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CHAPTER 1

ON THE SOURCES
1.1 SOURCES, HISTORICAL DATA AND HISTORICAL FACTS
How do historians know about the past? Their sources include
written works left from the past, oral retelling of stories, archaeological
relics and, for the history of the past century or so, still photos, voice and
video recordings. For the period of early Christianity, our main sources are
written documents, supplemented by some archaeological finds.
Of course, we cannot simply read these documents and assume what
is written is the "gospel truth". Sources need to be evaluated to determine
their authenticity and reliability. As noted by historians Martha Howell
and Walter Prevenier in their book, From Reliable Sources: An
Introduction to Historical Methods (2001), sources need to be evaluated
technically with both external and internal criteria. External criteria uses
paleography, archaeology, statistics and other methods to evaluate the
authenticity of documents. Internal criteria for evaluation of sources
essentially concentrates on the author - his or her identity, sources, biases,
agenda, authority (i.e. whether it is an eyewitness account), competence
and trustworthiness. The time and location of writing are also important
considerations here. If the original autograph no longer exists and there
are more than one copy extant, then the textual analysis of the history of
the text also becomes important.1
Even if a document is "authentic", historians do not simply then
assume they are reading pure unadulterated history. The sources may
have been written with a particular agenda and hence provide a one sided
view of events or they have been written by a non-eyewitness whose
sources may not be reliable. Accepting sources as completely sacrosanct
means that no history is possible for we are asked to swallow wholesale
what is told to us, regardless of the authors agenda or their own
accessibility to the events they are reporting. All we would have are
conflicting sources telling conflicting stories.
Yet sources are still the major font of our knowledge of the past. In
order to extract useful, historical information from these sources, they

Howell & Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: p43-68

must be critically evaluated. As the historian and philosopher of history,


R.G. Collingwood, noted:
[H]istory finds its proper method when the historian puts his
authorities in the witness box, and by cross-questioning extorts from
them information which in their original statements they have withheld,
either because they do not wish to give it or because they do not possess
it
[The historian] has it in his power to reject something explicitly told to
him by his authorities and to substitute something else[T]he criterion
of historical truth cannot be the fact that a statement is made by an
authority. It is the truthfulness and the information of the so-called
authority that are in question
We know that the truth is to be had, not by swallowing what authorities
tell us, but by criticizing it; and thus the supposedly fixed points
between which the historical imagination spins its web are not given to
us ready made, they must be achieved by critical thinking.2

It should also be noted, conversely, that even "inauthentic" or


outright forgeries may contain valuable historical information, once we are
able to find out its provenance, i.e. when, by whom and for what reason
they were written.
Although there are large gaps in our knowledge of the events
surrounding the period of early Christianity immediately following the
death of Jesus, we are not exactly completely without sources. Firstly, we
have the letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament. If authentic,
there letters are eye-witness accounts. Secondly, we have the Acts of the
Apostles, an account of early Christianity written by the same author as
the Gospel of Luke. Thirdly, we will look at other books in the New
Testament that may have bearing in our study. Fourthly, have some
accounts that are embedded in sources behind the fourth century corpus,
the Pseudo-Clementines. Finally, we have a sundry of various sources such
as the writings of the early church fathers and the Jewish historian,
Josephus.
In this chapter we will review these primary sources to determine
their authenticity, their provenance and their usefulness
in our
investigations.

Collingwood, The Idea of History: p237-238, 243

1.2 THE EPISTLES OF PAUL


Paul, of course, is one of the major foci of this book and we are
fortunate to have direct eyewitness accounts in his epistles. In the New
Testament, there are thirteen epistles attributed to Paul. Of these, seven Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians and
Philemon - are generally considered by most scholars to be authentic.
Three, I & II Timothy and Titus, the so-called "Pastoral Epistles", are
considered by a vast majority3 of critical scholars to be pseudepigraphical.
In other words, these were written by person or persons other than Paul.
Three other Pauline epistles (Colossians, Ephesians and II Thessalonians)
are also considered by a majority of scholars to be non-Pauline. 4 Together,
these six epistles are generally given the name Deutero-Paulines. Our
interests here lie mainly in the seven genuine epistles of Paul and we will
be looking at these deutero-Paulines later on.5
Of the seven authentic Pauline letters, a few general points must be
kept in mind. It is possible, as many scholars suggest, that the letters
themselves may contain non-Pauline interpolations. William Walker,
Professor of Religion at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, identified
10 passages that he considers to be interpolations by later editors in the
genuine letters of Paul.6 It is also possible that the letters may not be in
their original form. Many scholars think that Philippians and II
Corinthians as we have it in the New Testament today are actually
fragments of a few different letters put together as a single letter by the
editor for the publication of the Pauline collection. 7 Finally Paul's letters
are occasional letters written to deal with concrete problems of his
congregations.8 It is just this characteristic that will be useful in
constructing some of the historical situations that surround Paul's
mission.
3

4
5

7
8

According to the late Catholic New Testament scholar, around 80% to 90% of
critical scholars reject the authenticity of the pastoral epistles. [Brown, An Introduction
to the New Testament: p629, 654, 673]
Brown, Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 591, 600, 621
For these who are interested in the reasons why these epistles are rejected as
authentic by the majority of scholars, I have provided a short summary in Appendix A.
The passages are Romans 1:18-2:29, 13:1-7, 16:25-27; I Corinthians 2:6-16, 10:1-22,
11:3-16, 12:31b-14:1a, 14:34-35, II Corinthians 6:14-7:1, I Thessalonians 2:13-16. [Walker,
Interpolation in the Pauline Letters (2001)]
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.191-192, 204-207
Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: p.85

The oldest extant Christian document is the first letter of Paul to the
Thessalonians, I Thessalonians for short. Thessalonika is the capital of
the Roman province of Macedonia. It was a major city lying on the great
Roman military highway, the Via Egnatia. The Thessalonian congregation
were mainly former pagans,9 since Paul referred to them as people who
"turned to God from idols" (I Thessalonians 1:9).10
The authorship of Paul is not seriously disputed in modern
scholarship. The location and time of composition is not given in the letter
itself. However, we can get some clues on these from the epistle and by
some statement found in Acts. In the epistle, Paul mentioned that he has
sent his disciple Timothy to Thessalonika from Athens (I Thessalonians
3:1-2). After leaving Athens, Paul went to Corinth (Acts 18:1). According to
Acts 18:5, Timothy and Silas joined Paul from Macedonia after this. In I
Thessalonians 1:1, Silas and Timothy was already with Paul. Later on in
the same epistle, he mentioned that Timothy has "just now" came to him
from the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 3:9). This means that this epistle
was most likely written from Corinth.11

10
11

Acts 17:2-4 mentioned that that Paul converted Jews and "devout Gentiles". The
latter term means Gentiles who were no longer pagans but who worshipped the Jewish
God without going the whole Torah (i.e. circumcision etc). This stands in uneasy contrast
to I Thessalonians 1:9.
Ehrman, The New Testament: p.276-277
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p.457
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.257
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.44

Figure 1.1: The World of the Apostle Paul

The dating of the letter can be derived if we assume certain accounts


in Acts to be historical. According to Acts 18:12-18, Paul was dragged by
the Jews in front of the Roman proconsul Gallio. An inscription, a letter
from Emperor Claudius (10 BCE - 54 CE), found at Delphi and first
published in 1905 mentions that Lucius Junius Gallio was the predecessor
of then current proconsul. Since the time of composition of the letter from
Claudius can be reasonably bracketed to between January 1st and August
1st 52 CE and since Roman proconsuls only serve for one year, the time of
Gallio's proconsulship in Achaia must be between the springs of 51 and 52
CE. Acts 18:11 mentions that Paul had already been in Corinth for a year
and a half when he was hauled before Gallio. We can conclude based on
the considerations above that its date of composition is around 49-51 CE. 12
This dating for I Thessalonians is accepted by the majority of New
Testament scholars.13 14
The Thessalonian epistle is mainly a letter of exhortation and
clarification on some theological and practical problems of the mainly
Gentile community.15
Next is the Corinthian correspondence called, obviously, the first and
second letter of Paul to the Corinthians or I & II Corinthians for short. As
these two epistles are important sources for our investigation into the
opposition faced by Paul, we will be going into its form and content here
12

