The MOST Theological Collection: Free From All Error: Authorship, Inerrancy, Historicity of Scripture, Church Teaching, and Modern Scripture Scholars
"Chapter 18: Two Saint Pauls?"
Of major importance are the claims, common today, that there are two conflicting images of St. Paul in Scripture: one in his Epistles, the other in Acts of the Apostles. These claims lead, in turn, to proposing a late date for the Acts of the Apostles, and to saying that Luke, or the author of Acts, could not have been a follower of St. Paul. Hence, the two Pauls claim leads to a devaluation of the reliability of Luke's Gospel.
In chapter 16 we mentioned that scholars who use the historical-critical method are prone to reject external evidence. External evidence is found in such things as testimonies by other ancient writers, who tell us that Luke was a companion of St. Paul and that he wrote Acts. (It is generally agreed, even by radical critics, that the same person wrote both Luke and Acts). For example, the AntiMarcionite Prologues to the Gospels, which date from between 160 and 180 A.D., tell us: "Luke of Antioch in Syria, a physician, having become a disciple of the Apostles, and later followed Paul until his martyrdom ... after the Gospels had been written-by Matthew in Judea, by Mark in Italy-moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Gospel in Achaia ... with great care, for Gentile believers."
St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who died probably as a martyr about 200 A.D. and who had heard St. Polycarp in Smyrna tell what he himself had heard from the Apostle St. John, tells us that "Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him [ Paul]" ( .4 Against Heresies 3. 1. 1).
But the critics brush aside these testimonies, preferring instead to rely exclusively upon evidence found within Scripture itself. Because of the special importance of the claim that there are two Pauls, it is important to consider the question of internal evidence in some detail. A. J. Mattill has provided a convenient summary of the arguments of the critics in his article "The Value of Acts as a Source for the Study of Paul." (In Perspectives on Luke-Acts, Charles H. Talbert. ed., Danville, Va., 1978, pp. 76-98, esp. 87-95.)
"The school of Creative Edification," writes Mattill, "finds anti-Pauline traditions in Acts. For example..., 9:20-22 is directed against Galatians ('straightway' of 9:20 is aimed at Gal. 1:16; 'destroyed' of 9:21 is influenced by Gal. 1:23)."
We read in Acts 9:20-22: "And in the synagogues immediately [or: straightaway-right after his conversion in Damascus] he proclaimed Jesus saying, 'He is the Son of God.' And all who heard him were amazed, and said, 'Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose' to bring them bound before the chief priests.' But Saul increased all the more in strength...." This is supposed to clash with Galatians 1:16, which says (we quote from 15 and 16): "But when he who had set me apart before I was born ... was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood...." In saying he did not "confer with flesh and blood," Paul merely means that he had no need to learn Christ from the Apostles or others. He had learned the truth directly from the vision on the road. So there is no problem.
The second item, "destroyed," in RSV reads "made havoc." It means Paul had greatly persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. That says the same as Galatians I :23: "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." Again, no clash.
Also on page 92 of Perspectives on Luke-Acts, we read that "Luke does not think of Paul as a witness of the resurrection but places in his mouth words which Paul himself would have repudiated (13-31)." Acts 13:31 says that "for many days he [Christ] appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people." But Paul agreed in I Corinthians 15:5-8. Paul enumerated several appearances of the risen Jesus. They were witnesses to the Resurrection, not in seeing the tomb opened, but in seeing Jesus afterwards. Paul, according to Acts, had also seen Jesus afterwards, in the Damascus road vision, of which Paul also speaks in 1 Corinthians 15:8.
Again on page 92, Mattill says that "Acts 15:1-35 represents an understanding of Paul's relationship to the Jerusalem apostolate which Paul himself corrects in Gal. 2:1-10." Acts 15 tells of the Council in Jerusalem, which was called because Paul had made many Gentile converts.
So the question is: Do the Gentiles have to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses? At the Council, Peter, who spoke first, said they need not; he cited his own experience with the Gentile Cornelius, who received the Spirit without keeping the law. Peter said of the Gentiles that God "cleansed their hearts by faith," not by law. (This is precisely St. Paul's own great theme. For example, see Galatians 3:2.)
Then Paul and Barnabas told how they had converted Gentiles, who received the Spirit without keeping the law. (They knew that they had received the Spirit because of the miraculous gifts they were given. Hence Paul's appeal, in Galatians 3:2, to that fact as a proof.) After that James spoke, in agreement with Peter and Paul. Finally, the Council wrote to the churches of Syria and Cilicia-not to the whole world-that they need not keep the law but, as a sop to the feelings of Jews, asked them (Acts 15:29) to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity."
Paul, in Galatians 2:1-10, telling of the same meeting, says that he compared notes with the Apostles and that they "added nothing to me." Paul means that they agreed on basic Christian doctrine. There was no need to mention the four concessions to Jewish feelings (one of which, avoiding unchastity, was merely general moral law) to the Galatians. The letter of the Council was addressed just to Syria and Cilicia, which did not include Galatia. The basic doctrinal principle, no obligation of the law for Gentiles, Paul taught everywhere with much insistence. Paul did mention the four points where they applied (see Acts 16:4). Acts also shows Paul preaching salvation by faith (see 13:39; 16:30; 20-21).
