This post cannot explore all the ways in which the life of Paul in Acts has been shown to be borrowed from the narratives about Jesus and Peter, but I will touch the surface of the general idea for now. I am relying on two works (I’m sure they’re not the only ones) that argue that the details in Acts (not the epistles) of Paul’s miracles, speeches and even some of his travels and adventures are literary borrowings from the lives Jesus and Peter:
Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts by Charles H. Talbert
Parallel Lives: The Relation of Paul to the Apostles in the Lucan Perspective by Andrew C. Clark.
Beginning with Clark’s book, we read:
[E]very miracle performed by Peter has its parallel in one wrought by Paul. . . . In addition to the miracles performed by Peter and Paul, Acts records other miraculous or supernatural events which they experienced, and in these too many parallels between the two may be observed. (p. 209)
Andrew Clark explores these parallels in minute detail according to six specific criteria (outlined in an earlier post here). I don’t have the time to give examples in this post, but would like to discuss a few of the cases in depth when free to do so. Here I will list the parallels that he lists before undertaking his detailed study of each. If one reads around the particular passages one will also note a broader contextual set of parallels.
- Both heal by means other than laying on of hands (one by shadow 5:15-16; one by handkerchiefs 19:11-12)
- Both heal men crippled from birth (3:1-10; 14:8-10)
- Both heal the bedridden (Aeneas 9:32-35; Publius’ father 28:7-8)
- Both resurrect the dead (9:36-43; 20:9-12)
- Both experience miracles of liberation from prison (5:17-21 and 12:3-17, resulting in death of guards; 16:25-34, resulting in life of the guard)
- Both perform miracles of punishment (5:1-11; 13:8-12)
- Both fall into a trance while praying (10:10, 11:5, 22:17)
- Both have heavenly visions that they relate three times, and that lead to preaching to gentiles
- Both are spoken to by angels (12:7-8, 5:19-20; 27:23-24).
Clark also argues that the parallels between the two with respect to their speeches and preaching ministries are “much more extensive than is usually recognized.” (p. 259) Again, I will have to save the details for a future post for anyone interested yet without access to the book.
Talbert in his book lists many detailed parallels between the last days of Jesus (in Luke) and the last days of Paul. I only touch on these in broad brush strokes, omitting details:
- The missions of the seventy (10:1-12)/missions to the Gentiles (ch.13-20)
- Both Jesus and Paul determined to go to Jerusalem
- Jesus goes to die, and others tell Paul he will die
- Both Jesus and Paul receive warm receptions on entering Jerusalem
- Both Jesus and Paul go to the Temple in a positive spirit
- In disputes over the resurrection the Sadducees support Jesus and Paul while the scribes oppose them
- Both Jesus and Paul have a special meal
- Mobs respectively seize Jesus and Paul
- Both Jesus and Paul are slapped at the command of the high priest
- Each has four trials (Jesus: Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, Pilate; Paul: Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus, Herod Agrippa)
- Each is declared innocent three times (Jesus by Pilate 3 times; Paul by Lysias, Festus and Agrippa)
- Herod hears Jesus sent by Pilate; Herod hears Paul sent by Festus
- Herod offers to release Jesus; Agrippa says Paul could have been set free
- The Jews cry out “Away with this man/him” re both Jesus and Paul
- A centurion has a positive opinion of Jesus, as does a centurion of Paul
- The ministries of both Jesus and Paul conclude with notes of fulfilment of scripture
The above suggests to me that the author of the canonical story of Paul in Acts created some of his material out of his own imagination as it mulled over the stories of Jesus and Peter that had gone before. I don’t think this was entirely because he lacked imagination. The parallels with Peter were surely to further cement one of the primary themes of Acts, and that was to demonstrate the theological unity of Peter and Paul, the Jewish and Gentiles missions and churches.