Tag Archives: Paul

The historical Jesus in Paul? For and (mostly) Against

Robert Price includes a packed selection of arguments commonly raised to affirm Paul’s awareness of the teachings of Jesus along with the counterarguments. Little of this is new to many readers, but it seems appropriate to list the details as a sequel to my previous post that covered the main thrust of his argument in his chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’

But first, I’ll cover the evidence he piles up in response to two reasons often given to explain why we don’t find explicit references to Jesus’ life and teaching in the letters. Price is collating these from G. A. Wells’ The Jesus of the Early Christians. (As Earl Doherty has further noted, the argument becomes even stronger when it is realized it applies not only to Paul’s writings but to the entire corpus of New Testament epistles.)

Jesus’ biographical details were irrelevant to the matters that happened to arise in occasional letters

Although I have encountered this assertion many times I have never seen it demonstrated. Without demonstration the statement becomes a mere brushing-aside of a serious question.

On the other hand, one readily finds cases raised that do support the counter-claim. Price several the following from Wells’ early book. It’s easy to make a list of these here as I do below, but that is only for the sake of information. What really counts is some way to test the alternative hypotheses. Before reading the list it is a good idea to do two things.

  1. One, think through what one would expect to find in the data IF there were oral traditions making the rounds that relayed what Jesus was supposed to have said and done.
  2. Two, think through what we would expect IF sayings were imputed to Jesus by various churches to add authority to their customs or teachings. (This was the conclusion of form critics like Rudolf Bultmann.)

In other words, ask what each hypothesis predicts we will find. It’s a while since I’ve posted on Richard Carrier’s Bayesian theory and when I resume (I still hope to resume posting on his book) the next post will discuss the importance of testing the hypotheses that oppose your own. The best way to strengthen your own argument, Carrier points out, is to demonstrate the inadequacies of those of your opponents. (This, by the way, is one reason I am slow on the uptake with theories of Christian origins that are heavy on proofs or arguments for their own point of view but almost totally ignore alternative explanations. Think of the caricature of the boy who looks only for hints that a girl likes him but ignores all evidence that points to a different state of affairs.)

So it always pays to be slightly more generous to the arguments for the side you are against if you want to demonstrate their comparative inadequacy to your own. Of course, there is always a risk that you’ll end up not being quite so dogmatic for one point of view as when you started, but life is full of risks.

The following points are from Price’s/Wells’ list. Presentation and commentary are my own. read more »

Does “Mythicism” Need an Early Paul? — ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ ch. 6

Robert M. Price argues that it makes little difference to the case for Jesus being nothing more than a mythical construct if Paul’s letters are judged to be early or late, or even if written before the gospels. This is the theme of his chapter “Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?” in Is This Not the Carpenter?’: the question of the historicity of the figure of Jesus. He also raises the question of whether modern Christ myth advocates should be more critical of the Pauline epistles as an earlier generation of scholars were.

Today’s two main proponents of the Christ myth theory (Earl Doherty and George A. Wells) argue for the conventional view of the genuineness of Paul’s letters. Both agree that they belong to the mid first century period, well before the first gospel was composed. Most scholars certainly agree that the gospels were composed after Paul wrote his letters, but the “mythicist” argument goes one step further and says that interested parties only created a “biographical-historical” figure of Jesus well after Paul wrote his letters.

That is, the earliest evidence for Christianity, the New Testament epistles, testify only of a theological concept of Jesus. The concept of an earthly Jesus living out a career of teaching and healing, calling disciples and confronting Pharisees, was a relatively late development in the history of Christianity.

Price comments on the contemporary mythicists’ tendency to accept the Pauline epistles as genuine:

This makes them admirably early and leaves plenty of time for Gospel story-tellers to have done their subsequent work, historicizing Jesus and pillaging the epistles for sayings to reattribute to Jesus. one feels that things would begin to blur if the Gospels and epistles had to be placed as more or less contemporary. That condition would open up the possibility or need to find another solution for the lack of Gospel-type tradition in the epistles. (p. 100)

After covering in some detail the arguments and counter-arguments over whether any passage in Paul’s letters is indeed evidence that Paul knew any traditions stemming from an historical Jesus, Price casts back to earlier mythicists and what they had to say about the relationship between Paul’s letters (and their dogmatic or theological Jesus) and the Gospels (with their “biographical” Jesus), as well various arguments about relative dating and authenticity.

The critical passage in this chapter follows:

Even if all [the gospel] stories were to be found verbatim in the epistles, even if the epistles should all prove to be authentically Pauline, we would still be dealing with the (rapid) accumulation of stock, predictable hagiographic legends. We would still have to offer some pretty compelling reason for an impartial historian to accept the Gospel versions as historically true while rejecting medieval, classical, Buddhist or Hindu parallels as false. That is what the principle of analogy is all about. (p. 108 — Price is drawing on an insight first published a century ago by John M. Robertson in Pagan Christs (link is to the book online))

Price posits the argument slightly differently, but suggests the Christ myth theory would not be undermined even if the Gospels were found to be earlier than Paul’s letters: read more »

Christ among the Messiahs — Part 2

What “Messiah” meant at the time of Paul and the earliest Christians

Continuing with notes from Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism

by Matthew V. Novenson

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The messianic idea

We saw in Part 1 that interpreters of Paul have confidently concluded that whatever Paul meant by χριστός he did not mean “messiah”, but modern studies of messianism have shown that the meaning of “messiah” remains an open question.

Understanding what was meant by “messiah” was much simpler throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jewish and Christian scholars alike took for granted the existence of “the messianic idea” that was widely understood throughout the period of ancient Judaism. The evidence for this idea was not found in every text that made mention of a messiah, but it could be cobbled together by combining motifs from different documents.