Mattill also reports on page 92 this charge: "In Acts, Paul preaches the childlike milk of a non-sacramental Jewish Christianity calling men to repent, to be baptized, to believe Jesus has risen and to await His return, whereas the genuine Paul put a curse upon anyone who should preach such a Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)."
What Paul curses in Galatians 1:6-9 is the preaching of a Gospel that is different from what they have received. What is the basic teaching of Galatians and of Paul everywhere? Salvation by faith. But in Acts, Paul preaches that too (see 13:39; 16:30; and 20:21)-not to mention Acts 15, in which, as we saw, Paul takes part in the Council of Jerusalem giving such a teaching.
In both Acts and the Epistles, Paul does baptize (see 1 Corinthians 1:14-17). He also makes baptism basic in Romans 6:4, Ephesians 4:5, and Colossians 2:12. And if Paul preaches the Resurrection in Acts, so does he in the Epistles. First Corinthians 15, for example, is almost entirely on that subject. Again Romans 6:3-8 gives the basic principle that we die with Christ, are buried with Him (in baptism), and rise with Him. As to awaiting the return of Jesus, the same objectors like to claim that Paul expected the return of Jesus in his own lifetime. They base their argument chiefly on the words "we who are alive" in Thessalonians 4:15 and 17. Really Paul is speaking there the way teachers often speak when they say "I" or "we" to make a matter more concrete. (On awaiting the return of Jesus, see also 1 Corinthians 15:23 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23.)
The same objection is based on the assumption that it is only in Acts that Paul teaches the need of repentance. The objectors have not noticed passages such as Romans 2:4, "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, in which Paul says he rejoices, "not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.... For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation...." And in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, Paul even hands over a sinner to Satan to bring him to repentance. (Something similar happens in 1 Timothy 1:20.)
On page 94, Mattill gives a long quote from Juelicher, saying that Paul's going through the Nazarite ceremony in Jerusalem at the suggestion of James (Acts 21 :20-26) is incredible, is hypocrisy, and so, "all trust in an intelligent transmission of actual history in the Primitive Church sinks to nothing." But, really, for Paul to do that was not hypocrisy. Paul was following his own principle of I Corinthians 9:20-22, in which Paul gives as his standing policy that he becomes all things to all men. "To the Jews," says Paul, "I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law, I became as one under the law...."
There was nothing wrong with the rite in itself. It would have been wrong if Paul meant to earn salvation in this way. His frequent claims that we are free from the law mean only that we cannot earn salvation, though we can earn punishment (see Romans 6:23). Hence, though we are free from law, yet if we violate it, we are lost and will not "inherit" the kingdom. The word inherit implies that we do not earn salvation: Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5. See also Romans 2:6, 13:25. A student speaking of salvation according to Paul put it aptly, "You can't earn it, but you can blow it." Compare also the fact that Paul carried out a vow at Cenchrae (Acts 18: 18).
Mattill, also on page 94, cites this objection: "Since miracles are impossible and incredible, the accounts in Acts are either legendary or free compositions (inventions ...). The religious dialectician of the Epistles who battles only with words, who accomplishes his work through sufferings and temptations, and who boasts only in his weakness, is supplanted in Acts by the miracle worker and magician who blinds his opponents and heals at a distance through handerchiefs which had been in contact with his body: Paul in Acts no longer lives in the sphere of the cross but of glory."
Note first, the utterly silly prejudice that there are no miracles. Recall, however, the numerous miracles at Lourdes, all checked to the hilt by scientists. Consider the cure of Madam Bire, who had atrophy of the papilla but was made to see while the nerve was still withered. Or take the eighth-century Host of Lanciano, which turned in part to human heart muscle, while the wine turned to clots of blood-all of which were verified by a medical and biological team in 1970.1
Further, Paul in the Epistles does not act like a dialectician skilled with words. In 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, he says, "my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." Paul means charismatic-type miracles, which gifts were routine in his day (compare 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
In Galatians 3:2, as was noted, Paul appeals to these miracles: "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" The way they knew that they had received the Spirit was that they received those miraculous gifts. Paul wants their faith to rest on the showing of the power of God in this way, not on his mere word. Yes, Paul in the Epistles does speak of his sufferings (for example in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). But in Acts he goes through the sufferings mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11-many persecutions from Jews (14:2; 17 1-10), stoning at Lystra (14:19), scourging at Philippi (16:22-23), and other trials.
A further objection (Mattill, page 94): "In Acts, where Paul preaches first to the Jews, he is primarily Apostle of the Jews, only secondarily Apostle of the Gentiles.... According to Paul, his commission from his conversion on was only to Gentiles." We reply that his mission was to cultivate primarily the territories of the Gentiles, in contrast to Palestine. In going to such lands, he could not and should not have ignored his brethren there. Similarly Peter, who had a mission to the Jews in Galatians 2:9, also preached in Antioch and Rome. Really, Peter's commission in Matthew 28:19 was to "all nations," an assignment given him by Christ. This did not conflict with the commission spoken of in Galatians 2:9.
