Luke Volume 3

Luke Volume 3 March 21, 2015

Jonathan Bernier raised some interesting problems with suggestions that are often made regarding why Luke ended Acts where he did. The open ending doesn’t really work well as a defense of Paul’s innocence, if the work was written after Paul’s death.

That does not, however, mean that we must embrace as the only alternative dating Acts to soon after its final scene.

There is a good option available to those who think evidence points to Luke being late: that the author intended to write a third volume. Both volumes end in a way that makes a sequel natural.

Also worth mentioning is the possibility that, contrary to the tradition, Paul did not die in the time of Nero, but was executed before then, under the auspices of an emperor upon whom the author could not shift blame in the way one might just be able to in Nero’s case.

I don’t have strong feelings either way.

See also Bernier’s earlier post mentioning my own, mentioning his, about the possible quotation of Luke in 1 Timothy.

As for the possibility of Luke-Acts-X, what do you think that third volume might have focused on, and what period of history do you think it might have covered, if it had existed? What title might it have ended up being given if it had the contents you imagine it could have?

Feel free to compare your speculations about Luke’s two/three volumes to speculations about Star Wars Episode VII if you are so inclined…

sts luke and leia

The above depiction of the other St. Luke is one that I shared previously. It is by Chawakarn Khongprasert.

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  • I doubt there’d be enough left to write about Paul to fill up a third volume. He’s done what he needs to do, he’s converted a load of people, said his goodbyes, and made it to Rome. You could have him doing some more preaching in Spain maybe and then returning to Rome, but the narrative wouldn’t really be going anywhere and it’d be hard to fill up a volume. I think a volume about the successors to Paul, maybe focused on someone like Barnabas, would work better.

    I’ve heard of the suggestion that the Pastoral Epistles could be written by the same author as Luke-Acts, and would be the third part in a Luke-Acts-X triad. I don’t know Greek so I can’t really tell if the styles are similar enough to suggest that. But if Luke-Acts is late and a reaction to Marcion, it would make sense to also produce some pseudepigraphical Pauline epistles as a counter to Marcion’s use of Paul’s letters. What do you think?

    • Given that Marcion knew a version of Luke, albeit a different version from the one that became canonical in the Christian tradition that persists down to the present, having Luke-Acts be a reaction to Marcion seems unlikely. The Pastoral Epistles seem more likely to be interacting with the views expressed in the Acts of Paul and Thecla than with Marcion.

      • Given that Marcion knew a version of Luke, albeit a different version from the one that became canonical in the Christian tradition that persists down to the present, having Luke-Acts be a reaction to Marcion seems unlikely.

        How do we know that Marcion didn’t create his gospel out of material from Mark and Q or Mark and Matthew? Followed by an opponent “correcting” Marcion to create Luke-Acts (or “correcting” Marcion’s source). Are there any indications in Marcion’s gospel that the material comes from the same author as Acts? (I know we don’t actually have the gospel, but we can check using the quotes and descriptions of it from the church fathers.)

        I know the church fathers claim that Marcion’s gospel was copied, but they would have obvious sectarian reasons to claim that Marcion was corrupting an earlier work, so I’m not willing to trust them on this.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          So, in your scenario, the churches reject Marcion but accept his gospel (albeit corrected) as scripture? Wouldn’t it have made much more sense to simply reject Marcion’s gospel? I find it next to impossible on your scenario to account for the fourfold gospel canon that emerges by no later than the end of the 2nd-century.

          • Matthew’s gospel was accepted as canonical, despite its Jewish-Christian associations, and John was accepted despite some believing it had been written by Cerinthus. Gaining widespread acceptance within that timeframe would be no harder than for other late works such as the Pastoral Epistles; remember that the churches wouldn’t have thought of it as accepting “Marcion’s gospel”, but accepting what was in their eyes an orthodox gospel without Marcion’s “corruptions”.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            But *why* would they feel the need to “[accept] what was in their eyes an orthodox gospel without Marcion’s ‘corruptions'”? What would motivate them to do so?

