Paul: a recycled Peter and Jesus

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Saints Peter and Paul shown on the coat of arm...
Image via Wikipedia

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 of 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 I 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.

  1. Both heal by means other than laying on of hands (one by shadow 5:15-16; one by handkerchiefs 19:11-12)
  2. Both heal men crippled from birth (3:1-10; 14:8-10)
  3. Both heal the bedridden (Aeneas 9:32-35; Publius’ father 28:7-8)
  4. Both resurrect the dead (9:36-43; 20:9-12)
  5. 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)
  6. Both perform miracles of punishment (5:1-11; 13:8-12)
  7. Both fall into a trance while praying (10:10, 11:5, 22:17)
  8. Both have heavenly visions that they relate three times, and that lead to preaching to gentiles
  9. 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:

  1. The missions of the seventy (10:1-12)/missions to the Gentiles (ch.13-20)
  2. Both Jesus and Paul determined to go to Jerusalem
  3. Jesus goes to die, and others tell Paul he will die
  4. Both Jesus and Paul receive warm receptions on entering Jerusalem
  5. Both Jesus and Paul go to the Temple in a positive spirit
  6. In disputes over the resurrection the Sadducees support Jesus and Paul while the scribes oppose them
  7. Both Jesus and Paul have a  special meal
  8. Mobs respectively seize Jesus and Paul
  9. Both Jesus and Paul are slapped at the command of the high priest
  10. Each has four trials (Jesus: Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, Pilate; Paul: Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus, Herod Agrippa)
  11. Each is declared innocent three times (Jesus by Pilate 3 times; Paul by Lysias, Festus and Agrippa)
  12. Herod hears Jesus sent by Pilate; Herod hears Paul sent by Festus
  13. Herod offers to release Jesus; Agrippa says Paul could have been set free
  14. The Jews cry out “Away with this man/him” re both Jesus and Paul
  15. A centurion has a positive opinion of Jesus, as does a centurion of Paul
  16. 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.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

12 thoughts on “Paul: a recycled Peter and Jesus”

  1. This is why I started reading your blog, Neil. You introduce me to many books and scholars I would otherwise be unaware of. The reason I refer to Eisenman so much -aside from the fact that I like what he says- is that he seems to be someone you are not as familiar with, but touches on many of the subjects you bring up in his unique way.

    I may not have access to all your recommended books, but I look forward to hearing anything more you might post about this subject in the future. And thanks for this, as always.

  2. I get the impression that most scholars will admit these literary-critical issues (or at least some of them), but then insist that at the heart of Acts there is something historical, a kernel, if you will. Through reading your blog and my own reading, I’ve come to realise how dubious such a suggestion is. If Luke’s tactics are so blatantly apparent, what’s the odds of him creating it all himself? (and what a rollicking yarn it is).

    Perhaps there are a few bits of history here and there (the trial scenes? Not sure, but Carrier’s ideas on the subject are interesting), but given the stack of problems Acts seems to pose, it’s a wonder how we can continue to use it as a historical source for primitive Christianity, rather than viewing it as a 2nd century piece of catholic propaganda. I guess the simple answer to this is that without Acts scholars simply have nothing else to work with, except perhaps the ‘official’ seven Pauline epistles. But that’s a whole different can of worms…

    1. Pervo shows the many Hellenistic novelistic features in Acts, too.

      There may be places where it touches on historical names and events, such as the role of Apollos, but clearly wherever it does so it has been re-written for propaganda purposes.

      The whole enterprise of the historical inquiry into Christian origins has followed the basic framework of Eusebius’ account of the Gospels and Acts narrative. Some (e.g. Doherty) have spoken of the “tyranny of the Gospels” in biblical studies. Warnings from within the academy against this approach have been published at least since 1904 but in vain.

  3. Here’s what’s interesting, though: this means either the career of Paul in Acts is based on the career of Jesus in the gospels (whether historical or literary), or else that…the career of Jesus in the gospels is a historical reflection of the career of Paul.

    Or both: the written career of Jesus being modeled in part on the historical career of Paul, and then the written career of Paul being modeled in part on the written career of Jesus (thus the literary character of Paul would be a kind of reflection of a reflection of the historical Paul.)

    I’m not committed to any of these ideas, but that’s how it stands.

    1. Or the career of Jesus and Paul are attempts to tell the story of some other character(s) or process in a different way — as an allegory of spiritual development for some mystery religion, perhaps.

  4. I lean towards thinking that the purpose of Paul’s portrayal in Acts is to smooth things (no pun intended) over about Paul’s hostile account of his relations with James and Jewish Christians in his letters. ‘Check it out, everyone, Paul respected James and kept the law (e.g., Acts 21:17-26); that he was ever against the law was really just a misunderstanding (Acts 21:27-28).’

    I agree with Eisenman that Acts and parts of the Recognitions of Clement may be working from the same source, and that the Recognitions are a more faithful presentation of it, and that what Acts is wanting to do is cover up the election/promotion of James as leader of the “church” with the election of someone to replace “Judas Iscariot,” and that the stoning of James is replaced with the stoning of Stephan.

    Eisenman thinks its fishy that someone as important as James would receive no introduction and just suddenly appear in chapter 15. What of his promotion, that other sources seem to be aware of? What of Paul’s attack on him, which, according to the Recognitions, resulted in James’ group retreating to Jericho (near Qumran)? What of James’ death? One can get the impression that the author of Acts knows more than they care to reveal, and replaces “real” events with fantasy.

  5. I had looked at Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth in Luke 4 and noticed that Jesus quoted Aesop and that the people wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff, which what the priests of the Temple of Delphi wanted to do to Aesop.

    I started looking into the parallels between Jesus, the apostles or Peter, and Paul. While I was doing some research on that, in addition to landing here at this article, I also learned that Plutarch, who was a priest at Delphi, wrote about Aesop’s death.

    Plutarch was a contemporary of Josephus and there is evidence that the author gLuke and Acts used Antiquities.

    So now I am pondering whether Luke got the idea of tossing Jesus off the cliff from Plutarch and the idea of making parallels between Jesus, Peter, and Paul from Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading