paul – or at least that he knew what Paul did and said?

Here a reader of the blog raises a question directly germane to that issue.

 

QUESTION:

What are some of the differences between Paul and the author of Acts in regards to Paul’s theology and preaching? Thanks!

 

RESPONSE:

I deal with that question at length in my textbook on the New Testament, at a simple level, but hopefully with enough detail to satisfy.  In the book I argue that Acts is broadly accurate in its general portrayal of Paul in many ways, but also at odds with Paul in a lot of specifics.  This is true both in what it says about Paul’s life and about his preaching.   This will take two posts.  Here is what I say about the biographical information about Paul found in Acts.

************************************************************************

In evaluating the reliability of Acts we are fortunate that Paul and Luke sometimes both describe the same event and indicate Paul’s teachings on the same issues, making it possible to see whether they stand in basic agreement.

 

Events of Paul’s Life.

In virtually every instance in which the book of Acts can be compared with Paul’s letters in terms of biographical detail, differences emerge. Sometimes these differences involve minor disagreements concerning where Paul was at a certain time and with whom. As one example, the book of Acts states that when Paul went to Athens he left Timothy and Silas behind in Berea (Acts 17:10–15) and did not meet up with them again until after he left Athens and arrived in Corinth (18:5). In 1 Thessalonians Paul himself narrates the same sequence of events and indicates just as clearly that he was not in Athens alone, but that Timothy was with him (and possibly Silas as well). It was from Athens that he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica in order to see how the church was doing there (1 Thess 3:1–3).

Although this discrepancy concerns a minor detail, it shows something about the historical reliability of Acts. The narrative coincides with what Paul himself indicates about some matters (he did establish the church in Thesssalonica and then leave from there for Athens), but it stands at odds with him on some of the specifics.

Other differences are of greater importance. For example, Paul is quite emphatic in the epistle to the Galatians that after he had his vision of Jesus and came to believe in him, he did not go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles (1:15–18). This is an important issue for him because he wants to prove to the Galatians that his gospel message did not come from Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem (the original disciples and the church around them) but from Jesus himself. His point is that he has not corrupted a message that he received from someone else; his gospel came straight from God, with no human intervention. The book of Acts, of course, provides its own narrative of Paul’s conversion. In this account, however, Paul does exactly what he claims not to have done in Galatians: after leaving Damascus some days after his conversion, he goes directly to Jerusalem and meets with the apostles (Acts 9:10–30).

It is possible, of course, that Paul himself altered the real course of events to show that he couldn’t have received his gospel message from other apostles because he never consulted with them. If he did stretch the truth on this matter, however, his statement of Galatians—“In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie”—takes on new poignancy, for his lie in this case would have been bald-faced. More likely the discrepancy derives from Luke, whose own agenda affected the way he told the tale. For him, as we have seen, it was important to show that Paul stood in close continuity with the views of the original followers of Jesus, because all the apostles were unified in their perspectives. Thus, he portrays Paul as consulting with the Jerusalem apostles and representing the same faith that they proclaimed.

Moreover, the book of Acts portrays Paul as standing in harmony not only with the original apostles of Jesus but also with all of the essentials of Judaism. Throughout this narrative, Paul maintains his absolute devotion to the Jewish Law. To be sure, he proclaims that Gentiles do not need to keep this Law, since for them it would be an unnecessary burden. He himself, however, remains a good Jew to the end, keeping the Law in every respect. When Paul is arrested for violating the Law, Luke goes out of his way to show that the charges are trumped up (chaps. 21–22). As Paul himself repeatedly asserts throughout his apologetic speeches in Acts, he has done nothing contrary to the Law (e.g., 28:17).