So the Christian scholar, Emil Schürer, on the basis of the Apocalypse of Baruch and the fourth Book of Esdras, showed that this messianic idea entailed the following:

  1. The final ordeal and confusion
  2. Elijah as precursor
  3. The coming of the messiah
  4. The last assault of the hostile powers
  5. Destruction of hostile powers
  6. The renewal of Jerusalem
  7. The gathering of the dispersed
  8. The kingdom of glory in the holy land
  9. The renewal of the world
  10. A general resurrection
  11. The last judgment, eternal bliss and damnation

Jewish scholarship did not substantially differ, as seen from Joseph Klausner’s list of ingredients that make up the messianic idea:

  1. The signs of the Messiah
  2. The birth pangs of the Messiah
  3. The coming of Elijah
  4. The trumpet of Messiah
  5. The ingathering of the exiles
  6. The reception of proselytes
  7. The war with Gog and Magog
  8. The Day of the Messiah
  9. The renovation of the World to Come

Klausner conceded that no single text sets out this complex of ideas in full, but these points nonetheless are what the disparate texts mean when put together.

In other words, if a literary text lacks some of the pieces, that is the fault of the text, not of the messianic idea. The idea exists prior to and independently of the texts. (p. 37)

The messianic idea psychologized

What is more, in most modern accounts the messianic idea is described in specifically psychological terms: It is the force that animates the pious Jewish hope for redemption, either throughout Jewish history (in Jewish treatments) or at the time of Christ (in Christian treatments).

In this train we find discussions of the messianic idea arising out of a tenacious belief in a better future despite overwhelming troubles facing the present. Some authors have seen this as one of Judaism’s special gifts to the world alongside monotheism and ethical codes. Scholarly study has accordingly been less about the messiah figure than about the religious attitude and ideology that was the backdrop to various beliefs in such a figure.

The messianological vacuum

The concept of the “messianic idea” in Judaism started to unravel at the end of the Second World War with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars increasingly argued that the words for “messiah” and “christ” in the Second Temple period “had no fixed content” (De Jonge) and may even have had no special significance or meaning at all (James Charlesworth, Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green). They were labels that could be, and were, applied to a wide variety of persons and things. read more »

Christ among the Messiahs — Part 1

  • What did Paul — or any of the earliest Christians — mean when they called Jesus “Christ”? I mean before the Gospels were written.
  • If the idea of Christ for earliest Christians and Jews of their day meant a conquering Davidic king, how do we explain why early Christians referred to Jesus as “Christ” and “seed of David” if he was crucified?
  • Did not Paul apply the term Christ to Jesus as a personal name, not as a title? If so, did Paul have his own idiosyncratic view of what Christ meant, if anything, other than a name?
  • If Jews at the time of the Jewish revolt (66-70 ce) were expecting a Messiah who would rise up out of Judea and rule the world (as indicated in Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius), did Paul and other early Christians share this same view with application to Jesus?
  • Did Paul “de-messianize a hitherto-messianic Jesus movement” and turn a Jewish cult into a religion that came to stand in opposition to Judaism?

These questions are addressed and answered by Matthew V. Novenson in his recently published Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism. Matthew Novenson is a lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh. He had earlier addressed aspects of them briefly in a 2009 JBL article, The Jewish Messiahs, the Pauline Christ, and the Gentile Question.

The Problem Stated

Novenson sets out the problem in his introduction:

The problem can be stated simply: Scholars of ancient Judaism, finding only a few diverse references to “messiahs” in Hellenistic- and Roman-period Jewish literature, have concluded that the word did not mean anything determinate [that is, it did not convey, for example, the idea of troubles in the last-days, with an Elijah precursor, a coming to overthrow enemies, establish the kingdom of God, etc] in that period [it was merely a word for anyone/thing “anointed”].

Meanwhile, Pauline interpreters, faced with Paul’s several hundred uses of the Greek word for “messiah,” have concluded that Paul said it but did not mean it, that χριστός in Paul does not bear any of its conventional senses.

To summarize the majority view: “Messiah” did not mean anything determinate in the period in question, and Paul, at any rate, cannot have meant whatever it is that “messiah” did not mean. (pp. 1-2, my formatting)

Novenson finds John Collins’ statement of the problem particularly pointed:

On the Christian side, we have had the astonishing claim that Paul, the earliest Christian writer, did not regard Jesus as the messiah. The ecumenical intentions of such a claim are transparent and honorable, but also misguided since the claim is so plainly false. Jesus is called Christos, anointed, the Greek equivalent of messiah, 270 times in the Pauline corpus. If this is not ample testimony that Paul regarded Jesus as messiah, then words have no meaning. (p. 2)

Novenson’s book argues that for Paul Jesus was the “messiah” in more than just name. But if so, what did the term “messiah” mean to Paul? Novenson will argue that Paul really did understand the word “messiah” in the same sense as other Jews of his day understood the term:

To rephrase my thesis from this perspective: Christ language in Paul is actually an invaluable example of messiah language in ancient Judaism. (p. 3) read more »

Ehrman hides the facts about Doherty’s argument: Part 1

Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]”.

At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it.  Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.

Ehrman’s accusation

Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.)  (p.  my emphasis)

Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.

This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:

One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.

This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.

First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

In my next post I will return to Bart Ehrman’s own attempt to argue for this verse’s genuineness and demonstrate how Ehrman misleads his less well-informed readers about the real reasons many of his own scholarly peers believe the verse was indeed an interpolation. read more »

The War of the Heavenly Christs: John’s Sacrificed Lamb versus Paul’s Crucified God (Couchoud continued)

The Revelation of St John: 2. St John's Vision...
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Continuing here my series of outlining Paul Louis Couchoud’s work The Creation of Christ (English translation 1939), with all posts in the series archived, in reverse chronological order, here.

The previous post in this series presented Couchoud’s argument that Paul’s Christ was a God crucified in heaven, the result of a combination of feverish interpretations of the Psalms and other Jewish scriptures and a projection of Paul’s own experiences of suffering.