13

14

15

Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p282


Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.110
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.253
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p152
Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence: p115-116
Barr, New Testament Story: p. 54
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p.457
Ehrman, The New Testament: p.276
Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.118-119
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.257
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.44
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p152
It should be noted that two prominent scholars of Paul, John Knox and Gerd
Ldemann dates the letter to the early 40's. [Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul: p.71,
Ldemann, Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles: p.238]
Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: pp.89-90
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.174-175

with some depth. During the time of Paul, Corinth was the provincial
capital of Achaia. It was a thriving city bursting with commerce and
manufacturing. The city housed many pagan shrines and temples. We
hear of shrines and altars dedicated to Poseidon, Isis, Dionysius among
others and a temple dedicated to Asclepius. The city has a large
population consisting of Romans, Greeks and Jews. 16
I Corinthians was written from Ephesus, because Paul mentioned in
the epistle that he will stay there until Pentecost (16:8). The reference to
the Pentecost and an earlier mention about celebrating the Passover (5:78) suggests that the letter was written in Spring. The fact that some in
Corinth may have assumed he is not coming back and thus were behaving
badly ("puffed up") implies that he had left Corinth for some period of time
already (4:18). His conveyance of greeting from the churches (plural) of
Asia also shows that he must have been working in that area for some
period of time (16:19). Since he left Corinth around 52 CE, most scholars
reasonably place the date of composition between 53 and 56 CE. 17
The letter was written as a response to two reports from Corinth
itself. The first was an oral report from "Chloe's people" (1:11) who told
him that about a man who was carnal relations with his father's wife (5:113) and lawsuits among the members of the community (6:1-19). The
second was a letter he received (7:1), probably brought by Stephanus,
Fortunatus and Archaicus that Paul said in his greetings had come from
Corinth (16:17). This letter contained questions for Paul regarding such
varied issues as marriage and celibacy (7:1-40), on freedom to eat food
offered to idols (8:1-13, 10:1-32), on gender, head coverings and worship
(11:2-16), on spiritual gifts and its abuses by some in Corinth (12:1-14:40)
and on the resurrection (15:1-58). But the most important subject of this
epistle is the report of strife and dissension within the community. People
have divided themselves in camps, variously claiming allegiance to Paul,
Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and Christ (1:12). The first section of the letter is
a call to unity (1:10-4:21) against this development. 18 This dissension
16

17

18

Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.271


Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.58-59
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.176-178
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p.512
Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: p.305
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.278-279
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.57
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.179-180
Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: pp.306-307
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.272-275

seems to have even cause some to question Paul's apostleship. (9:1-26) I


Corinthians is an important piece of evidence in reconstructing the
opposition faced by Paul.
Although the Pauline authorship of II Corinthians as a whole is not
disputed, the majority of scholars (with some prominent exceptions 19)
think that the epistle we have today is actually a pastiche of several
Pauline correspondences to Corinth. The reason is that there seems to be
discernable sections within the letter itself. Chapters 1 to 7 is written in a
very conciliatory tone written after there had been some disagreement
between Paul and his flock in Corinth. Chapters 8 and 9 deals with purely
administrative issues relating to the collection for the Jerusalem church.
Chapter 10-13 contains some very harsh polemic against unnamed
opponents. Finally we have 6:14-7:1, which apart from being so different
from the surrounding material is also more akin to the apocalyptic
writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 20 However there is no agreement in
exactly how these fragments are to be divided and in what chronological
sequence they actually belong. Luckily, even if the letter is a composite of
fragments, they were all most probably written within a period of one year,
so the issue of the literary unity of the letter is not important for our
purposes here.21
The epistle was written while Paul was in Macedonia (2:13, 7:5, 9:2).
The date of composition of II Corinthians (or its fragments) can be deduced
from the events that had transpired after the writing of the I Corinthians.
Between, the writing of the two extant epistles, Paul had visited Corinth
once - for he mentioned a "painful visit" there (2:1). The visit being
unsuccessful, he left Corinth, probably back to Ephesus, and sent them a
"tearful letter" (2:3-10), this was probably carried by Titus there (cf. 7:6).
From Ephesus, Paul travelled through Asia where he experienced an
unexplained life threatening situation (1:8), Troas (2:12) to Macedonia,
probably to the city Philippi, where he finally met with Titus. There, his
disciple conveyed the good news to him that the "tearful letter" has done
its job and that the Corinthians were eager to be reconciled with him (7:6-

19

20

21

Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: pp.92-99


White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.179-185
Kmmel and Schnelle, for examples, both think despite the sharp differences in
tone between the various sections, it could still have been originally a single letter.
[Introduction to the New Testament: pp.292-293; New Testament Writings: pp.86-87 ]
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.548-551
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.203-206
Ldemann, Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity: pp.80-81

9).
This was the occasion in which II Corinthians (or at least the
fragment 1-7) was written. Estimates for the time within which all these
events transpired vary from around six months (Kmmel & Schnelle) to
around 2-3 years (Roetzel & White) So if I Corinthian was written
somewhere between 53-56 CE, then II Corinthians was composed around
54-58 CE.22
Indisputably Pauline, the Epistle to the Galatians is one of the most
important sources for identifying the opponents Paul faced during his
missionary travels. Scholars have argued for more than two centuries who
the recipients of this letter were. Paul addressed his letter to "the churches
of Galatia (1:2)" and called the recipients "Galatians" (3:1). The problems
lies in the term "Galatia" itself. Ethnically, the term refers to the Celtic 23
people who lived in what is today upper central Turkey around Ankyra
(modern Ankara). During the time of Paul, the Roman province of Galatia
covers this area as well as the area further south towards the
Mediterranean Sea which included Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and
Derbe. The inhabitants of the southern regions were not ethnic
Galatians.24
Due of this ambiguity, there has been two hypotheses about who the
addressees were. The first hypothesis, called the south Galatian (or
"provincial") hypothesis, claims that the "churches of Galatia" addressed
by Paul are those churches that Acts mentioned he visited during his first
missionary journey25 namely Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-50, 14:19, 21),
Iconium in Phyrgia (Acts 13:51-14:6, 19, 21) and Lystra and Derbe in
Lycaonia (Acts 14:6-21).26 These churches lie in the south of the Roman
province of Galatia where the population consists mainly of Greeks. The
main arguments in support of this is the account in Acts of the founding of
22

23
24

25

26

Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.541-543


Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.76-77
Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: pp.99-103
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.286-287, 293
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.201-204
Galatai is a variant form of Keltai or Keltoi, i.e. Celts.
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p. 475
Esler, Galatians: p.32
Martyn, Galatians: pp.15-16
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.197-198
The term (first, and second and third) missionary journey of Paul is not found in
Acts but is commonly used in scholarly discussions. The three missionary journeys are
narrated in Acts 13:1-14:28, 15:40-18:23 and 19:1-21:14 respectively.
Esler, Galatians: p.32

10

the various churches in the southern part of the province, the silence in
the same document of any prosyletization by Paul in the northern part and
the fact that Paul normally employs the names of Roman provinces (e.g.
Asia, Macedonia, Achaia) in his letters. 27
These arguments are not very convincing. In his description of the
southern cities of the Roman province of Galatia, Luke always refers to
them by their district not province: Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14), Lystra
and Derbe in Lycaonia (Acts 14:6).28 Furthermore, Acts did describe Paul
as passing through Galatia on at least two occasions (Acts 16:6, 18:23).
These would have been occasions when he could have preached in the
tribal Galatian regions.29 Finally we find many occasions in Paul's letters
where he refers to names not in the official sense as a Roman province. In
Galatians 1:21, he spoke of coming "to the regions of Syria and Cilicia"
after leaving Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem was well within the Roman
province of Syria! He was using the term "Syria" in its older sense as the
Seleucid territory where Antioch was. Similarly he used the unofficial
term "Arabia" for Nabatea (Galatians 1:17)30
In addition to these objections to the south Galatian hypothesis, a
further argument adds weight to the north (or tribal) Galatian hypothesis.
In Galatians 3:1, Paul addressed his audience as "you foolish Galatians".
Firstly, there were very few Celts in the southern region. Secondly, in the
south, the inhabitants maintained their own cultures and languages - Acts
14:11 notes that the Lycaonians spoke in their own language. Thus, the
term "Galatians" as used by Paul is more naturally understood as an
ethnic term.31 The majority of scholars today favor the north Galatian
hypothesis.32
27

