Peter’s account of Cornelius and the Spirit in Acts 11

Once again the Sunday lectionary points us towards the reading from Acts as an important point of focus in the post-Easter narrative. The reading ‘which must be used as either the first or the second reading’ is Acts 11.1–18, the final episode in the ‘Petrine narrative’ which began with Peter healing Aeneas and raising Tabitha at the end of chapter 9, which was last week’s reading. After this week’s reading, we see the focus shift from Jerusalem to Antioch, which becomes a major centre of the Christian community, sending Paul and Barnabas out on their ‘missionary journeys’. Peter makes an appearance in chapter 12 when he is miraculously released from prison (as Paul is too in chapter 16), and gets one mention at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.7—and that is his last appearance in Acts. 

The episode with Cornelius is pivotal to Luke’s narrative in Acts, marking the formal admission of Gentiles as Gentiles into what was until now a Jewish renewal movement which hailed Jesus as the (unexpected) Jewish Messiah. This move has been adumbrated first in the response of Samaritans to the good news, brought by Philip in Acts 8.4, and in Philip’s further ministry to the Ethiopian official (‘eunuch’) in Acts 8.26f. This man appears to have been a ‘God fearer’ since, though not Jewish, he has ‘come to Jerusalem to worship’ (Acts 8.27). Here, faith comes to those groups immediately adjacent to the Jewish nation, but the flood of the good news is about to burst even these banks. The importance of the Cornelius incident is shown by Luke’s recounting it, then recounting it again in Peter’s first speech, and again now. Luke appears to communicate the importance of events by including detail and repetition—and so we later hear several accounts of Paul’s ‘conversion’ as well, signalling the importance of that incident in the spreading of the good news about Jesus. 


The comment in Acts 11.1 that the apostles and ‘brothers’ (believers) in Judea had heard about what happened is a classic device of Luke to link the previous episodes with what he now relates. But it also contains some important detail. First, Cornelius has functioned (as have the Samaritans and the Ethiopian official) as a ‘bridge’ character; he is not a pagan, but belongs to a group that Luke has called ‘God fearers’. To adapt Jesus’ words in Mark 12.34, he is not far from the people of God—and yet he is clearly not yet counted a member. However respected he is, as far as the (Jewish) Jesus movement is concerned, he represented ‘Gentiles’ who have received the ‘word of God’—a phrase sometimes denoting Jesus, sometimes the Scriptures, but here, the message of the good news as it has been proclaimed.

The same phrase has already been used by Luke in Acts 8.14 of the Samaritans, inviting us to see the link and the parallel. For Luke’s first readers, they will recognise that Luke is describing the spread of the gospel in a way familiar to ancient historians, describing events kata genos, by ‘kind’ meaning race or region. It is no accident that Luke is careful to specify locations, ethnic groups and issues of social status.

So when Peter goes to Jerusalem, the news has preceded him. He is not, it appears, criticised by the apostles, but ‘those of the circumcision’, οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς. The NIV is wrong to translate this as ‘circumcised believers’, not least since all the believers in Jerusalem were circumcised! Rather this refers to those who were adamant about careful keeping of the law, so the ESV is probably right to use the phrase ‘those of the circumcision party’, a group which Paul will later loudly clash with in his letter to the Galatians. The criticism is that Peter ‘ate with them’—in social context (as all through the New Testament) sharing food being a sign of partnership and fellowship with them—which is not actually mentioned in the previous accounts, but inferred.


In his defence, Peter offers a forensic speech which dispenses with introductory comments and launches immediately into the narratio, the story of what has happened, told from his own point of view, and so fitting in the meetings with Cornelius’ messengers and household in the order he experienced them—though, surprisingly, not mentioning Cornelius’ name, perhaps because it is his status as a Gentile, rather than his personal identity, which matters.

As a speech in defence of his actions, Peter includes three things which an educated person would expect to see in such a defence. The first is the mention of the threefold vision, and then the Spirit directing Peter (something not made explicit in the previous accounts) to go with Cornelius’ men (Acts 11.12). The second is the corresponding mention of the angelic visitation to Cornelius in Acts 11.13; together with Peter’s experience, this offers a sense of divine approval, and effects a metastasis, a transfer of responsibility for what has happened from Peter to God. The third element is the mention of the six companions Peter has as witnesses (I am not sure whether the total of Peter and his companions being seven is of any significance). A reliable defence should always offer witnesses who can corroborate what has happened.

The instruction of the Spirit to Peter is not quite as the NIV has it in Acts 11.12 ‘to have no hesitation’. The actual phrase is that Peter should go ‘without making any distinction’. This is expressed elsewhere in the NT, including in 1 Peter 1.17, in the idea that God is ‘impartial’ or (in the AV) ‘is no respecter of persons’. The decisive theological move relates to how one becomes a member of the people of God—no longer by ethnicity, or accepting and living by the law, or doing those things as well as recognising Jesus as Messiah and Law, but now by receipt of the Holy Spirit alongside recognising the truth about Jesus. Luke emphasises the role of the Spirit in all parties throughout this account; it should be the normal expectation of any believer that the Spirit will speak, direct, guide and reveal.

The end result of Peter’s defence is not, at least immediately, further division, but unanimous agreement that God is indeed at work. This is the result that Peter is aiming for in his closing rhetorical question ‘Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’ (Acts 11.17). It is worth noting that Luke describes Peter’s opponents as ‘being silent’ (Acts 11.18), using the verb hesuchazo, ἡσυχάζω, a cognate of the term used by Paul in 1 Tim 2.12 for women ‘to be silent’. It clearly cannot mean not saying anything, since those who are ‘silent’ also exclaim in praise to God! The sense is that their quarrelling and arguments are at an end.


There isn’t any real sense in the narrative that Luke is pitching Scripture against experience, as some might infer from the contrast between obedience to the (scriptural) food laws and the direction of the Spirit; Luke in fact shows much less interest in the food laws compared with Matthew and Mark. In any case, the final resolution of the Gentile question is resolved in the Council meeting in Acts 15 precisely by appeal to the Scriptures, which point to the drawing of all peoples to Zion and the presence of God as God’s ultimate goal.

Nor does Luke appear to be offering a paradigm by which specific groups might be gradually included in the people of God in stages. In the first century worldview of the writers of the New Testament, humanity was divided quite clearly into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. The Cornelius episode does not describe a gradual, staged inclusion of the next group of humanity in the offer of the good news, to be repeated at intervals and offered as a model for the inclusion of successive new groups of humanity at different stages of history. No; rather, this was a decisive, not-to-be-repeated step of recognising that the good news was not only for the one half of humanity, the Jews, but for both halves, Jews and Gentiles, together. As such, this is Luke’s narrative exposition of what Paul states in Eph 2 (writing to people in a region that, if Rev 2.9 is anything to go by, saw some tension between Jews and Gentile Christians): 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two [that is, Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away [that is, Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [that is, Jews]. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2.14–18)

Although Luke does have an interest in the poor and the marginal, it is again striking that both the Ethiopian and Cornelius were people of prestige and status. Luke seems to be explaining not only how a Gentile like his patron Theophilus has come to be included in the people of God, but how such respectable and wealthy people in the Roman world have come to be included. The good news about Jesus has spread out, from one people group to another, and one region to another, but it has also spread up the Roman social ladder, touching on every layer of society.


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135 thoughts on “Peter’s account of Cornelius and the Spirit in Acts 11”

  1. Great stuff. Witherup JSNT 1993 addressed the point of why Peter’s and Paul’s testimonies on their conversions/reorientations/enlightenments both get repeated in full though not word for word.

    What they have in common is that they both portend a new attitude to the Gentiles, and maybe that is beyond coincidence, given how odd it is for the same testimony to be repeated, once twice and once three times. It could just be that Luke is that keen to emphasise the Gentile mission and the fact that it is kosher and has divine imprimatur, an enthusiasm in which he would have been joined by both Paul and Peter.

    Reply
  2. One issue I find interesting in the development of the early Church is: Did James and the Jerusalem church have a different view of “the Gospel” from Paul? More specifically, did the Jerusalem church ever abandon temple worship and temple sacrifices for sins? The Jerusalem Church may have accommodated Gentiles into the Jesus is the Messiah Movement, allowing them to follow the Noahidic laws, but did they ever allow Jewish Christians to abandon circumcision, a kosher diet, and temple sacrifices?

    The Jerusalem church was wiped out in 70 CE. That branch of Christianity died out.

    Reply
    • Undoubtedly different if even Luke relates how cagey James was around Paul in 57 AD. Not James’s fault – he just knew that not everyone would understand Paul as well as he would – they would stereotype him as a traitor to the God of his Fathers and/or imagine he was a libertine. Nor were James’s and Paul’s perspectives ever identical, as Gal, [2 Cor,] Jas also bear witness.

      Jesus’s oldest brother/cousin was cut off before his time, but others, or at least Simon, survived 70. But not in situ. You may know of the Pella tradition, flight and survival of the church beyond Jordan.

      Reply
      • Yes, I am aware of the flight to Pella. But did this branch of Christianity survive and flourish or did it and its beliefs die out while Paul’s “Gentile Christianity” flourished and soon became the dominant form of Christianity? It would be interesting to me to know the answer to these questions: If James were alive today, would he still expect Jewish followers of Jesus the messiah to follow kosher and offer animal sacrifices for sins? Would James insist that Jewish followers of Jesus continue to keep the Law? (My bet is that the answer to both of the questions is: yes.)

        Reply
        • First question: yes. What is the alternative to certain perspectives becoming more dominant? It must perforce happen in all areas of life. One danger is to say ‘There were different perspectives, therefore they were all wrong.’. First that is obviously a non sequitur, and secondly there is no way there can *fail* to be different perspectives – even if there are not, it takes one minute for a person to invent one.

          Reply
          • As soon as anyone says ‘The real question is’ they are saying 3 untrue things at once. (1) There can be only 1 question [obviously and always false]. (2) I have the right to dictate which questions we address, (3) and also to boot which questions we do not address!

            If you are instead saying it is the most important question, then that depends on context. It certainly seems important.

            But how are we to answer it? Our earliest source for Jesus has him affirming the gentile mission.

            As soon as we are compelled to see it as an either/or matter, then various live options have already been ruled out (says who? why?). There are more than 2 options (Jesus agreed with James, Jesus agreed with Paul). He may have had bigger horizons and a more all-encompassing way of looking at things than either? Or not. Etc etc.. What if the sources don’t permit a clear answer?

  3. One of the most curious passages (to me) in all of the New Testament is found in Acts chapter 21:

    “When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled[e] and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.”

    Question: If Jesus was the sacrificial lamb (as the author of John claims), and Jesus’ death on the cross was the last and only sacrifice needed for sins, why on earth were the elders of the Jerusalem church forcing Paul and other Jewish believers to offer animal sacrifices in the Temple…and even more curious…why did Paul submit to performing this sacrificial act in the Temple when he was telling Jews and Gentiles that the Law had been abolished???