In his own writings, Paul’s view of the Law is extremely complicated. Several points, however, are reasonably clear. First, in contrast to the account in Acts, Paul appears to have had no qualms about violating the Jewish Law when the situation required him to do so. In Paul’s words, he could live not only “like a Jew” when it served his purposes but also “like a Gentile,” for example, when it was necessary for him to convert Gentiles (1 Cor 9:21). On one occasion, he attacked the apostle Cephas for failing to do so himself (Gal 2:11–14). In addition, Paul did not see the Law merely as an unnecessary burden for Gentiles, something that they didn’t need to follow but could if they chose. For Paul, it was an absolute and total affront to God for Gentiles to follow the Law, a complete violation of his gospel message. In his view, Gentiles who did so were in jeopardy of falling from God’s grace, for if doing what the Law required could contribute to a person’s salvation, then Christ died completely in vain (Gal 2:21; 5:4). This is scarcely the conciliatory view attributed to Paul in Acts.

 

I will continue from here in my next post, to say something (directly to the questioner’s question) about the teachings of Paul in his own words and in the book of Acts.

If you belonged to the blog, you could get meaty posts like this five days of the week, every week, till the sun blows up or I do, whichever comes first.  It doesn’t cost much to join, and all proceeds go to charity.  So why not join?

 


Does the Book of Acts Portray the *Teachings* of Paul Accurately?
The Name Judas Iscariot: What Does It Mean?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    anthonygale  June 17, 2018

    I find Paul’s statement about not lying a bit odd. Spontaneous negation raises concern for deception. Perhaps it’s not spontaneous though. Might Paul be aware that others think he met with the apostles in Jerusalem and is addressing that very concern? Perhaps someone suggested he did so either in person or in a letter?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 18, 2018

      Yes, when he swears to a point, it appears almost always to be because someone is telling lies about him and he wants to set the record straight.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 18, 2018

      Paul shows the characteristics of what a clinical psychologist would call an habitual bulls**ter. But seriously, anyone who says “I have become all things to all people” is clearly a grifter. Two thousand years of Christianity has somehow re-worked that into an expression of virtue, but anyone who takes their Christian goggles off can see that Paul is clearly admitting to being a bulls**ter.

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  June 21, 2018

        Are there religious scholars who think Paul might be lying, either here or elsewhere? I don’t know how likely that is, but it doesn’t seem hard to imagine he could have had motivation to do so.

        More broadly speaking, is there evidence that religious con artists were a common occurrence in the ancient world? Like some modern day evangelists who become rich off preaching yet are of questionable character?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 22, 2018

          There certainly were religious con artists — lots of them. The most famous is Alexander of Abonuteichos, exposed by Lucian of Samosata. Maybe I should post on this: it’s pretty funny. (Although there are serious debates about whether Alexander was *really* a con artist or if Lucian simply was producing a hatchet job)

  2. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  June 17, 2018

    I’m confused. Was the Apostle Cephas actually Peter? If so, Paul had the temerity to attack him?!?!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 18, 2018

      Yes, they are normally taken to be the same person. Cephas is Aramaic, a word that means “rock”. And that’s what Petros (= Peter) means in Greek. Long ago I started discussing an article I wrote once arguing they were actually two different people. But I’ve never gotten back to it, there’s hardly anyone who thinks so!

      • Robert
        Robert  June 18, 2018

        When you first discussed Cephas/Peter on the blog, if I recall correctly, you were then more or less agnostic on the point. Have you yet succeeded in changing your mind on this?

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  June 18, 2018

      Yes — and note here a discrepancy between John 1 and Matthew 16.

      In John 1, Jesus names Simon as “Cephas” (rock) when he met him for the first time.

      In Matthew 16, Jesus names Simon “Peter” (rock) only much later, not long before the events of Passion Week, and then only because Simon gave the correct answer to Jesus’ question, “But whom do YOU think I am?”

  3. Avatar
    prestonp  June 18, 2018

    “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…” Got to love the way they’re depicted. Causing trouble all over the world. Dig it. All over! The Gospel was moving throughout the world like wild fire. A worldwide conflagration due to a handful of ragtag nobodies in love with a bizarre, butchered criminal who appeared out of nowhere with nothing. And all they did was teach and preach Jesus, crucified and risen.

