Friday, September 22, 2006

A Chronological Clue in Acts 9.25

One of these days I will get around to my post on why I'm sure, with the majority, that Gal. 2.1-10 and Acts 15 are essentially accounts of the same Jerusalem apostolic council, but as I was writing that post I noticed something I'd not spotted before and I want to write it down while it is still fresh. The thing I noticed was a Lucan chronological clue in Acts 9.25, but first let me give a little context.

Luke narrates five trips of Paul to Jerusalem after his conversion, in 9.26-30, 11.27-30 (and 12.25) ("famine visit"), Chapter 15 (Jerusalem council), 18.22 (brief mention) and 21 and following (trials etc.). In Galatians, Paul narrates two trips to Jerusalem, the first in 1.18-20, dated three years after his conversion and the second in 2.1-10, dated "after fourteen years". One of the major problems for Pauline chronology is how it can be that Luke narrates two visits to Jerusalem before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 // Gal. 2.1-10 whereas Paul only narrates one. It is absolutely not, as John Knox was keen to point out, that Paul simply forgot to mention a visit. In Gal. 1.20 he swears an oath about the truth of this narrative. So what on earth are we to do with Luke's two visits, the one in 9.26-30 and the other in 11.27-30?

One solution to the problem is popular especially among conservative commentators and that is to equate Paul's Gal 2.1-10 visit not with Acts 15 but with Acts 11.27-30, so that Acts 9.26-30 is the equivalent of Gal. 1.18-20, Paul's first visit after three years. Thus, while Paul is writing Galatians, the events of Acts 15 have not even taken place yet. This solution is problematic for a variety of reasons that I hope to explain in a subsequent post, but one of the reasons for its popularity is that it apparently deals with this major contradiction between Paul and Acts. (Actually, it doesn't -- it's much more problematic than the more natural Gal. 2.1-10 // Acts 15 reading.) What I'd like to suggest is that when one reads Acts carefully, it is straightforward to see what Luke is doing, especially when he leaves behind little clues.

Paul's first two visits to Jerusalem in Acts 9 and 11 are in fact the same visit narrated by Luke twice. On the second occasion that he narrates it, in 11.27-30, the notes of time are specific. On the first occasion that he narrates it, in 9.26-30, the notes are vague. Luke is telling this as (what we would call) a flash forward. Notice the phrasing:
Acts 9.25-26: 25λαβόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς διὰ τοῦ τείχους καθῆκαν αὐτὸν χαλάσαντες ἐν σπυρίδι 26 παραγενόμενος δὲ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἐπείραζεν κολλᾶσθαι τοῖς μαθηταῖς καὶ πάντες ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτόν μὴ πιστεύοντες ὅτι ἐστὶν μαθητής

Acts 9.25-26: 25 But his disciples took him at night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket. 26 When he had appeared in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple.
Luke is careful here not to say "Then Paul came to Jerusalem . . ." or "After a year Paul came to Jerusalem". He is narrating the event that Paul himself dates as "after three years", and which Luke places in its proper place in the narrative in 11.27-30.

Now this is something I have always taught students when we study Pauline chronology and so far I have not had any good reason to doubt this explanation of events. But I began to wonder today whether there might in fact be an actual clue in Acts 9 that Luke leaves, the kind of clue that one sees elsewhere in Luke-Acts when the evangelist has drawn forward an event out of sequence. Let me explain what I was looking for. One of the most famous Lucan transpositions of events is the Rejection at Nazareth Story in Luke 4.16-30. He places this event at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, shortly after the Temptation story. In Mark and Matthew, it happens much later (Mark 6.1-6 and par.). But Luke betrays his knowledge of its original location with the extraordinary comment in 4.23, "Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum." Well, Jesus has not even been to Capernaum at this point in Luke's narrative. What is going on is that Luke is imagining the event in its Marcan setting, well into Jesus' Galilean ministry, and not in the new setting he has provided.

So I began to wonder: is there anything in Acts 9 like this? I think there is. Have a look again at the passages previously quoted:
Acts 9.25-26: 25λαβόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς διὰ τοῦ τείχους καθῆκαν αὐτὸν χαλάσαντες ἐν σπυρίδι 26 παραγενόμενος δὲ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἐπείραζεν κολλᾶσθαι τοῖς μαθηταῖς καὶ πάντες ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτόν μὴ πιστεύοντες ὅτι ἐστὶν μαθητής

Acts 9.25-26: 25 But his disciples took him at night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket. 26 When he had appeared in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple.
"His disciples"? Who are these people? Paul has only just been converted in Luke's context -- he is still at the point of being partnered. He does not yet have a group of disciples. What I think is happening here is that Luke is betraying his knowledge that that incident, the escape from Damascus, occurred later in Paul's life, when it is reasonable to speak about Paul as having disciples, and not very soon after conversion, as Luke depicts it. Likewise, the visit to Jerusalem in the next verse is displaced from its natural home later in Paul's ministry.

12 comments:

Ben C. Smith said...

What a great observation, Mark.