            And note that the comparisons with Matthew and John are tenuous at best. The persons who formulated the fourfold canon in the second-century evince no animosity towards those much-earlier Jewish-Christian circles from whence Matthew derived, and it seems that the argument that Cerinthus wrote John’s Gospel was an idiosyncratic position held by just one person (and moreover, is derivative entirely of Johannine authorship, as it is rooted in the legendary conflict between John the Evangelist and Cerinthus). These are not parallel situations in the least.

            So, again: what motivated the second-century Christians to correct Marcion’s gospel in order to accept it into its canon? And is whatever motivation you come up with a better argument than the one that says that Luke’s Gospel was already a text beloved by the churches, which accounts readily both for why Marcion might accept it as a Vorlage for his work and for why the church felt it necessary to correct what he has done?

          • So, again: what motivated the second-century Christians to correct Marcion’s gospel in order to accept it into its canon?

            The same thing that, under the alternative theory, motivated Marcion to correct a more orthodox gospel and put it into his canon. Either way, somebody has significantly modified a gospel to align it with his own theology. If you think that Marcion would do it, I don’t see why we should assume that the orthodox wouldn’t.

            Your question also conflates the redactor of Luke-Acts with the people who accepted Luke as canonical. Those who accepted it into the canon would not have known that it was a modification of Marcion’s gospel. They would have simply seen an orthodox gospel. If Marcion’s gospel bears some similarities to it, it must be because evil lying heretics like Marcion were trying to corrupt the truth of orthodoxy, which of course the good honest orthodox would never do. Marcionites, of course, would assume the opposite.

            Other late anti-heretical works like the Pastoral Epistles and 2 Peter were accepted by the church, and assumed to be genuinely apostolic. Why should it be implausible for the same thing to happen to a gospel?

          • Andrew Dowling

            -“The persons who formulated the fourfold canon in the second-century
            evince no animosity towards those much-earlier Jewish-Christian circles
            from whence Matthew derived”

            Are you kidding? Jewish-Christianity which kept the Law (Judaizers) was one of the most critiqued ‘heresies’ of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Matthew clearly points to a community that kept Torah.

            “it seems that the argument that Cerinthus wrote John’s Gospel was an idiosyncratic position held by just one person”

            Both Iraneaus and Epiphanius demonstrate that many believed that Cerinthus was the author of John; you don’t think the fact that John is not quoted until the late 2nd century is related to the fact that it was in use by Gnostic groups?

          • Andrew Dowling

            No, you weaken your opponent by stealing his product and reworking to fit your objectives. One of the oldest strategies known to man

        • The fact that Marcion’s Gospel included material that did not fit his viewpoint suggests that he inherited it. See Jason BeDuhn’s recent book for am interesting treatment of this topic.

          • Makes sense. So do you think Marcion’s source was written by the same author as Acts, or was that source written on its own and later expanded by the author of Acts?

            In other words, are the indications of common authorship of Luke and Acts still present when we remove all the Lukan material that Marcion didn’t use?

          • I have never done extensive research into the complexities of different editions of Acts known from the manuscript tradition, and the different editions of Luke that may be indicated from Marcion.

          • We know that the Luke-Acts redactor used sources common to Matthew and Mark (or Matthew and Mark themselves). It’s possible that both Marcion and the Luke-Acts writer borrowed from similar sources. Or rather that Marcion redacted a proto-Luke (isn’t Mark a sort of proto-Luke?) and that the Luke-Acts redactor redacted both.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Sure, it’s possible. But possibilities are a dime a dozen.

            One thing that continues to trouble me about proto-Luke hypotheses is how one distinguishes analytically between Luke and proto-Luke. At what point is proto-Luke sufficiently like Luke that it can be called “Luke”? This takes on significant urgency when one recalls that there is no such thing as a “fixed text” of “Luke” or any other text in the ancient world. Rather “Luke” is a cipher that references a range of variants evident across a diversity of manuscripts. So I have no problem acknowledging that the Lukan tradition was in flux throughout the second century and later; that goes without saying. The question is what ontological rubicon must be passed before it is Luke proper.

