Why Did Luke Describe Paul as a Devout, Law Abiding Jew When Paul Himself Saw No Problem With Violating the Law?

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Paul the Apostle


Bart Ehrman on his blog:

As we saw in our discussion of Acts, Luke portrays Paul as standing in harmony not only with the original apostles of Jesus but also with all of the essentials of Judaism. Throughout this narrative, Paul maintains his absolute devotion to the Jewish Law.  To be sure, he proclaims that Gentiles do not need to keep this Law, since for *them*, it would be an unnecessary burden.  He himself, however, remains a good Jew to the end, keeping the Law in every respect.  When he is arrested for violating the Law, Luke goes out of his way to show that the charges are altogether trumped-up (chs. 21-22).  As Paul himself repeatedly asserts throughout his apologetic speeches in Acts, he has done nothing contrary to the Law (e.g., 28:17).

What about Paul in his own writings?  Paul’s view of the Law is extremely complicated.  Several points, however, are reasonably clear.  First, in contrast to the account in Acts, Paul appears to have had no qualms about violating the Jewish Law when the situation required him to do so.  In Paul’s words, he could live not only “like a Jew” when it served his purposes, but also “like a Gentile” — for example, when it was necessary for him to convert Gentiles (1 Cor 9:21).  On one occasion, he attacked the apostle Cephas for failing to do so himself (Gal 2:11-14).  In addition, Paul did *not* see the Law merely as an unnecessary burden for Gentiles, something that they didn’t have to follow but could if they chose.  For Paul, it was an absolute and total affront for Gentiles to follow the Law, a complete violation of his gospel message.  In his view, Gentiles who did so were in jeopardy of falling from God’s grace.  For if doing what the Law required could contribute to a person’s salvation, then Christ died completely in vain (Gal 2:215:4).  This is scarcely the conciliatory view attributed to Paul in Acts.

Again, would a companion of Paul really not understand such a crucial feature of his views, one that stood at the very core of his Gospel message?




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Paul Claims He Did Not Go to Jerusalem. Luke Says He Did. Who Is Telling the Truth?

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Paul the Apostle

Bart Ehrman on his blog:

Paul is quite emphatic in the epistle to the Galatians that after he had his vision of Jesus and came to believe in him he did *not* go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles (1:15-18).  This is an important issue for him, because he wants to prove to the Galatians that his gospel message did not come from Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem (the original disciples and the church around them) but from Jesus himself.  His point is that he has not corrupted a message that he received from someone else; his gospel came straight from God, with no human intervention.  The book of Acts, of course, provides its own narrative of Paul’s conversion.  In this account, strikingly enough, Paul does exactly what he claims *not* to have done in Galatians: after leaving Damascus some days after his conversion, he goes directly to Jerusalem and meets with the apostles (Acts 9:10-30).

It is possible, of course, that Paul himself has altered the real course of events in order to show that he *couldn’t* have received his gospel message from other apostles because he never consulted with them.  If he did stretch the truth on this matter, though, his statement of Gal 1:20 takes on a new poignancy — “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie” — for in fact his lie in this case would have been bald-faced.  It is probably better, then, to see the discrepancy as deriving from Luke, whose own agenda affected the way he told the tale.  For him, as we have seen, it was important to show that Paul stood in close continuity with the views of the original followers of Jesus, because *all* the apostles were unified in their perspectives.  Thus he portrays Paul as consulting with the Jerusalem apostles and representing the same faith that they proclaimed.

And so the big question: would a companion of Paul really not know the sequence of events that Paul considered to be of such vital importance?





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Bart Ehrman: The “We” Passages in the Book of Acts are Apologetic Fabrications

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Where was Luke?


One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you[d] a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

–Acts 16

Excerpts from Bart Ehrman, on his blog:

In this thread I have been discussing whether Luke, the gentile physician, the traveling companion of Paul, wrote the Third Gospel and the book of Acts. The first point I’ve made, over a couple of posts, is that the idea that Paul *had* a gentile physician as a traveling companion is dubious. That notion is derived from the mention of Luke in the book of Colossians, but Paul almost certainly did not *write* Colossians. Paul does mention a companion named Luke in the book of Philemon, but he does not say anything at all about him (not, for example, that he was a gentile or that he was a physician).

Still, one could argue – and many have! – that whatever his name, it was a companion of Paul who wrote the books of Luke and Acts. The main argument in favor of that thesis – with which I heartily disagree – is the presence of the “we-passages” in Acts, that I mentioned previously. My view is that these passages do NOT demonstrate that the author was Paul’s traveling companion. But it’s a complex issue, and to get to the bottom of it takes a lot of demonstration.