In the chapter I outline in this post Couchoud begins by narrating the departure of Paul and all the original Jerusalem pillars bar one. Paul, he says, with the demonstration of the converted gentile Titus before the Jerusalem elders, and the Jerusalem elders themselves, were moving towards a reconciliation at long last that culminated in the decree we read of Acts 15 — that gentiles need only follow a few principles ordained originally for Noah’s descendents plus one or two:

  • avoid eating meat offered to idols
  • avoid eating blood
  • avoid eating things strangled
  • avoid fornication (that is, marriages between Christians and pagans)

Couchoud does not know if Paul ever went so far as submitting to this Jerusalem edict, but he does declare that the communities Paul founded in Asia and others influenced by him did ignore it. These were “scornfully called” Nicolaitanes. They continued to live as they had always lived in the faith: buying meat in the market without asking if it had been sacrificed to an idol and tolerating marriages between Christians and pagans.

The authorities at Jerusalem scornfully called them Nicolaitanes, treated them as rebels worse than heathen, excommunicated them, and vowed them to early extermination by the sword of Jesus. (p. 79)

Then came the next turning point in church history:

In the meantime the haughty Mother Church was struck by an earthly sword. In the stormy year which preceded the Jewish insurrection, three “pillars” were taken from Jerusalem. About 62, after the death of the prosecutor Festus and before the arrival of his successor, James, the “brother of the Lord,” the camel of piety, was, together with others, accused by the high priest Ananos as a law-breaker, condemned, and stoned. Kephas-Peter, the first to behold Jesus, perished at Rome, probably in the massacre of the Christians after the fire of Rome in 64. At Rome, too, died his adversary who had in former days impeached and mocked him so vigorously, Paul. Nothing is known of their deaths, save perhaps that jealousy and discord among the Christians brought them about. (p. 80)

In footnotes Couchoud adds

  1. with reference to our evidence for the death of James that the phrase in Josephus appended to the name of James, “brother of Jesus called the Christ” have been added later by a Christian hand;
  2. with reference to Christian sectarian jealousy being ultimately responsible for the death of Peter and Paul he cites both Clemens Romanus V (Clement of Rome) and O. Cullmann, “Rev. d’Hist. et de Philosophie relig., 1930, pp. 294-300, as decisive evidence that there was jealousy and discord.

So this left John read more »

The struggles of Paul (Couchoud continued)

Map showing the routes of Apostle Paul's journeys.
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Couchoud follows the main outline of Acts in his account of the missionary career of Paul. Where and why he occasionally deviates from Acts is explained in context below. (All posts in this series, along with a few extras, are archived here.)

On first glance it appears that C is merely repeating a well-known set of missionary adventures of Paul. He is to a certain extent, but it is still worth reading in order to grasp the scenario of what he believes those early churches looked like. Keep in mind that the gospel narrative of an earthly life of Jesus has not yet been heard of. The religion is all about the expectation of a Son of God to descend from heaven.

More interesting for me is that it writing out the notes has driven home to me what I think are serious questions about the ostensible claims we find within the letters of Paul. My own comments are in italics and square brackets.

Barnabas and Paul, inspired by the Spirit, undertook their first missionary expedition:

  • Crossed island of Cyprus
  • Along southern coasts of Asia Minor
  • Through Pisidia and Lycaonia — both thickly populated and Hellenized
  • Into the Roman province of Galatia

They learned that preaching the gospel in the Greek world was no idyll. Blows were abundant and life itself was often in the hazard. (p. 48)

We know the story.

Traveling Jews were invited to say a few edifying words in the local synagogues.

Barnabas and Paul profited by this custom to announce the imminent Day of Doom, to reveal the mystery of Jesus Christ dead and risen, and to preach Salvation by his name. Not many Jews were interested; they were annoyed.

But then there was another group nearby, the fertile seed-bed of Christianity:

There were about every synagogue a number of men and women, especially women, who, though not Jews, feared the God of the Jews and desired to placate Jahweh by offering him worship. They formed a sort of floating, indefinite, and unorganized appendix to each synagogue. Among them were to be found the predestined Saints. They had to be detached from official Judaism, united among themselves in Jesus Christ, by means of baptism, by the holy kiss, by miracles and prophecies. Chiefs had to be found for them, and they had to be kept chaste and holy for the arrival of the Lord. This led inevitably to strife. The local Jews raised Cain. They protested to the authorities. The prophets usually left in a riot, in a shower of stones, but leaving behind a new ekklesia of Jesus.

So goes the story.

These two apostles returned to Antioch “in hope and experience.”

Paul’s next plan was for a longer journey. He took Silas, a prophet from Jerusalem, to re-visit the churches established in the first journey and to “maintain their fervour”. This time he set out north (and overland) from Antioch. read more »

Earliest divisions in the Christian movement (Couchoud continued)

I liked this novel better than Couchoud’s “Divisions” chapter. I suspect it gives some more realistic aspects of these early Christian years.

Unfortunately this is not my favourite chapter in Couchoud’s book The Creation Of Christ. But I’ve set myself a target and I have to get through this one to finish the book, so here goes. (The series is archived here.) (I personally suspect the stories in Acts are inspired more by Old Testament and Classical analogues than historical reminiscences, and motivated more by anti-Marcionite/pro-Catholic interests than disinterested archival dedication — though not totally bereft of historical re-writing at points here and there, but this post is for Couchoud so I’ll get out of the way for now.  Except to say I believe Earl Doherty’s model is a much more satisfactory explanation for the “riotous diversity” that characterized what emerged as “earliest Christianity”.)

But one point in C’s favour is his attempt to synchronize what he reads in Paul and Acts with political events in the broader empire.

Once again any emphases etc in the quotations is my own.

Couchoud says the apparitions of the Lord Jesus can be dated (via the writings of Paul) to the beginning of the reign of the reputedly “mad” Roman emperor Caligula  — 37-38 c.e.

These visions, he continues, all occurred in Palestine. Paul’s was the exception — and it was subject to doubt among his critics. (The last of the visions, according to Paul — says C — is to be dated 14 years before his own journey to Jerusalem, i.e. around 51 – 52 c.e.)