    Reply
    • Gary, Interesting question. I would suggest:

      1. We shouldnt assume everything Paul did was in fact the right thing to do. Acts primarily records the actions of key players, including Paul, but doesnt necessarily comment on the rightness of them.
      2. Earlier in the chapter, we are told that Paul was warned not once but twice not to go to Jerusalem, seemingly ‘through the Spirit’. Is it not possible that God did not in fact want Paul to go to Jerusalem at this time, but he thought he was doing the right thing? Again, we shouldnt presume that everything Paul, or indeed any apostle, did was right – Paul himself clearly didnt always agree with the other apostles.
      3. I think it is likely that in Paul’s mind, this was a case of trying to be ‘all things to all people’. But Luke, in simply retelling what happens, shows that his actions back-fired. Instead of appeasing other Jews by following custom, he caused a riot!
      4. Finally, Im not sure Paul believed the Law had been abolished, but rather fulfilled in Jesus.

      Peter

      Reply
    • (In haste…)
      1) The word ‘sacrifice’ has become loaded. ESV is better in translating the word ‘offering’, which, I believe, better reflects both the Greek and Hebrew.
      2) As you should know, there are many different types of offering presented in the Temple. Burnt offerings, ‘wave’ offerings, free-will offerings, in addition to sin offerings. (Interesting side note: in both Hebrew and Greek the same word is used for ‘sin’ and ‘sin offering. Interesting side note 2: in Leviticus 5, if you were very poor, a grain offering is sufficient as a sin offering – no animals involved).
      3) Your characterisation of the event as Paul ‘being forced’ seems wrong. I read it more as a way given to Paul to avoid a potentially nasty confrontation.
      4) Paul joined the other four in rites of purification before entering the temple. This strongly suggests to me that the offerings to be presented were in relation to the vows being made, and not sin offerings (i.e. offerings seeking ‘cleansing’), per se.
      5) Paul doing this is entirely consistent with with what he describes in 1 Corinthians in ‘being a Jew to the Jews’ and not wanting to offend (the faith of) a ‘weaker’ brother.
      6) The whole OT business of sin and forgiveness is actually rather complex. There are different images or metaphors involved.
      7) I would suggest that a devout Jew who believed in Jesus the Messiah might continue to make sin offerings even knowing that forgiveness is found in Jesus’ death (which is salvic according to Jesus’ own words). It could be used a sign of repentance or penance (the sin offering is effectively a price to pay).

      Reply
      • That is certainly possible, David. But isn’t it also possible that the Twelve and the family of Jesus never believed and had never heard of the concept that Jesus’ death was an atonement for sin?

        Is it possible that the concept of Jesus’ death being an atonement for sin was purely the invention of Paul…a man who had never met Jesus…except in a “heavenly vision”?

        Reply
        • Gary
          Just to ask an obvious question: what do you make of the synoptic accounts of the last supper?
          Phil Almond

          Reply
          • When it comes to any pericope in the Gospels, including the Last Supper, it is important to compare the same pericope in all the Gospels, starting with Mark, the first Gospel written, according to most scholars:

            “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” –Gospel of Mark

            Note that Jesus does not say that his blood “forgives sins”. This concept is added by later Gospel authors who we now know used Mark’s Gospel as a template. The concept of Jesus’ death being a sacrifice for sins evolved.

            By the way, we see a similar “evolution” of a higher christological concept in Jesus’ baptism. The author of Mark has no problem telling his readers that Jesus underwent a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. The other Gospel authors go out of their way to make sure that the reader knows that Jesus did not need forgiveness of sins and that John the Baptist was subordinate to Jesus.

            I strongly recommend reading all Gospel pericopes in parallel. It is a very enlightening experience.

          • So how is it ‘for many’? ‘For’ means it is either for their benefit or in their place, or both. How therefore does it benefit them?

          • To Christopher:

            I don’t know the answer to that question, Chris. What did Jesus mean? And again we must ask, did Jesus even say this? We don’t know for sure because most scholars doubt that Mark was an eyewitness or an associate of an eyewitness. Was the Last Supper a real historical event or a legend? We just can’t know for sure. However, what we can see if we compare the four stories of the Last Supper in the four Gospels is that it evolves. In Mark, it is clearly a Passover meal but the purpose of Jesus’ statements about his blood are vague. By the time we get to the Gospel of John, the meal is no longer a Passover seder and Jesus has become the Passover lamb whose blood washes away the sins of the world.

          • It’s not clear that in Mark it is a Passover meal in every sense.

            Jesus presents it as a Passover meal.

            The timing may be skewiff.

            No Lamb is mentioned.

            The most economical explanation for that data as a whole may be that Jesus wants himself to be present as Passover Lamb, in the absence of any other Lamb, ‘before I suffer’.

          • But Gary, your question was about Jesus’s words in Mark 14. If he says ‘for many’, then it is relevant to your question to ask how ‘for’ could have avoided meaning either ‘for the benefit of [which leads to the further quesion of *how* this will benefit people]’ or ‘in the place of’. Unless there is a 3rd alternative. What do you think?

        • had never heard of?

          You mean, all the Isa53 connections in Paul and Peter and their circles were fundamental, and people like James had never heard of any of that, despite all their contact?

          Isa 53 and Jesus was one of the main connections people were making, and was fundamental to the coherent interpretation of the Cross and why it had not been a failure.

          It was also part of James’s scriptures.

          James was also living at a time when Isaiah was remarkably popular. Check out the proportion of the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible MSS that are Isaiah.

          Reply
          • “You mean, all the Isa53 connections in Paul and Peter and their circles were fundamental, and people like James had never heard of any of that, despite all their contact?”

            When did Paul start telling people that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb? Can you give a year? Was Paul preaching this prior to the Jerusalem Council in c. 48 CE? If so, please provide the evidence.

            “Isa 53 and Jesus was one of the main connections people were making, and was fundamental to the coherent interpretation of the Cross and why it had not been a failure.”

            I agree with you. The early Christians could not understand why the Messiah had been killed. That was not part of Jewish teaching about the Messiah. So Jewish Christians began digging through the Hebrew Scriptures, trying to reconcile this cognitive dissonance…and surprise, surprise….they found passages which supported their new twist to the Jewish Messiah tradition.

            Muslims and Mormons both claim to have found passages in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Christian Scriptures which they believe justify THEIR new beliefs. This is typical behavior of new sects and cults.

  4. Your scenario is certainly possible, Peter.

    But the bigger question is this: Why was the Church in Jerusalem, headed by the brother of Jesus and presumably all or at least some of the Twelve, still offering animal sacrifices for sins in circa 48 CE (the approximate date of the Council of Jerusalem)?

    Reply
    • Let’s get to the point:

      If the brother of Jesus, James (who was the de facto leader of the entire Christian movement after Jesus’ death), and the Twelve original disciples of Jesus, were still offering animal sacrifices for sins approximately 20 years after Jesus’ death, what does that tell us about the true teachings of Jesus? Paul was teaching that Jesus had fulfilled the Law and that neither Jews nor Gentiles were now bound by the Law. Jesus’ death and resurrection had abolished the Law once and for all.

      From the passage above, it is very clear that James and the Twelve did not agree with this position. James and the original Twelve disciples believed that Jewish followers of Jesus the Messiah should still circumcise their male children, eat kosher, and follow the Law of Moses. They believed that Gentile followers of Jesus the Messiah were not required to circumcise their children, eat kosher, or follow the Law of Moses as long as they followed the Noahide laws.

      But why were the Twelve and the family of Jesus still offering animal sacrifices for sins???

      Isn’t this a strong indication that the Gospel of Jesus, and handed down to the Twelve and to his brother James, was very different from the Gospel according to Paul and the Gospel according to the author of the Gospel of John (whom most scholars doubt was a disciple or an eyewitness)? Isn’t this a strong indication that Jesus never taught the Twelve or James that he was Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, to whom animal sacrifice was required to atone for sins? Doesn’t this strongly suggest that the Twelve disciples and Jesus’ family believed that although Jesus was the Messiah (the “anointed one”), the King of the New Israel, and therefore, the son of God (previous kings of Israel had carried the title of “son of God”), he was NOT God himself, he was not Yahweh the Creator, and he was not the once and for all time sacrificial passover lamb whose death and shed blood atoned for all the sins and mankind, ending the need for animal sacrifices?

      Bottom line: Were James and the Twelve practicing Jesus’ teachings or was Paul?

      Why then, for goodness sake, do modern Christians follow the teachings of Paul, a man who never met Jesus when he was alive but only (allegedly) received his calling from a talking bright light on the road to Damascus, instead of following the teachings of the Twelve and his family who knew him best???

      Ian? Do you have an opinion on this?

      Reply
      • Gary, Ill leave it to others with more knowledge to comment on the practices of the early church, but I would point out that it wasnt just Paul and John who claimed the divinity of Jesus. Mark, the earliest Gospel (assuming this is the case) claims the same, in the very first few sentences. There are numerous other allusions to His divinity in all 3 Synoptics – I would highlight Jesus’ own self-identity as ‘son of man’ which ironically refers to the heavenly rather than earthly being spoken of through Daniel. Note that Daniel asserts this being is ‘like’ a son of man, ie has the appearance of just a man but is in fact heavenly. There was a reason why the Jews at the time repeatedly accused Jesus of blasphemy, as recorded in the non-Johannine or non-Pauline books – claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath etc. The Jews knew full well what he was claiming.

        If you were to ignore Paul’s and John’s writings, I would suggest that the testimony of the remaining writings is that Jesus is indeed God on earth (even if we struggle to get our heads around the Trinity! But then, is that so strange?) .

        Peter

        Reply
        • Hi Peter,

          Jesus never explicitly states that he is God, Yahweh the Creator, in the Synoptics. In Mark, Jesus believes that he is the Messiah, a divine messenger from God, come to usher in a New Kingdom. He seems to believe that he has special divine powers (given to him by God). He believes that he has the power to ***pronounce*** the forgiveness of sins (in the name of Yahweh). Jesus never forgives sins in HIS name. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran clergy still pronounce the forgiveness of sins, in the name of God, today. They do not believe that they are God. It is therefore possible that the historical Jesus never considered himself to be Yahweh, Creator of the Universe, but God’s messenger, anointed as God’s son at his baptism by John (previous anointed kings of Israel had been referred to as “the son of God).

          Reply
          • Actually no, He claimed to have the authority to forgive the sins of mankind, not simply ‘pronounce’ it. Indeed His authority was one of the key aspects that made Him stand out from other teachers. And to prove that authority, He gave the people a physical sign to show the man’s sins were actually forgiven.

            And as I said it is in fact the ‘Son of Man’ title that infers divinity.