          • All we are discussing is possibilities. Your proposals are possibilities too. They are not all a dime a dozen. Some possibilities are backed up by good scholarly arguments; and enough scholars have argued for a late date for Luke-Acts as a response to Marcion that it seems a bit disingenuous for you to dismiss this particular possibility as “a dime a dozen”.

            I agree that “proto-Luke” is an amorphous term. If “proto-Luke” is a term we use for earlier sources of Luke, then we could just as easily call Mark a “proto-Luke”, which is fine with me – it all depends on your purpose for the term.

            The question that scholars like Tyson and Pervo raise is this: need we assume that “Luke-like” elements in Marcion are the result of Marcion using the version of Luke that we know now; or is it possible that the version of Luke-Acts that we have now was, in part, a redacted response to Marcion. Their argument goes on to point out themes throughout Luke-Acts that answer the Marcionite challenge.

          • Andrew Dowling

            For starters, it’s pretty easy to show via internal textual analysis that Luke originally had no birth narrative and a truncated Resurrection narrative; it’s not all the same author. That hypothesis IMO is much much stronger than the alternatives.

      • Though the idea has been around much longer, Joseph Tyson makes an argument in “Marcion and Luke-Acts: a defining struggle” that Luke-Acts is a response to Marcion, rather than Marcion’s gospel being a rewrite of Luke.

        • Jason BeDuhn’s recent book argues that Marcion’s version of Luke was simply a different version of Luke which he inherited. It does not seem to be either Marcionite or anti-Marcionite, since it may have lacked some things that were useful to Marcion, but it definitely contained things that were not helpful to his case. And so neither scenario seems to fit the evidence, if BeDuhn is correct. But then it still remains to explain why we end up with two versions of Luke, and the answer may be related to the question of the different editions of Acts we know from the manuscript tradition.

          • Then what BeDuhn and Tyson both highlight is the redacted nature of Luke. Whatever sources Luke used (and we know of at least one), it is too simplistic to think of Luke as a single author with a personal relationship to each part of the narrative, much less as a “witness”.

            The first reason that one might end up with two versions of Luke is that the earliest version of Luke was Mark. We know that redaction took place. We don’t know how many others took place.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Without reading his book DeBuhn’s argument makes a great deal of intuitive sense. Marcion had something called “Luke,” but it differed from what other Christians called “Luke.” But this is quite distinct from the idea that Marcion inherited a “proto-Luke,” that he then rewrote to whatever extent, with the church’s Luke coming out of that. In fact DeBuhn emphasizes the diversity of Luke far better than any proto-Luke hypothesis, for the latter must suppose that most chimerical of beasts, “the final form,” which, if it ever existed at all, was really not a full technical possibility until the widespread advent of printing in the 16th century. DeBuhn also, and one suspects rightly, moves the discussion of the second-century gospel tradition out of the fields of source and redaction criticism and into the field of textual criticism.

          • Tyson’s argument is not so simplistic as “the church’s Luke coming out of that [Marcion’s Luke]”. It is a larger argument that much of Luke-Acts was arranged as a response to Marcion’s theology – not to Marcion’s Luke.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Yes, I know Tyson’s argument. In blog comments however one must simplify. Therefore I respond to those matters upon which I think his argument most vulnerable. Among the central considerations is whether Luke-Acts is made more intelligible by thinking it to be a response to Marcion than it otherwise would be. I don’t think so, and the ending of the Acts is one of the reasons that I think this to be the case. Another consideration is that I’m not quite convinced that Marcion was as significant in the development of Christian thought as Tyson wants to suggest.

            Even more basic: it’s not self-evident to me that Luke-Acts is a work of theological polemics. Several generations of NT scholars have been socialized to suppose this is the case, but for a large part it is just that: supposition. The closest one might get to evidence supporting such a view is the Lukan prologue, wherein it is stated that it meant to be a “more orderly account.” I’m not sure that one can leap from that to the supposition that Luke is writing to correct anyone’s theology. Indeed, the dearth of explicit theological argument in Luke-Acts seems to militate against the supposition. If it is a theological argument against Marcion or any other then it is a quite oblique argument, and the point at which “oblique” is cipher for “eisegesis” is a fuzzy one.