Of these visionary experiences, Couchoud suggests they conferred on the Jerusalem pillars a unique status:

They conferred on the community at Jerusalem and on its chiefs, Kephas, James, the Twelve, an unequalled title and right to decide all that might be postulated in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We know the names of some of these earliest visionaries: read more »

Critically evaluating Paul’s claims about Jesus

From the moment his followers believed that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the Prophets, the transformation of his life into myth began, and proceeded apace. (p. 108 of Jesus by Charles Guignebert, trans by S.H. Hooke)

It is refreshing to read some sound logical sense by a historical Jesus scholar in the swelling tide of apologetic publications. I like the way Guignebert (through his translator) worded the following:

The belief in this illustrious descent [of Jesus] is unquestionably very old, since Paul already knew and accepted it (Rom. i. 3, “of the seed of David according to the flesh”), but that is no reason for believing, without further investigation, that it was correct. There are still critics, even open-minded ones, who accept the possibility of its being so, but we cannot share their opinion. (p. 111, my emphasis)

No doubt more recent scholars have expressed the same critical nous, but there are many other historical Jesus scholars who since have attacked the very values of the Enlightenment, sneered at what they label a “hermeneutic of suspicion” (some even arguing that “charity” is a Christian duty owed to certain subsets of texts) (Bauckham et beaucoup al), and glided on the wind of postmodernism to substitute “even fabricated material . . . however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned” for genuine historical evidence (Allison).

So how does Guignebert investigate the correctness of this claim by Paul that Jesus was “of the seed of David”? read more »

Jesus: the Same in both Paul and the Gospels

Revised and updated 3 hours after original posting.

Both the letters of Paul and the narrative in the Gospels speak of Jesus crucified. Jesus’ death is significant. The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus’ blood and Paul refers often to his blood. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke in particular stress his birth from a woman and we find a passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians saying Jesus was born of a woman. The Synoptic Gospels indicate Jesus was descended from David and in Paul’s letter to the Romans we likewise read Jesus was connected with David.

The contexts are quite different, of course. The Gospels are portraying a past narrative of an earthly mission of Jesus and Paul is addressing Jesus’ saving power in the “here and now and soon to be”.

And all of those references to Jesus’ crucifixion, blood, Davidic relationship, flesh, etc are derived from the same source. They are all speaking about the same thing. read more »

Paul and Orestes before the Areopagus: the resurrection

Continuing from my previous post . . . .

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Resurrection ἀνάστασιςin both Acts and Eumenides

A number of scholars have remarked upon the reference to the resurrection in Eumenides by Aeschylus when commenting on the reference to the resurrection in connection with Paul’s appearance in the Areopagus before the Athenians.

F. F. Bruce, in The Book of Acts, p. 343, when commenting on the scoffing Paul received after mentioning the resurrection, recalled the scene in Aeschylus’ play that likewise mentioned the resurrection in connection with a hero appearing before the Areopagus. Most Athenians, Bruce said, would, on hearing of Paul’s mention of the resurrection, have agreed with the sentiments expressed in the play by

the god Apollo, . . . on the occasion when that very court of the Areopagus was founded by the city’s patron goddess Athene: “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.” Some of them, therefore, ridiculed a statement which seemed so absurd.

The footnote supplied points to Aeschylus, Eumenides, lines 647-8, where the same Greek word, ἀνάστασις, is used in both the play and Acts 17:18, 32.

Similarly Charles H. Talbert in Reading Acts, p. 157, makes note of the same observation:

Scoffing is a typical response to speeches by fringe figures . . . Given the assumptions of Paul’s auditors, scoffing is an entirely appropriate response. Aeschylus, Eumenides 647-48, relates how, on the occasion of the inauguration of the court of the Areopagus, the god Apollo says, “When the dust hath drained the blood of man, once he is slain, there is no return to life.”

Lynn Kauppi sees more in the link between Aeschylus and Acts than a background pointer to a common belief among Athenians of the day. He suggests that the way “Luke” weaves the allusions into the scene of Acts 17:16-34 gives reason to think that his audience “may have observed an allusion to the Athenian literary tradition.” (The Greek text is from Perseus and the English translation from Kauppi’s manuscript.) read more »

Paul: a recycled Peter and Jesus

Saints Peter and Paul shown on the coat of arm...
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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. read more »

The diverse Jewish religious environment of Paul outmatches the imagination of Borg and Crossan

Following on from this previous post . . . . .

Borg and Crossan (B and C) (The First Paul) attempt to argue that despite Paul’s clear assertions that he sought to preach only “Christ crucified” and that “Jesus is Lord”, that this could not possibly have been true:

[W]e think the notion that Paul’s message was primarily or exclusively about the death of Jesus and not his life is highly unlikely. Indeed, we find it impossible to imagine. As an illustration, imagine a conversation between Paul and someone he sought to convert. Imagine, for example, Paul’s conversation with Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). (p. 126)

Borg and Crossan then portray Lydia as a very capable and intelligent woman (she was a seller of a luxury item) who was a gentile “God seeker”.

Now imagine Paul telling Lydia about Jesus. Imagine, also, that he focuses on “Christ crucified” (and also, of course, on “Jesus Christ is Lord”). One cannot imagine the conversation going very far before Lydia asks, “Well, this Jesus you talk about who was crucified and then raised from the dead, what was he like?” Paul says, “Never mind what he was like — what really matters is that he was the Son of God who was crucified and died for your sins.” Such an answer would have had no meaning for her. It would have been a conversation stopper.