    But them, “Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” On track. They were checking it out. But, hold on. They examined the scriptures? What scriptures?

    So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.

    As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

    13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

    As one example, the book of Acts states that when Paul went to Athens he left Timothy and Silas behind in Berea (Acts 17:10–15) and did not meet up with them again until after he left Athens and arrived in Corinth (18:5). (When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.) In 1 Thessalonians Paul himself narrates the same sequence of events and indicates just as clearly that he was not in Athens alone, but that Timothy was with him (and possibly Silas as well). It was from Athens that he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica in order to see how the church was doing there (1 Thess 3:1–3).

    Where is the contradiction, Bart?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 19, 2018

      The contradiction is that Acts explicitly says that Timothy did not accompany Paul to Athens after leaving Thessalonica, and Paul indicates that Timothy *was* with him there, since it was *from* there that he sent him back to Thessalonica.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  June 20, 2018

        There is no contradiction between this view and the narrative of the Acts. Luke merely omits to mention Timothy’s short visit to Athens and departure from it, and relates only the final reunion of these three fellow-workers at Corinth. Indeed, Paley gives this coming of Timothy to Athens as one of the undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the Acts of the Apostles. Still, however, we are not necessitated to suppose that Timothy joined the apostle at Athens. The words admit of the opinion that he was sent by Paul direct from Beraea, and not from Athens; and that he and Silas did not join Paul until they came from Macedonia to Corinth. Such is the opinion of Hug, Wieseler, Koppe, Alford, and Vaughan. pulpit commentary

    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  June 19, 2018

      ” And all they did was teach and preach Jesus, crucified and risen.”

      and second coming which has failed to happen. and the idea that the messiah was really a dying and rising flesh god. and the idea that god is not 1 god but 3 beings in 1 being. and the idea that jewish rules and legalism is dead and replaced by eating and drinking jewish body.

      jesus was a nobody and unknown. now how to sell unknown jesus to people in different countries? invent miracle stories which nobody could have witnessed . everyone knew he was no alexandra the great and no “king messiah” so how to sell jesus? spiritualize everything and leave it to the second coming .

      • Avatar
        prestonp  June 21, 2018

        I have addressed your reply in the non-moderated section.

  4. Avatar
    prestonp  June 18, 2018

    But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the [e]Christ.

    23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul

    Where in Acts 9: 10-30 does it say he went directly to Jerusalem?

    after he had his vision of Jesus and came to believe in him, he did not go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles (1:15–18)

    For 3 years he did not go to Jerusalem.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  June 18, 2018

      “Paul remains a good Jew to the end, keeping the Law in every respect.” Bart

      Let’s rightly divide the word of truth. Here is the context in which Paul describes his motives and yields deep insight into his heart:

      “19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

      Out of respect and to honor Jews, not out of obedience to the Law itself, but rather to influence Jews to be willing to listen to the Gospel, Paul observed Jewish laws.

      • Bart
        Bart  June 19, 2018

        You’re missing my point. I’m saying that according to the *book of Acts* Paul was a completely devoted Jew to the end. That is *not* the view we get from his own letters.

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  June 19, 2018

          Fair enough. Thank you.

          The whole purpose of Acts is to promote the goodness of Paul.

          Nevertheless, even Acts 21 states how Paul tried to deceive the Jerusalem Church after the Jerusalem Church had summonsed him back to Jerusalem to answer a simple question — was it true, or was it not true, that Paul was preaching that even the Jewish followers should not abandon the Law?

        • Avatar
          prestonp  June 20, 2018

          In Acts he is a completely dedicated Jew who couldn’t stop preaching the gospel. Everywhere he went and everything he did focused on presenting Jesus to people who didn’t know Him. He can’t contain his longing for everyone to find Him. He addresses people based on what he knows about them to give him keys to reaching them most effectively. Also, he has much to share in terms of advice and admonitions for individual churches.

