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The Unhistorical Portrayal of Paul in Acts

Just as in the case of the speeches in Acts, modern critical scholarship has moved away from an uncritical acceptance of the book's portrayal of Paul to one of skepticism. The German scholar Bornkamm noted in his book on Paul:

It is little wonder that Acts has come to be regarded in all essentials as the source for Paul's life, the letters being utilized only for this teaching. The result is that the usual picture of Paul in the church's tradition has derived the vast majority of its features from Acts.
Present day research rules out this traditional way of treatment. Its foundations have been shaken by the clear evidence that Luke's own history is to be understood primarily as a document of his own time, the post-apostolic age...By the time Acts was written, all these matters were largely things of the past, settled and forgotten, accurate memory of them had faded, some of the tradition had been suppressed...[1]

Even the Catholic theologian, Jerome Murphy O'Connor, remarked in his own recent book of Paul, where he relied (correctly) mainly on the authentic Pauline epistles, that he had in the past read and used Acts in his early works with "naivety". [2]

We will now look at the evidence that has caused scholars to reject the portrayal of Paul in Acts as historical. We do this by comparing the evidence from Paul's authentic epistles to comparable accounts in Acts. We have to remember that Paul's authentic epistles are, after all, actual first-hand eyewitness accounts to his own life and views. Acts, on the other hand, is at best a third or fourth hand account by an author writing, almost half a century after the events, with agenda of his own.

We find discrepancies and contradictions between Acts and the authentic Pauline epistles in:

Based on the evidence given, we can safely conclude that Act's portrayal of Paul is largely unhistorical.

Paul's Itinerary

In a number of places in Acts, Luke had Paul in places or making trips to places which are simply contradicted by Paul's own witness. We look at three such cases.

Number of Trips to Jerusalem
As we have mentioned elsewhere, Acts and the Pauline epistles differ over how many trips Paul, as a Christian, actually made to Jerusalem. Acts mentioned five trips to Jerusalem by Paul while the Pauline epistles only presupposed three such trips. (Acts 9, 11, 15, 18:22, 21 versus Galatians 1:18, 2:1 and the (planned) visit to Jerusalem in Romans: 15:25).

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 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 mentioned that he is 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. [3] These considerations have led Gerd Ludemann, Professor of New Testament at the University of Gottingen to conclude that:

"[I]n Paul's Christian period there is a probability bordering on certainty that Paul went to Jerusalem only three times. [4]

Timing of Paul's First Visit to Jerusalem as a Christian
There is also a discrepancy in the actual timing of Paul's first visit to Jerusalem. In describing the events immediately after his conversion this is what Paul wrote:

Galatians 1:16-19
I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once, and later went straight back to Damascus. Even when after three years I went to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and I stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles, except James, the Lord's brother.

Thus in Paul's own words, he did not go to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion. Paul's itinerary here is Damascus-Arabia-Damascus-Jerusalem. The first Damascus is implied since Paul said he went back there.

The picture painted by Acts is very different. 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. [5]

Paul's Presence In Jerusalem during the Trial of Stephen
There is another problem with Luke's placement of Paul in Jerusalem. In Acts 7:58, 8:3, the yet to be converted Saul was said to be in Jerusalem and took an active part in the murder (or execution-depending on how you view it) of Stephen. Yet Paul in Galatians 1:22 said 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". If Paul did take part in Stephen's murder/execution, 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 . [6]

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The Person of Paul

There are several discrepancies in the presentation of the person of Paul between Acts and the Pauline epistles.

Paul as Miracle-Worker
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 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. [7]

Paul as an Outstanding Orator
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. [8]

Yet the picture we get from Paul's own letters is the exact opposite! Paul himself recounted his opponents' critique of him:

II Corinthians 10:10
For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account."

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! [9]

Paul as an Apostle
In his epistles we know that Paul desperately wants himself to be called an apostle.

I Corinthians 9:1-3
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you!

Indeed he considered his apostleship to be equal to Peter's!

Galatians 2:8
[F]or he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles.

In Acts, however, the apostleship was presented as an office which could only be conferred on someone who had been with Jesus when he was alive and must be one of the twelve. This is made very clear in Peter's speech before they chose a replacement for Judas:

Acts 1:21-25
So one of the men who had accompanied us during all the time that the Lord went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us-one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection...Then they prayed and said, "Lord...Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."