For Paul to have told her about Jesus’s death would have had no meaning unless he also told her about what Jesus was like, about the kind of person he was. What was this person like who got crucified? What did he stand for that led to his execution by the powers that ruled his world and then his resurrection by God? Who was the Jesus who is now Lord? Proclaiming “Christ crucified” could not (and still cannot) exclude talking about what Jesus was like, what he taught, and what he stood for.” (pp.126-127)

It simply does not occur to many bible scholars (Borg and Crossan are not alone) who are, to a large extent, essentially supported  by various Christian communities, to re-examine their historicist assumptions that force them into the position of having to make up imaginary scenarios like the one above to support their arguments. There is simply no evidence that Paul was ever obliged to, or ever did, discuss the pre-crucifixion life and character of an historical Jesus. The evidence that we do have actually speaks against any idea that he did do this. But the assumptions from which Borg and Crossan are working force them to imagine that Paul must necessarily have preached something akin to one of our four narrative gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit now that I once thanked Crossan for helping me appreciate the importance of “historical methodology”. Well, his Historical Jesus did take me a long way forward from where I had been until that time. But boy have I learned so much more since. Mostly what I’ve learned since is not that hard, really. Simply study the historians and classicists of nonbiblical ancient history and literature topics and apply their methods consistently to the biblical topics too. No favourites or disciplines with special rules to make them somehow exceptional cases. (Okay, I had several years studying ancient history as an undergraduate so I guess it’s a bit easier for me than some others. But I’m trying to share on this blog.)

What else could Paul possibly have preached?

Just what he said he preached. Christ crucified, for starters. Why is this a problem for most? Because, I suspect, we start out with assumptions of Jesus’ historicity. The gospel crucifixion scene consists of only the last few chapters of each of the gospels. It is not enough of a narrative on its own. It needs all the earlier bits like the healings, the miracles, the teachings, the crowds and conflicts, to mean anything much. But all of these are generally acknowledged as having been written long after Paul.

All this starts to make more sense when we understand that first century c.e. Judaism was not the rigidly “monotheistic” cult that we associate with later rabbinism and today’s Jews. Whether we follow Margaret Barker and her The Great Angel : a Study of Israel’s Second God (which proposes that Judaism before the fall of the Temple in 70 c.e. contained factions that effectively still retained memories of El, Yawheh, Asherah as distinct yet all divine beings) or James F. McGrath and his The Only True God : Early Christian

Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (which argues that what passed for “monotheism” in the first century was a broader definition than we allow today), one soon learns that Judaism before the fall of the Temple was not the same as what it became in the second century.

Just a few drops to indicate the incredible diversity of Second Temple religious beliefs among Jews, which later rabbinic Judaism attempted to deny:

  1. For some Jews, individuals such as Jacob existed in heaven before they appeared on earth, as we learn from The Prayer of Joseph.
  2. And some wrote of subordinate heavenly beings with names like Yaoel, a contraction of Yahweh and El, as in The Apocalypse of Abraham, a text with remarkable echoes of the Gospel of John.
  3. Some factions also dedicated themselves to the study of “hidden wisdom” and roles of angels, as we learn from apocalyptic texts like the Book of Enoch.
  4. Even the New Testament cannot avoid reference to these narratives of great powers in heaven, including their Enochian source, as we see in Jude.
  5. For others, such practices had to be denounced and expunged, as we see from the survival of the texts that have since become the Jewish Bible and Christianity‘s Old Testament.
  6. I have also discussed in depth Levenson’s exploration of how the Isaac story among some Jews apparently became transformed into a death and resurrection narrative by the Second Temple period.Apocalyptic literarature of Second Temple Judaism
  7. And first century Jewish philosopher Philo also speaks of the Logos as a second god.
  8. Recall also the varied myths of Jacob’s Ladder,
  9. and speculations that changed the original Aramaic meaning of Son of Man in Daniel.
  10. and the “two powers in heaven” “heresy” with Metatron being found in the place of God in heaven according to visionary narratives.
  11. and those strange references in the New Testament and other unorthodox Jewish literature to Melchizedek
  12. and how seriously should we read take the description of a woman in Revelation being clothed with the sun — surely an obvious allusion to her divinity — who bore a child who was not crucified on earth but whisked immediately to heaven?
  13. and the survival of the Ugaritic divinities in various forms in the apocalyptic literature, and Margaret Barker’s discussions of the distinctions between El and Yahweh even in the OT.
  14. and the cosmic-spiritual meanings attributed to astronomical data, including within Mithraism of the same era.
  15. and the Qumran community with texts discussing unorthodox messiahs
  16. and Samaritan traditions, some involving John the Baptist,
  17. and some scholars suggesting a link between Simon the Sorcerer in Acts and Paul, and Damscus traditions
  18. and what do the above suggest about Paul’s reference to “the god of this world” who is responsible for the blindness of mankind and “the rulers of this age” or “the princes of this world“. In what sort of theological framework was he immersed?
  19. and what did he discuss among converts about the meaning of his vision of Jesus, and the times he felt himself taken up to the different levels of heavens, and the meanings of the “marks of Jesus” in his hands, as he also mentions in his letters, and the power of angels from heaven to preach, and what he meant by Christ being revealed “in him”, and being “set forth crucified” before the very eyes of the Galatians?
  20. To answer, these contents of Paul’s letters ought not to be overlooked as embarrassing oddities. We need to seriously consider how Christianity could have been so overwhelmingly dominated by Marcionites and Valentinians in the early second century, and that it was only as that century wore on that current orthodoxy began to gain the upper hand. Recall how the orthodox (Tertullian?) could even say that Paul was “the apostle of the heretics”.

Paul’s letters need to be read against this three dimensional context of Jewish religious speculation and writings, not just through the two dimensional OT and modern Christianity perspective.

Once we leave behind the monochrome Judaism of our OT and begin to enter the far richer and more complex world that was first century c.e. Judaism then Paul’s letters begin to need less creative imagination from Borg and Crossan to explain. Lydia was a capable and articulate woman who may well have been engaged by a theological-cum-philosophical discussion about powers and beings of heaven and what they offered anew for people like her on earth. Or maybe there was much allegorizing, as we find in the first gospel of Mark.

