Paul and Jesus: Mirrored Rejections, Deaths and Resurrections

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

After posting Paul is Jesus Redivivus in Acts I remembered I had forgotten to include some of the more interesting details from J. A. Mattill’s article. Mattill began with some historical observations of the Paul-Jesus parallels. I have since added key points to the earlier post.

. . . Important is [Eduard] Zeller’s observation that the remarkable feature in Acts that Paul always is compelled only by the unbelief of the Jews to preach to the Gentiles has its undeniable type in the narrative of Jesus’ rejection in his own home town, the narrative with which Luke so characteristically opens Jesus’ public ministry (Lk. iv 16-30 13).

Google translation: The original of Peter and Paul of the Acts of the Apostles is the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. The author of the Acts of the Apostles had the latter in mind … when he borrowed the lines from which he composed the image of both apostles … Since the Gospel portrait of Jesus is unhistorical, even one word about the historical character of the copy would be superfluous.

About the same time as Zeller, Bruno Bauer, whose interest was in the Jesus of the Synoptics rather than of Luke alone, nevertheless set forth thirteen Jesus-parallels in Luke-Acts. The significant part of Bauer’s study, for our purposes, lies in his famous statement:

“Das Original des Petrus und des Paulus der Apostel- geschichte ist der Jesus der synoptischen Evangelien. Der Verfasser der Apostelgeschichte hatte die letzteren … vor Augen, als er ihnen die Züge entlehnte, aus denen er das Bild beider Apostel zusammensetzte ….”

Since the Gospel portrait of Jesus is unhistorical, even one word about the historical character of the copy would be superfluous.

The most thorough-going presentation of the Jesus-Paul parallels is that of Rackham in his commentary on Acts [link is to the online text; see pp xlvii, 401, 477-478]. The active work of Jesus and Paul “is concluded by a ‘passion’ or period of suffering, which in each volume occupies a seemingly disproportionate space …. After early anticipations (Lk. ix 51 = Acts xix 21) and a detailed journey up to Jerusalem (Lk. xvii 11-xix 48 = Acts xx-xxi 17) with ‘last words’ of the sufferer (Lk. xx-xxi = Acts xx 17-38) we have the ‘passion’ proper (Lk. xxii-xxiii = Acts xxi 17-xxviii 10). And then in each case the book ends with a period of victorious but quiet preparation for further advance,.. “For if in the scheme of Acts the last chapters correspond to the last chapters of the Gospel, this chapter (xxvii) forms the parallel (as is fairly evident) to the crucifixion or Lk. xxii-xxiii’’, followed by resurrection. This general parallelism “at once gives significance” to a number of details “which by themselves would have escaped notice”.

Paul’s shipwreck and plunging into the deep are the counterparts to Jesus’ death on the cross (Lk. xxiii 26-49; Acts xxvii 14-24). The storm and darkness during Paul’s voyage correspond to the darkness and spiritual storm on Calvary (Lk. xxiii 44-45; Acts xxvii 20). The verdict of the centurion that Jesus was a righteous man parallels that of the Maltese that Paul was a god (Lk. xxiii 47; Acts xxviii 6). The rest and peace of the three winter months at Malta, when Paul was entirely cut off from the outside world and old life, is like Jesus’ three days in the grave (Lk. xxiii 50-56; Acts xxviii 1-10). Paul’s rescue at sea at Malta is a resurrection from the dead parallel to that of Jesus (Lk. xxiv 1-11; Acts xxvii 39-44). Paul’s voyage to Rome in the spring, which was to Paul the entrance into a new life, is comparable to the joyful period after the resurrection (Lk. xxiv 12-49; Acts xxviii 11-16).

. . .

* Jesus redivivus: Windisch, “Paulus und Jesus”, Theologische Studien und Kritiken 106 (1934-1935), 465.

From the history-of-religions standpoint, Hans Windisch devotes an entire book to the Jesus-Paul parallels in Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. He is concerned with the similarity of the two figures themselves and the comparableness of both to the “man of God” of the Old Testament and the “divine man” of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Paul is Jesus redivivus*, an incarnation of Christ for the church, a Christ under Christ. Luke found this parallelism in the subject-matter itself, and as a theologically-minded historian he developed it so that he made Jesus to be his own apostle as a forerunner of Paul and Paul to be a second Christ-messenger 20).

