Evidence Against Luke the Physician as the Author of Acts: Does God Overlook the Sins of Pagans? Paul in Acts Says Yes. Paul in Romans Says No.

Image result for image of paul on the areopagus
Paul preaching in the Areopagus

Bart Ehrman, on his blog:

Almost all of Paul’s evangelistic sermons mentioned in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences. This itself should strike us as odd, given Paul’s own repeated claim that his mission was to the Gentiles. In any event, the most famous exception is his speech to a group of philosophers on the Areopagus in Athens (chapter 17). Here Paul explains that the Jewish God is in fact the God of all, pagan and Jew alike, even though the pagans have been ignorant of him. Paul’s understanding of pagan polytheism is reasonably clear here: pagans have simply not known that there is only One God, the creator of all, and can thus not be held accountable for failing to worship the one whom they have not known. That is to say, since they have been ignorant of the true God, rather than willfully disobedient to him, he has overlooked their false religions until now. With the coming of Jesus, though, he is calling all people to repent in preparation for the coming judgment (Acts 17:23-31).

A lot of people (naturally) assume that Paul really said what the Book of Acts says he said.  But did he?

This perspective contrasts sharply with the views about pagan idolatry that Paul sets forth in his own letters.  In the letter to the Romans, for example, Paul claims that pagan idolaters are *not* ignorant of the one true God, that all along they have known of his existence and power by seeing the things that he has made.  Here the worship of idols is said to be a willful act of disobedience, in which the pagans have rejected their knowledge of the one true God, the maker of all, choosing of their own free will to worship the creation rather than the creator.  As a result of their rejection of God, he has punished them in his wrath (Rom 1:18-32).

These passages appear to be at odds with one another on a number of points.  Do pagans know that there is only one God? (Acts: no; Romans: yes.)  Have they acted in ignorance or disobedience? (Acts: ignorance; Romans: disobedience.)  Does God overlook their error or punish it? (Acts: overlooks; Romans: punishes.)

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View of the Areopagus today

Some scholars think that the two passages can be reconciled by considering the different *audiences* that are being addressed: in Acts Paul is trying to win converts and so wouldn’t want to be overly offensive, whereas in Romans he is addressing the converted, so that he doesn’t mind saying what he really thinks.  This is, to be sure, a possibility, that Paul would say the opposite of what he believed in order to convert people, a white lie intended to bring about a greater good.  But another explanation is that Luke, rather than Paul, is the author of the speech on the Areopagus, just as he is the author of all the other speeches in his account, as we saw in Chapter 9.  This goes a long way toward explaining why so many of the speeches in Acts sound so similar to one another, regardless of who the speaker is — why, that is, Paul sounds like Peter and Peter sounds like Paul (compare the speeches of Acts 2 and 13, for example).  Rather than embodying *Paul’s* view of the pagan religions, then, the Areopagus speech may embody *Luke’s* view, representing the kind of evangelistic address that he imagines would have been appropriate to the occasion.

What then are we left with?  The book of Acts appears to contain a number of discrepancies with the writings of Paul himself, with respect both to the events of his life and the nature of his teachings.  If this is so, then it cannot be accepted uncritically as representing a historically accurate portrayal of Paul, any more than the Gospel of Luke can be accepted uncritically as representing a historically accurate portrayal of Jesus.

For the purposes of my current thread, what this probably means is that the “we-passages” were not written (nor was the rest of Acts, and therefore neither was Luke) by a traveling companion of Paul, who surely would have had a much better idea what Paul did, when, and where and *especially* a better idea of what Paul preached, believed, and stood for. Whoever the author of Luke was, it was probably not Luke the gentile physician who allegedly accompanied Paul on his travels.

 

 

 

End of post.

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