          • That does explain your position better, which seems to hinge on your not being convinced that Marcion was as significant to the development of Christian thought as Tyson suggests. I’m not the scholar that you are, but I’m pretty sure that a number of scholars would disagree with you on the relative importance of Marcion.

            I know that these are only blog comments, but, again, I think you are oversimplifying Tyson’s argument to merely assert that Luke-Acts is not “a work of theological polemics” or a “theological argument”. I think that Tyson sees Luke-Acts as a theological argument only in the same sense that Marcion’s canon is a theological argument. They are competing narratives with competing themes.

          • Andrew Dowling

            The evidence points to Marcion and Marcionism being an extremely big deal by the mid-2nd century; the early Fathers certainly saw it as a huge threat.

          • Yes, that’s what I’ve seen in what scholarship I’ve read.

  • Ben

    Pastoral Epistles ;-).

  • Even if Paul did die under Nero, I think it would probably have been a much trickier proposition for a Christian to denigrate an emperor than it was for Tacitus writing later.

  • Jonathan Bernier suggests that “This problem [the problem that Paul’s execution presents in defense of his innocence, and the fact that the execution isn’t mentioned in Acts] disappears entirely if Luke finishes Acts towards the end of or not long after Paul’s two years under house arrest in Rome.” Bernier suggests a date of c. 62, though he doesn’t consider any arguments as definitive.

    Crossan and Borg, in “The First Paul”, consider that “Acts was most likely written near the end of the first century, some thirty years or so after Paul’s death.” Their answer to the lack of an account of Paul’s execution is not based on a presumed avoidance by the author to protect Paul’s innocence, but rather the focus and intent of Luke-Acts as a whole:

    “Because Acts does not report Paul’s death, some scholars have argued that Acts must have been written while Paul was still alive, which would mean the early 60s at the latest. But this argument presumes that the purpose of Acts was to provide a “life of Paul” and that the most plausible explanation for Paul’s death not being mentioned is that he hadn’t yet died.

    But the purpose of Acts, the plan of the book, is to tell the story of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome (see, for example, Acts 1.8). And so Acts ends appropriately with Paul preaching the gospel in the capital of the empire. For the author to have ended with, “And then Rome executed him,” would have been an odd climax, to say the least.”

    I would add that Acts does not recount the execution of Peter either.

    • Paul E.

      Yeah, I have always thought this seemed the most likely explanation. I like the idea of a possible third unwritten volume, though. Very intriguing.

      • Crossan and Borg note that Acts is not a “life of Paul”; I would also add that Acts does not record the birth of Paul. It only deals with Paul’s story as it connects to the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Crossan and Borg’s argument is not impossible. However, in my mind there are flies in the ointment. The most significant is that the very last line of Acts states that Paul taught in Rome without hindrance. After all the quite-involved descriptions of Paul’s legal troubles up to that point a reader c. 90 C.E. (or 120 C.E.) would reasonably think “Yeah, but he gets put to death not long after, so what changed?” Luke is surely a sufficiently sophisticated writer that he could have anticipated this question *and* ended with Paul in Rome. That he does not requires some explanation, and I’m not convinced that positing (as do Crossan and Borg) that Luke simply avoided the issue is explanation enough. That he planned to deal with the question elsewhere or that he did not even know the question existed both make his activity notably more intelligible.

      And yes, Acts doesn’t mention Peter’s death either. Of course, on the hypothesis that I have articulated (which does not originate with me but has been argued by such luminaries as Adolf von Harnack and John Robinson–hardly bastions of conservative Christendom), Peter too would still be alive. So given that this hypothesis *predicts* that Acts would mention Peter’s death the fulfillment of that prediction hardly disconfirms said hypothesis. If anything, it advances my argument, for now one must account for why, even though he does not shy away from describing the deaths of such persons as Stephen or James of Zebedee, Luke does shy away from describing the deaths of his two central characters. After all, he has no problem describing at length the death of the central character in his first volume.

      • Yes, you can point to “luminaries” on both sides of the issue. As you have already pointed out this does not break down into conservative/liberal debate.