28

29

30

31

32

Betz, Galatians: p.4


Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.475-476
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.296-297
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.96
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p.475
White, From Jesus to Christianity: pp.197-198
Esler, Galatians: p.33
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.96
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.297
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.97
Ehrman, The New Testament: p304
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.298
Martyn, Galatians, pp.15-16
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.97
Betz, Galatians: p.4

11

There is no clear indication within the epistle itself as to where and


when it was written. As such, various locations (Ephesus, Macedonia and
Corinth) and a wide range dates (from mid 40's to the mid 50's) have been
suggested for composition of Galatians. Early dates, in the mid to late 40's,
normally accompany the south Galatian hypothesis. Paul founded
churches in the southern region of the province during his first missionary
journey (Acts 14:6-7, 20-24), and in his epistle he noted his amazement at
"how quickly" they had deserted him (Galatians 1:6). The northern
Galatian hypothesis normally dates the composition to around the mid
50's since Acts 16:6 has Paul passing through the Galatian territory and
Acts 18:23 indicated that he already had disciples there. This means that
they were first converted during his second missionary journey which is
normally dated to around 54 CE. This leads to a date of composition of
around 54-55 CE.33
The problem with dating Acts with the "missionary journeys" is that
these journeys may well be a mere literary device by Luke with no
historical basis.34 Another line of evidence is based on the similarities
between of Galatians, II Corinthians and Romans. Galatians and II
Corinthians share a similar tone, language and argument, suggesting that
they were written very close in time to one another. The similarity
between Galatians and Romans is one of content. The issues treated in
Galatians (e.g. justification by faith, Abraham, baptism and slavery and
freedom) are found in a more polished form in Romans (compare Galatians
2:15-21, 3:6-25,29, 3:26-28, 4:1-7 with Romans 3:19-28, 4:1-25, 6:3-5, 8:1217), suggesting that the latter represents a later development of his
thought. Since II Corinthians was written around 54-58 and, as we shall
see, Romans was written around 56-58 CE. Thus the most likely dates for
the composition of Galatians is around 55-57 CE.35
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p.476
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.106
33

34

35

Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.476-477


Betz, Galatians: p.12
Esler, Galatians: p.33
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.304
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.198
Betz, Galatians: p.10
Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: pp.437-439
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.477
Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: p.313
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.94-95

12

Galatians is a crucial source for our investigation. The letter was


written in response to developments in the churches there. Soon after
being converted by Paul, the Galatians are being convinced by some
outsiders that the gospel of Jesus requires them to undergo circumcision.
Paul's letter was a a defense of his gospel and his status as an apostle. 36
The epistle to the Romans, the longest epistle in the Pauline corpus, 37
is, ostensibly38, Paul's attempt to summarize his theology to a group of
Christians that were largely unfamiliar with him and his teachings. Rome
was a place he had never visited, in Romans 1:11-15 he mentioned that he
"longed" to see them and was "eager" to preach the good news to them. 39
The Roman Christians have been in Rome for some time. The Roman
historian, Suetonius (c70-140) wrote in chapter 25 of his book Life of
Claudius, He drove out of Rome the Jews who were perpetually stirring
up trouble at the instigation of Chrestus. The event he was describing
took place around 49 CE. Of course he could not have been describing
Jesus but Christians who caused unrest among the Jewish community in
Rome. The Christians referred to Jesus as their (spiritual) leader and
Suetonius took it literally that their leader was alive and was the chief
instigator. This means that by 49 CE there were already Christians in
Rome.40
From the epistle itself, we know that the majority of the Roman
Christians were Gentiles. In Romans 1:13, for instance, he mentioned that
he wished "to have some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of
the Gentiles". However, there were also some Jewish-Christians,
Christians who were circumcised Jews, for Paul talked about conflict

36
37

38

39
40

White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.198-199


White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.200
There are some scholars who argue that Romans is not a literary unity. Many of
these point to chapter 16 as probably being an originally separate letter meant for
Ephesus. However the arguments are not convincing and the majority of scholars favor
the idea that Romans has always been a single letter. [Brown, An Introduction to the New
Testament: p. 560 & 575, Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: p 302, Kmmel,
Introduction to the New Testament: pp. 314-320, Schnelle, The New Testament Writings:
pp.116-120]
There are other reasons for the writing of this epistle which we will explore later in
this book.
Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: p.301
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp. 308
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.112

13

between the "strong" and the "weak" (14:1-15:3) where the former has
reservations on eating certain kinds of foods.41
Chronologically, the epistle to the Romans was written after the two
Corinthian epistles and Galatians. We know this because in Galatians
2:10, Paul wrote of agreeing to gather a collection for the poor in
Jerusalem after his meeting with James the brother of Jesus, Peter and
John there. In I Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9 he talks about
his collection efforts in Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia. By the time
Romans was written, he was preparing to go Jerusalem with the complete
collection (Romans 15:25-26).42 Thus, scholars date the composition of this
letter to the late 50's - around 56-58 CE. 43 Romans was written in the
house of his host, Gauis (Romans 16:23). We know that Gauis lives in
Corinth because Paul mentioned him as being one of the two he baptised
at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:14). The letter was therefore composed in
Corinth.44
Although its authenticity was questioned by F.C. Baur in the 19th
century, the epistle to the Philippians is today accepted by a general
consensus of scholars as authentically Pauline. 45 The letter is one of the
two in the authentic Pauline corpus that were written when the apostle
was in prison. In Philippians 1:7 he mentioned that he was "in bonds" and
a little later (1:13) he noted that "the whole palace (or praetorian) guards"
know that his "bond is in Christ". That Paul was incarcerated during his
career is not new. In II Corinthians 11:23 he mentioned about being in
prison many times. However, his letters do not give any direct information
about exactly where he was imprisoned. Acts only narrates two
41

42
43

44

45

Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp. 309-311


Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.113
Ldemann, Paul, Studies in Chronology: pp.80-88
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: p.560
Ehrman, The New Testament: p.320
Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: p.301
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.311
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.109
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.212
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.559-560
Ehrman, The New Testament: p.320
Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament: p.301
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.311
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.109
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.212
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.332
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.130

14

imprisonments of Paul - once in Caesarea (Acts 23:33-26:32) and the other


time in Rome (Acts 28:14-31).46
Scholars have suggested three possible locations, Caesarea, Ephesus
and Rome, as the place of composition of the letter. Caesarea as the
location of the composition was first suggested in 1799 by German
theologian, Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus (1751-1851) based on the
passages in Acts about his imprisonment there before being sent to Rome
(Acts 23:33-26:32). The problem with the Caesarean hypothesis is that
there is really no evidence pointing to the city as the place of writing.
Many scholars also raised the objection of its distance from Philippi around 1600 km by sea route and more than 1600 km by land. In the
epistle numerous movements between Paul's location of incarceration and
Philippi can be discerned - (1) the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to Paul
with a gift (4:15), but he became seriously ill (2:26,30), (2) news reached
the Philippians about his illness and Paul is now sending Epaphroditus
back to Philippi (2:25-30) (3) Paul mentioned he hope to send Timothy
soon and plans to travel there himself. These frequent to and fro
movement is - according to the objectors - simply too much for two
locations so far apart. This hypothesis has very little following in modern
scholarship.47
Ephesus was suggested partly to overcome the problem of distance
with the Caesarean (and Roman-see below) hypothesis. The distance
between Philippi and Ephesus is around 640 km. Although there is no
unambiguous statement of an Ephesian incarceration either in the
authentic letters or Acts, the supporters of this hypothesis points to the
fact that Paul spoke to having fought with "wild beast" while in Ephesus (I
Corinthians 15:32) and of having been near death in Asia (II Corinthians
1:8-10). Many scholars today support this hypothesis as the most
probable.48
Apart from the obvious problem that neither the Pauline epistles nor
Acts mentioned his incarceration there, additional problems exist with
46

47

48

Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.324, 329


Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.130
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.493-494
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.328-329
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.495-496
Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: pp.135-136
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.329-332
Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: p.122
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.190

15

this hypothesis. In his epistle to the Philippians he wording seems to


imply that his relationship with the Christians where he is being
imprisoned is not too familiar to him (1:12-18), but according to Acts 19,
Paul stayed in Ephesus for close to three years. 49 It is unlikely that he
would be unfamiliar with Christians there. If the epistle was written from
Ephesus, it would have been written around the same time as Galatians
and I&II Corinthians. We have noted above how the collection for
Jerusalem was an important part of Paul's activity then. The absence of
any mention of the collection supports the time of writing after its
completion.50 The idea that it could have been written earlier, before the
agreement of the collection during the apostolic council would mean that
the epistle would be roughly contemporaneous with I Thessalonians. This
is highly unlikely. In I Thessalonians 4:17, Paul expected to be alive during
the parousia, the return of Jesus: "we who are alive, who are left, will be
caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air".
But in Philippians 1:20-26 and 3:10-11, he was considering his own death
and possible resurrection - i.e. he no longer thinks he will be alive when
Jesus returns. This suggests that Philippians was written quite some time
after Thessalonians, when the hope of a quick parousia had faded.51
Rome was the place tradition believed the epistle to have been
written. We find Rome being suggested as the place of composition as early
as 200 CE in the so-called Marcionite Prologues. 52 There are a few
arguments in favour of this location. The mention of the praetorian guard
(Philippians 1:13) and "those of Caesar's household" (4:22) suggests Rome
as the location.53 The relative freedom with which he was able to preach
from his place of incarceration (e.g. he was able to receive gifts (4:18) and
49
50

51
52

53

Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p.132


Brown, who brought up this suggestion in order to refute it, mentioned that if the
collection was already in the past during the composition of the epistle, why did he not
bring it up as a positive reminder or comparison with the Philippians' generosity in
sending him their donation (4:10-20)? [Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament:
p.496] Yet this is easily explained if the collection for Jerusalem was a failure. Something
we will show later in the book.
Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.486-487
The Marcionite Prologues - supposedly written by Marcion but unlikely - to the
Pauline epistles are found in various latin manuscripts of the New Testament. They
probably date back to around the year 200 CE.
While these references to praetorian (i.e. imperial) guards and to those of the
emperor's (i.e. Caesar's) household can naturally mean Rome, it could also refer to other
locations throughout the Roman empire. [Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament:
p.493n.27, Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: p.207n.32]

16

send letters) fits well with the account given in Acts 28:30-31 which
mentioned Paul being able to preach unhindered from his house arrest for
two years. Furthermore, his relative unfamiliarity (see Philippians 1:1218) with those in the area points to him being in Rome and not Ephesus. 54
There are two major objection normally raised against the Roman
hypothesis. The first objection, as in the case of Caesarea, is that the
distance between Rome and Philippi is simply too far to allow for the
numerous to-ing and fro-ing indicated in the epistle.55 However as Udo
Schnelle pointed out, a sea voyage between the two cities would take no
more than two weeks, while a predominantly land route, around 1084 km,
would take around 4 weeks. The letter presupposes four trips: (1) news
travel to Philippi of Paul's imprisonment (2) Epaphroditus's trip to Paul
with the gift from the Philippians, (3) news travel back to Philippi about
Epaphroditus's illness and (4) news travel to Rome about the concern of
the Philippians for Epaphroditus. At the time of writing, Paul was
preparing to send Epaphroditus back. These trips could easily fit into the
two year imprisonment period mentioned in Acts 28:30-31.56
The second objection is Paul's stated plan to visit Philippi should he
be released (Philippians 1:26, 2:24) is incompatible with what he wrote in
his epistle to the Romans (15:24-28) - that he planned to visit Spain after
visiting Rome.57 This objection is very weak. We know that sometimes
situations can cause Paul to change his travel plans (cf. I Corinthians 16:58 with II Corinthians 1:15f). In this case, Paul could hardly had expected
his long imprisonment in Caesarea and Rome when he wrote the epistle to
the Romans. The generosity of the Philippians may have given Paul hope
that the community there could help him with his, now postponed, mission
to Spain. Thus a trip there would make sense.
There is thus no reason to reject the traditional idea that Philippians
was written during Paul's Roman imprisonment. This would make the
date of the composition to around 60 CE.58
The last of the seven authentic epistle is Philemon. This is the
shortest of the Pauline letters, consisting only of a single page - a typical
length of personal Greco-Roman correspondence. And indeed, Philemon is
54
55

56
57

58

Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.131-132


Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.135
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.325-326
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.132-133
Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.135
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.325
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.132-133

17

the only letter addressed to a person, Philemon. The letter concerns


Philemon's slave, Onesimus, who had ran away from his master. Paul's
letter is essentially an attempt to plead Onesimus' case. Like Philippians,
this letter is also penned from prison (Philemon 1:9, 13). The epistle is of
little use in our investigations and we will merely state that scholars
either think it is written in Ephesus around 55 CE or in Rome around 61
CE.59
We can now place the order of the letters chronologically and list
down the probable time and place of composition. This sequence is
important for our investigations.

59

Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament: pp.503, 507-508


Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: pp.138-140
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: pp.348-349
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.144-145
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.194-197

18

Epistle

Time of Composition

Place of Composition

I Thessalonians

Corinth

49-51 CE

I Corinthians

Ephesus

53-56 CE

II Corinthians

Ephesus

54-58 CE

Galatians

Ephesus

55-57 CE

Romans

Corinth

56-58 CE

Philippians

Rome

60 CE

Philemon

Ephesus or Rome

55 or 61 CE

Table 1:1 The Chronology and Place of Composition


of the Genuine Pauline Epistles

1.3 THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES


The Acts of the Apostles picks up the story of early Christianity after the
resurrection of Jesus. It is the only book in the New Testament that
narrates the beginnings of Christianity. Below is a rough outline of the
book:
1:1-5:42

The preaching of the apostles in Jerusalem after the


ascension of Jesus

6:1-8:40

The martyrdom of Stephen and the subsequent fate of his


fellow Hellenists - Greek speaking Jews who were the first
to spread the teachings of the new movement outside the
confines of Jerusalem

7:58, 8:1,3-4 Paul introduced for the first time as a persecutor of


Christians
9:1-31

The conversion of Paul and his first trip to Jerusalem.

9:32-11:18

Peter 's conversion of the first Gentile, Cornelius.

11:19-29

Spread of Christianity by the Hellenists to Antioch, Paul's


joining of the Antioch mission and his second visit to
Jerusalem accompanying the collection for famine relief.

12:1-24

Persecution by King Herod60 in Jerusalem

12:25-14:28 Paul's first missionary journey


14:29-15:35 The Jerusalem Conference (The Apostolic Council)
60

This Herod was actually known as Julius Agrippa I (10 BCE-44 CE). Agrippa was
the grandson of Herod the Great through his father Aristobolus, who was Herods second
son. It is only in Acts that he was given the family name Herod. [Barrett, Acts: A Shorter
Commentary: p. 181]

19

15:36-39

Paul's disagreement and parting of ways with Barnabas as


Antioch

15:40-18:23 Paul's second missionary journey and fourth visit to Jerusalem.


18:24-28

Priscilla and Aquila meeting Apollos in Ephesus.

19:1-21:25

Paul's third missionary journey and final (fifth) visit to


Jerusalem.

21:26-26:32 Paul's arrest in Jerusalem and imprisonment in Caesarea.


27:1-28:31

Paul's journey to Rome and his activity there under house


arrest.