          To see conspiracies behind so much of the N.T. implies masterminds with incredible influence and unknown motivations. Some scholars spend their lives dedicated to trying to unravel the mysteries and minutia in a volume of books written 2,000 years ago while insisting it is full of nonsense, such as all of the miraculous events in one fell swoop. Why not just accept it as irrelevant, forged, error-filled, altered, and a misleading piece of trash? So what if civilizations were bamboozled by it ridiculous claims?

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 18, 2018

    But Paul did meet with the disciples at some point, right? I thought one of the proofs for Jesus’s existence was that Paul had met one of his brothers.

  6. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  June 18, 2018

    No, Professor; you’re missing the essential point about Paul.

    You wrote, “Moreover, the book of Acts portrays Paul as standing in harmony not only with the original apostles of Jesus but also with all of the essentials of Judaism. Throughout this narrative, Paul maintains his absolute devotion to the Jewish Law.” and “He himself, however, remains a good Jew to the end, keeping the Law in every respect.”

    Uh-uh!

    We KNOW from Paul’s own writings that he believed that not even Jewish followers of Jesus should keep the Law of Moses any longer. That is rank HERESY!

    It is of course true that Acts 15 gave Paul the right to preach to would-be GENTILE converts that THEY did not need to submit to Mosaic Law. But that did NOT extend to Jewish followers!

    And in Acts 21, it is clear that the Jerusalem Church had caught wind of (what WE KNOW to be true) of the FACT that Paul was preaching total abrogation of Jewish Law. But they weren’t sure, so they proposed a Purification Test which Paul agreed to take, to prove his innocence of the accusation. From this, we can be sure that Paul must have DENIED the accusation, for if he’d admitted it, there’d have been no need for the Purification Test.

    Which means, Paul MUST HAVE LIED to the Jerusalem Church.

    And Paul ALMOST got away with his bluff, but on the final day of the test, he was recognized and outted by some Jews (maybe believers, maybe not) from Asia (Minor).

    Paul was NOT “absolutely devoted” to Jewish Law. His writings PROVE it. How can you or anyone claim he was?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 19, 2018

      I’m saying that according to the *book of Acts* Paul was a completely devoted Jew to the end. That is *not* the view we get from his own letters.

      • Robert
        Robert  June 19, 2018

        “I’m saying that according to the *book of Acts* Paul was a completely devoted Jew to the end. That is *not* the view we get from his own letters.”

        There’s some pretty good Pauline exegetes out there now interpreting Paul’s letters in a new light with Paul remaining a genuinely faithful Jew, albeit with a messianic vision and eschatological mission to the Gentiles. A long history of Christian anti-semitism and Protestant doctrinal concerns have warped our interpretation of Paul’s letters.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 21, 2018

          It’s hard to deal with “Jew to the Jews and Gentile to the Gentiles”….

          • Robert
            Robert  June 21, 2018

            “It’s hard to deal with “Jew to the Jews and Gentile to the Gentiles”….”

            Not so very hard:
            “To those outside the Law I became as one outside the Law—inot being without the Law of God but under the law of Christ

            This looks rather like a messianic interpretation of the law, not a rejection of the law, much less a rejection of his own status as a Jew.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 22, 2018

            He’s surely saying that when he was associating with Gentile converts, he didn’t keep Jewish laws. Otherwise he wasn’t living “like a Gentile.”

          • Robert
            Robert  June 22, 2018

            I agree, but that does not mean that he ever renounced his status as a faithful Jew. He would have seen himself as faithful as Abraham. That he would continue to observe Jewish customs and laws when with other Jews, without feeling bound to do so when fulfilling his Jewish eschatological mission to the nations only strengthens his view that salvation is indeed from the Jews and ultimately meant for the righteous of all of the other nations. Thus is an authentic Jewish eschatology.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 24, 2018

            Oh, I completely agree — he *thought* he was being faithful to his tradition. But that doesn’t meant that he continued always to be a passionate observant keeper of the the law.

