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.
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 fairly high position among the Sanhedrin (I don’t mean that he was a member). How come he didn’t witness the crucifixion or why didn’t he in some way have firsthand knowledge of the events in immediate connection with the crucifixion?
Ah, an interesting question. So, it’s part of a much, much larger issue. Let me explain.
We have two sources of information about the life of Paul: his own letters and the book of Acts. There are lots of reasons for thinking that the book of Acts is not always reliable when it comes to describing events in Paul’s life. I may devote an entire post – or maybe even a series of posts – to the question. For now, suffice it to say that whenever you can compare what Paul has to say about his own biography (life and teachings) with what Acts has to say, in almost every case you will find discrepancies.
This is true of small issues: was Timothy originally