…By far the most surprising aspect of the we-passages, however, apart from their existence at all, is their frequently noted abrupt beginnings and endings.  It is their sudden and unexplained disappearance that is most unsettling.  When did the author leave the company and for what reason?  These and other related problems can be seen in the first of the passages, 16:10-17.   How is it that “we” included Paul in 16:10 and 11, but then are differentiated from Paul in 16:17?  That may make sense if an author had wanted to start easing out of the use of the first person plural as a narrative ploy, but it is hard to understand if the narrative is a historically accurate description of a real life situation by an author who was there.  Moreover, if “we” were with Paul when he rebuked the spirit of the possessed girl, how is it that only Paul and Silas were seized, not “we”?  Did the eyewitness leave the company in 16:18 suddenly and for no expressed reason?  If so, why is he still in Philippi much later in 20:6?

So too in the next passages in question, in chapters 20 and 21.  Why is the narrative provided in the first person when traveling to Miletus (20:15) but then shifts to the third person once there?  Was the author not present for the prayer in v. 36?  Why did they not bring “us” to the ship in 20:38 if he sailed with Paul in the next verse?   And in the next chapter, why does the author accompany Paul to Jerusalem in 21:18 and then disappear without an explanation or a trace in 21:19?

I will be arguing in what follows that the best explanation for these abrupt beginnings and endings is that the first-person pronoun was used selectively to place the author in the company of Paul, thereby authenticating his account.




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First Century Gospel of Mark Fragment Now a Criminal Affair. Evangelicals Caught Up in the Scandal.

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Mummy mask. Is a first century fragment of the Gospel of Mark inside?


Excerpts from The Guardian:

….After Carroll and Pattengale’s visit to Oxford in 2011, tantalising rumours of the discovery of a first-century fragment of Mark rippled through American evangelical circles. On 1 February 2012, in Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, two theologians, Prof Bart Ehrman and Dr Daniel Wallace, were debating – to a rapt audience of 1,500 – whether the original text of the New Testament could be recovered. Suddenly, Wallace dropped a bombshell.  “The oldest manuscript of the New Testament is now a fragment of Mark’s Gospel that is from the first century,” he claimed. “My source is a papyrologist who worked on the manuscript, a man whose reputation is unimpeachable.” It was, recalled Ehrman at a recent conference in San Diego, “a real jaw-dropper”.

Ehrman was bursting with questions. How extensive was the fragment? Who was the papyrologist? Had the dating been corroborated by others? Wallace said he was sworn to secrecy. All he could reveal was that the fragment would soon be published by the academic imprint, Brill.

…But still, from the stories circulating online, the EES [Egypt Exploration Society] knew two things about the notorious fragment of Mark that had supposedly been sold to the Green family [the evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby]: it was from the gospel’s first chapter, and it was first century. It so happened that an item in their own collection was a papyrus catalogued in the 1980s as “I/II”, a note that could have been interpreted as “first or second century AD”. In 2011, a researcher on the Oxyrhynchus Project had identified it as from the first chapter of Mark. The fragment had not been officially signed out, but EES officials believed Obbink had it in his possession ostensibly to study.

Obbink always denied that he had been trying to sell Oxyrhynchus items, as a later EES statement made clear. Nevertheless, an official of the society was sufficiently suspicious that he might have been at least trying to sell the Mark fragment that he decided to try to smoke him out – by instructing him, in spring 2016, to publish the manuscript in the next volume, number 83, of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Series. That would get the fragment out in the public sphere. It would also mean it would have to be physically returned to the Sackler classics library so that the editing could be checked by colleagues. In short, if Obbink were indeed trying to sell it, this move would stop him. Or so the EES official thought.

…On 12 November, the thefts of all 120 fragments, including the four that had remained in Oxford and the 13 that had been delivered to the US, were reported to the police.

…In November, a “postmortem on so-called first-century Mark” was held at the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual conference in San Diego. As Nongbri joked at the time, it was really more of a vivisection. While reserving respect for Holmes’s reforming efforts, Mazza did not pull her punches. The Greens have “poured millions on the legal and illegal antiquities market without having a clue about the history, the material features, cultural value, fragilities and problems of the objects,” she said. This irresponsible collecting “is a crime against culture and knowledge of immense proportions – as the facts unfolding under our eyes do prove.”

At the other end of this disturbing chain is someone who stole and sold Oxyrhynchus fragments to the evangelical billionaires. Whoever they are, they are still at large. For now, the papyrus thief walks free.