          • Robert
            Robert  June 24, 2018

            “Oh, I completely agree — he *thought* he was being faithful to his tradition. But that doesn’t meant that he continued always to be a passionate observant keeper of the the law.”

            Thus we ourselves now agree that Paul considered himself faithful to a Judaism of his day, albeit with a messianic vision and Jewish apocalyptic mission to the Gentiles. Not surprisingly, Luke also, who shared at least something of Paul’s messianic vision of the apocalyptic mission to the Gentiles, agrees with Paul (and us) that “Paul was a completely devoted Jew to the end.”

            Now, I am certainly no apologist afraid of acknowledging the many contradictions in τα βιβλία in general or between Paul’s letters and Acts specifically, but the supposed contradiction between Luke and Paul’s letters on this point has much more to do with a deficient, anachronistic (sometimes even anti-semitic) Christian interpretation of Paul’s letters that can be much better understood from the perspective of Paul as a faithful Jew. Certainly some Jews and Jewish ‘Christians’ of Paul’s day did not agree with Paul’s own view of himself as a devoted and faithful Jew, but any disagreements between Paul and Luke may have been minimal in comparison. Luke also does not endorse proselyte circumcision (except for Timothy, whose mother was Jewish) or enforcing kashrut among Gentiles (Acts 15) and probably not for Jews associating with Gentiles (Acts 10,28) but certainly believes in following the commandments of God (Lk 1,6 18,20 23,56).

            Paul himself affirms that he observed Jewish law and custom when with other Jews (1 Cor 9,21), ‘though not in his mission to Gentiles. I suspect this is part of his messianic interpretation of the law for Gentiles, ie, the law of Christ (1 Cor 9,20 Gal 6,2), eg, in denying the significance of circumcision for Gentile proselytes but nonetheless insisting on their obeying the commandments of God (1 Cor 7,19).

          • Bart
            Bart  June 25, 2018

            I think we’ve always agreed on that. 🙂

          • Robert
            Robert  June 26, 2018

            “I think we’ve always agreed on that.”

            So on what, if anything, do you do you continue to disagree with me about? Or have I ultimately and completely persuaded you to concede all my points in their entirety?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 27, 2018

            Well, there’s a first for everything. 🙂 But I thought you were objecting to something I said; my view is that Paul did not keep kosher when associating with his gentile converts.

          • Robert
            Robert  June 27, 2018

            “But I thought you were objecting to something I said; my view is that Paul did not keep kosher when associating with his gentile converts.”

            No, I don’t disagree with that at all. But I do think Paul can now be much better understood as a faithful first-century Jew (albeit with a messianic vision and eschatological mission to the Gentiles) than he has traditionally been understood by Christian exegetes. I really like reading the various ‘Paul within Judaism’ scholars, but stop short of a Jewish Sonderweg interpretation of Paul (Gager). Rather, Paul certainly affirms Israel as having a Sonderplatz (Donaldson) in history but now is a Sonderzeit (Marshall) for his eschatological mission. My own views are currently probably closest to those of Paula Fredriksen. When Paul was with Jews, he would have kept kosher and he continued to see a high value of the whole law of Moses for Jewish believers. This Jewish understanding of Paul is not so very different from the Paul presented by Luke in Acts. I don’t deny the differences, but traditional Christian exegesis of Paul’s letters over exaggerates these differences.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 29, 2018

            My sense is that most highly religious Jews at the time would not consider a Jews who did not keep kosher or sabbath a “faithful Jew,” whatever theological reasons he told himself and others for his violations of Torah.

          • Robert
            Robert  June 29, 2018

            “My sense is that most highly religious Jews at the time would not consider a Jews who did not keep kosher or sabbath a “faithful Jew,” whatever theological reasons he told himself and others for his violations of Torah.”