Irenaeus (c130-c200) bishop of Lyon was, in his book Against Heresies


(c.180), the first one who identified Luke, companion of Paul, as the author
of both the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. And since Luke was a
companion to Paul, the historical reliability of Acts is assured. 61
In evangelical circles, these traditional beliefs about the authorship
and the historical reliability of Acts are still held to be true. One such
evangelical, Ben Witherington III, in his book, The Acts of the Apostles: a sociorhetorical commentary, after a cursory examination, concluded that "both the
internal and external evidence strongly points to Luke being the author of Acts".
He called Acts an historical narrative which is on par with the eye-witness
accounts of the authentic Pauline epistles. At most, he concedes that a slight

Such confessional63 assertions


are not shared by most critical historical scholars.
While most critical historical scholars would not deny that the third
gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are written by the same author, 64 the
preference be given to the Pauline epistles.

61
62
63

64

62

Against Heresies 3:1:1 & 3:14:1


Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: pp.2-38, 58, 86-88
The reader who has read my earlier work, The Rejection of Pascal's Wager, will
know that I do not put much store in "evangelical scholarship". The reason is simple,
evangelicals do not engage in research and scholarship so much as in apologetics. The
proof for my assertion is not hard to find. Many evangelical theological seminaries, where
many evangelical scholars find employment, such as the Dallas Theological Seminary
[http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/], Denver Seminary
[http://www.denverseminary.edu/about-us/what-we-believe/] and Fuller Theological
Seminary
[http://www.fuller.edu/about-fuller/mission-and-history/statement-offaith.aspx] require its faculty to sign a strict statement of adherence to biblical inerrancy
before they are allowed to teach there. Some institutions even require the faculty member
to recommit to this statement annually, just in case they have changed their mind on
inerrancy after signing the statement. Of course, such an a priori requirement is hardly
conducive to academic freedom and open scholarship.
"[A]lthough the identity of the author is still debated, almost all New Testament
scholars agree on this point: Luke and Acts were written by the same person..." [Parsons

20

majority65 do not think this author is Luke, a physician and a companion of


Paul. As for historical reliability of the work, most scholars do think that
there is some nuggets of historical data in it on the whole it is not a totally
reliable work and must be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. 66
Here is the verdict on the historicity of Acts from one of the world's
foremost authority on Acts, Dick Pervo:
[Luke, i.e. the author of Acts] is hereby revealed as a writer of historical
fiction...he was engaged in activity at least partly frivolous and he did
not always tell the truth...As a historian he leaves much to be desired.67

Any kind of scholarly consensus is only as good as the evidence that


supports it. What is the evidence that has led the majority to reject Lukan
authorship of the book and to apply caution in evaluating the reports of
early Christianity contained in Acts?
As we have seen above, it was Irenaeus (c.130-c.200) who first
suggested around 180 CE that the author of the third gospel and Acts was
Paul's companion named Luke. In Against Heresies 3:14:1. Irenaeus
explained how he got the name Luke as the author of the third gospel.
By referring to the we-passages in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:128:16), he noted that the writer was a companion of Paul. Then noting
from II Timothy 4:10-11 (and also Philemon 1:23-24) - which is set
during Pauls imprisonment in Rome (see II Timothy 1:16-17) - in which
Paul wrote Only Luke is with me, and tying that to Acts 28:16 which
states that we came into Rome, he came up with author to Acts and
hence also the third gospel (since they are obviously written by the same
person) - namely Luke the Physician (Colossians 4:14). Since he never
65

66

67

& Person, Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts: p.7]


Barr, New Testament Story: pp. 330-331
Barrett, Acts: A Shorter Commentary: p.xxiv
Ehrman, The New Testament: pp.138-139
Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: p.116
Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.313
Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.184
Ldemann, The Acts of the Apostles: p.389
Pervo, Acts: A Commentary: p.5
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.240-243
White, From Jesus to Christianity: p.252
Knox, Chapters in a life of Paul, 2nd ed: pp.10-11
Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.322-323
Ldemann, The Acts of the Apostles: p.397
Pervo, Profit with Delight: pp.135, 138

21

referred to any tradition as the basis for his identification - we can


conclude that this was actually how he got the name for the author of the
third gospel.68
Modern scholars do not find such an analysis unconvincing. Firstly,
two of the three epistles Irenaeus cited, Colossians and II Timothy, are
pseudepigraphical.69 They we not written by Paul and we have no good
reason to accept their presentation of "Luke" as historical. The only
information about "Luke" was got from an authentic Pauline epistle,
Philemon 1:23-24, was of the apostle calling him "a fellow worker". In
other words, we do not know if Luke was a constant companion of Paul,
whether he was a Gentile or a doctor.70
The strongest arguments against Luke, or any companion of Paul,
being the author of Acts can be found in comparing the portrait of Paul
given in Acts and that derived from the authentic epistles of the apostle to
the Gentiles.
The first comparison is the number of trips Paul made to Jerusalem
after his conversion. According to Acts Paul made five trips to the city
(Acts 9:26-27, 11:29-30, 15:1-29, 18:22, 21:15) while the epistles of Paul
made it clear that he made only 3 such trips - the first two times is told in
Galatians 1:18, 2:1, while the third is his planned final trip there
mentioned in Romans 15:25.71
Any attempt to try and resolve this discrepancy by suggesting that Paul
may simply have omitted mentioning the other trips does not hold water.
Let us examine this a little more closely.
According to Acts Paul had already been to Jerusalem twice (Acts 9, 11)
before the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). According to his letter to the
Galatians, Paul had only been to Jerusalem once (Galatians 1:18) before
the council (Galatians 2:1). The question is, could Paul have simply
ignored mentioning another trip because it was unimportant to him?
Hardly. Paul's whole aim in Galatians was to show his independence of the
apostles in Jerusalem. (He noted that the leaders there "makes no
difference" to him - Galatians 2:6) Thus the amount of times he had visited
68

69
70

71

Sanders & Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels.: p.14


Schnelle: The New Testament Writings: p.240
See Appendix A for why scholars think this is so.
Akenson, Saint Saul: p135-136
Ehrmann, The New Testament: p138
Knox, Chapters in a life of Paul, 2nd ed: pp.43-52
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.242

22

Jerusalem was very important to his argument. Going to Jerusalem too


many times would have indicated his dependence on the apostles and
subordinate status towards them. Furthermore he swore that he was not
lying (Galatians 1:20) while recalling these very events. It is unlikely that
Paul would have allowed himself to be caught in a bald-face lie if it was
actually the case that he was in Jerusalem another time after the first
visit and before the council.
Acts had Paul travelling to Jerusalem another two times after the
council (Acts 18:22, 21). In Galatians 2:10 it was mentioned that Paul
agreed to the apostles' request to make a collection for Jerusalem. We
know from Romans 15:25-28 that Paul's purpose in going to Jerusalem
was to deliver this collection. This collection is also alluded to in Acts
24:17 where Luke had Paul say "Now after some years I came to bring
alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices." Thus Paul's last trip in Acts 21
is the same anticipated trip planned in Romans 15. Could Paul have made
another trip before this, the one mentioned in Acts 18:22? Now Paul made
a direct agreement to bring the collection to Jerusalem, and we know from
his epistles that he took the task very seriously (Galatians 2:10, I
Corinthians 16:1, II Corinthians 8:1-9:14, Romans 15:26). Given the
importance he attached to this, it would be unlikely in the extreme that
Paul would appear in Jerusalem in the interim before the collection was
completed; showing up "empty handed" as it were.72 Gerd Ldemann's
conclusion is apt:
It is virtually certain that Paul was in Jerusalem only three times as a
Christian. Acts in contrast reports no fewer than five trips to Jerusalem.
It seems impossible that Luke could have been a companion of Paul and
simultaneously susceptible to such a mistake. This inaccuracy rather
proves Luke to be an author who evidently has no personal knowledge of
the life of the apostle.73

The second comparison is the timing of Paul's first visit to Jerusalem.