            Sorry but taking all of the evidence together, I have no doubt that Jesus believed Himself to be God, and His followers gradually came to the same realisation.

          • Hi Peter.

            You said: “Actually no, He claimed to have the authority to forgive the sins of mankind, not simply ‘pronounce’ it. ”

            Where in the Gospel of Mark does it specifically state that Jesus believed that he had the authority to forgive sins? Note that in the story of the lame man let down through the roof, Jesus does not say “I forgive you of your sins”, he simply “your sins are forgiven”. This is a passive statement. It *could* mean that Jesus was pronouncing the forgiveness of the man’s sins in the name of Yahweh. Bottom line: We cannot be sure what Jesus meant if we only look at the Gospel of Mark.

          • Correction. You are correct, Peter.

            Jesus DID state in Mark that he had authority on earth to forgive sins. However, what does that mean? Did he mean that he was Yahweh and could forgive sins by his own authority? I don’t think so. He would have been stoned on the spot. It seems to me that he was saying that God had given him, the Messiah, special powers, one of those was the power to forgive sins (by the power and authority of Yahweh).

            Are we really to believe that Jesus walked up and down Palestine for three years claiming to be the Creator of the universe, Yahweh, himself, and the Jews let him live? I don’t think so.

            “Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

            6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” —Gospel of Mark, chapter 2

          • “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

            Would the Yahweh of the Old Testament make such an odd statement? Yahweh is (allegedly) the Creator, ruler of heaven and earth. His authority is not limited to the earth, this solar system, this galaxy, or this universe! This statement certainly sounds like someone who believes that his authority and powers have been granted to him by a higher power.

            I still see no evidence in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus believed that he was Yahweh, Creator of the universe. And I believe that Acts 21 strongly indicates that this was still the view of James and the Twelve almost 20 years after Jesus’ death.

            So who knew the teachings of Jesus better: His brother and his twelve disciples who lived with him for three years, or, Paul, a man who as far as we know, never met Jesus when he was alive?

            The evidence strongly indicates that Paul was preaching a false Gospel.

          • It would be a false gospel if the Cross changed nothing.

            More likely that the idea that the Cross changed nothing is the quintessence of a false gospel.

          • Am I saying ‘Jesus became Yahweh the Creator on the Cross’.

            I don’t remember saying anything even vaguely similar. Where?

          • Peter and I were discussing whether or not the author of Mark indicates that Jesus believed he was Yahweh, the Creator. You then said:

            “It would be a false gospel if the Cross changed nothing.”

            Please elaborate.

          • I was more responding to your flat claim that Paul was perhaps preaching a false gospel. I don’t find Paul’s theology to be any higher or lower than Mark’s. Mark was fairly Pauline. ‘Yahweh the Creator on the Cross’ does not sound like the New Testament at all, nor does ‘became’.

  5. How do you square away your faith and belief in the veracity of the New Testament with the development among a growing number of historians and scholars that state Acts is nothing more than historical fiction?

    Reply
        • 3 is ‘a growing number’ if you start from 2. 4 is ‘a growing number’ if you start from 3.

          This growing number could be produced by people doing no more than making assertions.

          Until the ‘growing number’ reaches a quarter of the magnitude of the main number, then why we should prioritise consideration of it? Especially as it reflects the sort of position which is often ideologically driven.

          The way people think we can begin straight from conclusions is astonishing and lazy. It is 2dimensional and stereotyping, reminding one of the way the media frames matters in a binary, adversarial and non-specialist manner.

          Merely by the law of averages (for those who persist in seeing the world through ideological spectacles, i.e. those who oppose themselves to scholarship, whose enemy ideology is) evidenced conclusions will be radical as often as they are conservative, and moderate as often as they are either of the others. By contrast, as soon as a less moderate position seems demanded by the evidence, there are shrieks of bias. But that is just the nature of evidence. One cannot predict the way it will point. Breakthroughs are frequently achieved precisely through reframing and reconfiguration of a whole issue. That means shaking up and being critically open minded towards stereotypes derived from Baur, Ehrman, Warfield or wherever.

          Re dating, for example, there is a common pattern in Robinson (early) or in Sturdy or Pervo (late). The evidential approach (the only approach) demands open mindedness towards all these. Evidence itself, in my view, does not support any of them wholesale. Where there is a common pattern, it is not always an agenda, but it is more likely to be.

          Reply
          • The point being: conclusions are hard won, maybe over years and decades. Sometimes we strike lucky and it is quicker, even very quick indeed.

          • I referenced two sources. The Westar Institute. I posted a link but maybe it went to spam?
            Here are their findings:

            1.The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
            2.Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
            3.The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
            4.Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
            5.Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
            6.Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
            7.Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
            8.author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
            9.Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
            10.Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.

            You can find details of Carrier either on his site or Youtube.

          • Ark

            I don’t understand your comment. You are replying as though I had never heard of either R Carrier or the Westar Institute.

            I have heard of both, and of what they say, but given that you are not a specialist, on what grounds do you say that we should begin by discussing them rather than other accredited scholars?

            One always gets warning bells when ‘conclusions’ seem all to be of the same type. Maurice Casey put various internet Jesus sceptics under the spotlight of a genuine truth-seeking scholar. See: Jesus – Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

            Please can we discuss detailed data only? It is a given that if we are operating on the level of broad generalisations, any conclusions we come to will be worthless, and a waste of everyone’s time.

          • @Christopher.

            I have heard of both, and of what they say, but given that you are not a specialist, on what grounds do you say that we should begin by discussing them rather than other accredited scholars?

            Okay, let’s not discuss what they say, I have no problem with this approach.
            Offer me a few renowned secular scholars who have written about Acts ( we can assume you will only offer accredited scholars,yes?), I’ll research their work and get back to you.
            Regards
            Ark

          • I assume you mean secularist, i.e. not believers.

            Not a whole lot of secularists have been accredited as Acts scholars. Haenchen and Pervo may be said to exemplify a more sceptical approach. Not that they would necessarily classify as secularists.

            If you go to bestcommentaries.com, you will find 129 Acts studies, mostly commentaries, listed. But vanishingly few of these are by secularists. Maybe secularists don’t often pursue the study of Acts.

            A benchmark is the writing of critical commentaries, which involves a variety of disciplines. I sell books, and most of the liberal or secularist material we sell (not a lot) is speculative potboilers. Vanishingly few have proven capable of writing critical commentaries.

            You are also just assuming that a good proportion of any group of people must be secularists. Must they? Why? Must a good proportion be Buddhists? Or Neoplatonists?

            Secularism has split up numerous families among its other ills (an unnecessary ill, since there are and have been so many non secularist societies where it does not happen), so maybe the reason people are not following it is that its track record by comparison with other ways shows it is obviously not worth following.

            Anyway, being a scholar means being presuppositionless. So how can you have a secularist scholar? They may have been secularist before they approached their study, but during their study they have to suspend judgment.

          • Nineham (registered as a Christian) also began a sceptical Acts commentary, but did not complete it, as he thought it was too much like reinventing Haenchen’s wheel.

          • @ Christopher

            Sorry, I’m not really interested in reading another Christian viewpoint of Acts, irrespective how supposedly liberal they may claim to be.
            If a person is Christian then chances are they will bring their faith along for the ride, no matter how ”objective” they may believe they are.
            Besides there are how many versions of Acts? 4 or 5 I think?
            Acts is simply historical fiction.

          • (1) If a person is a sceptic or a secularist, it is likely that they will bring their faith along for the ride.

            (2) It takes a lot of faith to believe that there are no honest and open minded people in the world at all. Is that what you believe? There are 7.5 billion people in the world.

            (3) Your fallacy about the different versions of Acts basically means that if anyone tampers with any text at all, then *all* versions of that text are suspect. Wrong, because how does that make the initial version even slightly suspect?
            (Direct answers would be appreciated.)

            (4) What you say basically means that Christians are debarred from comment. That rules out a large proportion of the world’s population. If you start with presuppositions like that, the ‘conclusions’ produce themselves.

            (5) Also you missed the distinction between Christians who are ideologues and Christians who are open minded, and have only come to call themselves Christians in the first place because that is where the evidence led them to.

            (6) My experience in debating secularists is that they will go to any lengths to avoid discussion of statistical evidence. I have not noted the same with Christians by and large. That means that the average honesty of Christians is the higher, in my own experience anyway. There are more objective studies of the same matter, which we can pursue.

          • Ark,
            If a person is Christian then chances are they will bring their faith along for the ride, no matter how ”objective” they may believe they are.

            Perhaps putting it a bit more plainly than Christopher –

            Please be consistent. If you are going to reject views on Acts from Christians because they ‘bring their faith along for the ride’, then you must also reject views on Acts from atheists. They are no more immune from bringing their own a priori views into play. Someone who has as a foundational belief that there is no supernatural activity could not arrive at a view that Acts was historical.

            My understanding is that most historians of the period would say that Acts is very accurate in terms of the historical setting, for instance the names and titles of different regional figures. Any view that the work is fiction needs to address this. In particular, a late date for a work of fiction would this hard to explain. It seems unlikely that someone writing in the early 2nd century would be able to do the necessary research, even if they had the inclination.

            I would accept that more disputed is the relation between the events of Paul’s life and what is implied from Paul’s letters.

          • @ Christopher

            1) As faith, in this context, almost always has religious undertones, then atheists do not have faith. I find using this term is somewhat misleading and cause no end of unnecessary argument. Trust is a far better word. One could say that from an atheist’s point of view trust is based on evidence and thus understanding.
            I understand how an aircraft stays aloft and based on experience accept the risk that the plane is mechanically sound and trust the pilot to do his or her job.
            I would rescind that trust if the pilot took his hands off the wheel as he was coming in to land and declared over the tannoy that, as a devout Christian he was going to sit back and allow God to land the plane.
            If the plane was full of devout Christians what do you think the reaction would be? Smiles?
            (2) Of course there plenty of honest and open minded people. What a daft thing to say. However, religious indoctrination is a powerful tool, and this is plain to see if you are honest and open-minded to recognise that there are a great many religions and an even greater number of sects within these religions. Look at your own faith! You can’t even reach agreement on the fundamental aspects, and often one sect will be damning another.
            You can’t all be right, now can you? However you most certainly can all be wrong.

            And if only one is right then which one is it, and how are you going to convince all the others?

            (3) All versions of the text are suspect. This is the point, not least because of the miraculous claims. Much like the Gospels – add a bit here take away a bit there.

            (4) Nonsense! Of course Christians must comment and it is through dialogue people learn and eventually move forward. I venture that in the not too distant past most Christians on this blog would likely have been burned at the stake and me as well – or gotten a very stiff talking to from Torquemada and his buddies. Ah … them were the days, right?
            Now all we have to guard against is suicide bombers and suspect pilots.