Much indebted to Rackham is M. D. Goulder, who calls Rackham “a typologist before his time” [see below]. “Acts”, says Goulder, “is not straight-forward history but typological history, the life of Jesus providing the types of the life of the Church”, the body of Christ. “All of the life of Jesus is matter typical of his Church’s history. But the dominant types are the dominant facts of his life, his passion, death, and resurrection ….” Goulder finds wide agreement about the existence of “an intentional set of parallels” between Jesus and Paul.

Goulder strengthens the argument for the parallel between “Paul’s shipwreck and deliverance and Jesus’ death and resurrection”. To the Semites “death was like going into the sea …. All the sea is death to the Semite, whether we drown or whether we paddle and come out again …” Paul himself refers to his shipwrecks as “deaths” and his rescues as “resurrections” (II Cor. i 8-10; xi 23).

Going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death, and being saved from one for resurrection: when St Paul speaks of his shipwrecks in these terms, how can St Luke have thought otherwise ? He has shaped his book to lead up to the passion of Christ’s apostle from xix 21 on in such a way as to recall what led up to the passion of Christ himself in the earlier book: and as the climax of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ, so the climax of Acts is the thanatos and anastasis of Paul. (Goulder, p. 39)

(Mattill, 18-21)

Ludolf Backhuysen 1630 – 1708 “Paul’s Shipwreck” From Art and the Bible

For those of us interested here is Goulder’s discussion (pp. 34-39) on the shipwreck’s relation to the crucifixion (my formatting):

St Luke’s interest in types is no news. Much of it was expounded by Rackham half a century ago, and some is generally accepted. It is widely agreed, for example, that there is an intended set of parallels between Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem in Luke 9ff and the journey of Paul from Acts 19.21 to Jerusalem and then Rome. Both journeys are overshadowed by the coming sufferings of the two pilgrims, both of whom are well aware of their impending fate.

“Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there I must see Rome also.”

There is the same necessity upon them both to go where the prophets suffer their passions (Luke 13.33), but Paul must go further. At Miletus he delivers his parting discourse as his master had in the upper room to the first elders of the Church. He speaks of his “temptations” endured with them over the years, as Jesus said to the Twelve then, 

“Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations”.

He kneels down and is torn away from them (cf. Luke 22.41-2). He also raises echoes from Jesus’ great warning to his disciples in Luke 21.

“Take heed … “, he tells them, “watch … ” (Acts 20.28,31; Luke 21.34,36).

Here moreover is delivered the first prophecy of his coming suffering:

“The Holy Spirit witnesses to me in every city that chains and tribulations are in store for me” (Acts 20.23).

* Luke 17.25, “But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation”, is not a prophecy of the passion, but a warning of the tribulations of the Son of man, including the Church, that must intervene before the end.

Three times* Jesus foretold his passion to his disciples (Luke 9.22,44; 18.31f); and Paul’s passion is likewise foretold a second and a third time, once through the disciples at Tyre, once through Agabus at Caesarea. It is at Caesarea too that the Church makes Christ’s own response to the imminent disaster.

“Nevertheless not my will but thine be done”,

Jesus had said at Gethsemane (Luke 22.42):

“The will of the Lord be done”,

replies his Church (Acts 21.14). And so to Jerusalem, and their several passions.

Continuing . . .

The accusation against Jesus and Paul alike is that they defiled the temple.

“We heard him say, I will destroy this temple … ” (Mark 14.58)

is omitted in St Luke’s Gospel, and transferred to Acts where it becomes the casus belli against Paul:

This is the fellow who teaches everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place” (21.28).

The cries of the multitude are the same for them both:

“Away with this fellow, and release unto us Barabbas” (Luke 23.18, Luke only):

“Away with him … Away with such a fellow from the earth” (Acts 21.36; 22.22).

St Luke omits the Marcan scourging, and we expect it the more therefore in Acts 22, but Paul in fact just escapes it.

“On the morrow” Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin (22.30), as “on the morrow as soon as it was day” Jesus had been (Luke 22.66).

But how can a shipwreck be a substitute or mirror-event of a crucifixion? Goulder acknowledges the apparent difficulty:

Rackham goes on, as does Bishop R. R. Williams more recently to draw the parallel not merely between the two passions, but between Paul’s shipwreck and deliverance and Jesus’ death and resurrection. And here we must amplify, because this comparison is the hub of our whole argument, and by this it stands or falls. How then may we think it possible, and indeed likely, that in the mind of a first-century Christian the disaster and the saving of the apostle could be in any sense equivalent to the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord?

At first sight any suggestion of correspondence seems artificial and absurd. Jesus died; Paul did not. The difference is absolute. To call Paul’s shipwreck a “death” in inverted commas appears the height of special pleading and self-deception.