Since the detail is crucial, let us quote Paul statement in full about this
visit:
But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me from my
mothers womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in
me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I didnt immediately
72
73

Ldemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: pp.5-6


Ldemann, The Acts of the Apostles: p.389

23

confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who
were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia. Then I returned to
Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter,
and stayed with him fifteen days. But of the other apostles I saw no one,
except James, the Lords brother. [Galatians 1:15-19]

According to Paul's own words, he immediately went to Arabia after his


conversion and he did not visit the apostles in Jerusalem until three years
later. Acts paints a different picture. Acts chapter 9 narrated Paul's
conversion on the way to Damascus (9:1-10). He was miraculously healed a
Christian in Damascus called Ananias (9:10-19) and "for several days" (9:19)
preached in Damascus. Then "after some time" the Jews plotted to kill him and
Paul had to escape in a basket lowered from the city wall. (9:23-25). Then Paul's
trip to Jerusalem followed in Acts 9:26. Thus there is no mention of a trip to
Arabia and certainly no indication that three years had passed.74
Our third comparison relates to Paul's role in the stoning of Stephen, the first

Christian martyr. In Acts 7:58, the yet to be converted Saul was said to be in

Jerusalem and took part in the murder (or execution-depending on how


you view it) of Stephen. Furthermore, in Acts 8:3, he was said to have
dragged followers of the new movement from their houses in Jerusalem
and sending them to prison. Yet, Paul wrote that when he visited
Jerusalem for the first time three years after his conversion, he was "still
unknown by sight to the Churches of Judea" (Galatians 1:22). If Paul did
take part in Stephen's murder/execution, and dragged some believers from
their houses than at least some of the early Christians would have already
seen Paul in Jerusalem before his conversion. Thus the presence of Paul in
Jerusalem at that time is definitely unhistorical.75
The portrayal of Paul in Acts as a miracle worker, as an orator and as
an apostle is also at odds with what we can discerned from his epistles.
Acts presents Paul as a miracle worker. The performance of miracles
forms a major part of Paul's apostleship. He was supposed to have made a
blind man see again (Acts 13:6-12), to have enabled a cripple to walk (Acts
14:8-10) and to have raised a young man from the dead (Acts 20:7-2). Even
his handkerchief had miraculous powers (Acts 19:12)! His miraculous
powers also enabled him to survive stoning unscathed, although those who
74

75

Ehrman, The New Testament: p.263


Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles: p.89
Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: pp.60-61
Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles: p.297-298
Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.324

24

stoned him thought he was dead (Acts 14:19-20) and to survive what
would have been a lethal snakebite (Acts 28:3-6). Yet we find very little of
such claims of miracles in the authentic epistles. In his own statements
about this Paul used vague terms like "signs of the Apostle" (II
Corinthians 12:12), "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (I
Corinthians 2:4) and "the power of signs and wonders" (Romans 15:18-19).
Paul's tone in these remarks were generally defensive, showing us that
these were made in defense against some accusations of his opponents. In
II Corinthians (chapters 10-12) for instance, he was defending against the
critiques of his presence and public speaking skills (10:7-11), of his status
as an apostle (11:7-15) and that he was granted no vision (12:1-10). Within
this context then, the criticism which forced Paul into verse 12:12 must be
that he had performed few and unimpressive miracles. 76
Paul is everywhere presented in Acts as an outstanding orator. He
defended himself with eloquence in front of Tertullus (Acts 24:1-21).
Through his mastery of public speaking, Paul was able to keep a
tumultuous Jewish crowd silent for some time (Acts 21:40-22:21). As
Haenchen remarked:
Whether he speaks before Jews or Gentiles, governors or philosophers
(Acts 17:22-31), he is never at a loss for the right word. He is a born
orator, imposing himself with the eloquence of Demosthenes.77

Yet the picture we get from Paul's own letters is the exact opposite! Paul
himself recounted his opponents' critique of him "For, 'His letters,' they
say, 'are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his
speech is despised.'" (II Corinthians 10:10) That Paul did not provide a
direct counterargument against this means that the criticism must have
been right on target. Thus, by the time Luke was written, Christian
tradition (or Luke himself) had morphed Paul the great missionary to the
Gentiles into Paul the great orator!78
The historical Paul considered himself an apostle equal to the
apostles in Jerusalem. In I Corinthians 9:1, Paul wrote "Am I not free? Am
I not an apostle? Havent I seen Jesus Christ, our Lord? Arent you my
work in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you;
for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." That he considered
76

77
78

Goulder, Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth: p.105


Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles: p.113
ibid: p.114
ibid: p.114

25

himself equal to Peter can be seen from Galatians 2:8, where he


mentioned that he and Peter has been given separate spheres of
evangelization - him to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Yet, with two
exceptions79, Acts did not confer this title on Paul. Acts quoted Peter as
saying that an apostle can only be someone who has accompanied the
historical Jesus from his baptism by John until his ascension (Acts 1:2122) Further on, Luke had Peter add another criterion for apostleship, that
of having eaten and drank with the risen Jesus! (Acts 10:41) Even Paul is
made to accept this criterion as being confined only to those who came
with the earthly Jesus from Galilee and experienced his resurrection.
(Acts 13:30-31)
Finally, there are also serious discrepancies between the theology of
Paul that can be extracted from his epistles and as presented by Acts.
Philipp Vielhauer, in his influential paper, On The Paulinism of Acts,
shows that there are discrepancies in natural theology, the law, christology
and eschatology.
Natural theology is the idea that knowledge about God can be
obtained by human reason, independent of any revelation. The Paul of
Acts seems positively disposed towards natural theology. Paul's only
sermon to the Gentiles in Acts is the one at the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31).
He first praised the Athenians for their piety (17:22). He told the
Athenians that mankind was created such that they all seek God (17:27).
Indeed all humanity "live and move" and have their being in the divine.
Everyone has a natural kinship with God and is "God's offspring" (17:28).
In his epistles, Paul also acknowledged that mankind has a natural
knowledge of God (Romans 1:19) But rather than claiming that this makes
them pious as in Acts 17:22, this knowledge led to neither honoring or
thanking God (Romans 1:21) but to ungodliness and wickedness (Romans
1:18) which brings forth God's anger (Romans 1:18). All this natural
knowledge of God, instead of leading to piety and a natural kinship, simply
means mankind is "without excuse" (Romans 1:20). Thus we have Paul in
Acts saying that mankind can reach some kinship and knowledge of God
79

There are only two places where Luke did use the term "apostles" to refer to Paul
and Barnabas. (Acts 14:4, 14:14) The origin of the term here is 14:14 which comes from
the story of the healing at Lystra (14:8-20) The fact that there is no trace of the standard
Lukan schema, i.e. no preaching in the synagogues first (see Acts 13:14, 14:1, 17:1, 17:10,
17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8), shows that the whole story is an isolated tradition which Luke
incorporated into his work. Thus the word "apostles" came from his source. The presence
of that word in 14:4 is probably a reading back by Luke. [Conzelmann, Acts of the
Apostles: p108-109]

26

by independent, natural means. The historical Paul would have no such


thing. Man is estranged from God and only through "Christ" could he be
reconciled back to the divine.80
Acts portrayed Paul as a loyal and practicing Jew. (e.g. Acts 16:1-3;
16:4; 18:18;18:21, 20:16) Yet in his epistles Pauls position on the law is
more complicated (I Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 2:1-6, 11-14; 2:21, 5:4
Philippians 3:5-9).81
There is one occasion where Acts seems to be letting the apostle to
the Gentiles speak in his own:
Be it known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man is
proclaimed to you remission of sins, and by him everyone who believes is
justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law
of Moses. [Acts 13:38-39]

However this seemingly Pauline passage shows some major contradictions


with the real thing upon close comparison. First we note that "forgiveness
of sins", is a phrase not to be found in the genuine Pauline letters. Indeed
this phrase is found only in the deutero-Pauline epistles (e.g. Colossians
1:14, Ephesians 1:7). The historical Paul normally talks about sin, in the
singular, which he looks upon as a kind of power. Some examples include
Romans 3:9 ("both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin..."),
Romans 6:12 ("do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies"),
Romans 6:23 ("for the wages of sin is death") and I Corinthians 15:56
("The sting of death is sin").
Second we see that the forgiveness was tied to the messiahship of
Jesus, which in turn was based on the resurrection. There is no mention
that Jesus' death itself had any redemptive significance.82
Finally, it is here a question of only a partial justification, one which is
not by faith alone, but also by faith. Harnack was right in saying:
"According to Paul the law has absolutely no saving significance, and
thus also none for the one who was born a Jew; according to
Luke...justification by faith is so to speak only complementary for Jewish
Christians. It is necessary for them because and to the extent that they