            I certainly agree with that. But it’s not like Paul was just making up lame excuses for some careless disregard of pious (exclusiionary) Jewish practice. He saw himself as playing a pivotal and urgent role in bringing about the salvation of the nations and thereby, indirectly, of his own Jewish people in advance of a upcoming apocalypse. He was not intending to start a new religion that would last for millennia; rather he was trying to fulfill the imminent eschatological destiny of the Jewish people from the time of Abraham.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 1, 2018

            I agree with that. But if a fundamentalist Christian today would say that she was “a true Jew” because she (unlike, say, orthodox or conservative Jews) understood what it *really* meant to be a Jew (that is, a follower of Christ), then I would have a hard time, myself, saying that she was really a faithful Jew. (That’s an analogy, of course)

          • Robert
            Robert  July 1, 2018

            “I agree with that. But if a fundamentalist Christian today would say that she was “a true Jew” because she (unlike, say, orthodox or conservative Jews) understood what it *really* meant to be a Jew (that is, a follower of Christ), then I would have a hard time, myself, saying that she was really a faithful Jew. (That’s an analogy, of course)”

            Paul would be appalled by most everything a fundamentalist would say.

  7. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  June 18, 2018

    Professor, how can you accept Paul’s claim that he “remains a good Jew to the end, keeping the Law in every respect” when Paul wrote the below?:

    Galatians 3:23-25: “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”

    In other words, before the coming of Jesus, and at best, the Law was valuable like a schoolmaster is valuable. But after Jesus came, there is no more need for the schoolmaster that is the Law.

    Verse 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith WITHOUT THE DEEDS OF THE LAW.”

    SURELY, if the difference between Jew and Gentile has been abolished, and there are no longer even Jews — then how can it be said that Paul continued “to keep the Law in every respect”? How can Paul be described as a man who kept the Law when he states it cannot save and therefore is pointless to follow?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 19, 2018

      You’re misunderstanding me. I’m saying that according to the *book of Acts* Paul was a completely devoted Jew to the end. That is *not* the view we get from his own letters.

  8. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  June 18, 2018

    Acts of the Apostles actually CATCHES PAUL IN A LIE.

    And thereby shows that its accounts of Paul have a high degree of credibility, since they act as what the lawyers call an “admission against interest,” since it is generally in the interest of Luke to tell the story of Paul as favorably as he can. But evidently, Luke ALSO was TRYING to Get It Right and tell the TRUTH.

    But DON’T take MY word for it. Instead, as Warner Wolf used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape.” Let’s do what any good sola scriptura Christian does, and go to the text, and see WHAT THE TEXT ITSELF ACTUALLY says.

    ***

    1) We first go to Acts 15. This is the 1st Trial of the Apostle Paul before the Jerusalem Church. Although, it is likely more fair to call this a “hearing,” since it wasn’t an adversarial proceeding.

    The issue at stake was this: Evidently, the Jerusalem Church had been requiring of all wannabe Gentile converts to their flock that they first had to submit to circumcision and become full-fledged Jews, bound by the entire panoply of Mosaic Law. In this, the Jerusalem Church was actually being STRICTER than the rest of Judaism, for the rest of Judaism sought to convert Gentiles, not to the entirety of Mosaic Law, but instead only to the 7 Laws of the Sons of Noah.

    Paul remonstrated against the Jerusalem Church’s policy of full conversion. And after hearing him out, the Apostle James AGREED, and added that as long as the new Gentile followers would observe a few things — which we recognize as the 7 Laws of the Sons of Noah — they would be just fine, and did not need full conversion.

    Far from signalling a split between the Jerusalem Church and the rest of Judaism, this decision did the opposite; it actually BROUGHT THE TWO CLOSER. Jerusalem Church harmonized its conversion policy with that of the rest of Judaism.

