Paul and the Heritage of Israel— Part Eleven

However we evaluate the historical merits of Acts, and I am on record of thinking highly of them, the portrait of Paul in Acts is most certainly a construct, a selective portrayal, that leaves out of account many things, for example that Paul wrote important letters. Thus, it is appropriate to ask the question of Acts what sort of portrait is Luke trying to convey, and how much does it comport with what we can deduce from Paul’s own letters, and indeed, other sources. Scholars today are more inclined, than in the past, to see various points of convergence between Acts and the Pauline letters, and to talk about Acts as an example of the reception or legacy of Paul, and even, theologically somewhat of an example of Paulinism. In the article by Claire Clivaz of Lausanne (undoubtedly a colleague of D. Marguerat) she brings forth the category of rumor or hearsay as a way of evaluating what Paul says about himself and what is said in Acts. Interestingly, Clivaz thinks that, on the basis of 2 Cor. 10.10 that Paul himself was no oratory or rhetor, but Acts portrays him as such. This is a big mistake, as Larry Welborn’s treatment of that Pauline text has shown at some length (p. 266).

Clivaz begins with the point that early Christianity did not primarily remember Paul for his theology (she points to the end of Colossians where we hear instead– remember my chains), they remembered his example, his praxis etc. Sadly, she is largely right about this. When one reads for example Ignatius this evaluation sticks, and perhaps also when one reads Paul and Thecla. But as a generalization it is not entirely true as a reading of Tertullian shows (and theology is not absent in Clement’s 1 Corinthians either despite the assertions of A. Lindemann). Clivaz however makes a good point that Paul’s letters are preserved precisely because they are by THAT Paul, who helped found the largely Gentile church. This I think is right, and so it has been said that the letters are viewed as jewels within the setting of Paul the person– his example, career, accomplishments. I also agree with Clivaz that Clement’s 1 Corinthians gives the lie to too neat a distinction or division between the letters of Paul and the person of Paul. That document draws on and commends both. So we must beware of over dichotomizing the Pauline legacy. As Clivaz admits “1 Clement reinforces the idea of an early archivizing of Paul’s letters…” (p. 268). We could have deduced this from 2 Pet.3 as well. She also rightly notes that not only does 1 Clement betray a knowledge of several Pauline letters, but it also knows Hebrews (see 1 Clement 36.2-5), and argument in favor of the notion that Hebrews was both addressed to some in Rome, and also in favor of its close association with the Pauline corpus. p46, it will be remembered (dated to perhaps A.D. 200) places Hebrews right after Romans. But is it really true that 1 Clement draws on 1 Corinthians chiefly because of the personal connection of Paul to the church in Rome (and even its founding)? I doubt this. Paul was important to the church in Rome, but neither his letters nor Acts suggest any tendencies to see him as a founder of that church, and I doubt we can find such a notion in 1 Clement either. His example of martyrdom and exemplary Christ-like behavior however does shine through that document, and others (e.g. Ignatius). He is the ‘good apostle’ (1 Clem. 5.4).

Do we see in Acts the idea, later so prevalent in the Acts of Paul and Thecla of Paul the revered holy man? Yes, we do, as the story of the healing hankies shows (Acts 19.11-12). We would hardly have known about Paul the miracle worker just from his letters (except for a very passing reference in Rom. 15). See also the story of Paul at Lystra in Acts. But already, as Clivaz says, we hear in Gal. 4.14-16 an outsized reaction by new converts to Paul. This is why she is wary of talking just about Paulinism rather than Paulinisms, spun out from the complex character and legacy of Paul and his letters, including the biographical info in the letters.

It seems clear enough to both Clivaz, and myself, that Paul does indeed present himself as an authority figure in his letters, one who has every right to command, shame, sadden, test, or encourage his converts. These are not letters written between equals nor are they ‘friendly’ letters in the ancient sense. The language of friendship hardly comes up between Paul and his converts. Clivaz stresses that Paul is presented in his letters as both an absent father figure and also a prisoner for the sake of Christ. Both heighten the pathos of these documents, and in some cases attempt to shame the audience into better behavior and a better relationship with their apostle. Clivaz thinks that the category of rumour (pp. 272ff) can help us better understand Paul’s self-presentation, and she is right. But 2 Cor. 10.9-10 tells us only how Paul was viewed by some Corinthians, not how Paul viewed himself. He would agree his letters are weighty, and even difficult, something the author of 2 Pet. 3 would agree with as well. Larry Welborn has made clear however that it is a mistake to assume that Paul is admitting to rhetorical inability or lack of training in 2 Cor. 10.9-10 or 11.6, contra Clivaz. It is interesting that both Paul in his letters, and the Paul of Acts and later Pauline type documents do emphasis Paul in chains, and even Paul the martyr figure.

Clivaz is right, I think, in stressing that the prologue in Lk. 1.1-4 makes clear that Luke is constrained by the traditions he is conveying to a real extent, though he thinks that previous uses of them can be improved upon, and he will present a more orderly account for Theophilus. He is talking to a person previously instructed in these things but inadequately. Luke, just like Paul, is engaging in insider communication in Luke-Acts. Notice the ‘us’ which encompasses both author and audience. Like Paul, Luke is writing to strengthen existing faith. Clivaz is right to stress that in both Acts and in Paul’s letters we see a Paul who is characterized by ‘parresia’ that is boldness of speech, which in itself tells us nothing about whether Paul did or did not have a rhetorical education (in Acts see 9.22-28; 13.46;14.3;19.3;26.26;28.31).


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