Creationists are Correct: Evolutionists Cannot Provide One Single Living Intermediate Animal

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This book is mainly about evolution as the solution of the the complex ‘design’ problem; evolution as the true explanation for the phenomena that [eighteenth century theologian] William Paley thought proved the existence of a divine watchmaker.  This is why I keep going on about the eyes and echolocation.  But there is another whole range of things that the theory of evolution explains.  These are the phenomena of diversity:  the pattern of different animal and plant types distributed around the world, and the distribution of characteristics among them.  Although I am mainly concerned with the eyes and other pieces of complex machinery, I musn’t neglect this other aspect of evolution’s role in helping us to understand nature.  So this chapter is about taxonomy [the science of classification].

At this point I cannot resist drawing attention to the irony in the challenge that creationists are fond of hurling at evolutionists:

“Produce your intermediates!  If evolution were true, there should be animals that are half way between a cat and a dog, or between a frog and an elephant.  But has anyone ever seen a frelephant?” 

I have been sent creationist pamphlets that attempt to ridicule evolution with drawings of grotesque chimeras, horse hindquarters grafted to a dog’s front end, for instance.  The authors seem to imagine that evolutionists should expect such intermediate animals to exist.  This not only misses the point, it is the precise antithesis of the point.  One of the strongest expectations the theory of evolution gives us is that intermediates of this kind should not exist.

No librarian can entirely avoid the problem of intermediates or overlaps [when organizing books into categories in a library].  There is no single, unique, correct solution to the problem of how the books of the library or a bookshop should be classified.  …The taxonomy [classification] of living creatures, on the other hand, does not have this problem.

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…If we write the names of any set of animals on a large sheet of paper and draw rings around related sets, rat and mouse would be united in a small ring indicating that they are close cousins, with a recent common ancestor.  Guinea pig and capybara would be united with with each other in another small ring.  The rate/mouse ring and the guinea-pig/capybara ring would, in turn, be united with each other (and beavers and porcupines and squirrels and lots of other animals) in a large ring labelled with its own name, rodents.  Inner rings are said to be ‘nested’ inside larger, outer rings.  Somewhere else on the paper, lion and tiger would be united with one another in a small ring.  this ring would be included with others in a ring labelled cats.  Cats, dogs, weasels, bears, etc. would all be united, in a series of rings within rings, in a single large ring labelled carnivores.  The rodent ring and the carnivore ring would then take part in a more global series of rings within rings in a very large ring labelled mammals.

The important thing about this system of rings within rings is that it is perfectly nestedNever, not one single solitary occasion, will the rings that we draw intersect each other. [There are no intermediates!]  Take any two overlapping rings, and it will always be true to say that one lies wholly inside the other.  The area enclosed by the inner one is always totally enclosed by the outer one:  there are never any partial overlaps.  This property of perfect taxonomic nesting is not exhibited by books, languages, soil types, or schools of thought in philosophy.  If a librarian draws a ring round the biology books and another ring round the theology books, he will find that the two rings overlap.  In the zone of overlap are books with titles like “Biology and Christian Belief”.

In the taxonomy [classification] of living creatures these problems do not arise.  There are no ‘miscellaneous’ animals.  As long as we stay above the level of species, and as long as we study only modern animals (or animals in any given time slice: see below) there are no awkward intermediates.  …[For instance,] whales are mammals and not fish, and they are not, even to a tiny degree, intermediate.  They are no closer to fish than humans are, or duck-billed platypuses, or any other mammals.

…The moment we start to consider extinct animals, it is no longer true that there are no intermediates.  On the contrary, we now have to contend with potentially continuous series of intermediates.

Biologist Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchman, pp. 361-371




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Evidence that Paul Did Not Write Colossians

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Excerpts from an article by NT scholar, Bart Ehrman, on his blog:

As with every instance of forgery, the case of Colossians is cumulative, involving multiple factors. None has proved more decisive over the past thirty years than the question of writing style. The case was made most effectively in 1973 by Walter Bujard, in a study both exhaustive and exhausting, widely thought to be unanswerable.

Bujard compares the writing style of Colossians to the other Pauline letters, focusing especially on those of comparable length (Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians), and looking at an inordinately wide range of stylistic features: the use of conjunctions (of all kinds); infinitives; participles, relative clauses; repetitions of words and word groups; use of antithetical statements; parallel constructions; the use of preposition ἐν; the piling up of genitives; and on and on. In case after case, Colossians stands apart from Paul’s letters.