            (5) An open-minded Christian will still be hamstrung by their faith at some point.
            There is no evidence to support the foundational claims of Christianity. Such conversions are invariably matters of the heart. One only has to consider a brilliant scientist such as Francis Collins.

            (6) What statistical evidence are you referring to/looking for? I have no qualms about discussing anything with regard religion. Nothing at all, I assure you. Let the evidence lead us all.
            What say you?

          • hi David

            You make an interesting point about letters ‘vs’ Acts. I don’t find many examples of this. By the law of averages there would be a few cases where things one might expect to be mentioned were not (and vice-versa).

            Titus is not in Acts. Some say he was the same person as Timothy. At present I find that to cause more problems than it solves.

            The collection is not nearly so much emphasised in Acts. Were it not for a stray reference in a testimony speech of Paul, it would not be mentioned at all and everyone would be crying ‘discrepancy’.

            The Galatians 2 account does not permit certainty about whether this was the famine visit or the Jerusalem council visit – but that is not a discrepancy.

            It may be a bit surprising that Gal does not mention the apostolic letters distributed after the council, assuming (as most agree) Gal dates after the council. But this would have been an event of a few years earlier and not directly relevant to the purpose of Gal.

            On the other hand Acts and letters are frequently mutually illuminating. 1 Thess and Acts agree totally on the missionaries sequence of movements. So do 1 Cor – 2 Cor – Rom. Romans’s reference to Illyricum / Dalmatia in Rom fills in a gap of what Paul did one summer (year 56).

            Disputants have this binary polarised model between early and late which is clearly wrong since what we are dealing with is a sliding scale. Luke in 100 would have been around 70. If Clement could have the same lifespan and be active both c60 and c95-6, Luke could too. He could write Acts c100, as Shellard has argued.

            One of the worst wrong presuppositions (immortalised by Green-Armytage’s critique) is that in the NT world people popped into and out of existence and did not possess memories. Even primary children would be able to give an accurately low rating to presuppositions like that.

          • Dear Ark

            Thank God you are (or claim to be) an evidence man. There are few enough of us about.

            The idea that atheists are less biased than Christians holds neither in theory nor in experience.

            Re your suicide bombers remark, who are these Christians involved in such activity? Could you give references – thanks.

            You didn’t address the point that ‘Christians’ include both those who are indoctrinated on the one hand, and those who are looking to see which worldview seems right on the basis of evidence and end up saying ‘In that case I must classify as Christian’ on the other hand. And other subgroups too.

            All versions of ‘the’ text are suspect? Casting doubt takes one second’s thought. Why then should we accord it any respect? That is just a sweeping generalisation, and like all such generalisations goes to the bottom of the pile.

          • My reply to Christopher will not post – keep getting a 403 forbidden notice.
            Any one know why this is as a couple of comments down thread have posted?
            Ark.

          • ’’The idea that atheists are less biased than Christians holds neither in theory nor in experience.’’
            With regards religion, atheists are far more likely to accept evidence than Christians, and do not have the burden of faith to encumber their critical thinking. Those who have de-converted are probably even less susceptible having first-hand experience of all the apologetic rigmarole. There probably isn’t an argument they haven’t heard or used themselves at one time.

            ‘’Re your suicide bombers remark ….’’
            Are you being serious? I was referring to your dear brethren of that other Abrahamic religion; the one whose paedophile main-man flew to Jerusalem and then heaven on a wingéd horse.

            ’’You didn’t address the point that ‘Christians’ include both those who are indoctrinated ….’’
            All Christians are indoctrinated to a greater or lessor degree. It requires a suspension of critical thinking to accept the foundational doctrine as there is no evidence whatsoever to support it. So they compartmentalize. It’s how perfectly normal, and oft times quite brilliant people are able to function on a day to day basis yet still hold with supernatural beliefs. Consider Francis Collins? He admits that he became a Christian primarily because of death anxiety. And any de-convert will tell you a similar story.

            ‘’All versions of ‘the’ text are suspect? Casting doubt takes one second’s thought. Why then should we accord it any respect? That is just a sweeping generalisation … ‘’
            Not at all. It comes from years and years of study by scholars who have worked to establish veracity, and in the main have been unable to. It is simply historical fiction. And once you find one mistake it is amazing how many begin to pop up from the pages of the text. It is probably how a first rate editor works.
            I’m pretty sure you could name at least a dozen of the more popular known examples, couldn’t you?
            In essence, Christians often deal with this by not dealing with it, but the doubts are still there – one cannot unsee something once seen, and so was born the discipline of Apologetics! Yay! Bring on Slick, Lennox, Licona, Strobel, Wallace, Lane Craig etc, whose main objective is to handle the doubts of believers. To quell their fluttering hearts. The problem, of course, is one only has so many digits to block the leaking damn and eventually … well, as Led Zeppelin sang: ‘’When the Levee breaks . . .’’
            I realise this is somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow from one who was never more than a cultural Christian, C of E, Church Parade and a bit of Sunday School, but ask Gary. He was in it up to his eyeballs and I can reference any number of former Christians, including former clergy/professionals. You’ve listened to Dan Barker for example, yes? He too was full on. The works. Seminary, missionary work, witnessing all over the USA and beyond. Or visit the Clergy Project.
            Regards
            Ark

          • Hi Ark

            A bitter pill? Such understatement. My entire world is blown apart. I have never heard anyone else make such assertions. Ever. Do you offer counselling among your other wisdom-ministries? 🙂

      • @ David Wilson

        As faith is generally applied to religious matters or ‘’things unseen’’, then atheists do not have faith. I find using this term is somewhat of an attempt to point score and is, in fact, pointless.
        Trust is a far better word. One could say that trust is based on knowledge, and understanding.

        If you can demonstrate supernatural activity then I will gladly review the evidence.

        The setting may be based real/known geographical locations, In the main I have not come across any dispute about this, and many of the characters named were also genuine historical figures. The tales of the Apostles and Paul’s travels are then overlain to give the impression that one is reading true history when in fact what you are reading is historical fiction.
        The historical characters are there simply to lend authenticity to the plot.
        And these were part of the findings of the Westar Institute after eleven years of study.
        No historian worth their salt will ever countenance the miraculous claims.

        Reply
      • @ Christopher.

        Hi Ark
        A bitter pill? Such understatement. My entire world is blown apart. I have never heard anyone else make such assertions. Ever. Do you offer counselling among your other wisdom-ministries?

        I meant it in the sense that unlike most of those here I have never been entrenched in religion and thus am often treated with disdain for never having been where you are, neither having any emotional attachment.
        I think it really pisses off some folk that I merely shrug when asked why I hate God. Water off a duck’s back, I guess.
        Did you pop over and read any of the testimonies on Clergy Project?
        Most of those people were more or less like you.
        I’m sure you know the site, yes?

        Ark

        Reply
        • How can they have been like me when you don’t know what I am like?

          What assessment are we supposed to have of you if you sum up people you have never met so swiftly and in such a stereotyped way?

          Reply
    • Ark (whatever your actual name is), I think these comments have no sense of actual engagement in debate, but are function as trolling of Christians commenting on this site.

      If you are interested in genuine discussion, please frame your questions accordingly. If not, please desist.

      Reply
      • I think these comments have no sense of actual engagement in debate,

        Of course they do! They are pertinent to every discussion regarding Christianity. Having a deeper, broader understanding of the origins of the religion and especially its primary source material – the Bible – is crucial in the pursuit of discerning fact from fiction.
        Surely you are not resistant, or worse, afraid of anyone challenging such assertions?
        Contra Celsum anybody?

        There seems little value other than from a literary point of view discussing the merits of a text some regard as sacrosanct if the text itself is errant or worse, myth and/or historical fiction.

        If, however, you are prepared to disregard critical analysis and pursue such discussions
        purely from the perspective of faith then this is , of course,your prerogative.
        No problem there. Free speech, and all that.
        But then, one can hardly make religiously grounded truth claims regarding discussions of these texts if the evidence does not support such.

        And my name is Douglas.
        I have used Ark for so many years it has tended to stick.
        Feel free to reply to whatever name you feel comfortable with. í
        🙂

        Reply
        • Ark/Douglas,
          Please respond in person to the specific comments I’ve made, as I seek to move off the topic of the original blog.
          If it is all fiction you have scuppered my comments and all the effort I’ve put into them.
          And my comment is based on the text of eyewitness accounts.
          I’m trying to move onto showing this is all the development of a sect.
          We usually operate as in a pincer movement, but you’ve crushed me in one fell swoop.
          Gary

          Gary,
          You know I’m a lover of the truth, you’ve al;ready said so through the single eye of total secular skepticism, and will brook, no acceptance real of implied that there is any historical at all in the Bible.
          All I want is not true debate, which is a waste of time, so it is out of love to stop you wasting anymore of your valuable time with this pretence.
          We’ve tried the the usual ruses, of prove only through science, it’s legend, mocking, sincere mistake, hearsay, but really it’s all fiction in the name of a fantasy god.
          Sorry mate. Over to you. Please answer my comments. Let’s not fall out over this.
          Douglas/Ark
          (pp Geoff)

          Reply
  6. I can never read the Cornelius passages without marvelling at the way the Holy Spirit fell on them ‘as at the beginning’. Should we really believe that the Holy Spirit would not work in such powerful ways any more; or is the Spirit’s work hindered by our lack of that beautiful, humble, expectant faith which those Gentiles possessed? It’s the impoliteness I love too – that the Spirit didn’t wait until the sermon had finished. It was clearly much more than an emotional experience and the tongues had no evangelistic purpose as some moot for the Pentecost outpouring.

    Reply
  7. Gary
    I assume (please correct me if I am wrong) that in your view all the words and actions recorded in Acts 21 are historical facts. What about the words and actions recorded in the rest of Acts? Are they also all historical facts?
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • Since most scholars believe that the Gospels and Acts were written by non-eyewitnesses/ non-associates of eyewitnesses one or more generations removed from any eyewitnesses, it is difficult to know which statements in these books are historical and which are legend.

      However, it is interesting that the perspective of the Jerusalem church described in Acts 21 seems to match the perspective of Jesus found in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptics, Jesus never told Jews to stop circumcising their children, stop eating kosher, or stop offering animal sacrifices for sins.

      Reply
  8. (D)Ark,
    For simplification:
    1 Gary has commented above, by implication accepting that what is in Acts is historical fact: again by implication, accepting that it is based on eyewitness account, which again, either isn’t hearsay or is “permissible” hearsay. In the unravelling earlier thread (153 fish) he implied Christianity is a cult which I deduce that’s where his comments would wend their way.
    2 You say, (to paraphrase) Acts is all fiction, historical fiction, in the name of a fantasy, fictitious god.
    Please engage each other.
    Your point about “free speech” is a non sequiter in relation to this blog, but I suppose it serves a purpose you would seek to make of it (easily foreseeable) if you were closed off from commenting.

