2007-04-28

Stephen, Philip and Barnabas (link fixed)

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve just begun to catch up with “Parallel Lives: The Relation of Paul to the Apostles in the Lucan Perspective” by Andrew C. Clark and, well, I’m biased since I love almost any book helping me explore how texts work. The work is mainly about how and why the author has set up Peter and Paul as parallel lives, but the discussion begins with comparisons of Jesus and John the Baptist in the first few chapters of Luke, and also has a closer look at Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.

But one set of details I was not expecting to see discussed here was the function performed by the characters of Stephen, Philip and Barnabas. I had seen at least the first two as something of transition figures to advance the plot of Acts, but Clark has helpfully filled in the mass of detail needed to explain exactly how they work as such.

This is definitely another book I’m going to have to share in more detail here with others. But dammit, I still have to finish off my last Bauckham chapter and can only do one thing at a time and doc this morning says I need to rest if I want to get rid of a crazy high fever that’s been bugging me on and off all week.

But till then just a few tidbits:

Each of the 3 characters, Stephen, Philip and Barnabas, perform a function of advancing the church beyond its Jesus-12 apostle-Jerusalem base to the place where it becomes a Paul-gentile city focus.

Stephen in his long speech looks back to the past, to the temple and the history of the Jews and death of Jesus, as well as to the future. He’s of the “Hellenistic” party, and suffers a Christ-like martyrdom that culminates in the spread of Christians beyond Jerusalem. He ratchets the story to move from a physical to spiritual temple idea too.

Philip is used to move the church to the next step: in the wake of the Christian scattering from the Stephen issue, Philip preaches to the cities of Samaria and goes to a gentile. He’s a pre-figure of Paul in many respects. Paul also went to nonJewish cities, as a preacher, and to the gentiles, and began his ministry with a scrap with a bar-Jesus. This scene has many similarities with the Simon Magus-Philip episode as has been noted before by others.

So the above two have prepared the stage well for the ministry of Paul.

And Barnabas? Well the author still needed someone actually bind and join this hitherto ‘renegade’ apostle to the Twelve.

There’s much more to it than that that I look forward to studying and sharing soon. But one thought of course springs to mind. If a character is otherwise unattested as historical yet appears as a literary figure with a specific literary function, what criteria are we going to use to extract that person from being anything more than a literary character? Should we? Do we need to?

Anyway, if I can find enough time between sleep this weekend I must make a start on the last chapter of Bauckham and get that out of the way at last.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • 2007-04-29 02:01:49 GMT+0000 - 02:01 | Permalink

    “If a character is otherwise unattested as historical yet appears as a literary figure with a specific literary function, what criteria are we going to use to extract that person from being anything more than a literary character? Should we? Do we need to?”

    Depends on what that literary work was intended to be by its author. Was Acts meant to be a work of history? And Barnabas is otherwise attested, viz. in the letters of Paul (for those who think that we do have genuine letters of Paul, i.e. everyone but Detering and the Dutch Radicals). Philip is also attested elsewhere in the patristic literature.

    And just what are the criteria for historicity? Multiple attestation? Well mythic figures like Odysseus and Hercules were certainly written about more than once in the ancient literature. Inscriptions, coins, statues? They did all that for the gods and heroes as well. Attestation in historical works? People like Herodotus included stories of many mythical figures and events which today no one would regard as factual.

  • 2007-05-01 10:16:23 GMT+0000 - 10:16 | Permalink

    Your jumping in with arguments that rely on your own creations what you think you’d like me to be arguing is simply tiresome.

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