…Bujard goes on like this for a very long time, page after page, statistic after statistic.  What is striking is that all these features point the same way.  When one adds to these the other commonly noted (though related) features of the style of Colossians — the long complex sentences, the piling up of genitives, the sequences of similar sounding words, and so on – the conclusion can scarcely be denied.  This book is not written in Paul’s style.

…Arguments based on style are strongly supported by considerations of content.  In several striking and significant ways the teaching of Colossians differs from the undisputed letters.  Most commonly noted is the eschatological view, to which we will return later in our discussion.   In 1:13 the author insists that God (already) “has delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son.”  Already?  An aorist tense?  Is this Paul?  More striking still is 2:12-13, and 3:1, which insist that believers have already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection after having died with Christ: “you were also raised (aorist) in him through faith” … God “made you alive with him” … “if then you have been raised up with Christ” – statements in clear tension with Paul’s emphatic statements elsewhere, such as Romans 6:1-6, where it is quite clear that, whereas those who have been baptized “have died” with Christ, they decidedly have not been “raised up” with him yet.   This is an important point in Paul’s theology, not a subsidiary matter.  The resurrection is something future, something that is yet to happen.  So too Philippians 3:11 – “if somehow I might obtain to the resurrection from the dead.”  And yet more emphatically in 1 Corinthians 15: “in Christ all shall be made alive … we shall all be changed … the dead will be raised.”   One can easily argue that this is one of the – if not the single – key to understanding Paul’s opposition to the Corinthian enthusiasts.  They believed they were leading some kind of spiritual, resurrected existence, and Paul insisted that it had not yet happened.  They may have died with Christ, but they had not yet been raised with him.  That will come only at the end.

And what does the author of Colossians think?  Believers have not only died with Christ but they have also been raised with him.  They are already leading a kind of glorious existence in the present.  This is the view Paul argues against in Corinth.  Maybe he changed his mind.  But given the stylistic differences – and the other matters of content to be discussed – it seems unlikely.  Colossians is written by someone who has taken a twist on a Pauline theme, moving it precisely in the direction Paul refused to go.

…This author speaks famously of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” for the sake of the church (1:24), a shocking image for Paul:  were Christ’s sufferings in some way inadequate and needed to be completed?  At the same time the author offers an exalted Christology (1:15-20), far beyond anything in the undisputed letters, even the Philippians hymn:  Christ is the “image of the invisible God,” the “first born of creation,” “in him all things were created … and in him all things hold together,” “in him all the fullness was well pleased to dwell.”   This is far closer to the Johannine prologue than Paul.   As a result, in comparison with Paul, the author of Colossians seems to have a much higher view of Christ (1:15-20) and a much lower view of the efficacy of his death (1:24).

…The Haustafel of [Colossians] 3:18-4:1 has long been thought of as non-Pauline, and for reasons related to the realized eschatology already noted.   In particular, this domestication of Paul in his embrace of family ideals stands at odds with Paul’s firmly stated preference, for himself and others, for celibacy.  Nowhere in Paul’s letters do we find such a celebration of standard Greco-Roman ethics; on the contrary, Paul insisted on the superiority of the ascetic life free from marriage (1 Corinthians 7).  This, indeed, was the appropriate response to a world that was in the processs of “passing away.”  Here in Colossians, on the other hand, the world is not passing away (there is no imminent crisis); it is here for the long haul, and so are the Christians who make up Christ’s body in it.  As a result, they need to adopt behavior appropriate for the long term.  Relations to those living outside the community are especially important, not to inform them of the “impending crisis” but to maintain a proper upstanding relationship.   In short, this is written by someone who knows the church has been here and will be here for the long term.  There is no imminent expectation of the coming end.  On the basis of all these considerations, it is clear that with Colossians we are not dealing with a letter of Paul, but a letter of someone wanting his readers to think he is Paul.






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The Simplest Christian Can Know that Jesus is Risen by the Testimony of the Holy Spirit

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“The simplest Christian, who has neither the opportunity nor wherewithal to conduct a historical investigation of Jesus’ resurrection, can know with assurance that Jesus is risen because God’s Spirit bears unmistakable witness to him that it is so.”

—William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p. 8


Gary:  This is why Christians believe, dear Reader.  Strip away their appeals to weak historical and empirical evidence, and they will still believe.  Believers in the Resurrection are absolutely certain that an executed first century peasant came back to life and is currently sitting on a golden throne somewhere at the edge of the universe—ruling as King of the Cosmos—primarily due to their gut feeling that his ghost inhabits their body.  We are dealing with irrational thinking, my fellow skeptics.  Rational discussions regarding evidence will get us no where with these misguided people.  We must address their superstitious feelings and perceptions.




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