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) Thus Luke is generally consistent in the application of the title which does not include Paul. [10] [a]

Paul as a Loyal and Practicing Jew
In Acts, although Paul is the great missionary to the Gentiles he is also presented as a loyal and practicing Jew. Phillip Vielhauer summarise this portrayal of Paul with eight examples.: [12]

  1. Paul's missionary in a new location often begins with preaching at the synagogues (Acts 13:14, 14:1, 17:1, 17:10, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8)
  2. He submitted to the Jerusalem authorities (Acts 9:26, 15:2)
  3. He had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3)
  4. He preached the apostolic decree (Acts 16:4)
  5. He assumed a vow (Acts 18:18)
  6. He made trips to Jerusalem for Jewish religious festivals (Acts 18:21, 20:16)
  7. He participated, on the advice of James, in a Nazirite vow (Acts 21:18-28)
  8. He stressed his Pharisee credentials during his trial and asserted that he preaches merely the "resurrection"; something the Pharisees already believed (Acts 23:6-8, 26:2-5)
Some of the above could well be historical (1, 7), some (2, 3, 4 and 8) most definitely not. The point is that Luke weaved them together into a coherent picture of Paul's positive attitude towards the law and his continued adherence to it.

Yet the historical Paul, on many occasions, shows his disdain for the law and those who followed it. I quote from Bornkamm:

The real Paul was completely different from this. Philippians in particular shows how he abandoned his former Pharisaic zeal for righteousness based on the Law and counted everything as "loss" and "refuse", finding salvation solely in faith in Christ. [Philippians 3:5-9] [13]

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Paul's Relationship with the Apostles

In Acts we find mentioned in many places that Paul submitted himself willingly to the authority of the apostles in Jerusalem. For instance, we are told that almost immediately after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles:

Acts 9:26-28
And when he came to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them going in and out of Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

Later on Paul was shown preaching this sermon to the people in Pisidian Antioch:

Acts 13:29-32
For the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their rulers, knowing neither him nor the voices of the prophets read out every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found no ground of death, they asked Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead. He appeared during many days to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people. And we bring you good tidings of the promise made to the fathers.

By setting up the "those who came up with [Jesus] from Galilee to Jerusalem" as the primary witnesses, Acts's Paul was implicitly excluding himself from this exalted group.

Furthermore in Acts 15:1-2, the community in Antioch decided to send Paul, Barnabas and some other to resolve the issue regarding circumcision. The episode is presented very clearly as showing the submission of the Antiochene community (including Paul) to the authority of the Jerusalem apostles.

All these stand in contradiction to the historical Paul's own statements in his letters. In Galatians 1:16-19 (see above), Paul did not go to Jerusalem immediately after his conversion but went to Arabia and only after three years did he first set foot in Jerusalem as a Christian. When he was there he met only Peter and James. This cannot be reconciled with the picture given in Acts 9:26-28 which shows Paul eagerly going to Jerusalem to meet the apostles and actually starting to preach with them.

Furthermore I Corinthians 9:3 and Galatians 2:8 (see the text of these two passages above) shows that Paul considered himself equal to the apostles in Jerusalem and that his witness to the resurrection was equal to theirs. (Compare Acts 13:29-32!) Indeed he made this remark about the leaders in Jerusalem in his letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 2:6
And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)-those leaders contributed nothing to me.

The sarcastic tone above hints at a certain disdain at the Apostles! The mention at the end about them not adding anything to his message shows the independence of Paul's gospel from the Jerusalem leaders.[14]

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On Circumcision

Another area where the account in Acts contradict Paul's direct testimony is in the area of circumcision. In Acts we are told that Paul had one of his disciples circumcised because of expediency; to avoid problems for his mission with the Jews in the region:

Acts 16:1-3
He reached Derbe and Lystra. And behold, there was a disciple there by the name of Timothy, the son of a Jewish-Christian woman and a heathen father, who was held in good repute by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium. This man Paul wanted to go with him, and he took and circumcised him, because of the Jews who were in the region; for they all knew his father was a heathen.

This action is at odds with the statements of Paul on circumcision in Galatians. First Paul tells us that he took Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, to Jerusalem during the meeting on the very issue of circumcision for non-Jewish Christian. He stood his ground before the apostles and Titus was not circumcised.