    But — NOTE what it was that Paul was allowed to do! Paul was allowed to preach TO GENTILE CONVERTS that they could do without Mosaic Law. He was NOT given permission to preach this to JEWISH followers.

    And now we get to Stage 2:

    ***

    2) So time went on — Jack Finegan estimates it was 6 years (from 49-55 AD). And the Jerusalem Church had caught wind that Paul MIGHT have been a very, VERY naughty missionary, preaching not only that Gentile followers could refrain from the Law but that ALL followers, INCLUDING the Jewish ones, now should refrain from following the Law. This he was NOT allowed to preach. And WE know very well — that is EXACTLY what he was doing!

    So the Jerusalem Church summonses Paul to report to Jerusalem to answer for himself — was he or was he not teaching this FORBIDDEN doctrine?

    Question: How do we KNOW it was the Jerusalem Church which summonsed Paul? Answer: Because Paul received his summons when he was in Greece. He was far beyond anyone else’s legal jurisdiction. He could safely IGNORE the Sanhedrin, the Sadduccees, the Pharisees, the Herodians. But THE ONE body he could NOT ignore was that of the Jerusalem Church itself, for he derives his own authority from them. So Paul obediently answers the summons.

    In Acts 21:12, Luke tries to spray fog into and onto the real situation. He tries to imply that there is a great “Jewish” conspiracy to do in Paul if Paul dares go to Jerusalem. A “prophet” named Agabus warns Paul, “he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

    But who ARE these unnamed “Jews”? For Luke then admits that after Paul arrived, he reported directly to the Jerusalem Church itself, AND NOBODY ELSE EVEN KNEW HE WAS IN TOWN.

    3) So now Paul’s in Jerusalem and meeting with the Church including the Apostle James. And after the customary glad-handing, James has a CERTAIN QUESTION he needs to put to Paul…

    Acts 21:18-19: “And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.”

    Cool. So far, so good. But then…

    Verse 20: “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:” —

    (GOT THAT? LOTS of Jewish believers who follow the Law!

    (And they have THIS question for Paul!)

    Verse 21: “And they are informed of thee, that THOU TEACHEST ALL THE JEWS WHICH ARE AMONG THE GENTILES (whom Paul had visited on his missionary journeys) TO FORSAKE MOSES, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”

    (OBVIOUSLY this is a major concern. If it were alright to forsake Moses, then they wouldn’t have raised the question.)

    Verse 22: “What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.”

    (Well, THAT’S THE QUESTION! Was he doing it or wasn’t he? And Jerusalem DEMANDED an answer, for multitudes were coming together, knowing that Paul was in town, and needed an answer.

    (WE, of course, KNOW that this is EXACTLY what Paul was preaching!)

    Verses 23-24: “Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.”

    (We learn several things here:

    (* Paul MUST have DENIED the accusation, for if he had admitted to doing it, there’d have been no need for the Purification Test;
    * But since WE KNOW that Paul DID preach this, it therefore follows that PAUL LIED. And Luke author of Acts ADMITS it.
    * Paul agrees to take the test — under a Law which WE know he didn’t believe in — which therefore makes him also a HYPOCRITE.)

    (Then follows James’ own words, in which he repeats what he said in Acts 15 — that if the Gentile believers will but do these few simple things — which any educated Jew will recognize as the 7 Laws of the Sons of Noah — they will be satisfactory.)

    Verse 25: “As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.”

    (Then Verses 26-28 tell about how Paul ALMOST got away with his BLUFF, but on the final day of the test, he was recognized and outed by certain Jews from Asia (Minor) who themselves may or may not have been believers.)

    Verses 26-28: ” Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
    And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.”

    ***

    My conclusion about the veracity of Paul v. Luke is this:

    On the one hand, for reasons stated above, I have confidence that Luke at least TRIED to tell an HONEST story.

    And on the other hand, he states credibly that Paul LIED to the Jerusalem Church.

    Well — once a liar, always a liar, as far as I’m concerned.