The Gospel of Mark, seen by many as reflecting the theology of Paul, allegorizes the crucifixion to indicate the overthrow of the demonic powers of this earth and the opening of the gateway (cross/ecliptic . . .) between heaven and earth, an event privatized for Jesus at his baptism, but made available to believers with the tearing of the veil (representing heaven with its pattern of stars) that had hitherto separated the place of God from the place of humankind. Paul’s cross fits in well with theologies of the overthrow of demonic or “lesser god” powers, and declaring just and saved all who believe in their “oneness with God” through the cross, symbol of giving up all their earthly desires, and symbol of the gateway between heaven and earth.

I suspect Paul taught the sorts of things he wrote about. He discussed why and how circumcision was no longer valid because of the complex meaning — hitherto a mystery, as he says — of the crucifixion of Jesus. He taught about how a new way of relating to God could be based on faith in a crucified Messiah, much as Stoics could teach of a new way of living and relating to the cosmos through the denial of the flesh (see Engberg-Pedersen — will do some posts on his work some time). In both, new communities arose out of such teachings. All of this is lost to modern readers who are fixated on an historical interpretation of a narrative that in its original form was clearly allegorical — see my notes on Gospel of Mark on my vridar.info site.

By no means am I claiming that the above points as presented like this are proof or even linking evidence that Paul did teach something more esoteric than a biographical narrative. I can do no more in this post than point out the religious environment and suggest alternatives. There is certainly no evidence for B’s and C’s imaginative scenario — quite the contrary.

Lydia

A capable, intelligent, “God-seeker” like Lydia was also immersed in this world of theological diversity, and no doubt would have been wrapped in any such discussion. The original narrator of the tale, the author of Acts and Luke, however, was a proto-orthodox Christian opposed to such speculations. For him, the literal interpretation of the narrative of Jesus was destined to replace the heretical speculations the original devotees of Paul clung to.

The crucifixion has no meaning without resurrection?

This is certainly true according to B and C. But if that was really true for Paul then one must remain at least somewhat perplexed by his frequent separate treatment of them – even sometimes discussing the meaning of the crucifixion without any reference to resurrection at all. When Paul does discuss resurrection, it is to affirm life after death and the ongoing Lordship of Jesus. These are not, contra B and C, presented as “answers” to the crucifixion. The death of Jesus has its own salvific value for Paul quite apart from any discussion of a resurrection. But this is another topic if I need to pull out the citations etc to make the point. Later. Enough blogging for one weekend.

Dating the Book of Acts: Characterization of Paul

Continuing notes from reading of Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts. . . .

After discussing the shifting directions of the scholarly debates over Paul’s characterization in Acts vis a vis the Paul we find in the epistles, Tyson asks if a more definitive answer is to be found to the question of whether the Paul of Acts is a most appropriate response to the Paul of the Marcionites.

Parallell Lives
Tyson first addresses the contribution of Clark’s Parallel Lives to understanding the author of Act’s intention to portray Paul in both continuity and unity with Peter and the Twelve. He adds to Clark’s work the observation that the influence of Plutarch’s influence on the author of Acts “is more credible if we date Acts after ca. 115 c.e., since it is probable that the Parallel Lives [by Plutarch] was not published before that date.” (p.63)

Objective reference
But more significantly, Tyson notes that Clark’s work on the reasons for the author’s creation of parallels between the lives of Paul and Peter is based on internal criteria alone and lacks an objective external reference. Clark’s argument for certain themes and reasons for his parallels would be more credible if one could show how they were a fitting response to a known historical challenge. Tyson is, of course, arguing that the Marcionite challenge was the appropriate historical situation which would best explain Clark’s understanding of Luke’s characterization of Paul (through parallels with Peter et al).

Tyson looks at the history of attempts to reconcile the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters.

F. C. Baur
Author of Acts rewrote the characters of Paul and Peter to show them united theologically — in support of the Law. Contrast “the real Paul” who was anti-Torah.

Adolf von Harnack
Paul’s attitude to the Torah was complex and not a blanket opposition to it. Luke had not found the Torah the same theological challenge that Paul had, and in his portrayal of Paul he brings out the more Jewish side of Paul as he (Luke) knew him.

Philip Vielhauer
In natural theology, Luke portrayed Paul as a Stoic philosopher for whom knowledge of God could be acquired naturally and positively, apart from revelation — which was the view of the Paul of the letters.

In Christology, Acts is adoptionist, and the cross of Christ was a wrongful murder of an innocent man for which the Jews were culpable — unlike Paul of the letters for whom the cross was a saving event, a means of judgment and reconciliation.

In eschatology, Paul relegates the coming judgment and resurrection to a tail end position in his message — unlike the Paul of the letters who whom it was central and imminent.

In the law, Acts avoids the real complexities of Paul’s attitude toward the Torah, and presents him as a faithful Pharisee in practice, as demonstrated by:

  • his missionary practice of going to the synagogue Jews first and only turning to gentiles after a formal rejection there
  • his submission to Jerusalem authorities
  • his circumcision of Timothy
  • his spreading the apostolic decrees
  • his vow
  • his trips to Jerusalem to observe religious festivals
  • his concurring with James in participating in a Nazirite vow
  • his emphasizing his Pharisee status when on trial

Ernst Haenchen
The author of Acts justified the gentile mission as simply being God’s will, unaware of Paul’s more complex justification from his arguments about the Law. Author of Acts also missed the real contention at the heart of Paul’s theology. To Luke, this was the resurrection. The real issue, the Torah, was only alluded to in Acts as a false accusation against Paul. Also, to Haenchen, Acts differed from the letters by presenting Paul as a miracle worker and great orator, but not as an apostle.

Jacob Jervell
The letters of Paul addressed specific issues and do not present a full biography. Acts and the letters are needed for a complete picture. Except for Romans 9-11, the points of theological contact are between the Paul in Acts and the marginal notes in the letters.