Galatians 2:1-6
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us-we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.

Later on, in the same letter, Paul explicitly repudiated a rumor circulated by his opponents that he practiced circumcision for expediency!

Galatians 5:10b-11
But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision?

This, of course, is a blatant contradiction to Acts 16:1-3!

A commonly attempted defense to get around this problem is to cite Paul's saying about him being "all things to all people":

I Corinthians 9:19-23
For though I am free to respect all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I become as a Jew. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have to be all things to all people, so that I might by all means save some people. I do it for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Thus, according to this explanation, Paul was merely circumcising Timothy in order "to win those under the law" and to be "all things to all people".

However this defense is seriously flawed. As the German scholar Gunther Bornkamm asserted, the passage above fits within the context of I Corinthians chapters 8 to 11 which gives a proper understanding of the freedom Paul was talking about. It is not a carte blanche to do anything in order to win people over to the gospel. [15]

Both the context of I Corinthians 9:19-23 and the content of these verses themselves show that Paul could not modify the gospel itself according to the particular characteristics of his hearers. The whole of his concern is to make clear that the changeless gospels, which lies upon him as his [obligation] (9:16), empowers him to be free to change his stance. This means, however, that in the light of the gospel Paul no longer recognizes as such the religious position of the various groups described. [16]

In other words, Paul treats the potential converts situation as a "given". Thus he does not expect a Jew or a Gentile to abandon their way of life or change in order to live as a Christian.

I Corinthians 7:17-20
However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule to all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone as the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

This is analogous to, say, a person's gender. It made no difference whether the person is a man or woman before he or she becomes a Christian. Indeed we find in many cases Paul lumping a person's previous religious affiliations with gender, nationality, education and social status. (See Galatians 3:28, I Corinthians 7:18, 12:13; Colossians 3:11) [17]

Thus, as Haenchen reminds us, the freedom Paul preaches is the freedom not to follow the Mosaic law, not the idea of freedom to follow it! [18]

Furthermore within the context of Acts, the incident was suppose to take place just after the Jerusalem council where Paul had been guaranteed a Gentile mission free of circumcision. Remember that Timothy was already a Christian; in view of what Paul himself wrote I Corinthians 7:17-20 above, it is impossible that Paul would have had him circumcised. [19]

Thus Acts 16:1-3 is another unhistorical portrayal of Paul by Luke. [b]

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Reason for Jewish Antagonism Towards Paul

Another blatant contradiction between Acts and the direct accounts of Paul is the reason given for the antagonistic relationship between Paul and the Jews. According to Acts Paul and the Apostles were persecuted for merely preaching the resurrection. In his defense speech before the Sanhedrin, Paul was supposed to have said:

Acts 23:6
When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, "Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead..."

Similarly we find that Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish priests because they preached the resurrection of the dead. (Acts 4:1-3) Luke goes on, inexplicably, to assert that such a belief was already present in the Jewish religion (especially among the Pharisees). Indeed if we follow the scene of Paul before the Sanhedrin we find this:

Acts 23:7-9
When he had said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees stood up and contended, "We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?"

Thus Paul and the apostles were supposedly persecuted for something which a large portion of the Jews already believe in. Even without considering the letters of Paul, we can see that Luke's picture is not free from internal tensions.

Let us look at the second part of Luke's fictional edifice first. It is quite obvious even at first glance that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection was not identical to the Pharisiac one. The resurrection the Pharisees were talking about was a general resurrection at the end of time and certainly does not include the recent death and resurrection of the messiah. [21]

Secondly we know from Paul's epistles that the problems Paul had with the Jews were related to his preaching of a law-free theology to the Gentiles.

I Thessalonians 2:14-15
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and opposed everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.

Thus the problem Paul had with the Jews was in his preaching to the Gentiles. And it was not teaching mainstream Judaic ideas, such as the "resurrection" that got him in trouble. Luke, inadvertently, included some traditional material of the Jewish accusations against Paul in Acts. [21] In Acts 21:21 James and the elders had this to say to Paul:

Acts 21:21
They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among Gentiles to forsake Moses and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.