I wonder, however, about the next verse, Acts 9.27, in which Barnabas actually does lead Paul before the apostles (αυτον ηγαγεν προς τους αποστολους), and 9.28, in which Paul actually is with them and actually does move about freely into and out of Jerusalem (ην μετ αυτων εισπορευομενος και εκπορευομενος εις Ιερουσαλημ). And, if you have correctly identified the reason why Luke was careful not to state plainly that Paul arrived in Jerusalem in 9.26, for what reason did Luke go ahead and state plainly that the brethren sent Paul away (from Jerusalem) (εξαπεστειλαν αυτον εις Ταρσον) in 9.30?

Are the mention of Capernaum in Luke 4.23 and the mention of Pauline disciples in Acts 9.25 intentional clues, or are they accidental, the result of juggling and reconfiguring sources?

Ben C. Smith.

Anonymous said...

Metzger in his Textual Commentary also has some remarks about 'HIS disciples'.

Hans

Justin D said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the food for thought

Christopher Shell said...

This is the first time I had had a possible Ac 11 = Gal 1 equation drawn to my attention, which only goes to show that much scholarship is blighted by not laying all the options on the table to begin with: bravo!

This Ac 11 = Gal 1 suggestion is founded on the explanatory power of the inconcinnity (always a good move); therefore if (as on my count) the proposed transposition creates more inconcinnities than the original text, then the theory probably disproves itself.

Of the two tiny textual indicators mentioned, neither in my view constitutes an anomaly on the traditional reading. (a) Luke is not as precise as he might be on when Paul came to Jerusalem; but he is under no obligation to bring him to Jerusalem at this particular point if he doesn't have to, suggesting that he does have to, nor to give a particularly precise time-indicator. (b) Paul always gathered believers (or 'disciples')quickly wherever he preached, and on this occasion he was preaching from the experience of restored sight, which may have created a stir. In any case, Luke says he stayed in Damascus quite a while before the basket incident.
Problems created by the transposition include: Disagreement about where Paul went after his first Jerusalem visit (Tarsus or Antioch?); purpose of Paul's famine visit does not square with Gal 1, whereas the issues in Gal 2 will have been perennial.
Problem of dating famine visit still remains, and Mark's proposal has the advantage of bringing it closer in time to the events of Ac 12.
I feel the most economical solution could be: either Gal predates Jerusalem council (which may make Rom/2 Cor links harder to explain) or it postdates by some years (hence no mention of the Council letter) and fills in the relevant info unkown to the Galatians regarding the source of Paul's authority: namely the ancient history of pre-council meetings of Paul and the 12, right up until the Antioch incident which occasioned the council (or at least would have been unlikely to occur after it).

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Christopher Shell wrote: "Of the two tiny textual indicators mentioned, neither in my view constitutes an anomaly on the traditional reading."

Which of the seven options for Paul's visit in Gal 2 surveyed by Cadbury is the traditional reading?

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Make that Talbert.

Christopher Shell said...

Hi Stephen
I meant the traditional, face-value reading of the text of Acts without reference to Galatians.
Whether the Galatians were north / territorial or south / provincial, they will have come into contact with the Council letter (Ac 16). Hence the council and the letter are the parts of the history that don't need to be rehearsed, being already known to the Galatians. It is the earlier parts that Paul needs to rehearse. Alternatively, Gal dates early; what were Paul's arguments at the very start of Ac 15 if not those found in Gal, which may therefore be of a similar date.
The (highly hypothetical) sequence makes good sense in terms of logical development: first Jerusalem visit = introductions; second = clarification of missions; third = clarification of more specific points within one of those missions, the Gentile mission.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I meant the traditional, face-value reading of the text of Acts without reference to Galatians.

Thanks for your clarification, Christopher.

Your comment raises another issue that I've been wondering about: if Luke and his audience was familiar with Galatians, is it nonetheless the appropriate to read Acts without reference to it?

In other words, do we have to decide, before we even begin to interpret the text, whether Galatians is part of the original context of Acts shared by Luke and his audience?

Just wondering. I don't have an answer.

Christopher Shell said...

hi Stephen
To clarify: I didn't mean that Acts *ever* should be read without reference to Galatians (it shouldn't), but merely that my reference to what I thought were non-anomalies concerned only the inner logic of Acts.
IMHO Luke didnt have Gal: he was well able to quote letters when he wanted to, and Ac and Gal seem independent.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I recently discovered that Donald T. Rowlingson, "The Jerusalem Conference and Jesus' Nazareth Visit: A Study in Pauline Chronology," JBL 71 (1952): 69-74, at 70, made a similar observation about Luke's mentioning of Capernaum in his Rejection at Nazareth account.

Richard Fellows said...

Mark,

I expect that you will be looking at Walters' new study on Luke-Acts, recently reviewed here. Accorder to the reviews she makes a good case that Luke's style in the 'seams' in the gospel of Luke are different from the style in the 'seams' in Acts. Whether or not we go so far as to question the common authorship of Luke-Acts, this might have some bearing on the value of your appeal to chronological displacements in the gospels. If she is right that the seams in Acts are so different from the seams in Luke, you would not be able to use examples of chronological displacements in Luke to argue for the plausibility of chronological displacements in Acts.

Anyway, your observation about "his disciples" is astute. Thanks for blogging about it. I suspect that Paul gained these disciples while working alone in Arabia and that he got into trouble with Aretas there. Luke, who does not want to portray Christians as trouble makers, omits all reference to Paul's time in Arabia and Aretas, and thus must remain silent about the conversion of these disciples.

Mark Goodacre said...

Many thanks, Richard, for drawing my attention to that.