80
81
82

Vielhauer, On the Paulinism of Acts: pp.34-37


We will be discussing Paul's view of the law in more detail later in this book.
Mason, Josephus and the New Testament: pp.195-196
Vielhauer, On the Paulinism of Acts:: pp.41-42

27

fall short of the fulfillment of the law or because the law provides no
complete justification."83

Christology is the study of Jesus' significance for the Christian faith, the
significance of his death, his messiahship and his nature. In Acts Paul
made only one significant statement on Christology (Acts 13:13-43).
According to this Paul, Jesus' crucifixion was a result of an error
committed by the people of Jerusalem (13:28) and a consequence of
fulfillment of the scriptures (13:28-29). There is no mention anywhere of
the saving significance of the cross of Christ. However in Paul's own
writings we are told that the cross "is a judgement on all mankind and at
the same time a reconciliation." (Romans 5:6-11; II Corinthians 5:14-21) 84
Eschatology is the branch of theology that discusses the issues
relating to the end of the world. Early Christian theology believed that
Jesus will return (the parousia) during that time to end the current world
order and initiate his rule on earth. The historical Paul certainly believed
that Jesus was returning very soon. This is what he wrote to the
Thessalonians:
For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who
are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have
fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with Gods trumpet. The dead
in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be
caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.
So we will be with the Lord forever. [I Thessalonians 4:15-17]

The above passage clearly shows that Paul expected the return of
Jesus within his lifetime. He reiterated this in I Corinthians 7:29-31
when he mentioned that "the time is short" and that "the form of this
world is passing away."
To Luke the parousia was no longer imminent and had been
postponed to sometime in the future. For he had Jesus tell the apostles it
was not for them to speculate about this event. (Acts 1:6-8) Thus we are
given the following rather vague statement by the Lukan Paul about the
coming day of judgement:

83
84

ibid: p.42
ibid: p.43-45

28

The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. But now he commands


that all people everywhere should repent, because he has appointed a
day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom
he has ordained; of which he has given assurance to all men, in that he
has raised him from the dead. [Acts 17:30-31]

As Vielhaeur noted, in the Paul of Acts:


The eschatology disappears. It leads a modest existence on the periphery
of his speeches as a hope in the resurrection and as faith in the return of
Christ as the judge of the world (17:30f), and in his aspect as a
motivation of the exhortation to repentance. Eschatology has become
remoived from the center of the Pauline faith to the end and has become
a "section on last things".85

Let us recap all the discrepancies in the presentation of Paul in Acts with
the real Paul from the epistles:
1.
2.

3.

4.
5.
6.

7.

85

Acts claimed Paul made five trips to Jerusalem in his post conversion
period. The real Paul made only three such trips.
Acts mentioned that Paul visited the apostles in Jerusalem shortly
after his conversion. The real Paul visited the apostles only three
years after his conversion.
According to Acts, the pre-conversion Paul was present at the stoning
of Stephen in Jerusalem and was also an active persecutor of
Christians there, dragging them from their house and incarcerating
them. The real Paul was "unknown by sight to the Churches of
Judea" even three years after his conversion.
The Paul of Acts was an outstanding orator. The real Paul admitted
criticisms that his speech was of no accord.
Paul did not meet the criteria for apostleship set by Acts. The real
Paul considers himself an apostle equal to the apostles in Jerusalem.
Acts portrays Paul as telling the Athenians that man could reach
knowledge of God through reason. The real Paul thinks that all such
attempts are futile.
Acts portrays Paul as being a loyal and faithful Jew. The real Paul's
position towards Judaism was more complicated and certainly not
that of loyalty and fidelity.

Vielhauer, On the Paulinism of Acts:: pp.45

29

8.

Acts' understanding of the Pauline theology of sin and redemption is


closer to the deutero-Pauline epistles than the genuine Pauline
epistles.
9. The Paul of Acts did not attach any saving significance to Jesus'
death on the cross. The real Paul considered the cross an instrument
of reconciliation of man with God.
10. Paul in Acts treated eschatology as a footnote. The real Paul
expected the world to end pretty soon, probably within his own
lifetime.

These discrepancies simply rule out the author of Acts as anyone who
could have been Paul's travelling companion.86
We noted above that Irenaeus cited the "we-passages" in Acts
(16:10-17; 20:5-15, 21:1-8 and 27:1-28:16) as evidence that the author was
an eyewitness to many of the events mentioned in Acts. Since we have
ruled this out above, it is time to take a closer look at these passages. One
example of such a passage is given below:
They all wept a lot, and fell on Pauls neck and kissed him, sorrowing
most of all because of the word which he had spoken, that they should
see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship. When it
happened that we had parted from them and had set sail, we came with a
straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to
Patara. [Acts 20:37-21:1]

Probably desensitized by biblical narratives, we no longer notice how odd


the above passage actually is. The third person singular (Paul, he)
shifts suddenly and without warning into a first person plural (we), the
moment the sea voyage starts. One would expect, perhaps something more
natural like, Paul came to the ship and I, with the other brothers, were
waiting for him and we set sail. Instead the change happens in
midstream, as it were. 87
As Stanley E. Porter, Professor of New Testament at McMaster
Divinity College, admits:

86

87

Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity: p.313


Kmmel, Introduction to the New Testament: p.181
Ldemann, The Acts of the Apostles: p.389
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: pp.242
Ehrmann, The New Testament: p138-139

30

An admitted difficulty for any analysis of the book of Acts, it must be


conceded, is that there is apparently no significant parallel yet found in
any major Greek historian, including earlier classical authors and the
later Oxyrhynchus historian, that evidences a similar use of anonymous
first person plural embedded within a third person narrative. 88
[Emphasis added]

This means that far from proving that the author of Luke-Acts was a
companion of Paul, the way in which the we-passages are embedded
within Acts is actually quite puzzling. There is something artificial
about the whole construct.
One attempt at an explanation was that the "we" came from a
source the author of Acts was copying from. In other words, the author
may have inadvertently left the "we" when he was copying passages
verbatim from his source. However analysis of the literary and
grammatical structure of the "we-passages" shows that they were
written by the same author of the rest of Acts. If he had used any
sources, he had completely revised it to his own writing style. This
does not explain why the "we" was in the passages. 89
A more fruitful approach has been to suggest a literary function of
"we". Note that the we-passages in Acts are limited only to stories which
involve travel by sea. It would indeed be strange if the author was only
present during sea voyages and nowhere else in Pauls ministry.
In an important paper, Vernon Robbins90 showed that there was a
literary convention at the time Acts was written. Although, in general,
historiographical writing was done in an informal third person (i.e. he,
they, Paul etc), this changed when scenes relating to sea voyages were
involved. With examples from Mediterranean literature (Roman and
Greek) around the time of the writing of Luke-Acts, Robbins showed that
the we-passages is a stylistic device designed to add vividness and
excitement to the account of sea voyages.
One of the examples Robbins amassed is the tale of The Voyage of
Hanno the Carthaginian (c third or second cent BCE). Note how the
narration starts in the third person and then shifts abruptly to the first
person plural when the sea voyage starts:
The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should go past the Pillars and
found Carthaginian cities. He set sail with sixty pentekontas (fifty-oared
88
89
90

Porter, Paul in Acts: p23-24


Campbell, The "We" Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: pp.4-5
Robbins, By Land and By Sea: pp.215-242

31

ships) carrying thirty thousand men and women with provisions and
other necessities. After passing the Pillars of Hercules and sailing for
two days beyond them we founded the first city, which was named
Thymiaterion.91