        If Christians are already familiar with the deaths of Peter and Paul, then there is no question. The text doesn’t mention the death of either, but perhaps more to the point, it doesn’t mention their births or childhoods. In other words, Acts is not the story of the life and death of Peter or Paul. It is the story of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.

        What is important to this spread of the gospel to Rome, is that Paul “lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

      • Andrew Dowling

        The roots of Paul’s legal issues stem, as explained in Acts from “the Jews,” not the Romans, and Stephen is killed by the Jews, not Rome. As an apologetic for Christianity for a Gentile audience, Luke wants to show that Christianity is not an “upstart” religion like many Romans feared but the legitimate extension of the ancient religion Judaism (the Romans respected the fact that at least Judaism was old and had ancient origins-new religions were akin to atheism)

  • Jonathan Bernier

    It strikes me that the need to posit a hypothetical third volume (whether merely projected or completed) is derivative of two things. One, a judgment that the ending to Luke-Acts does not seem particularly intelligible if written subsequent to Paul’s death. Second, a judgement that Acts could not predate Paul’s death. The first judgment strikes me as quite strong. Luke seems to end his text by emphasizing the peaceful relations between Christians and others in Rome at the time of Paul’s sojourn there. Given that within a half-decade of that sojourn the Neronian persecution would break out and Paul likely be put to death the readers would likely want some account of why that peace was disturbed. If one argues, as do many, that Acts was written at least in large part as a defense of Paul, i.e. to explain how despite his legal troubles he was an innocent man, then it seems strange to me that one would fail to give some account of the most significant legal trouble of his life, namely his execution. The ending is peculiar, to say the least.

    Now, there are two obvious ways to account for this. First, one could argue that it was written prior to Paul’s death. Second, one could argue that the ending is not actually the ending. Of these, the former seems a better argument than the latter. Why? Because in point of fact the text *does* end where it does. We *don’t* have a third volume. Thus we are in fact multiplying entities if we opt for the latter hypothesis. The truth is that we only need to posit this additional entity if on other grounds we judge it probable to the point of virtual certainty that Luke-Acts post-dates Paul’s death.

    The standard argument there is that since Luke knows of the destruction of the temple, and since Paul died before the temple was destroyed, and since Acts was written subsequent to Luke, then it must follow that Acts was written after Paul’s death. This absolutely must be the case, but only if Luke knows of the destruction of the temple. I’ve never been convinced on this account. Yes, Luke’s Jesus does predict the destruction of the temple, as do the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, and John. But in truth I see nothing here that could not have been derived from the prophetic tradition. Heck, given Jesus’s own apparent immersion in the prophetic tradition I can hardly rule out the possibility that he himself uttered some sort of prophecy on the matter. And in fact we know about another figure, Jesus ben Ananias, who uttered exactly such prophecies in the early-60s. Consequent to this I see no reason that Luke must date later than 70 C.E.

    Consequently, given that an Acts produced during Paul’s life makes the ending of Acts more intelligible, and given that a hypothetical third volume would introduce into the discussion an otherwise unnecessary entity, and given that Acts could have been written during Paul’s life, this strikes me as the reasonable judgment on the matter.

    • Gary

      Basing the dating of Luke, or any other Gospel, upon prophetic tradition before 70 AD, is rather weak. The same reasoning puts Paul in the rather dubious position of totally missing the mark on expecting the Kingdom of God coming in his lifetime. Maybe that is why Acts was written. “6They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying, Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? 7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority.”
      In other words, I screwed up in volume 1. Let’s give it another try in volume 2 (Acts). I won’t even try volume 3, unless I want to be a 120AD Camping!

      • Jonathan Bernier

        First, I don’t base the date of Luke upon prophetic tradition. My argument on that is merely that that Lukan statements regarding the temple’s destruction are equally intelligible both before and after 70, and thus are of no relevance to the question of dating. “Not relevant” is a far distance from “based upon.”

        I honestly have no idea how my argument on the matter relates in any way to construing Pauline eschatology.

        • Guest

          “My argument on that is merely that that Lukan statements regarding the
          temple’s destruction are equally intelligible both before and after 70,”

          The wide majority of scholars disagree with you there.