    Reply
    • See my comment above.

      FYI: Ark and I agree on a lot, but we also have our disagreements. Ark is a mythicist. He doesn’t believe that Jesus was a real historical figure. I am a “historicist”. I believe that Jesus was a real historical figure, that he was crucified, and that shortly after his death some of his followers believed that he appeared to them in some fashion. If fact, I agree with Gary Habermas’ “Ten Minimal Facts”. I accept whatever the evidence indicates even if it is unhelpful for my non-supernaturalist worldview. For instance, I believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb.

      Reply
      • Gary,
        Either you are right or Ark is about the historical person of Jesus.
        Bear with me please, where do you get at your historicity? From eyewitness accounts, which you have gone to some lengths to seek to deny any eyewitness account, or discount as sincerely mistaken, or as inadmissible “hearsay”? In the light of your concessions, acceptance, why waste everyone’s time with the the standard atheists red herrings you’ve vociferously advocated. It does you no credit, particularly if you are indeed a medic.
        Where does this begin and end. It seems like the cut off is the supernatural and deity of Christ?
        And it seems to me that you both are seeking to hijack, take over, a blog that isn’t yours. If anyone here is interested in your views they can visit your site, from the self publicity your comments may generate.
        On this particular thread, on Acts 11: like a politician, you go somewhere else, to Acts 21 to seek to discuss what you want.
        And jumps in Ark wants to dismiss the whole of the book of Acts as historical fiction, so I’ve no time for it. He’s made up his own mind, so have I.
        Anyone can see that this is not a site of apologetics, and it has been well said that someone can not be “argued” into belief, conversion, into the Kingdom of God.
        What is truly sad is that you are unable the recognise the Good News proclamation of Jesus Christ and all that is within the Trinity.

        Reply
        • The topic of this post is the expansion of the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles. My comment on this topic was to point out that the Gospel preached to the Gentiles (by Paul) was possibly not the same Gospel as preached by the Twelve and Jesus’ own brother. If Ian does not feel that my comment is on topic, as the blog owner he is free to tell me so and I will abide by his wishes.

          Reply
  9. 1 Gary has commented above, by implication accepting that what is in Acts is historical fact: again by implication, accepting that it is based on eyewitness account,

    Hmm ….” …by implication.” Has he? Let’s rather wait until he responds before making assumptions?
    If Gary wants to ”engage” me on the subject of Acts he is free to do so.
    Why would you think I had a problem with this?

    Your remark about free speech suggests that given the chance you would moderate my comments?
    Why don’t you engage with my comments rather than behave in what is becoming more and more petulant, which is often the point of retreat for those whose argument does not hold water?

    Love the play on (D)Ark by the way.
    Remember Geoff …”He is not your Father

    Regards.
    Ark

    Reply
    • (D)ark,
      1 Apologies that you couldn’t understand my initial comment.
      2 My comments about Gary’s comments above are logical deductions, conclusions, from the scientific totality of his comments here and 153 fish blog.
      3 Please engage Gary. Neither of you want to engage each other.
      4 What are your comments to Gary’s comments. Please engage his scholarship. Could be a laugh especially as you have indeed holed his boat.
      5 Some blogs don’t have comments sections at all. Is that an affront to your “freedom of speech”? I’d read this blog without being able to comment. I still prefer books.
      Remember, you will go the way of all Pharaoh’s (except there will be be no trace,- maybe the ultimate likeness of the trail of a snail) and Jesus is LORD.
      The book of Ecclesiastes is warmly recommended to you, written to you.
      But enough. Goodbye.

      Reply
      • @ Geoff
        You were doing quite well until you fired off that piece of Christian rhetoric at the end.
        In my experience, Gary prefers to engage Christians at a level they will feel more comfortable with.
        It is an excellent method of interaction as it puts both he and whoever he discussing with on an equal footing and enables his interlocutor to relate.
        He then proceeds to dismantle their arguments step by step until they are forced to call upon rhetoric, as you did in your previous comment.
        During the time I have been reading Gary’s blog I’ve found him to be savvy and astute and as he is former Christian, he is more than au fait with all the apologetic methodology.

        All you really ought to concern yourself with is refuting his arguments – something you have yet to do.

        Regards Ark

        Reply
  10. (1) If ‘Acts is nothing more than historical fiction’ – a conveniently sweeping assertion that cites not even an atom of evidence – then how come all 3-5 stages of the apostolic team’s movements in 1 Thessalonians match up completely with those in Acts?

    (2) How come that, in addition to the above, wherever else movements are implied in the letters there is strong agreement that only one Acts context makes sense of these (1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom) – and moreover how come these are all interrelated?

    (3) That is before we get onto the circumstantial detail…

    (4) and the [claim of] eyewitness…

    (5) and the correctness of Luke in naming officials of different areas?

    (6) and the evident closeness to events in Jerusalem 57-9, which is one of the claimed eyewitness contexts? The way that detail grows the closer we get to the end is exactly what we’d expect in these circumstances.

    But check out Ramsay (selectively), Foakes Jackson / Lake / Cadbury, Hemer, ed. Winter, Walton etc.. The breath of fresh air we get when, many times per page, they engage the hard evidence, is the precise opposite of what we feel when we are groaningly faced with swift unevidenced sweeping assertions that jump straight from presupposition to so-called ‘conclusion’.

    Reply
    • The historical reliability of Acts is a matter of controversy among scholars. Evangelical scholars and conservative Protestants believe it to be reliable while most moderate and liberal Protestants and most Roman Catholic scholars are skeptical.

      Reply
      • You pose a polarised picture (i.e. unnuanced) and expect it to be taken seriously.

        The only things that are polarised are people’s irrelevant ideologies. Evidence itself is never polarised.

        Reply
        • That is what “flat-earthers” and climate-change deniers also say: “Damn the experts. (My opinion of) the evidence is all that matters.”

          Trust majority expert opinion, folks.

          Reply
          • Plus, you have not answered the point already made – that to be a different or second point of view is something quite different from being an extreme point of view – unless you disagree. That is a point which one would appreciate your addressing.

          • Here was my original comment: “The historical reliability of Acts is a matter of controversy among scholars. Evangelical scholars and conservative Protestants believe it to be reliable while most moderate and liberal Protestants and most Roman Catholic scholars are skeptical.”

            If you can provide a published quote within the last 15 years, from a reputable scholar, stating that the situation is different than what I have described, please do so.

          • In other words, polarised options are given, whereas in a book as long as Acts each passage needs to be examined piecemeal, and even then polarised options would not suggest themselves!

            This is why I always say people should estimate likelihoods. Such as 57% that an incident happened. Estimating likelihoods for every incident in one book simultaneously, as though it were a single issue, is laughable. We are dealing with narratives covering 30 years and several countries. Most of the generalisations you give are laughable in this way.

          • That depends on which group of experts you ask. In fact youve just said that in your comment above. So there is no ‘majority expert opinion’ on the question of Acts.

          • Plus, if the summary you quoted groups scholars by ideology, an odd classification choice given that to be a scholar is by definition to be an anti-ideologue. The summary is therefore a non-starter, trying to frame the issue in a dodgy way before we have even started.

          • I think you need to read more scholarship (other than your own), Chris. I would suggest Raymond Brown’s, “The Death of the Messiah”, as a starter.

        • Experts? Experts are so unnuanced as to polarise?

          The truth is the exact reverse. It is only lay-folks that polarise; experts have the ability to nuance.

          Reply
          • There is no nuance when it comes to the position of “most” scholars on the non-eyewitness/non-associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels and Acts.

          • No nuance? A 100% certain situation then. A dogmatic certainty. As a non-dogmatic person, I would like quotes from the dogmatic side please.

          • Yes. No nuance.

            When I say that scholars are divided on the historical accuracy of the Book of Acts, that is a nuanced statement because few scholars would say that “all” statements of fact in Acts are false. Most scholars hold the view that some statements of fact in Acts are historically accurate but others are not.

            However, on the issue of a majority opinion on the authorship of the Gospels there is no nuance, just as there is no nuance that the majority of scientists believe in the reality of climate change and in Darwinian evolution.

          • Some are accurate but others are not?

            ??

            There are probably thousands of propositions in Acts. For ‘accurate’ and ‘inaccurate’ each to possess at least 2 of these thousands sounds like a pretty broad church. It covers the entire spectrum from 100% (99.999%) accurate to 100% (or 99.999%) inaccurate.

            Which is why you ought to start using percentages. ‘Some do and some don’t’ – now, there’s a thing. As the saying goes, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

          • As I stated above, I think you need to read more scholarship (other than your own), Chris. I would suggest Raymond Brown’s, “The Death of the Messiah”, as a starter.

          • Gary – what is your information about what I have and have not already read? Secondly, what makes you think I have not read Brown?

            You are, therefore, assuming a lot. But the better the scholar, the less they assume. Who then are the group of people who assume a lot?

        • Good morning, Peter.

          And I can find TEN articles by Christians that say Acts is not historically reliable. So who should you and I, both non-experts on this issue, believe? I suggest that we accept the position of “most experts”, and most experts reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels and Acts.

          You and I as non-experts could spend the rest of our lives reading books and studying this issue online but would we ever achieve the knowledge base that hundreds of New Testament scholars collectively possess who have spent their entire adult lives studying this issue?

          Trust the majority opinion of experts, Peter!

          Reply
          • If the articles make such sweeping statements about a book that is as long as can be fitted on a single roll, chuck the articles. Chapter and verse, specific detailed analysis please.

          • Gary,
            As I commented elsewhere in these comments, there are two aspects of the historicity of Acts. One is its alignment with the historical background, and the other is the relation of the record of the events in the church in comparison with those from other sources. In order to be fair, I am using this distinction from the Wikipedia article on “Historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles.”

            Perhaps you would like to address this article, which is certainly not written from a conservative Christian point of view. One important point is that it seems that historians regard Acts as more accurate than (liberal) biblical scholars (c.f. footnote 38 in the article).

          • Hi David,

            Here is the opening statement of your Wikipedia article: “Archaeological inscriptions and other independent sources show that Acts contains some accurate details of 1st century society with regard to titles of officials, administrative divisions, town assemblies, and rules of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. However, the historicity of the depiction of Paul the Apostle in Acts is contested. Acts describes Paul differently from how Paul describes himself, both factually and theologically.[1] Acts differs with Paul’s letters on important issues, such as the Law, Paul’s own apostleship, and his relation to the Jerusalem church.[1] Scholars generally prefer Paul’s account over that in Acts.[2]:316[3]:10”

            I never said that every statement of fact in the Book of Acts is false. I simply suggested that most scholars do not find it historically reliable (as we would a modern history textbook or a well-written modern biography).