The problem vanishes, however, when we step out of our cultural thoughts of death and understand the common Semitic metaphors.

. . . . But here we must recall that the image under which we think of death is not the same as the image commonly used by the ancient Semites. Death is to us a line which we have either crossed or not crossed, a line in time past which there is no return. There is an absolute difference in the condition of those on the two sides of the line, the living and the dead, and simple tests will tell us on which side we are. This line analogy may or may not be the best way of thinking about death, but it is not the only way, and it is not the way the Semites used. To them death was like going into the sea. There is a gentle shelving and we know we are in the sea, and we know that if we keep on walking, or if the tide comes in, we shall get out of our depth and be drowned. In the meantime it is perfectly possible (though dangerous) to paddle, and you never know, the tide may turn, and we may get back to dry land once more. In fact, of course, we sometimes think like this ourselves: it is quite possible for us to say, “I was dying, but the ambulance arrived in time”. But all the sea is death to the Semite, whether we drown or whether we paddle and come out again.

Recall how as orthodox believers we read the Psalms as if they spoke about resurrection from the grave:

It was a failure to realize this that led a former generation of scholars to find a widespread belief in resurrection after death in the Psalms, whereas in fact the psalmists believed in resurrection from death in their sense, and not in ours. “For thou wilt not leave my soul in (to) Sheol” is no longer thought to mean assurance of resurrection after death. This is because the man is already in Sheol when he is on his bed of sickness. God will not leave him there, God will make him better.

“Save me, 0 God; For the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me …. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: Let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overwhelm me, Neither let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me” (Ps. 69.1-2,14-15).

He is already in the waters, the mire, the pit, Sheol, death. It is from drowning, sinking, the shutting of the lid, death in our sense, that he prays to be delivered.

Recall the “sign of Jonah”:

No passage is more explicit on this theme than the psalm of Jonah, especially if, as is usually thought, the psalm has been inserted in the book from a more everyday context.

“Out of the belly of Sheol cried I … For thou didst cast me into the depth, in the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me … The earth with her bars closed upon me for ever, but thou hast brought up my life from the pit, 0 Lord my God” (Jonah 2.2-6).

He was (virtually) dead already, and his return to more normal conditions of living has been a (virtual) resurrection. So the way is clear for him to become a type of Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 12.40); and for Daniel likewise (Dan. 6; cf. Matt. 28 passim). The word “death” itself is not used in the Psalms demonstrably in this sense: but it is elsewhere in the Old Testament. Pharaoh, for example, during the plague of locusts, asks Moses to pray that God will take away from him this death only (Ex. 10.17).

Hence the walking dead … “in deaths often” …

The New Testament writers inherited this way of thinking. Thus the writer to the Hebrews can say:

“Abraham offered up Isaac … accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead; from whence he did also in a parable receive him back.”

Isaac was “in a parable”, virtually, so to speak, in inverted commas, dead from the moment his father set out on that venture of faith to the land of Moriah. He wasn’t over our line, but he was in the Semitic water, up to his neck. So his deliverance is a “resurrection” (Heb. II.19). A whole tract could be written on St Paul’s similar use of the word “death”. He can use the word in the plural to describe the disasters through which he has passed:

“in deaths oft” (2 Cor. II.2J).

The five times he received the Jewish flogging, the three Roman canings, the stoning at Lystra, the three shipwrecks, they were all deaths — not mortifications, deaths; he was in the horrible pit and didn’t know if he was coming out of it. So, in his own words (2 Cor. 1.8-10),

“we despaired even of life: yea, we had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, who delivered us out of so great death, and will deliver”.

He was dying, he was in and he was going under, and God raised him up, “resurrected” him. This continual thanatos and anastasis is the mark of a true Christian, and the pledge of the resurrection without inverted commas which is to come. It is interesting that the three great perils of the ancient world, disease, drowning, imprisonment, which provide the metaphor for Semitic thinking on death, are now openly treated as substantial “deaths” by St Paul. St Luke himself speaks in the same way of the prodigal son:

“He was dead, and is alive again.”

Hence going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death . . .

With such evidence before us, the exegesis of Rackham and Williams scarcely seems debatable. Going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death, and being saved from one for resurrection: when St Paul speaks of his shipwrecks in these terms, how can St Luke have thought otherwise? He has shaped his book to lead up to the passion of Christ’s apostle from 19.21 on in such a way as to recall what led up to the passion of Christ himself in the earlier book: and as the climax of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ, so the climax of Acts is the thanatos and anastasis of Paul. Nor does he neglect certain small touches in the story of Paul which recall his master’s end. The apostle had not held a last supper in the boat before the shipwreck; but he had made everybody eat, and said grace publicly, which was in a way a continuance of one more thing that Jesus had begun.

