Ben Wulpi New Testament II Dr.

Mark Fairchild April 28, 2008 Paul in Acts: A review Paul in Acts is a part of the Library of Pauline Studies and written by Stanley E. Porter, who is a British theologian and religious studies professor who teaches in Ontario, Canada. In this book, Porter focuses on the depiction of Paul, as presented in the book of Acts, from several perspectives that encompass literary-critical, rhetorical, and theological methods. He argues in favor of fairly traditional positions of Paul and the book of Acts. Herein lies a review of Paul in Acts, comprising a summary, analysis, and evaluation.

Summary Paul in Acts is self-defined as “a series of studies that focus on the depiction of Paul in the book of Acts from literary-critical, rhetorical, and theological perspectives, among several others” (Porter 1). It attempts to provide a regimented narrative-critical character study of Paul as he is portrayed in the book of Acts. Paul in Acts was written to confront issues surrounding Paul, such as the relation between the Paul in Acts and the Paul of the letters, Paul the letterwriter to Paul the speaker, and the various dimensions of Paul’s theology in both Acts and his letters. The major materials in Acts that cover these topics are found in the cryptic “we” passages and Paul’s many speeches. The book is

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concerned most with the literary character of Paul, so it encompasses both traditional and modern literary criticism. The first major element that Porter discusses is the “we” passages. These are the passages in Acts where the narration abruptly changes from third person to first person, then back again—designated by the use of first person personal pronouns such as “we” and “us.” Porter outlines four major theories about these “we” sections. The traditional solution is that the “we” passages indicate the author of Acts being personally present as an eyewitness to the events. The source-critical solution is that these sections reflect a diary or some literary source, perhaps from the author but more likely from another writer. The redaction-critical solution suggests that these are imaginative redactions by the author of Acts, using editorial manipulation to get his point across. And the literary solution proposes that the “we” passages are literary creations, reflecting the author’s creation of a larger fictive narrative work that is patterned after contemporary literature. This last view also suggests that they could be the author’s use of a literary convention for telling of sea voyages in the first-person plural. No truly identical literary parallels to these “we” passages have been found in ancient Greek literature, so it is difficult to arrive at a solution for the cultural precedents for the “we” passages. Each “we” section (there are 4 or 5 of them, depending on how they are divided) follows a pretty standard pattern with major features to it. Each one begins at a particular locale, contains a record of at least one sea voyage, arrives at a destination, and at some point distinguishes Paul from the rest of the “we” group. Porter concludes that these sections of Acts were a previously written source used by the author of Acts that probably did not originate with him. The sudden introduction

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and disappearance of the first-person personal pronouns means the author can’t be easily associated with the “we” voice of the passages. So this points to an outside source for the “we” passages. The passages are integrated stylistically with the rest of the book. They are incorporated into the flow of Acts logically and literally, interwoven with the other material in the third-person narrative format. Porter concludes that the “we” passages came from a continuous, originally undivided source that focused on Paul and his missionary travels that the author of Acts took over and incorporated into Acts. Porter then discusses the major theological issues contained within the “we” passages, of which there are four. (1) The “we” passages often appear in places where divine guidance is issued, such as Paul’s vision of the man in Macedonia in Acts chapter 16. It also depicts how the missionary endeavors, while focusing on Paul, are not devoted utterly to him. (2) To Porter, it is clear that the author of the “we” sections reflects a Hellenistic perspective. They pay little attention to anything Jewish. (3) Paul is not depicted as a brilliant orator, but rather as a man of unassuming competence. His speaking in these sections is minimal, and he is not unjustifiably the center of attention. (4) Paul isn’t depicted as a great miracle worker. Miracles are recognized, but Paul isn’t depicted as flashy or grandiose miracle worker in these sections. The language used in the “we” sections tends to downplay the miraculous. These sections emphasize Paul the practical man, one who is simply willing to place himself in God’s hands. Porter moves on to discuss the Holy Spirit in relation to Paul. There are a total of eight scenes in Acts where the Holy Spirit figures into the ministry of Paul. There is no systematic way in which Paul and the Holy Spirit interact, nor does there seem to be a common theme that connects them through all the occurrences. But those times when

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Paul does interact with the Holy Spirit are regarded as the most important turning points of his ministry. The Holy Spirit functions as an agent of guidance for Paul’s life and ministry. Porter then discusses the relationship between Paul the epistolographer (as we know him from his letters) and Paul the rhetorician (as we know him from his speeches in Acts). The author of Acts never portrays Paul as a letterwriter, and there are some hints in the letters that Paul was not a great orator, so we are left with this dichotomy between the two sources. In Acts, Paul is portrayed mainly as an orator and a highly convincing (for the most part) rhetorician. Although Paul was born in Tarsus, an area highly regarded for its education in philosophy and rhetoric, it’s doubtful that Paul proceeded very far in this educational system. In Acts 22:3, Paul himself says that he grew up in Jerusalem, and there is a lack of evidence in his letters of much classical knowledge. And it is not likely that Paul could have simply picked up the skill of rhetoric in his wide travels, as it was a rare and rigorous field of study. Paul’s speeches in Acts are shaped and presented by its author, so it is difficult to glean much information about Paul and his education purely from his speeches. But Porter concludes that at least in his letters, Paul is an epistolographer, rather than a rhetorician writing down his speeches. The discussion is then turned to Paul’s speeches made in Acts. There are two types of speeches given: missionary speeches and apologetic or defensive speeches. However, it is difficult to make a firm distinction between the two. There are 24-25 speeches in Acts, depending on how they’re split up, which is a greater frequency of speeches than there are in any other writings found in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Paul’s missionary speeches were argumentative ones, aimed to persuade others to believe

