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Does the Book of Acts Accurately Record Paul’s Teachings?

We could deal forever with the question of the historical accuracy of Acts. There are entire books devoted to the problem and even to *aspects* of the problem, and different scholars come to different conclusions. My own view is that since Acts is at odds with Paul just about every time they talk about the same thing, that it is probably not to be taken as very accurate, especially in its detail. In yesterday’s post I dealt with a couple of places where it’s portrayal of Paul’s *actions* seem to be at odds with what Paul himself says; in today’s, my last post on the topic, I speak about Paul’s *teachings/views* and come to the same conclusion. I’ll pick just one example, and again, draw my remarks from comments I’ve made elsewhere in print.

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Almost all of Paul’s evangelistic sermons mentioned in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences. This itself should strike us as odd, given Paul’s own repeated claim that his mission was to the Gentiles. In any event, the most famous exception is his speech to a group of philosophers on the Areopagus in Athens (chapter 17). Here Paul explains that the Jewish God is in fact the God of all, pagan and Jew alike, even though the pagans have been ignorant of him. Paul’s understanding of pagan polytheism is reasonably clear here: pagans have simply not known that there is only One God, the creator of all, and can thus not be held accountable for failing to worship the one whom they have not known. That is to say, since they have been ignorant of the true God, rather than willfully disobedient to him, he has overlooked their false religions until now. With the coming of Jesus, though, he is calling all people to repent in preparation for the coming judgment (Acts 17:23-31).

A lot of people (naturally) assume that Paul really said what the Book of Acts says he said.  But did he?  Keep reading.  If you’re not a blog member, you’ll need to join first.  You will bless the day you did so till you pass off your mortal coil.  

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So: Was Luke Luke?
Did *Any* Companion of Paul Write Luke and Acts?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    MiriamL613  January 27, 2020

    Acts is the most important book of the Christian bible. It shows a semi-chronological history that the Jesus messianic movement started out with exclusively Jewish followers and that at least a dozen years passed before they began to accept Gentiles. Acts 10 thru 14 discusses “a door being opened” to the Gentiles. That they questioned (Acts 15:5) whether the gentiles needed to convert to Judaism means that those who were born Jews continued to observe the entire Torah of Moses. That they decreed the gentiles did not have to means they embraced dual-covenant theology at that point. All of this blows up what the second-century church fathers taught. Paul was assigned to be an apostle to the Gentiles. This follows the opinion of Rabbi Jacob Emden, whose letter was published in a book by Rabbi Harvey Falk, entitled “Jesus the Pharisee” (1985). The false rumor that Paul was teaching Jews not to observe the Torah was acknowledged by James as false in Acts 21:24 in which he reportedly said, “…thus all will know that there is nothing in what has been said about you, but that you, yourself, live in observance of the Law [Torah].” Most of the confusion about Paul has to do with not understanding there are different laws for Jews and for gentiles and that almost all of what he taught was for gentiles. Another interesting aspect of Acts which is largely ignored is that the Jesus-messianic sect was respected by non-Christian Jews. Although none of this can be proven by outside sources, it is critically important and credible that the author of Acts wanted to communicate this idea in so many places. This means — in fact — that the author of Acts wanted to show that the followers of Jesus did not believe he was God. The gospels (Matthew and John) show that Jews believed that anyone who claimed to be God was a blasphemer; logically, if his followers believed that, they too would be considered as blasphemers and idolaters as well. But they weren’t. Acts 5:13 says they were “held in high honor” by other Jews. Acts 5:39 has the president of the Sanhedrin, Rabban Gamaliel, saying their movement might be “of God.” In Acts 23:9 and 28:21, non-Christian Jews “find nothing wrong” in Paul. First century Christianity did NOT believe Jesus was God.

  2. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 29, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    This is what he said….(remember this is the prof. with the quirky view of seeing things). Do you know about this? Or even so, do you agree with me that this has nothing to do with the apostles seeing/believing they actually saw the resurrected Jesus?

    Me: Is there an ancient writer who describes eyes as pathways to the soul?
    Prof.: “Well, Galen, the philosopher & physician, for a physiological-medical description. It’s alluded to in other texts.”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2020

      Yes. And it depends what you mean.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  January 31, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Just to clarify: You concur that Galen’s writings/philosophies have nothing to do with the apostles seeing/believing they saw the resurrected Jesus, is that correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 2, 2020

          No.

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  February 2, 2020

            Dr. Ehrman,

            I thought your position was that they thought they saw him in plain view with their eyes, NOT some esoteric “hole in the soul” (like Galen’s philosophy). Please clarify.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 2, 2020

            It seems esoteric to us. But however they understood what it meant to “see” something, it did not mean what *we* mean to “see” something, since they had ancient understandings of how sight worked, not modern scientific understandings. Ancient common sense typically sounds esoteric to modern ears. However hearing works….

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  February 2, 2020

            Dr. Ehrman,

            So how did it work? Stare at a wall and then say hold on let me swish that image around in my “soul” (whatever that means exactly) and hey, what do you know? Actually it’s not a wall but Jesus! If there’s a better analogy please let me know! Because this is what I get from such a theory.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 4, 2020

            Yes, it’s very difficult to think in the ways people in other cultures do. What is common sense to them is nonsense to us, and what is commonsense to us would have been nonsense to them.

