The SBL in Chicago-A Potpourri of Things– Part Four

Me with my Turkish friends, Levent Oral and Mark Wilson at the Tutku Tours booth at the SBL.

Certainly one of the major sessions at the SBL this year was the panel discussion of the recent collection of essays published by T+T Clark and entitled Paul and the Heritage of Israel. Those participating were Rob Wall, Mikael Parsons, Daniel Marguerat, Loveday Alexander, David Moessner, and Mark Reasoner. The purpose of the book and the seminar is to work across disciplines comparing themes and ideas found in Acts and also in the Pastorals, the other disputed Paulines, the Catholic Epistles, the Acts of Paul and other second century writings of relevance. Rob Wall explored the notion that it was the Paul of the Pastorals and Acts that triumphs in the second century church, not the Paul of the letters. The Miletus speech is seen as recycled later Paul for a later time, but of course this involves assumptions as to when Acts is to be dated. If Luke was indeed a sometime companion of Paul in his later missionary work, it is hardly likely that the author of Acts was presenting a later Paul image at odds with the Paul of the letters. Wall suggests that we have a non-apostolic Paul in Acts, but of course this ignores Acts 14. This is especially problematic if apostle means a missionary or evangelistic figure commissioned directly by Jesus. One of the overall themes of this volume is however that there is a continuity between the Paul of the letters and the Paul of Acts and later Christian literature.

Another suggestion made in the session was that Hebrews and James show the extreme boundaries of how Paul could be read early on. Loveday Alexander suggests that the new thing in this volume is interpreting Paul through his reception history, or the later use of Pauline material. She notes a continuity between the way Paul and Luke in Acts use the OT, as Hays also argued. She raises the question of whether Acts is an apologia for Paul. The volume also stresses the importance of Israel for the ongoing life of the church, in almost every chapter. Daniel Marguerat disagrees with Alexander in arguing that Acts is not an apologia for Paul, but for early Christian identity.

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview, Part 2
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 3
Forward Thinking on Reading Backwards’– Part Six
Man Shoveling Snow in Lexington while Break Dancing
  • Rob Wall

    Ben, thanks for this post (which a student called to my attention). But I think you’ve seriously missed my point by assuming my observations are made at the point of an author’s composition of a text. My observations are rather about the church’s formation and canonization of a canonical collection and what the cues mined there may teach us about the continuing role performed by a text as the church’s Scripture. In this regard, I never distinguish these two “Pauls”—one that belongs to the Pastorals and another than belongs to “the letters” (as though the Pastorals are not included in the Pauline corpus!). The panel’s discussion, following the book’s interests (and especially SNTS’s seminar on the reception of Paul), regards the earliest reception of the historical Paul—in my case, the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the Pastorals, which scholars have long connected (and routinely so in this volume). I asked a question the book didn’t: what is it about the portrait and theological formulae of the definitive apostolic Paul we encounter in the Pastorals (esp in 2 Timothy, so also Jens Schroter in the volume under discussion) that can be explained by their canonization (which I argue in my commentary on the Pastorals took place sometime toward the end of the second century). As a matter of the historical record, reconstructed with available (although sparse) evidence, there were various Pauls or Pauline Christianities (see C. Mount for this) contested by tradents; the addition of the Pastorals to the extant 10 letter Pauline corpus already in wide (i.e., “catholic”) circulation suggests (to me at least) that the church settled on how Paul’s memory and message are “received” (in a “canonical” sense) in the Pastorals. (I offer absolutely no speculation regarding date or authorship of the Pastorals or Acts. In the case of Acts, Gregory and Mount, as well as subsequent studies, indicate that whenever Acts was composed in its final form and why, it was not picked up and used until Irenaeus.)

    In fact, whenever Acts was composed in its final form (although we have different textual traditions of Acts—see Strange for the mss evidence) and by whomever, I honestly don’t care (nor does the Spirit I would argue who selected and sanctified these texts for the church). I simply do not view Paul’s Miletus speech as “later” or “recycled”; it could be the verbatim transcription of an earwitness (Luke?) for all I care. My concern, again, is the continuing role it performs when read and used as Scripture. From Irenaeus’ decisive reading of Acts, I take it that Acts 20 teaches us about the importance of Paul for the future church; and as such frames our reading and use of the Pauline corpus as God’s word.

    Your other comment about the “non-apostolic Paul” of Acts misses the way “apostleship” is defined in the book under review. Moessner’s important essay in particular uses “apostle” in a more theological or technical sense, not in the generalized way Acts 14:14 does and consistent with Acts 1, which sets out the qualifications of apostleship/successors requiring someone to be with Jesus from the beginning (see 1 John 1:1-2). The larger point I was making here, however, is that Paul’s portrait in Acts, which relates him at every point to the Twelve—the first successors of Jesus, is actually different than the Paul of the Pastorals, who never acknowledges any other apostle.

    In fact, the volume makes the case for “continuity” between the biblical “Paul of the letters” and Acts but only if by “continuity” one has in mind an organic, evolving understanding of Paul’s apostolic legacy. There are surely conceptual or thematic differences to note between them Acts and the Pauline letters, and even within the Pauline letters between the Pastorals and, say, the Corinthian correspondence (see Margaret Mitchell for this). These differences could be explained (and have) in any number of ways; my intent is to explain how they work in relationship to one another as discrete parts of sacred Scripture. A “canonical approach” to the problem. I think you misunderstand my orienting concerns, then.

    In any case, if any of your blog’s readers would like a copy of my SBL paper, have them email me at They can take a look at my commentary on the Pastorals, just published by Eerdmans, for a fuller discussion of these same points. Merry Christmas, my brother!

  • http://www, ben witherington

    Thanks Rob. Haven’t seen the book yet but looking forward to it. This was just a reaction to the presentation of course. I do have a couple of responses to a couple of your points. Firstly, these texts had meaning, truth etc. in and of themselves long before they were collected into groups or finally into a canon. They do not derive their meaning, truth, significance or inspiration from their being collected into a canon. Secondly, if canonical criticism is anti-historical in character at the end of the day it is self-defeating since ours is a historically grounded religion. Thirdly, when it comes to claims about history, nothing can be theologically true or meaningful that is historically false. So I’m afraid historical agnosticism does not comport with the nature, character, or truth of these texts. Merry Christmas! BW3

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