In Acts 21:27-28, we see this account:

Acts 21:27-28
When the seven days was almost completed, the Jews from Asia who had seen him in the Temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, "Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law and this place."

Now if we are to rely only on the accounts of Paul given in Acts, the accusations seen in both accounts seem to have been plucked from thin air. For Paul, as we have seen above, was presented in Luke's work as a law abiding Jew. Indeed he even had Timothy circumcised!

Yet if we read the Pauline epistles we can began to understand the Jewish accusations. As Philipp Vielhauer explains:

For Paul Moses was not a prototype but an antitype of the Messiah and a personification of the "dispensation of death" and "of condemnation." (II Corinthians 3:4-18) For him the acknowledgement of circumcision meant a nullification of the redemptive act of Christ on the cross (Galatians 5:1-12) [22]

Of course, the accusations of Acts were distortions of Paul's actual teaching. However in view of his pronouncements on Moses and circumcision adumbrated above, it is understandable that the Jews would react to him with hostility.

Thus Acts had falsified the reason for the Jewish antagonism towards Paul and his message. It was not "the resurrection" but his pronouncements on the law and on Moses that got him in trouble.

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Paul's Theology

Philipp Vielhauer's seminal paper "On the Paulinism of Acts", exposed the serious discrepancies between the theology of Paul as it is presented in Acts and in the authentic epistles of the self-styled apostle. We will look at the four main discrepancies pointed out by Vielhauer.

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 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. [23]

We have seen above that Acts presented Paul as a Jewish Christian who was utterly loyal to the law of Moses. And that this was contradicted by his epistles.

Here we will look at the one place where Luke seems to be letting the apostle to the Gentiles speak in his own language:

Acts 13:38-39
Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

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 Pauline epistles considered to be inauthentic (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. [24]

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 fall short of the fulfillment of the law or because the law provides no complete justification." [25]

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) [26]

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:

Acts 17:30-31
While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

In the genuine Pauline epistles we get a very acute sense of the nearness of parousia: [27]

I Thessalonians 4:15
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. Paul believed that the time of the parousia was so near that he advised his followers to eschew worldly things:

I Corinthians 7:29
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as though they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as though they are not; those who buy something, as if it is not theirs to keep; those who used the things of the world, as if not engrossed in time. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Thus the theology of the Paul in Acts contradicts the one preached by the historical apostle in this four main points. Luke's understanding of Jesus' messiahship, the significance of his death and resurrection seems to be of a more primitive form than Paul; while his ideas with respect to natural theology, the Mosaic law and eschatology are all post-Pauline. [28]

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a.There are only two places where Luke did use the term 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. [11]

b.Saying it is not historical does not necessarily mean, of course, that Luke invented it from whole cloth. Indeed it is quite likely that elements of the story came from tradition. Haenchen had suggested how the tradition came to be. We have seen above that Paul's Jewish Christian opponents spread a rumor about him preaching circumcision (Galatians 5:11). This rumor must have been quite persistent for Paul to have to answer it in his epistle. It probably survived within the tradition as something Paul did. By the time it reached Luke, circa 100 CE, the polemical origin of that story was no longer understood by him and he gladly used it in his presentation of Paul as a faithful Jew. [20]


1.Bornkamm, Paul: p.xv
2.Murphy-O'Connor, Paul A Critical Life:
3.Ludemann, Early Christianity according to the Tradition in Acts: p5-6
4.ibid.: p6
5.Ehrman, The New Testament: p263
Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles: p89
6.ibid.: p297
7.Goulder, Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth: p105
Haenchen op. cit.:p113
11.Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: p108-109
12.Vilhauer, Philipp, On the Paulinism of Acts, Martyn & Keck, Studies in Luke-Acts:p40
13.Bornkamm, op. cit.: pxviii
14.ibid.: pxix
Ehrman, op. cit.: p263
Haenchen, op. cit.: p332-336
15.Bornkamm, Gunther, The Missionary Stance of Paul in I Corinthians 9 and in Acts, Keck & Martyn, Studies in Luke Acts: p194
18.Haenchen, op. cit.: p481
19.Bornkamm, Missionary Stance, Studies in Luke-Acts: p203
Haenchen, op. cit.: p481
22.Vilhauer, op. cit.: p40
24.Mason, Josephus and the New Testament: p195-196
Vilhauer, op. cit.: p41-42

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