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in Christ. In these Paul often appealed to natural theology or a common authority (e.g. the Old Testament when speaking to Jews) to make the case for God. His apologetic speeches were often used to present a defense for Paul’s ministry to those challenging him. In these speeches Paul would appeal to his personal history to testify to his belief in Christ, in the resurrection, or about the law. In these apologetic speeches, Paul is interrupted every time, often when he mentions the resurrection. Porter attempts to make a comparison of the Paul of Acts and these speeches to the Paul of the letters. As mentioned earlier, the speeches come to us indirectly through the author of Acts, so it’s difficult to determine what is valid evidence. Although the evidence is far from certain, there are legitimate grounds for seeing the Paul of Acts as sharing a similar voice to that of the Paul of the letters, at least at those points where direct comparison can be made. The next topic Porter discusses is the puzzling scene of Acts 21:17-26, in which Paul goes before a council at Jerusalem, led by James. After Paul reports how the God had been working among the Gentiles, the council confronts him about teaching Jews to abandon the Law and Moses. They order him to go and purify himself along with four others (while paying for their expense). Paul concedes to this, even though it contradicts what he writes in his letters. Porter concludes that this is Paul being all things to all men, including being a Jew to Jews (cf. 1 Cor. 9:20), even if it creates an inconsistency on his part, in some contexts practicing the law and in others not. In the last chapter, Porter goes over some common conceptions—and misconceptions—about Paul, in Acts and in his letters. He goes about this by picking on

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one scholar who holds a misconception, and counters the points made by that scholar in order to arrive at his conclusions. Porter comes to rather traditional conclusions—that the author of Acts most likely had some form of close contact with Paul and his beliefs. He thoroughly analyzes and responds to the arguments made about the differences between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters and concludes they are provide no significant or sustainable contradictions to show that there were two different minds behind the two bodies of literature that inform us about Paul.

Analysis I found it interesting how Porter often used his refutations to other scholars’ theories in order to teach his own viewpoints. I also found it very interesting that Porter concluded that the traditional solutions were best, when many modern scholars seem to deviate from that solution. It seems that normally, as scholars learn and discover more about the ancient culture and practices used, the “traditional” theories seem to go out the window in most cases. But here Porter returns to these traditional solutions after carefully scrutinizing all the other options. It is in the last chapter where Porter departs from certain scholars the most. To answer the question of the consistency between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters, he uses a German scholar named Haenchen, who rejected the tradition that Luke the author of Acts was the traveling companion of Paul. Porter went through five points of Haenchen and responded to them by looking at all the evidence and a broader context,

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concluding that there is a large amount of continuity and similarity between the two portrayals of Paul. Another scholar Porter uses is Vielhauer, who theorized that the theologies of Paul in Acts and Paul in the letters were inconsistent. Porter countered two of Vielhauer’s main points: Paul’s Christology and his eschatology. With both points, Porter analyzes the evidence and concludes that there actually is consistency between the two sources.

Evaluation I think Porter did an excellent job of thoroughly examining and scrutinizing all the evidence. It raises some caution in me though, that he arrives at the consistent, traditional solution on every point. Maybe it’s my skeptical, post-modern mind that doesn’t ever see situations work out perfectly and just how they were expected to. But it almost seems convenient for him to arrive back at the traditional solutions, when many modern scholars have deviated from just that. To me, it makes me wonder if Porter is operating from his presumptions as a foundation and arriving at solutions that fit into that. But I really have no way of knowing that, and as he was extremely comprehensive in his research and exegesis, my doubts are likely unfounded. And I don’t have enough knowledge of literary/rhetorical analysis, biblical exegesis, or cultural practices to refute or affirm his conclusions. This book was a difficult read for me, a layperson. This book was written for other biblical scholars, so there were many assumptions made about knowledge the reader supposedly already possessed. Many times he would do an analysis of a Greek word in the text, and he would talk about the word assuming the reader knew Greek and

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knew what he was talking about. Even as a Greek student, sometimes I didn’t know what word in the text he was referring to, or understand his exegesis of it. Overall, I thought this book was very informative. It really made me aware of a lot of the issues surrounding Paul and the book of Acts, and just how complex this scholarly work often is. But I think maybe if Porter made a reader’s/layperson’s edition, I would enjoy it and get a lot more out of it.

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Work Cited Porter, Stanley E. Paul in Acts. Hendrickson Publishers: U.S.A., 2001.

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