Stanley E. Porter
Disputes Haenchen’s and Vielhauer’s interpretations of the wide gulf between the Paul of the letters and of Acts. The Paul of the letters can also be seen as a miracle worker and orator. Porter also argues more weight should be given to the two times in Acts when Paul is called an apostle. And the accusations in Acts that Paul taught against Torah argue for the author’s knowing of the importance of the Torah in Paul’s message, and that the different emphases between Acts and the epistles are the result of different genres.

Mark D. Nanos
The letter to Galatians is an “ironic rebuke” of the converts. “Judaizers” are not opposed to belief in Christ but only to the idea that circumcision (becoming a full proselyte) is not also necessary to be part of Israel. Paul had taught them that belief in Christ was all that was necessary. He does not attack Torah observance or question its appropriateness for non-Christian Jews. The issue is not faith in Christ versus Torah observance. Nanos’s understanding of Galatians is that of a Paul close to the one in Acts.

Joseph B. Tyson
Despite interpretations that appear to lessen the divide between the Paul of the letters and Acts, it is difficult to reconcile:

  • Paul’s views in Galatians with the Paul in Acts 16 who would circumcise Timothy
  • Paul’s rejection of his past in Phil 3:1-11 with his maintenance of it in Acts 23:6
  • Paul’s vehement defining of himself as an apostle in Gal 1:1, Rom 1:1; 1:13; 1 Cor 1:1; 9:1, 2; 15:9; 2 Cor 1:1; 12:12 with the almost total denial of the title to him in Acts

A final settlement of the apparent conflicts between the Paul of the epistles and the Paul of Acts still escapes us.

But if “Acts was written in the first half of the second century, . . . its characterization of Paul and Pauline theology may be understood as an extraordinarily appropriate attempt to correct the teachings of Marcionite Christianity.” (p.68 )

Whatever role Paul played during his own lifetime, there appears to be a struggle for his legacy in the second century. (Compare post comparing Pastorals with Acts of Paul and Thecla.) Marcionites used Paul as their authority for rejecting the Torah, Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish customs. Acts responds(?) by representing him as a faithful Jew and Pharisee.

Tyson then singles out three major features of Paul’s characterization in Acts, drawing on features Vielhauser believed were divergences from the epistles, and including observations of their themes and literary patterns, to show how they qualify as responses to Marcionism.

1. Paul’s Missionary Method

Tyson has earlier covered the literary pattern used for the missionary narratives and the themes they support. See Marcionite Context 1 for an elaboration of this and what follows.

The narratives of Paul’s mission work regularly consists of the same fourfold patterning of the following four themes:

  1. fidelity of the believing community to the Jewish traditions and practices — Paul always begins with the synagogue
  2. the community’s inclusion of Gentiles
  3. Jewish rejection of the Christian message
  4. Jewish opposition to the community

Further, “the heart of Paul’s message in the synagogues is that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish expectation and prophetic promises.” (p.69)

Note how these themes fit hand in glove with the Marcionite challenge:

Marcion insisted that the Christian message consisted of a rejection of the Jewish Torah and Scriptures. Yet in Acts Paul is found returning again and again to the synagogue. There is a rift between Jew and Christian, yes, but the reason for this is clearly the fact that the Jews themselves are rejecting the message. And they are doing so not because the message is anti-Jewish, or anti-Torah or anti-Hebrew-Scriptures, but because of their hard stubborn hearts. The Christian message is that Jesus is the fulfillment of their Scriptures and Messianic hopes, and this is what angers them.

Paul’s repeated attempts to convert the Jews by showing them he was sympathetic and obedient to their customs and by preaching that Jesus was the fulfillment of their Scriptures was the perfectly apt response to Marcionite claims that Christianity had no link with Jewish traditions and that the Jewish scriptures had no relevance for the new message from the Alien God.

Hoffmann, I recall, somewhere makes the point that the irony is that it was the “pro-Jewish” Christianity of the orthodox that was fundamentally anti-semitic, accusing the Jews of congenital hard heartedness; while Marcionite Christianity placed Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing before the nonjudgmental higher God introduced by Jesus.

2. Paul and the Jerusalem Apostles

2 issues here: Paul’s apostleship and his relationship to the Jerusalem leaders.

Apostleship

To Marcion, Paul was the only true apostle and Peter and the other Jerusalem leaders were false apostles.

Acts disputes this divide by its technique of paralleling Peter and Paul. But the parallel is not complete. In Acts the title of apostle is almost exclusively confined to Peter and the Jerusalem leaders. Only twice does the term apostle appear in relation to Paul and Barnabas — Acts 14:4, 14.

Note however that 14:14 in the Western text (Codex Bezae) omits the word “apostles”, and if this is accepted as the original then we only have one reference to Paul as an apostle. Yet even here the word apostle is removed by many verses from the actual names of Paul and Barnabas. Tyson asks if this indicates a subtle distancing of the title from those names. Clark in Parallel Lives thinks the title apostle in Acts 14 serves to equate Paul and Barnabas with the other apostles, only in an an alternate geographical area.

But the author of Acts clearly defines the number of apostles as being limited to Twelve; and that to qualify for the title one must also have been a witness of Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to his resurrection. This clearly disqualifies Paul from the title. Is Paul simply being logically inconsistent? Tyson compares scholars approaching Acts without preconceived ideas about the author’s historical accuracies with their reluctance to presume he might be at least once logically inconsistent. They are willing to concede he is not always accurate in detail — why not also that he is not 100% consistent with his use of this title?

But Tyson comes down with a different bottom line explanation for this inconsistency found in Acts 14:4 (14). In a Marcionite context, the problem facing the author was not Paul’s apostleship but the apostleship of Peter and the Jerusalem leaders. He needed to rebut Marcion’s claim that the Jerusalem Twelve were not true apostles. His purpose was not to argue Paul’s apostleship but to prove that the Twelve were also apostles — to rehabilitate the Twelve. (Compare my earlier post on Tracing the evolution of the Twelve.)

