Memory, Acts, and the Letters of Paul

Memory, Acts, and the Letters of Paul December 4, 2016

I sometimes wonder if I am unusual in not always remembering things that I have done and experienced at times in the past, about which others appear to have a clear recollection. I suspect that this is just the way that memory works, and that the other individual had recalled the event in the intervening period whereas I had not.

I am also often sketchy on precisely when things happened, and the order in which they occurred.

And so, assuming that I am not alone in this, it seems to me that it would be a worthwhile experiment to compare the relationship of Acts to Paul’s authentic letters on the one hand, with other instances of biographical narrative about individuals from whom we also have correspondence. Including among these should be cases in which the author of the biography knew the subject and was involved in at least some of the events, cases in which the author interviewed the subject, and the range of other possibilities. The best comparative material would be from past centuries, when written records were harder to come by.

What I’m most interested in is whether there are cases in which an individual wrote about events that he or she and the biography’s principal subject experienced together and/or talked about, without access to that individual’s correspondence. It seems to me entirely possible that a situation such as we find in the case of Acts could come about even with eyewitness testimony and/or involvement, because of the nature of human memory. Indeed, I could imagine writing an autobiography myself, and future historians combining that with letters (and e-mails) that I wrote, and finding discrepancies between when I said things happened trying to remember much later, and what was indicated in things I wrote at the time.

This would not prove the historicity of Acts, nor a relatively early date. It would just highlight the weakness of certain arguments that are sometimes used.

"You may want to see an easy to read version of universal restoration. Google the ..."

153 Fish – The Definitive Explanation
"While there are inevitably differences between what Phillip K. Dick espoused and ancient Valentinianism, he ..."

"According to a biblical numerology article online the number 153 equals the number of all ..."

153 Fish – The Definitive Explanation

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Erp

    It is well known that memory is fallible. A study was done on how people remember the Challenger disaster where one professor asked his students the next day how they learned about it. He then followed up with the same question to the same students a couple of years later. He also asked how confident they were of the memory.

  • Not only do we humans experience sketchy memories. Research has shone that we are highly susceptible to false memories: memories created by confirmation bias, peer pressure, and even bad forms of therapy.

    Add to that the filter of the agenda-driven author of Luke-Acts, already known to have heavily plagiarized Mark …

  • Brandon Roberts

    humans can remember events happeing in a way other than how it did

    • jekylldoc

      Happens to me all the time.

      • Brandon Roberts

        same here

  • jekylldoc

    Good research idea. Unfortunately I have no pre-press memoirs to propose. Pepys? Pascal? Boswell? Some letters presumably survive from them. Maybe some of the early explorers or missionaries.

    • Thanks for the suggestions. It might need to be a project that involves unpublished letters from an individual, or at the very least, letters that were published only after that individual’s memoir or biography appeared in print.

      Let’s keep giving this some thought – I think this could be a really useful study…