          • Here is the position of Roman Catholics (believers in the supernatural, miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus so certainly not “liberals”) on the historical reliability of Acts:

            “In the development of the church from a Jewish Christian origin in Jerusalem, with its roots in Jewish religious tradition, to a series of Christian communities among the Gentiles of the Roman empire, Luke perceives the action of God in history laying open the heart of all humanity to the divine message of salvation. His approach to the history of the church is motivated by his theological interests. His history of the apostolic church is the story of a Spirit-guided community and a Spirit-guided spread of the Word of God (Acts 1:8). The travels of Peter and Paul are in reality the travels of the Word of God as it spreads from Jerusalem, the city of destiny for Jesus, to Rome, the capital of the civilized world of Luke’s day. Nonetheless, the historical data he utilizes are of value for the understanding of the church’s early life and development and as general background to the Pauline epistles. In the interpretation of Acts, care must be exercised to determine Luke’s theological aims and interests and to evaluate his historical data without either exaggerating their literal accuracy or underestimating their factual worth.” –United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website

            Gary: In other words, just as with any other ancient text, one must be careful not to treat this ancient Christian text as a modern history textbook or biography, believing that the author intended every statement of fact to be historically accurate, but neither should we dismiss the entire text as fictitious just because some historical inaccuracies exist.

            Most skeptics such as myself believe that there are some historically accurate information in the Gospels and Acts. The problem is, figuring out which statements are facts and which statements are literary or theological embellishments.

          • Gary

            The problem with trusting the ‘majority opinion’ is, as I said, that it depends on which theological leaning group you are talking about – liberal, conservative or all those in between. I doubt the opinion of the majority of the numerous conservative NT scholars is that Acts is unreliable, so I think you’re picking and choosing which ‘majority’ you listen to.

            And of course any perceived majority opinion is based on the current theological views of scholars who were taught in various colleges and universities based on certain reading lists of works of certain previous scholars, with few questioning the validity of those works and their conclusions. And so it goes on.

            Just over 100 years ago Sir William Ramsay wrote regarding Acts,

            “I had read a good deal of modern criticism about the book, and dutifully accepted the current opinion that it was written during the second half of the second century by an author who wished to influence the minds of people in his own time by a highly wrought and imaginative description of the early Church. His object was not to present a trustworthy picture of facts in the period about A.D. 50, but to produce a certain effect on his own time by setting forth a carefully coloured account of events and persons of that older period. He wrote for his contemporaries, not for truth”

            But after his own investigation he then wrote,

            “The present writer takes the view that Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness. At this point we are describing what reasons and arguments changed the mind of one who began under the impression that the history was written long after the events and that it was untrustworthy as a whole”

            I think Ramsay’s words are still relevant today.

            Finally, I would point out an inconsistency in your approach (if I may). You believe that Acts is historically unreliable because you believe that is the prevailing ‘majority’ scholarly view. But to back up your view that the early Christians did not believe Jesus was divine nor that He was the sacrifice for sin, you quote Acts, a historically unreliable piece of writing!

            Peter

          • Hi Peter.

            “The problem with trusting the ‘majority opinion’ is, as I said, that it depends on which theological leaning group you are talking about – liberal, conservative or all those in between. ”

            If the majority opinion is simply that of “liberals”, then why do most Roman Catholic scholars agree with the majority?? Are you alleging that Roman Catholic scholars (who believe in the supernatural, miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus) are liberals?

          • “Finally, I would point out an inconsistency in your approach (if I may). You believe that Acts is historically unreliable because you believe that is the prevailing ‘majority’ scholarly view. But to back up your view that the early Christians did not believe Jesus was divine nor that He was the sacrifice for sin, you quote Acts, a historically unreliable piece of writing!”

            Not true. I would no more trust the Book of Acts alone as an accurate historical account of the first century than I would trust Homer’s “Iliad” alone for an accurate picture of the Greek-Trojan War. A good historian will compare the historical claims in one document with those in other contemporary documents. I am suggesting that the story in Acts 21 MAY be accurate simply because it corroborates the teachings of Jesus found in the Synoptics.

          • Question: Just how historically reliable can the Gospels (and Acts) be if even conservative Christian Bible scholars such as Richard Bauckham, Michael Licona, and NT Wright believe that there are fictional accounts in these books?

          • Hi Gary

            I have repeated the same point. If said scholars say there are fictional accounts plural, then that could mean anything between 2 and hundreds. Your presentation treats 2 as the same as hundreds. That is not only an error but a spectacular one.

            Anyone trawling back will see that you present many issues as all or nothing. So there is nothing between 0% and 100%?

          • So what are the chances of ‘we’ passages in Acts being written by eyewitness. The two choices are not 100% and 0% with nothing in between.

            The chances are the same as for the Greek-Trojan war having had an eyewitness who spoke to Homer?

            If you will find even a semi-scholar who agrees that the chances are equal in each case we should all communally eat our several hats.

        • @PC1

          Just over 100 years ago Sir William Ramsay wrote regarding Acts,…. etc

          Ramsay, who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries, arrived at the conclusion that all of Paul’s ”letters” were authentic.
          If one takes a moment to consider just how far archaeology and Biblical scholarship has advanced since his time then by comparing his work and those of people such as Ehrman, ordinary common sense should dictate that a large dollop of caution should be exercised with people such as Ramsay.
          Albright, while considered a brilliant archaeologist in his day was never able to
          match the reality of hard evidence to what the bible claimed.
          If there was a bedrock of truth to the foundational claims of any religion then there would be no need for faith.
          And without faith … well … wasn’t it Twain who wrote that faith is believing what you know ain’t so.

          Ark

          Reply
          • Ark

            That’s a rather patronising attitude towards Ramsay. Just because he lived a century ago doesnt mean his views or research is no longer valid. Much of it still is. He set out to show how unreliable Acts was and found the opposite. If you want to read more recent scholarly work, Id suggest Colin Hemer’s “The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History” and Bruce Winter’s “The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting”.

            As for Paul’s letters, you’ll find quite a few scholars today also believe all the letters attributed to him in the NT are indeed from Paul. But I would just say, just because you disagree with someone’s views on one subject, do you then just presume that he must be wrong on another subject? If you did that with all scholars you would dismiss all of them.

            As for Ehrman, he seems to like to give false impressions in his popular work, despite what he has said in his more scholarly writing. For example, anyone with little to no knowledge of the NT (seemingly his target audience) would come to the conclusion after reading Ehrman’s books that we simply cannot know what was in the original autographs, particularly concerning the Gospels. Yet he has also said that if he and the late Bruce Metzger, probably the leading NT textual scholar of the 20th century, were to get in a room together and work out what the books of the NT originally said, they would agree with few differences. So it seems regardless of the impression Ehrman likes to give to his popular readers, he knows full well we can know what was originally written, and that it reflects what we have today in our New Testaments.

            ‘If there was a bedrock of truth to the foundational claims of any religion then there would be no need for faith. And without faith … well … wasn’t it Twain who wrote that faith is believing what you know ain’t so.’

            – sadly Twain, or should I say Samuel Clemens (as we’re talking about reality) and you both misunderstand Christian faith (though I thought his appearance in STTNG was entertaining – one of my favourite 2-parters). Such faith is based on facts – the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, His death by crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead. Faith is trusting given the evidence, not without any evidence! Why do you think Jesus substantiated what He was saying with demonstrations of his authority and power? Atheists like to claim faith is ‘blind’ or based on wishful thinking, but it’s anything but.

            I remember at university a fellow student gently mocking me for my new found faith (she was more gentle than others!), but when I met up with her the following year, she apologised for what she had said, because lo and behold she too had now become a Christian. Maybe the same will happen to you – stranger things…

            Peter

          • Patronizing?
            Really?
            I question Ramsay on the same grounds that other archaeologists came to question Albright – as Albright was forced to question himself regarding his views, as did Dever, and quite likely a host of others in the field.
            As far as I aware, only scholars who consider the bible to be innerrent believe Paul was the author of all the ‘letters’.
            Maybe one could excuse Ramsay, but to hold such a view in this day and age is simply willful ignorance.

            So it seems regardless of the impression Ehrman likes to give to his popular readers, he knows full well we can know what was originally written, and that it reflects what we have today in our New Testaments.

            You may well be 100% correct. I am sure high profile biblical scholars have their spats just like scholars in all fields.
            However, a million copies of a particular text doesn’t make what it contains any more factual than if we only has a single surviving copy.
            A million copies of Noah and the Flood, for example, won’t change the scientific evidence that demonstrates this tale is nothing but a myth.
            Neither will a million copies of the account of 500 plus witnesses make that particular tale any more credible.
            And for that matter nor would a million copies of a statement by someone who claimed they were abducted by aliens be evidence.

            Such faith is based on facts – the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, His death by crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead. Faith is trusting given the evidence, not without any evidence!

            Sorry, that is wrong and illustrates your understanding of evidence is skew. Unsubstantiated claims contained in a text remain unsubstantiated claims. Such claims are further weakened as the bible is riddled with error across probably every known discipline.
            There is no evidence for any resurrection.
            In fact, outside of the gospels there is no evidence of the character, Jesus of Nazareth, as depicted in the bible. To claim otherwise is blurring the lines more than a little.

            Faith – as you understand it – has nothing whatsoever to do with evidence. It is a heart matter and not head. It does not survive critical thinking or critical analysis.
            In fact, were you to be truly honest in this regard then you know that, what you claim is evidence for your faith would collapse at the first hurdle and you would be obliged to acknowledge this and deconvert.

            Regards
            Ark

          • ‘Ramsay, who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries, arrived at the conclusion that all of Paul’s ”letters” were authentic.’ That view is becoming more popular again, and in a recent survey of attenders at the British New Testament conference, a good proportion (thought not yet the majority) took a similar view.

            I do hope that the sceptical commentators on these threads are aware that theology and biblical studies are often more like philosophy than physics. Academic consensuses often tell us as much about trends and fads as they do about facts or well-established arguments.

          • @ Ian

            ‘Ramsay, who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries, arrived at the conclusion that all of Paul’s ”letters” were authentic.’ That view is becoming more popular again, and in a recent survey of attenders at the British New Testament conference, a good proportion (thought not yet the majority) took a similar view.

            That is interesting. Do you have a link to the survey, Ian?
            If not, do you perhaps have details of the make-up of those polled, and what has caused the shift to Pauline authenticity?

          • The most recent large scale Paul-dating book is ‘Framing Paul’ by Douglas Campbell a world-class independent scholar.

            It seems to him that the group of 10 Paul letters accepted by the rather choosy Marcion were Paul’s while the Pastorals were written to combat Marcion.