“And when he had said this, and had taken bread, he gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and he brake it, and began to eat” (27.35).

The eucharistic overtones are obvious. Again, the party stays three days with Publius until they have recovered strength, like Jesus’ three days in the sepulchre, before, like him, they set off for their promised land at Rome (28.7).

All of this is only part of the story. Even the otherwise curious ending of Acts makes sense:

The realization that this is St Luke’s plan for the end of the book resolves several of the puzzles of which we were speaking at the beginning of the last chapter. The whole of Acts 27 is devoted to the account of the shipwreck because the incident occupies the central position symbolically in the whole book, and requires to be heavily weighted. We are not driven to suppose unlikely and disagreeable things about the author’s mental and material resources. Similarly we can now see why Acts ends where it does — not because St Luke was ignorant of the Neronic persecution, nor because he wished to suppress it for apologetic reasons, but because he has provided a symbolic death, and resurrection, and, if we may so say, an ascension, and that completes the divine pattern of the gospel that is relived in the Church.

And those long, long chapters of Paul’s trials….

Having found a golden key to unlock two of our doors of mystery, let us try it on a third, and see if the parallelism of Gospel and Acts does anything to explain the amount of space devoted to the Pauline trials.

But I’ve outlined enough detail of those in the previous post for you to get the idea.

Some dismiss the very idea of typological interpretation. I’ll address their objections in a future post.

Goulder, M. D. Type and History in Acts. London: SPCK, 1964.

Mattill, A. J. “The Jesus-Paul Parallels and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: H. H. Evans Reconsidered.” Novum Testamentum 17, no. 1 (1975): 15–46.

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.

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

5 thoughts on “Paul and Jesus: Mirrored Rejections, Deaths and Resurrections”

  1. Luke creates the story of Paul as an emulation of the Gospel story of Jesus-on-earth. Schools taught emulation, and the educated persons in Luke’s audience would have appreciated/recognized it. The uneducated persons belonged to the same cultural milieu and would have previously experienced many stories that also resonated with other stories. So they lived in a web of (deliberately crafted) meaning.

    I wonder if each individual who ‘discovered’ that Acts emulated another story (Luke’s Gospel) therefore felt that that original story had some authority. Because a writer (or for the uneducated, “events”) only emulated a story when that story was culturally important. In other words, the emulation in Acts made the Gospel story more real to its audience.

    1. It’s an interesting question. I generally have a fuzzy feeling that somehow the evangelists (including the Acts author) were consciously constructing new writings that were intended to be added to the corpus of what we think of as “Old Testament” writings to meet the needs of a “new Israel” in the decades following the destruction of the temple in 70. The life of Paul in Acts is also based on the calling of Saul in the OT and trials of Jeremiah (and Heliodorus in 2 Maccabees) — with other influences from Hellenistic literature (including philosophers) in the mix — but especially the OT figures.

      The confronting implication for some readers, unfortunately, is that the author of Acts had no life of Paul sources to draw upon or write about. His interest was in creating a foundation story for the “new Israel”, and that meant an open ending that looked to an ongoing work of evangelization rather than satisfying those looking for biography with an account of what happened to Paul after his two years in prison.

      And if Luke had no sources for a life of Paul then we are led to surmise that those who suggest that the letters were not written by “Paul” the person are right — that the letters were also part of this new wave of creating a new literature as a foundation for a new people of God.

  2. We don’t know from the fact that Luke invented a biography for “Paul” in Acts that Luke had no life sources for “Paul.” If the real author of the core of the letters was a Samaritan or Samaritan-trained person of Marcion’s ethnic group, Luke would have suppressed all biographical details (objectively true or not) attached to the letter-writer. Or “Paul” could have been a group name (like “Thomas”) for authoritative teachings within Marcion’s ethno-religion. I can’t believe that Marcionites had no biography of “Paul.”

    1. Very true. The invention of a biography by no means proves that the author “had no life sources” for Paul. But in the absence of evidence for those sources — and a reliance upon fiction to create a biography — then we have reasonable grounds for a hypothesis that there were none, yes? If Luke knew that those sources indicated unsavoury information about Paul then are we not faced with another problem: why would he want to idolize Paul o the point of fiction at all? If he had evidence that damned Paul in his and others’ minds then why not turn all his attention on that, magnifying it etc in order to get rid of Paul altogether?

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.