    • I think the question is whether the other works that need to be correlated with Luke-Acts can also fit this dating. Placing Mark in the 40s is not implausible, but that still doesn’t give us the “many” that Luke mentions. And if Papias did not mention Luke-Acts, that might create difficulties for a date earlier than him, or at least a date much earlier than him.

  • It is interesting to compare Luke-Acts to the Star Wars serial format. The first Star Wars film is a complete story in itself; and if it had been less successful, might easily have remained that way. But the story is envisioned with a larger context, hinted at throughout the film, and alluded to specifically in the title of the opening montage: “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”.

    Though some scholars (even a few ancient ones) have felt the need to “explain” the absence of Paul’s death in Acts, it is by no means a universal position among scholars. Many (if not most) scholars maintain the position that the Christian audience of Acts would have been aware of many aspects of early Christian history not included in the narrative, and that the ending of Acts is a perfectly appropriate conclusion to a tale that traces the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. Some point out that the knowledge of Paul’s death is apparent in the depiction of his farewell in Miletus (Acts 20:25-38), but that a recounting of the execution itself is by no means central to the purpose of Acts.

    Peter Kirby references a number of sources for this position on his site:

    And Joseph B. Tyson provides a useful summary of the position on this site:

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Properly speaking, those who argue that the audience would have been aware of Paul’s death and thus there was no need to narrate the matter are in fact explaining the absence of such a narration in Acts.

      Speaking of Tyson, it occurs to me that the later one pushes Luke-Acts into the second century the more problematic the ending becomes. By the time of Marcion we are solidly into the era of martyrologies, in which Christians love describing how their virtuous martyrs proclaimed the gospel through their deaths. How easily it would have been for Luke to convert the stories of Paul and Peter into such an account! He would have not only had the resources to describe the deaths of Paul and Peter whilst narrating the gospel’s successful arrival in Rome but in fact would have had a ready audience for such accounts. Yet he didn’t. It strikes me that Tyson’s argument creates far more problems than it solves.

      • Properly speaking, geologists or evolutionary biologists sometimes have to “explain” to creationists why the earth isn’t 6,000 years old. That doesn’t mean that the earth intrinsically requires such an explanation. It simply means that they are answering a question that someone else has raised.

        Seems to me that you’re just inventing a purpose for the text which is not necessary or implied. Martyrologies may have been a type of text that Christians loved, but it certainly wasn’t the only type of text circulating or being composed in the second century. Tyson is arguing a different purpose for Acts.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Tyson estimates a date of Acts around 115-120 AD, well before the proliferation of martyrologies.

  • friendly reader

    Given how popular the genre was in later Christianity, and given where Acts ends, perhaps part 3 would have been a martyrology of some kind? I’d never thought of the possibility that there was supposed to be a continuation, but it makes sense (and I’ve enjoyed reading the debates people are having here in the comments).

  • Nick G

    Excuse what may well be an ignorant question: how secure is the claim that Paul was executed? His death is not recorded anywhere in the NT. Wikipedia tells me Ignatius of Antioch “probably around 110” says he was martyred (although the article on Ignatius says he was martyred around 108!), but implies that Ignatius did not say where, when or how. Is that right? A brief search has not found anything more about the sources for the claim.

    • 1 Clement, usually dated around 95 CE, is the earliest reference. The Book of Acts also seems to be aware of Paul’s death (Acts 20). Neither of these references is entirely unambiguous, however. And so I would say that his execution is likely but not certain.

      • Nick G


  • Andrew Dowling

    The author of Acts is fairly skilled at rhetorical flourishes. He concludes Acts without citing Paul’s death because it ends with Christianity expanding even to the heart of the Empire (Rome) and the “mission” of God firmly shifting from the Jews (in Jerusalem, where Acts begins) to the Gentiles (again, Rome).

    Also, ending with the state executing Paul would diminish one of the running themes of Acts that Christianity is a respectable, non-threatening religion that should be respected/tolerated. Ending with Paul’s execution is more like a call to arms against the Empire. Look how the Gospels pretty much narrate the heap of the blame of Jesus’s death, not on Pilate and the Romans, but the Jews.