            The Pastorals – Luke common territory is interesting as Moule and Strobel both pointed out long ago. It is no achievement (and requires zero thought) to say what one thinks the Sitz im Leben is *not*. Instead, there should be a betting card and one should speak up for what seems to be the favourite possibility that covers more bases than the others. Assuming of course that there is a clear leader in those stakes. On my assessment, the Pastorals have no business being so Lukan as they are by chance alone. So, more than chance is involved. Paul is a prisoner (in 2 Tim) and would anyway be reliant on his amanuensis not least because of his bad eyes. Luke was Paul’s only possible amanuensis (and a highly fertile mind in his own right) at the time of the probable 62-4 Mediterranean round trip. It is not at all certain that any communication between Paul and Tim or Titus would have been other than informally expressed, nor would it have been on fine parchment.

            There then comes a later time when Paul’s letters have by now been collected. Is the collection fully complete? is the question implicit in the whole collection process. We get a ‘Beatles bus ticket’ type of situation where the tiniest scrap shoots up in (not monetary) value. Luke is already skilled in retrospectively writing up Paul’s communications (which he did in Acts), and such compositions are in a way separate from their narrative framework. As Reicke says, why bother with all the personal and travelogue details unless you are highly devious? In this case the writing up is not de novo – the situation is a real one, but is being captured either retrospectively or part-retrospectively.

            A lot of the expression is Luke whereas not all of the thought is, as is natural if a situation is being reproduced. 1 Tim on widows and (if 1 Cor 14 on women is genuine) on women is more Paul than Luke, decidedly so. Plus, Paul’s letters are ‘used’ (or already digested): notably 1 Cor in 1 Tim, Php in 2 Tim, 1 Thess in Ac 20 are all to the fore. Some (Aageson) see Gal in Titus playing an equivalent role, but I don’t see it.

            Luke has affection for the old days and his travels, and by now has wisdom too. A typical reminiscence: Barnabas ‘was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit’. He preserves lovingly the situation with the entourage towards the end of Paul’s life.

            I agree that the Pastorals postdate Luke (‘taken up’; labourer worthy of hire) and most likely also Acts (cf. the 3 cities in 2 Tim 3), as is chronologically logical. We could treat them as a second edition, but I don’t find them to be stratified documents in the body of the text, since the same keywords and authorial imprint is almost everywhere. Suppose you have a second edition of Doug Moo ‘Romans’ and like to keep your commentaries in chronological order. Strictly you put it on the right (2018 rather than 1996). However some second editions are lightly corrected first editions. With the Pastorals the second edition is the main thing, even to the extent that we cannot be sure that there was a first, though it is highly likely given the circumstances.

            As for their being a 3rd vol of Luke (Quinn), I think that sort of multi-genre playing-around is rather too James Joyce or David Lodge but there is a couple of ways in which this is not too far from the truth. Within his existing oeuvre, Acts had no proper closure, nor did Paul’s life. Luke may not have realised he would not survive to tell the story of Paul’s demise and the turbulent sixties. Or he may have realised he would not, and wanted to complete the set of letters that had been written, or the record of Paul’s travels or Mediterranean travels, or travels that he himself had participated in.

          • There then comes a later time when Paul’s letters have by now been collected.

            And who do you believe was responsible for collecting these ‘letters’?

          • ‘Hi’ ‘Ark’

            Just to ‘enquire’ why you put ‘letters’ in ‘inverted commas’. I am ‘intrigued’.

            Is it that they are not ‘letters’ at all, but actually ‘epics’ masquerading as ‘letters’?

            Either they were already kept by Paul and his circle, or someone must have collected them. Why would you think I have inside knowledge on who it was, when no-one else knows?

          • Quite obviously, I am aware of no more and no less than the rest of the fraternity.

            However, there is no chance that they ‘surfaced’ at all, since to do that they would first have to be lost (as opposed to possibly being scattered in different localities). Christians had precious little Christian scripture to read at their services in the 50s and 60s (the gospels were written only later) without jettisoning what they did have.

          • However, there is no chance that they ‘surfaced’ at all,

            As far as I am aware they were never quoted before ”surfacing” so, in an sense, they were hidden, but I meant as a collection – apologies for any misunderstanding.

            Quite obviously, I am aware of no more and no less than the rest of the fraternity.

            You sound as if you are familiar with the identity of the individual who is regarded as the one attributed to collecting/gathering Paul’s letters, and presenting them to the Church; at least traditionally.
            Who do you understand this to be?

          • | am aware of no more and no less than the rest of the fraternity.

            With this statement …. it it eh more I am interested in exploring.

            So who do you believe initially had the letters/epistles attributed to Paul?

  11. Wow! I was just reading Acts chapter 15 and realized that the incident of Paul being ordered to present an offering for sin in the temple (Acts 21)was not in c. 48 CE at the Council of Jerusalem (discussed in Acts 15), but just before his arrest in c. 57 CE!

    That is almost THIRTY years after Jesus’ death!!!

    That means that the Jerusalem church, headed by the brother of Jesus and all or some of Jesus’ original Twelve disciples, were still offering sin sacrifices in the Temple and instructing Jewish followers of Jesus to circumcise their children, eat kosher, and offer sacrifices in the Temple more than a generation after Jesus’ death!!!

    Paul was preaching exactly the opposite! Paul was telling Jews that they no longer needed to follow the Law.

    The fact is that there is no record that the original disciples of Jesus and his family ever adopted Paul’s teachings on the complete abolition of the Law. So who was teaching Jesus’ true teachings: Jesus’ original disciples and his brother, or some guy who allegedly saw a talking bright light on a dark desert highway…but had never met Jesus while he was alive???

    Reply
  12. Here is the statement from Acts 15 of the ruling of the Council of Jerusalem (c. 48 CE):

    The apostles and elders, your brothers,

    To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

    Greetings.

    24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

    Farewell.

    —Note that the Council declares that GENTILES did not need to follow the Law of Moses; it never says that Jewish Christians could abandon the dietary and sacrifice system of the Law of Moses.

    Yet, almost 10 years later in c. 58 CE when Paul arrives in Jerusalem for the last time (Acts 21), there are rumors that Paul is preaching that Jews do not need to follow the Law. James the brother of Jesus and the Twelve insist that Paul perform a sin sacrifice in the Temple to prove these rumors wrong.

    Question: Were the rumors false or was Paul teaching that Jews did not need to circumcise their children, eat kosher or offer sin sacrifices in the Temple? If this is what Paul was preaching, why didn’t he admit it?

    Was Paul preaching Jesus’ Gospel or Paul’s Gospel???

    Reply
    • It is highly likely that, human nature being what it is, Paul’s precise message was garbled and made to seem more extreme, by people who had never met Paul.

      The alternative is that no-one not fully conversant with his nuanced message ever spoke up about Paul. Which is impossible.

      You are giving a lot of credence to Acts. Or are you giving credence to the bits that can allow you to say ‘Ello ello ello what’s going on here?’ and simultaneously no credence to the other bits?

      Reply
      • No, I am not giving any more credence to Acts than I would any other ancient text. When reading the truth claims of an ancient text, we should look for corroborating evidence for these claims in other ancient texts. If we find corroborating evidence in other texts, the likelihood that the original text is accurate increases.

        It is interesting that the position of the Jerusalem church regarding the Law of Moses described in Acts 15 and 21 is very similar to the position of Jesus in the Synoptics.

        Reply
        • There is an explanation,
          Acts 21 and 22.
          After his conversion, Paul had gained a reputation amongst the Jews to such an extent they wanted his life.
          Paul was warned off by the Spirit on two recorded occasions, last through Agabus the prophet, but Paul was adamant he was going to Jerusalem.
          He was welcomed and James and the elders praised God as Paul related his testimony of God’s work amongst the gentiles.
          BUt they were concerned for Paul’s life and devised a two prong plan/ploy to ensure his safety 21v 22 “what shall we do?…do what we tell you”
          1 participate in a Nazarite vow, of purification with 4 men
          and 2 well give you a letter about you can produce
          But Paul was spotted in the temple and seized by Jews who recognised him and his teaching against Moses (the law)
          Chapter 22:Moving onto Chapter 22 Paul’s public DEFENCE to the crowd
          DIDN’T
          1 produce the letter in his defence
          2 rely on his participation with the 4 men,
          But DID set out part of his testimony of conversion, meeting Jesus.
          Chapter 23 Then in front of the High Priest and Sanhedrin Paul continues his defence
          AND Verse “11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

          At no time in this furnace of hatred, when Paul had every opportunity to bring forward James and the elders as witnesses to Paul’s teaching, and for Paul himself to to fall back onto the law of Moses as defence to deny the accusations.
          Paul’s only defence after he was seized and the ploy and plan by James and the elders hadn’t worked out, was to testify of Jesus.
          And so Paul could say : I Corinthians 9:
          19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

          Reply
          • “BUt they were concerned for Paul’s life and devised a two prong plan/ploy to ensure his safety 21v 22 “what shall we do?…do what we tell you” ”

            It is pure conjecture that James’ command for Paul to offer a sin sacrifice in the Temple was solely for the purpose of protecting him.

          • Gary, your saying that it was a ‘sin sacrifice’ is also pure conjecture. What kind of offering [sic] was to be presented [the verb used] is not specified. As I have said, if those participating subjected themselves to purification rituals prior to the ritual in the temple, it seems to me that it was connected to the ‘vow’, and not to expiate (or propitiate, if you prefer) sin.

            I’m not sure what your point is in pursuing this line of argument, but seem very ill-founded, and nothing like as clever as you think it is.

          • The question is: Did Paul offer a sin offering when he participated in a Nazarite purification ceremony in the Jewish Temple?

            Wikipedia: In the Hebrew Bible, a nazirite or nazarite is one who voluntarily took a vow described in Numbers 6:1–21. “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word נזיר nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”.[1] This vow required the person to:

            Abstain from all alcohol derived from grapes. (Traditional Rabbinic authorities state that all other types of alcohol were permitted.)
            Refrain from cutting the hair on one’s head; but to allow the locks of the head’s hair to grow.[2] Not to become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members.[3] After following these requirements for a designated interval (which would be specified in the individual’s vow), the person would immerse in a mikveh and make three offerings: a lamb as a burnt offering (olah), a ewe as a sin-offering (hatat), and a ram as a peace offering (shelamim), in addition to a basket of unleavened bread, grain offerings and drink offerings, which accompanied the peace offering. They would also shave their head in the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem Temple and then place the hair on the same fire as the peace offering. (Numbers 6:18)

            The nazirite is described as being “holy unto YHWH” (Numbers 6:8), yet at the same time must bring a sin offering. This has led to divergent approaches to the nazirite in the Talmud, and later authorities, with some viewing the nazirite as an ideal, and others viewing him as a sinner.

            Gary: Here is the key sentence:

            “The nazirite is described as being “holy unto YHWH” (Numbers 6:8), yet at the same time must bring a sin offering. ”

            SIN OFFERING!

            If Paul participated in a Nazarite purification ceremony, then he had to have offered a sin offering or the ceremony would have been invalid. So…why did Paul offer an animal sacrifice for sins in the Temple, and, why was the Jerusalem church still insisting that Jewish followers of Jesus offer animal sacrifices for sins THIRTY years after Jesus’ death???