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  February 4, 2020

            Dr. Ehrman,

            That doesn’t make sense. In Jesus’ time they still had to rely on their eyes, didn’t they? How else would they operate in the world? I think you are starting to contradict what you said before. Before you said that they were convinced they saw the risen Jesus in plain sight, and it took them by surprise, (but just happened to actually be hallucination). BUT
            Now it sounds like they just deliberately imagined whatever they wanted whenever and then disingenuously passed it off as authentic eyewitness testamony.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 5, 2020

            I’m clearly not getting through here! They claimed they saw Jesus. What did they think were the physiological mechanics of how a person “saw” something? They weren’t scientists, and so had no clue. If they did have a clue, they would have accepted what scientists of their day said, not what scientists of our day say. It might seem like hocus pocus, but how were they supposed to understand the nature of light and the anatomy of the eye and and the visual functions of the brain in 21st century terms when they lived in the 1st century?

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  February 5, 2020

            Dr. Ehrman,

            Thanks for your patience. I think there was a disconnect. I think that prof. threw things way off. His way of trying to explain things left me with the impression that he was saying something along the lines of: Jesus’ followers thought they had something like a third eye that they used at will to conjure up preplanned visions of things. So in that way they could have literally and intentionally dreamed up an image of whoever, whenever and then just said so and so was raised from the dead. BUT I think that you would agree that this description goes too far into left field, am I correct? I think your hypothesis is much more straightforward and goes like this: The apostles were generally honest people who routinely operated using their regular eyesight just as we do day-to-day, when sometime after Jesus’ death they were surprised when they (were truly convinced they) saw a physical appearance of the resurrected Jesus. This would have also convinced them that Jesus’ remains were no longer in the ground. Do I have your position all correct now? or what would you change?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 6, 2020

            I dont’ know what htis professor said, or what he might have had in mind. But as you know, I think that his followers who said he was raised though that his body was no longer in the ground.

  3. sschullery
    sschullery  January 30, 2020

    What order were the various Epistles of Paul written in, and is their theology consistent throughout, or jump around (as one might expect from random copying/editing errors), or evolve, as though toward some growing consensus or party line? Can we assume that all of the forgeries were written after all of the real letters?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2020

      It’s debated. Usually it’s thought that 1 Thessalonians was first, Romans last, and the others? Possibly in the order they appear in the canon. His thinking *may* have evolved; my forthcoming book on the afterlife argues his views on what happens to the Xn at death did change as he got older. It’s usually thought the forgeries are later not because they *couldn’t* have been produced earlier but because the theology and situations they presuppose make better sense a few decades after Paul’s death.

  4. Avatar
    joemccarron  February 4, 2020

    I don’t see what you are describing in the actual texts. Paul does not say Pagans believe in the “one God” in Romans – obviously they don’t. In both Romans and Acts he is explaining that all people see glimpses of the one God. He says the Greeks worship that God in ignorance. That is different than saying they are completely ignorant of that God.

    Romans:
    “being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

    Nothing in Acts suggests Paul thinks Greeks would be ignorant that these things are wicked. That seems quite a stretch. This is basic morality that God informs all people by writing his law on their hearts.

    “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

    In other words don’t claim you didn’t know murder and deceit was wrong because Christ Jesus will know your thoughts and these laws were written on your hearts. (I argue we can not learn what “should be” except by God.) In Acts he explains that with understanding comes more responsibility and therefore more culpability if we fail. So in acts the Greeks should repent for what they did once they learn more completely God’s path. (see also Corinthians 5:1 “…even pagans…”)

    All people sometimes knowingly do wrong and sometimes do wrong out of ignorance. And when you do so knowingly you are more culpable. These are common sense views/beliefs and there is no reason to think Paul (as described in Acts or understood by his own letters) didn’t hold those beliefs.

  5. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 8, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In a book by Prof. Henry Wansbrough he writes of the Passage in Romans: “Jesus did not become the Son of God at Resurrection, but it was then he became ‘Son of God in power.'” Why do you think this is incorrect and Adoptionism is the way to go?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2020

      It has long been thought (argued) by scholars that Paul is taking over an adoptionistic creed and that he himself added the words “in power” to correct the older form of adoptinism in the creed.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  February 9, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman,

        So then do you think Paul wrote Philippians 2:6-11himself? Because that gives the impression that Jesus was pre-existent.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2020

          No, I think he’s quoting an earlier poem that he fully agrees with. You really should read my book How Jesus Became God, because I deal with all these kinds of issues there!

  6. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 11, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    1 Corinthians 15:54-55 seems to echo Isaiah 25:8, Isaiah 26:19, and Hosea 13:14. Would these be good verses to cite to show to critics that Paul believed in bodily resurrection? Or else, in something merely “spiritual” how would Death really be swallowed up in victory, correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2020

      No, verses from the OT will not show you what someone living centuries later beleived.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  February 12, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Thanks, that’s why I ran it by you. So would the best argument for Paul’s belief in bodily resurrection be that Apocalyptic Jews believed that in the end times God would literally redeem his creation? Is there anything that is written in Paul’s letters or anywhere else that I can cite as evidence for this, or was that just their common understanding at the time?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 14, 2020

          I’d say the best argument is that it is what he himself precisely argues in 1 Corinthians 15. As you know!

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  February 14, 2020

            Dr. Ehrman,

            Yes, but what can I say to negate critics here?…There are 2 verses they cite to say that it’s just spiritual and not bodily:

            v. 44 “sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.” and v. 50 “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”

          • Bart
            Bart  February 16, 2020

            AS you know, I’ve commented on it repeatedly on the blog. Say what I do. 🙂 (I have a long discussion of it in my forthcoming book)

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