To fulfill this task he “rehabilitated” the Twelve as the authorized bearers of tradition, and he showed that Paul was in every respect in line with them and at some points subservient to them. If he occasionally used the title apostle for Paul, this is only because of the fact that, despite his own definition that would exclude Paul from the group, he never doubted its appropriateness. We may regard the author of Acts as inconsistent at this point, but his inconsistency is understandable. (p.72)

Relationship with Jerusalem leaders

A major theme in Acts, the inclusion of Gentiles, is introduced by Peter. Not by Paul. Yet Paul is the primary leader of the gentile mission. So why is Peter chosen for the role of opening up this theme?

Tyson finds the answer at the conclusion of the lengthy and complex narrative of Peter’s conversion of Cornelius. The narrative concludes with Peter being required to have his actions authorized by the Jerusalem leaders, including the rest of the Twelve. This is important for the maintenance of one of the primary themes of Acts — internal harmony under the collective leadership of the Jerusalem apostles:

the story is not over until the Jerusalem apostles have agreed that Gentiles may be members of the community and that their admission will not create disharmony. (p.72)

It should also be noted that permission for the church to go to the gentiles came to Peter, the leader of the Twelve, and not to Paul, and that the first gentile was a lover of the Jews, observing their times of prayer and fearing their God. Tyson does not single out the point here, but God-fearer in the context of Cornelius here is a clear reference to the Jewish Creator God — the one rejected by Marcion as inferior in preference for the higher Alien God.

So the inclusion of the gentiles opens as a pro-Jewish act and is authorized by the Twelve before the story can continue.

The Acts 15 Jerusalem conference
See How Acts subverts Galatians for details. That a companion of Paul would subvert Galatians in this way is implausible. How could such a one put the words of Paul into the mouth of Peter, as in Acts 15:7-11? Tyson finds it hard to disagree with the Baur and the Tübingen school’s case that the author of Acts was attempting to rewrite history in order to promote a belief that there was harmony between the followers of Peter and those of Paul.

A Marcionite challenge that stressed the gulf between Paul and Jewish-Christians would explain why the author of Acts sought to rewrite the Galatians meeting the way he did. Unlike Marcion’s assertions based on Galatians, there was no rift between Peter and Paul. They were in complete harmony despite an initial hiccup. Paul left proclaiming the decrees ordained by the Jerusalem authorities (16:4), and gentiles and Jews were bound together even by certain (minimal) requirements from the Torah.

3. Paul as a faithful Jew and Pharisee

The Paul of the letters relegates his Pharisee identity to a dead past. Tyson sees the claims in Acts that Paul continued to think of himself as a Pharisee as anti-Marcionite propaganda. Acts also turns Paul’s speeches into anti-Marcionite proclamations: the relevance of the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets and Jewish messianic expectations to Jesus.

Tyson sees a major objective of the trial scenes is to portray Paul as a Torah-abiding Jew:

  • Before the high priest he quotes from Exodus (Acts 23:5)
  • Before Felix he describes himself as a loyal Jew (24:14)
  • He calls attention to his preaching of the resurrection as a Jewish hope (24:15)
  • He emphasizes his return to Jerusalem to bring alms and make sacrifices in the temple (24:17)
  • He reminds us he was seized while in ritual of purification (24:17-18 )
  • Before Festus he says he has done nothing against the Jewish law or people (25:8, 10)
  • Before Agrippa and Bernice he proclaims at length his Jewish allegiance (26:4-8 )
  • He says he preaches nothing except what Moses and the prophets proclaimed (26:22) — a statement in direct opposition to what Marcion believed

The practices of Paul preceding these trial scene proclamations have prepared the reader for this portrayal of Paul:

  • Acts 16:1-3, the circumcision of Timothy — it is debatable whether this would have been performed by the Paul of the letters, but there is no doubt that this was in opposition to Marcion’s Paul. Marcion taught release from the God of the Torah, and from the Creator God of this (fleshly) world.
  • Acts 21:18-28, Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem — tells us there are multitudes of Christians there who are all zealous for the law (an impossible concept for Marcion); and that the accusations that Paul taught Jews to forsake the laws and customs are false, as evidenced by his compliance with the advice of James. The message to readers familiar with Marcionite teaching is that Marcion’s claims about Paul are false.
  • Compare also Acts 18:18 — cutting his hair because of a vow would have suggested a Jewish practice opposed to Marcionite teaching
  • And Acts 20:16 — Paul eager to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Again in opposition to Marcion’s Paul.

Tyson concludes his discussion of the characterization of Paul:

The characterization of Paul in Acts is internally consistent. He is a loyal Jew, obedient to Torah and faithful to Jewish practices. His message is that Jesus fulfills the words of the Hebrew prophets: he is the Messiah of Israel. Paul does not act unilater­ally but only in harmony with Peter and the Jerusalem apostle. It is they who establish the authentic Christian tradition, and Paul neither adds to it nor subtracts from it. The characterization of Paul is also consistent with the major themes that the author used in writing Acts, among them: the order of the community; the internal harmony of the community; the community’s inclusion of Gentiles; Jewish rejection of the Christian message; and the community’s fidelity to Jewish traditions and prac­tices. The author of Acts has made use of these characterizations and themes to pro­duce an engaging narrative that responds, almost point by point, to the Marcionite challenge. Readers of Acts learn that the God of Jesus is the God of the Jews, that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish expectations as announced by the Hebrew prophets, and that the early Christian leaders continued to observe Torah and Jewish practices. (pp 75-76)

In other words, Tyson’s argument is that the question of reconciling the Paul of the letters with the Paul of Acts is the wrong question to ask. The problems that arise in attempting to answer it are the inevitable result. Acts is not addressing the letters of Paul per se, but addressing the Marcionite challenge and the use the Marcionites made of Paul’s letters. This hypothesis leads to a much tidier explanation of the way Paul is portrayed in Acts.


continued at this post