          • Acts 21:20-26
            1.1 “In the temple “sicarii”, or assassins are murdering those suspected of collaborating with the Gentiles. Jewish nationalism is on the rise, and national and its exclusivism makes it intolerant ogf supposedly faithful members of its people who have fellowship with members of other peoples . Thus it is incumbent on Paul to prove his Jewishness. and heritage”
            1.2. Acts 21;23-26 “These -precautions are to protect Paul from false accusations, especially if he is going to move about publicly in the temple courts.”
            1.3 Nazirite vow:
            1.3.1 Paul pays for the fees
            1.3.2 Head shaved on 7th day
            1.3.3 offered sacrifice in the temple on 8th day
            1.3.4 minimum period of vow according to ritual law seems to be 30 days
            BUT it is CLEAR from the text v 27 Paul was identitified by Jews from Asia BEFORE completion of 7th day
            Conclusion no evidence of Paul’s offering of sacrifice or even shaved head.
            Quotations and source: IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament: Keener
            AND then Paul defends his Jewishness: How? not by ANY reference to a vow OR the law, to his Jewish audience in the temple. Acts 22:3-21
            Gary. How’s your foot? You seem to keep shooting yourself in it.
            1 Using Wikki as reliable source
            2 Arguing about the text and meaning yet at the same time arguing Acts is not historically reliable (except perhaps when you seek to discredit the Bible and Christianity with your zealous, set-in-stone unbelief, except, perhaps in the instance of the book of Acts, seeking to show that Christianity is a cult).

          • PS Gary,
            To be clear, the conclusion drawn and onwards in my last comment, was mine not Keener’s,

          • Paul agreed to participate in an event which required an animal sacrifice for sins. The fact that Jews had him arrested before he was able to complete his sin offering is irrelevant.

          • Gary,
            No it isn’t. Irrelevant to what? In fact we don’t know at what stage of the 30 days, this 7 day completion was. If the animal sacrifice was on the eigth day of the 30 day period, the completion of 7 days at the end of that period, and payment of the “fees” would have seen the sacrifice 3 weeks earlier.
            Indeed it does not seem to be clear what form(s) of Nazirite vows were in place at the time of Acts 21. The vow is voluntary. There is no divine command. It is a vow of consecration, separation to God. It is ENDED by the sacrifice in Numbers 6 . So generally it has a beginning and end.
            It could vary, it seems : “The expenses of the offerings of poor Nazarites were borne by the wealthy, this charitable obligation being expressed by the phrase “to have [his head] shorn”;
            NOTE from the text Paul was to pay for the 4 men “so that they may shave their heads” NOT Paul. There is no evidence here in chapter 21 that Paul had his head shaved. Indeed from what is cited , by paying the sum for the others Paul would have been deemed to have “his head shorn.”
            AND
            —In Rabbinical Literature:
            “The Nazarite law was minutely developed in post-Biblical times (Old Testament) and became authoritative, while the popularity of Nazariteship and the influence it exercised on men’s minds appear from its numerous regulations, which form a voluminous treatise of the Mishnah, and from the many expressions and phrases accompanying the taking of the vow. If one said, “May I be a Nazarite,” he became a Nazarite at once (Naz. i. 1). As a consequence of the universal custom, peculiar words and phrases, some of which are now unintelligible, were formulated for the taking of the vow (Naz. i. 1, ii. 1; p. 10a; Ned. 10a, b, et passim). “‘Let my hand, my foot be nazir,’ is not valid; ‘Let my liver [or some other vital part] be nazir,’ is valid” (Naz. 21b; Tos. to Naz. iii. 3).”
            (here: http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11395-nazarite)

            As a former lawyer,what I find highly relevant is the fact that you chose to ignore the rest of the points of substance both I and David Wilson have made, about Paul’s defense and the totality of Paul’s writings. Why, because they don’t fit your ase, your narrative, it seems clear. At law particulars of a case which are not “denied”and do not set out particulars of counterclaim that is: “I WILL BRING EVIDENCE TO CONTRADICT THIS/PROVE IT WRONG.” are deemed to be admitted
            You have adduced no evidence, only contention, of your claim about sacrifice. In those circumstances your claim can not bear the weight and interpretation you seek to place on it .
            And not only but also, again and again you bang on about this and at the same time contend the book of Acts isn’t historical evidence.

          • Gary,
            By the way. At law, in England and Wales in questions of evidence and admissibility, “relevant” means, “logically probative of facts in issue”.
            It seems we have a breakdown in comprehension which effectively traduces communication on anything that counters your ultimate purposes, to deride, diminish, denude Christianity and God-breathed scripture on the back of form/redactor criticism and all its recent, new-but -old atheistic (even in the name of self -proclaimed evangelical- progressive) tributaries .
            But this communication on this issue ends here from me (to the relief of those who may have dipped-in so far and to me.)
            After all, Ian Paul’s a blog post above is on Acts 11, Cornelius and the Spirit, not the subject of this your derivative thread.

          • I agree. We are off on a rabbit trail.

            The subject of the post is the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles, starting with Cornelius. The question remains: Was the Gospel for the Gentiles different than the Gospel for the Jews? I believe that Acts 15 and 21 strongly indicate that although both groups could be “saved” by faith in Jesus, Jews were to continue circumcising their children, eating kosher, and offering animal sacrifices for sins. We have ZERO evidence that the Jerusalem Church, led by the brother of Jesus and the Twelve, *ever* changed their beliefs on this issue.

            Have a nice day, Geoff. Thank you for the discussion.

        • Gary, your seem to be arguing something like this:

          1) In Acts 15, it was decided that gentile believers need not be circumcised*. The only restrictions imposed upon them were that they should not be sexually immoral or eat meat offered to idols. How Jewish believers should relate to the law is not evident at all in this passage.

          2) In Acts 21 we find that there are Jewish believers who are ‘zealous for the law’, who have heard rumours that Paul is teaching that Jewish believers should turn away from the law and shun the Jewish customs. This is probably a misunderstanding. (E.g. Paul circumcised Timothy).

          3) To avoid a confrontation or other issues, Paul is urged to participate himself in rituals conforming Jewish custom, which he does. There is no indication that he did so reluctantly.

          4) Geoff quotes 1 Corinthians. I would also quote that letter, in particular where Paul says that one should constrain what one does for the sake of the ‘weaker brother.’ It may be that Paul understood the passing nature of the different Jewish rituals, but was happy to participate in order not to offend the consciences of others.

          5) I cannot read Acts 21 as saying that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem regarded keeping the law as obligatory. What Paul was urged to do was to join four men in doing something particular. That Jewish believers in Jesus, the Messiah, would have their spiritual life awakened by belief is not surprising. That they would wish to express there new life in the form of the familar customs and rituals of their heritage is also not surprising. This is doctrine not practice.

          6) I’m not sure how you are relating this to Jesus’ attitude to the temple rituals in the Synoptics. Rather, in them Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple.

          7) Since you seem to be obsessed with sin offerings, in the synoptics Jesus proclaims forgiveness of sins without the need for any offering. Therefore, if Acts 21 shows that the leadership of the Church think that sin offerings are needed (whcih I do not), this is at odds with Jesus’ actions.

          8) The OT itself is ambiguous about the temple rituals. “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” It seems to be that Jesus’ teaching relating to law flows more from this than adherence to temple ritual.

          9) The non-requirement for circumcision (as in Acts 15 and Paul) is a very significant change from the Mosaic law. In that, it is clear that any gentile wishing to participate in the core ritual marking out the people of YHWH, namely the Passover, should be circumcised. Jesus said nothing about the necessity or otherwise of circumcision.

          Basically, if you are wanting to show some difference between “Jesus’ Gospel” and “Paul’s Gospel,” you cannot do it from Acts 15 and 21. Sorry. It is worth about as many points as Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

          Reply
          • “The non-requirement for circumcision (as in Acts 15 and Paul) is a very significant change from the Mosaic law.”

            Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem, is all about Gentiles. Gentiles could join the Jewish movement simply by abiding by the Noahide laws. They did not need to be circumcised, eat kosher, or offer animal sin sacrifices. Acts 21 is all about Jewish Christians. Was Paul preaching that Jewish followers of Jesus could abandon the Law of Moses? That was James’ concern and that of the elders of the Jerusalem church. No where in either chapter does it state that Jews could stop offering animal sacrifices for sins.

            A Nazarite purification ceremony involves a sin sacrifice. Why was the Jerusalem church telling Jewish Christians to perform animal sin sacrifices almost thirty years after Jesus’ death?

  13. Just how historically reliable are the Gospels and Acts if even prominent conservative Protestant and evangelical Bible scholars believe that fictional accounts may exist in these books?

    I have put together a list of statements from such scholars and historians as Richard Bauckham, William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, and NT Wright on this issue here:

    https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2019/05/23/bombshell-how-historically-reliable-are-the-gospels-if-even-conservative-bible-scholars-believe-they-may-contain-fictional-stories/

    Reply
    • Gary – I had a look at your posting. Despite the headline, in reality ‘some’ of these scholars have cast doubt on the historicity of a single event, written solely by Matthew – namely the resurrecting of the ‘saints’. Although Matthew certainly uses apocalyptic language, often in quoting the OT, I dont think he is using such language or ideas here. I find it odd, for example, that Matthew would claim these risen saints had been seen by others – it’s as if he is saying, if you dont believe me, ask the witnesses.

      Bauckham – yes he doesnt believe the apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel, but that is based on his understanding of names in the Gospels. I think he’s wrong.

      Licona – he has argued that Matthew may be using apocalyptic language regarding the saints. But per above that is not the impression I get from the text. There is no doubt that the NT sometimes uses such language and it is not to be understood literalistically. Indeed this is one reason why I dont view ‘hell’ as literal eternal conscious torment.

      Blomberg – a while back i listened to a discussion between Blomberg and some other scholars regarding Licona’s view and if memory serves me right, Blomberg disagreed but believed he had been treated harshly when he lost his job at a particular university.

      Wright – not sure where to start! I think he’s wrong on Paul’s understanding of salvation so Im not really surprised at what he says here, though he doesnt seem to be definite about any of them, either way. I certainly also think he’s wrong on Daniel – Ive yet to see convincing evidence it was not written in the 6th century BC. Though I agree parables should not be understood literalistically – I thought that was obvious.

      Brown – actually he was something of a liberal, not just casting doubt on the ‘saint’s’ passage.

      Reply
      • I certainly also think he’s wrong on Daniel – Ive yet to see convincing evidence it was not written in the 6th century BC.

        And yet, you consider the character Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead?
        Based on what specific evidence?

        Also, what’s your view of the Flood, and do you apply the same critical standards of evidence when evaluating such tales?

        Reply

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