    I trust Luke over Paul.

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  June 18, 2018

      PS: I apologize for the length of this. Length was necessary in order to state the entire case.

      • Bart
        Bart  June 19, 2018

        Nope, not necessary. The problem is that no one will read it. So if that’s what you want….

    • Bart
      Bart  June 19, 2018

      You need to realize that almost no one is going to read posts of this length.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  June 19, 2018

        I understand that. MAYBE, a few might read it. But you’re quite right; more can be less.

        I GENERALLY keep it pretty short. But on occasion, if I make a certain claim, it is necessary to prove the claim, even if it takes space.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  June 20, 2018

        I began that long posting you object to for its length with a deliberately provocative sentence, “Acts of the Apostles 21 actually CATCHES PAUL IN A LIE.”

        A verse-by-verse careful analysis of Acts 21 will show, to a NEUTRAL, OBJECTIVE student / scholar that this is so.

        I COULD have left the remark like that without explanation. But if I had, someone more likely than not would have confronted me about my “absurd” remark; how DARE I impugn the basic character of the wonderful, saintly Apostle Paul?

        Which would have forced me to defend the remark, using as much space as necessary.

        I figgered, why wait? Let’s just put the case up-front.

  9. talmoore
    talmoore  June 18, 2018

    As I like to say, they can’t both be right, but they can both be wrong. In this case, I think both “Luke” and Paul are wrong. Why is that? Because Paul seems exactly like the kind of guy who can’t keep his story straight. That is to say, Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was overly concerned with facts, at least not as much as he was concerned with making himself look good. So we have to ask ourselves this question: which portrait of Paul makes him look better, that of “Luke” or that of Paul himself? And the answer to that question is: yes.

    Paul’s eyes were certainly brown.

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  June 20, 2018

      Paul was a chameleon. We have his own words for that.

      1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

      19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

      20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

      21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

      22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

      ***

      In short, Paul was “all things to all men.” If he were after Jews, he posed as a Jew. If he were after the lawless, he posed as himself lawless. If he were after the weak, he posed as a weakling.

      That’s a way of saying, as you did, that Paul was out to make himself “look good.” Rather like any modern politician.

  10. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  June 28, 2018

    1) You have mentioned that Luke seems to have lifted passages from a 1st person travel log, giving the impression that he was a companion of Paul on some of his journeys. Are there other sections of Acts that come from recognizably distinct sources, such that Luke may have had access to contemporary accounts of Paul’s activities (as whether or not he went to Jerusalem first) that may be more reliable than Paul’s own recollection some 15 years after his conversion?
    2) Do you refer to Paul’s conflict with Cephas simply because that’s what Paul calls him in Galatians, or do you entertain doubts as to whether he and Peter are one and the same? My recollection is that you have argued they are one and the same.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 29, 2018

      No, I stopped believing that the we-sections of Acts were based on a travel log many years ago; 2. I have argued they were different people, but I don’t really know for sure. It does seem better to use the term/name the author uses in a passage when referring to the passage.

  11. Avatar
    Gideon  March 12, 2019

    Acts 21 suggests that the early church offered sacrifices, is this possible in anyway? This would contradict all of christianity and even the jewish ebionites who were against it.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2019

      What makes you think Ebionites were against it? The earliest Christians were certainly Jews, and probably did sacrifice.

      • Avatar
        Gideon  March 14, 2019

        According to Epiphanius in the Gospel to the Ebionites: which is called according to the Hebrews, reports: ‘I am come to abolish the sacrifices, if ye cease not from sacrificing, the wrath will not cease from you’.”
        And also the Clemintine Homilies and the recognitions of Clement which have been supposedly used by the Ebionites contains passages against the eating of any meat, from sacrificing and even claiming the Torah has been changed. “He then who at first was displeased with the slaughtering of animals, not wishing them to be slain, did not ordain sacrifices as desiring them, nor from the beginning did He require them.

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