Still another objection (page 94) says that "without violating his principles, Paul could not have approved nor executed the Decree nor remained silent about it if it had ever existed." The Decree is, of course, that of the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 15. But that Decree agreed with Paul's great emphasis that Gentiles did not have to observe the law. Paul preached this central doctrinal point everywhere.
As to the four special points of avoiding food sacrificed to idols, blood, strangled animals, and unchastity (Acts 15:29), as we said above, the last one, avoiding unchastity, was basic moral law preached by Paul everywhere. The others were disciplinary, not doctrinal. They were sops to the Jews in Cilicia and Syria. If the Vatican sends a decision to some national episcopal conference, it applies only in that territory, not everywhere. So, too, this Decree did not bind in regard to the three points outside Syria and Cilicia- though of course the doctrinal decision that the law was not necessary would, by its nature, bind everywhere. Paul did preach the three points in those regions as we see in Acts 16:4.
A major objection on page 95 asserts that "the Paul of Acts is pre-Pauline in his Christology and post-Pauline in his natural theology, concept of the Law, and eschatology. From Acts, specifically Pauline ideas are missing, as justification and the atoning power of Jesus' death. Hence, we cannot cite any of Paul's words in Acts as if they were Paul's own."
About Christology, Paul, at Damascus right after his conversion, taught about Jesus: "He is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). A concordance (under the word Lord) reveals numerous cases where Paul speaks of Jesus as "Lord," which would mean divinity to his Gentile hearers as well as to Jews (for whom the Greek kyrios, "Lord," was the normal Septuagint translation for the Hebrew Yahweh). Further, we must distinguish between what Paul would say on first contact with people from what he would add later. At first, Paul would gradually build up faith. Thus to Gentiles he was apt to speak of Jesus as "a man whom He [God] has appointed" to judge the world (Acts 17 31). This is similar to what we do in apologetics, first showing that Jesus was a messenger sent from God (see chapter 2 above). To the Jews, he tried to show Jesus was the one long promised to Israel (compare Acts 13 16-41).
On justification, Paul teaches that it is given by faith. Acts 15 teaches that, even on the lips of Peter, who says in verse 9 that God "cleansed their hearts by faith." In 16 30, the jailer at Philippi asks Paul what to do. Paul replies, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved." In this instance, Paul could speak at once of Jesus as Lord. The jailer was quite convinced by the miracle that freed Paul. Similarly at Miletus (Acts 20:21), Paul says he had been "testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Now if one is saved by belief in Jesus, it is implied that Jesus does save. In Acts 17:3, Paul explains and proves "that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead." Thus did Jesus atone.
As to the law, we have already shown above that Paul taught that keeping it neither merited nor earned salvation, yet violating it could earn punishment.
Finally, in regard to eschatology, it cannot be proved that Paul ever held or taught that the end was near. As we said above, his words about "we who are alive," in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 and 17, need not at all imply that he expected to see the end himself.
One final objection (Mattill, page 95): "The Paul whose speech was 'contemptible' (2 Cor. 10:10) has been transformed by Luke into an eloquent orator."
It should be noted that the charge of contemptible speech is quoted by Paul from his enemies. We need not believe them. Paul at times could be highly literary, as in the beautiful passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Luke, being an educated Greek, would follow Greek ways in writing history. The classic Greek historians insisted on trying to get at the facts and on adding interpretations.2 In their speeches, pagan Greeks would always try to get the content right, but they would clothe it in their own words. Now Luke, being a companion of Paul, as can be seen from the ancient testimonies cited early in this chapter, would have ample opportunity to get the content right. Further, Paul, like most traveling speakers, would often reuse the same matter in different places. So Luke could quite easily write up speeches fully with Paul's content-adding perhaps a bit of Lukan eloquence, according to normal Greek historiographical patterns.
This long review of objections is worthwhile because it shows us how the historical critics operate, letting us see that the arguments they use are almost always inconclusive and surely not, in this case, such as to overrule the testimony of external evidence that the author of Acts was Luke, a companion of St. Paul. Paul himself, in Philemon 24, adds greetings from "Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers." In Colossians 4:14, one may read, "Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you." And 2 Timothy 4:11 says, "Luke alone is with me." We know that it was common in ancient times to use a famous name as a pen name, but Luke was not a famous name.
All research requires, first, the gathering of all possible relevant data and, second, the use of good judgment in interpreting it. Many do well in gathering data but show poor judgment in interpreting that information. The historical critics, as was said in chapter 16, are specially prone to such bad judgment, thinking inconclusive internal evidence is conclusive. Then they build one inconclusive case on another. Today many of them, finally realizing the nature of their evidence, are showing bad judgment a second time by completely discarding the method, which is quite good if used with awareness of its limitations.
If the critics had learned from Vatican II that Scripture does not contradict Scripture, they could have saved themselves-and us-a lot of work.