Thus the use of the first person plural may mean the author of the
narrative was present during the events described but it could also equally
mean that he was not.92 For our purposes here, we can say that the we in
the we-passages can no longer be straightforwardly used as evidence
that the author was a travel companion of Paul.93
Of course if the author was merely attempting to follow a literary
convention, it remains to be explained why not all the accounts of sea
voyages in Luke-Acts are in the first person plural (e.g. Acts 13:13).
Marrianne Bonz, managing editor of Harvard Theological Review, has
argued in her book The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and the Ancient Epic
that the we-passages serves an important rhetorical function. They begin
only after the Jerusalem council (15:22-29) where, significantly, full
equality was given to Gentiles. The whole of Acts now move away from a
focus on Jerusalem and the Jewish Christian church towards the Gentile
mission. As Bonz continues:
Once introduced the we group serves as a peripheral or vicarious
participant in all of the elements of Pauls active ministry: proclamation
[e.g. Acts 16:13], the breaking of bread [Acts 20:7] and its salvific results
- even acceptance by James and the body of Jerusalem elders [Acts
21:17-18]. Most importantly the group accompanies Paul to Rome [Acts
28:16], the dramatic climax of the narrative journey and the
geographical and theological symbol of the fulfillment of the missionary
prophecy.
91

Text from Wilfred Schoffs The Periplus of Hanno 1912


(www.barca.fsnet.co.uk/hanno-voyage.htm accessed on May 5, 2003)

92

93

Predictably, Vernon Robbins paper has been criticized quite extensively by


conservative theologians. Their criticisms have normally centered on the claim that the
parallels presented by Robbins are somewhat inexact (Joseph Fitzmeyer) or not similar
enough (Stanley E. Porter). Yet as we see in Porters admission above, there exist no
parallel at all with any historiographical work of an anonymous eyewitness who shifts
from third person to first person singular without explanation. It is important to note
that Fitzmeyer, despite his criticism, did not dismiss the existence of such a literary
convention altogether. [Ref: Porter, Paul in Acts: p23-24, Powell, What are they saying
about Acts?: p34]
Barr, New Testament Story: p324
Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament: p230-231
Schenelle, The New Testament Writings: p267-268
Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus: p146-149

32

The we passages do not represent historical, eyewitness accounts...the


we references serve as a rhetorical shorthand for the Pauline
Christians - those who are vicariously privy to Pauls example and who,
as heirs to his legacy, have been called by him to continue his unfinished
mission. They are Lukes intended audience, whose participation of the
ongoing drama of Gods salvation plan is signaled by the words of the
Lukan prologue: concerning the events that have been fulfilled among
us. [Luke 1:1]94
[Verses from Luke and Acts added - PT]

Vernon Robbins reached more or less the same conclusion in his paper.
Thus we can discern the reasons why we was used in those passages in
Acts. Firstly, by using a literary convention it adds vividness to the
picture and secondly, since the we meant, like us in Luke 1:1, the
Gentile Christians, the we function as a metaphor representing Gentile
Christians in their spiritual journey. Therefore, the presence of the wepassages in Acts cannot be used against the evidence we have seen earlier
that the author of Acts could not have been a companion of Paul.95
We have seen in our investigation on the issue of authorship that the
author of Acts makes some mistakes about Paul. How about his general
reliability? Does he make mistake elsewhere? Yes. Critical scholars have
pointed out that Luke, in his attempt to anchor his story in the real world,
made quite a few mistakes.
According to Luke 1:5, Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the
Great. Yet the reason given for Joseph and Mary's presence in Bethlehem
was the "worldwide census" ordered by Quirinius (Luke 2:1). The problem
is well known to historians. Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, while the
census order by Quirinius has been accurately dated to 6 CE, a full ten
years after the death of Herod! Attempts by evangelicals to harmonize
these account have met with failure.96
According to Luke 3:2 and Acts 4:6, Annas was the high priest during
the ministry of Jesus. Yet we know from Josephus' Antiquities 18:2:1-2
that Annas (or Ananus) was appointed high priest after the census (6 CE)
and was deposed soon after Tiberius became Caesar (c 15 CE). After
94
95

96

Bonz, The Past as Legacy: p173


Having said all that, many scholars have pointed out that it is still possible that
some of the "we-passages" could point to the use of sources - such as a travel itinerary - by
the author of Acts.[Ldemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts:
p.22;
Pervo, Acts: p.396; Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p267-268]
Refer to Appendix C for a more fuller treatment of this subject.

33

describing the appointment of three successive high priests in slightly


more than two years, Josephus mentioned that Joseph Caiaphas was made
high priest (c 18 CE). Caiphas was finally deposed by the proconsul
Vitellius (Antiquities 18:4:3) around CE 36. Thus during the entire
ministry of Jesus, it was Caiaphas not Annas who was the high priest.
This is further corroborated by John 18:13 which states that Caiphas, who
was the son-in-law of Annas, was the high priest. 97
In Acts 5:36-37, Luke put into the mouth of Gamaliel a gross
anachronism. He had the revolt of Judas the Galilean (datable to 6
CE) after, the revolt by Theudas (which happened around 44-46 CE).
Furthermore the speech by Gamaliel is set in the early thirties (between
30-33 CE, since Paul has not yet converted-Acts 8:1). This means that
Luke had Gamaliel making a remark about a revolt (by Theudas) that, at
that time had yet to occur!98
In the episode on the conversion of the first Gentile, Cornelius, Acts
described him as "At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a
centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort" (Acts 10:1). This
incident took place before the death of Herod Agrippa in 44 CE which is
recounted in Acts 12:22. Luke has committed another a couple of gross
historical error here. Firstly, in the years before Herod Agrippa's death,
there would have been no Roman troop in Caesarea since Judea was
technically an independent province. Secondly, historical records show that
the Italian Cohort, a volunteer army made up of Roman citizens, only
existed from around 69 CE until the second century CE. As Haenchen
noted, "Luke has transferred the situation of his own time to the earlier
period."99
Acts 11:28 mentioned a severe "worldwide famine" during the reign of
Claudius. While there was a famine in Judea around 46-48 CE during the
reign of Claudius, there was no worldwide famine as such. Furthermore,
Acts 11:29-30 mentioned that the congregation in Antioch was able to send
aid to help. This would be impossible, for if the famine was "worldwide",
97

98

99

Ldemann, Paul-The Founder of Christianity: p24


Williams, The Acts of the Apostles: p82-83
Mason, Josephus and the New Testament: p208-211
Pervo, Dating Acts: pp.153-156
Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: p.81
Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles: p346n.2
Ldemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: p125-126
Ldemann, The Acts of the Apostles: p.146
Pervo, Dating Acts: p.311
Schrer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus: p.184

34

the congregation in Antioch would have been affected as well! Thus in


generalising a local phenomena, Luke had contradicted historical facts. 100
In Acts 21:38, Luke had the Roman tribune make the remark
connecting Paul with an Egyptian who led 4,000 men of the sicarii into the
desert. These three elements are historically unrelated as the accounts in
Josephus (Antiquities 20:8:5-6,10) and Jewish War 2:13:3-5) make clear. In
Antiquities 20:8:5, Josephus describes the men of the sicarii (whom he
named as such in Antiquities 2:8:10) as being men who carry very short,
easily concealable, daggers who mingled with the crowds during festivals
and stabbed their opponents in broad daylight. Then following this, as a
separate account, in Antiquities 20:8:6, Josephus mentioned some
impostors and deceivers who persuaded the multitude to follow them into
the desert. Then he described, again as a separate account immediately
following this (Antiquities 20:8:6), the unnamed Egyptian who led the
multitude to the Mount of Olives.101
These errors, in addition to the contradictions in the portrayal of Paul,
does not mean that Acts is totally unreliable. Indeed, many critical
scholars think that there are valuable historical data to be mined from the
book. However it does mean that history facts is not to be obtained by
simply assuming what we are reading in Acts is the "gospel truth". We
will need to be very critical and methodical in extracting date from the
book.
Having determined that Acts was not written by a companion of Paul
and that care must be taken in getting historical facts from it, it is now
time to look at when the book was written.

100

101

Ldemann, Paul-The Founder of Christianity: p24


Ldemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: p135
Mason, Josephus and the New Testament: pp.211-212

35