ANZATS Conference Presentation

I am re-posting what I will be presenting in the “Lukan Scholarship section” at the 2018 ANZATS [Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools] Conference in Brisbane on Monday, July 2. My paper will be entitled “A Source and Redaction Critical Analysis of Luke 7:36-50” and I submitted the following abstract:

The Markan pericope about a woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’s head to anoint him for burial at the home of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3-9; cf. Matthew 26:6-13) was relocated and heavily edited in Luke 7:36-50. In Luke’s narrative, a “woman of the city” poured perfume on Jesus’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair (cf. John 12:3), much to the chagrin of Simon the Pharisee who despised her as a “sinner.” However, the Lukan version of the anointing may be equally indebted to another pronouncement story where Jesus pardoned a woman accused of undefined sins and issued a witty retort to her accusers. This latter report appears to have been orally transmitted in Asia Minor and the bishop Papias of Hierapolis had independent knowledge of it (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17), along with other multiply attested traditions about Judas (Acts 1:18; Apollinarius of Laodicea fragment on Matthew 27.5), James (Acts 12:2; Philip of Side, Codex Baroccianus 142), Peter (Acts 12:12; Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15), Justus Barsabbas (Acts 1:23; Eccl. Hist. 3.39.9), and Philip (Acts 21:8-9; Eccl. Hist. 3.39.9). This oral anecdote continued to be circulated for centuries and its details were embellished with each retelling, eventually evolving into the treasured account of Jesus rescuing a woman from a public stoning and getting preserved in both John’s Gospel and the Gospel according to the Hebrews (cf. Didascalia Apostolorum 7; Didymus, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 222.6-13; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.17; John 7:53-8:11). This is the tradition history of the pericope adulterae before it was interpolated into Codex Bezae and other manuscripts of John’s Gospel.

In the next few posts, we will take a closer look comparing this account to the story of the woman who anointed Jesus in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John (she is named Mary in John 12:3) and to the Patristic traditions about Jesus pardoning a woman accused of unspecified sins.


Biblioblog Carnival and Biblioblog Top 50 for June 2018

I am not sure if anyone signed on to do the biblioblog carnival for the month of June 2018 (see here), but Jim West has posted his own annual carnival with a fitting tribute to the late Philip Davies here. Finally, the Biblioblog Top 50 has returned to post a new list for June 2018 and I managed to just make it on there at #50. It is nice to know that I have some readers at this blog, but I still like the idea of having a giant list that is continually updated to add all of the women and men around the world who blog on the Bible and their academic backgrounds or areas of interest for readers to check out.

Bibliography on the Portrayal of the Jews in Acts

Here is a bibliography covering the spectrum of scholarly views about how the Jewish community is portrayed in the book of Acts:

  • Brawley, Robert L. Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation. SBL Monograph Series 33. Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1987.
  • Dunn, James D.G. Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, AD 70 to 135. Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1992.
  • Jervell, Jacob. Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972.
  • Levine, Amy-Jill. “Luke and the Jewish Religion.” Interpretation 68.4 (2014).: 389-402.
  • Lieu, Judith. Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Saldarini, Anthony J. “Interpretation of Luke-Acts and Implication for Jewish-Christian Dialogue.” Word & World 12.1 (1992): 37-43.
  • Sanders, Jack T. The Jews in Luke-Acts. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
  • Tannehill, Robert C. “Israel in Luke-Acts: A Tragic Story.” Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 69-85.
  • Tiede, David L. Prophecy and History in Luke-Acts. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.
  • Tyson, Joseph B. Luke-Acts and the Jews: Eight Critical Perspectives. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988 (including chapters by Jacob Jervell, David L. Tiede, David P. Moessner, Jack T. Sanders, Marilyn Salmon, Robert C. Tannehill, Michael J. Cook, and Joseph B. Tyson).
  • Tyson, Joseph B. Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars: Critical Approaches to Luke-Acts. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.
  • Weatherly, John A. “The Jews in Luke-Acts.” Tyndale Bulletin 40.1 (1989): 107-117.
  • Wilson, Stephen G. Related Strangers: Jews and Christians 70-170 CE. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

The Open Ending of Acts: Part 2

Throughout Acts, we saw the impressive growth of the Jerusalem Church as it numbered in the thousands (2:41; 4:4) and steadily increased until there were myriads of Christ followers in Jerusalem (21:20). Moreover, although James indicated that there were suspicions among the Jewish Christ followers that Paul was counselling diaspora Jews to abandon the Mosaic Law (21:21), which the narrative refutes by showing Paul’s willingness to undergo purification rites and his innocence concerning the charge that he brought a non-Jew into the temple beyond the outer court (21:22-29), the Jews in Rome did not receive negative reports about Paul from their compatriots in Judaea (28:21-22).

Nevertheless, the narrative also presents a polemical portrait of Paul’s Jewish opposition in Jerusalem and in the diaspora synagogues. Three times Paul denounces his opponents and seems to signal his plan to minister exclusively to the “Gentiles,” quoting Isaiah 6:9-10 about how the people’s hearts have become hardened in the last instance (13:46; 18:6; 28:26-28). However, he returns to preach in the synagogues after the first two statements and he continues to welcome and minister to “all” who came to visit him after the last statement. How do we deal with this narrative tension?

For some scholars, Luke-Acts teaches a supersessionist theology. The Jerusalem Church and the non-Jewish “God-fearers” were just a bridge from the Israel of the past to the mainly non-Jewish “Christians” (cf. 11:26; 26:28) of Luke’s present who were now at the center of the divine purposes for the world. It is possible that the Lukan version of Jesus’s ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) already foreshadowed this result as it expands on Jesus’s sentiment about how prophets are not received in their hometown with the anecdote about how Elijah and Elisha were sent to heal those outside the covenant people. On the other hand, the book of Acts consistently indicates that some Jews were persuaded by the apostles and Paul’s message including in Rome (28:24). There is no identification of Christians as the new Israel and there are also eschatological promises for the restoration of Israel that yet remain unfulfilled (Luke 1:54-55; 68-73; 2:30-32; 21:24b; Acts 1:6-7).

Again, how do we solve the narrative tension? The Christ assemblies known to the author of Acts may have been predominantly, though not exclusively, constituted by non-Jewish members. As a tiny marginalized group, the author of Acts may have wished to positively emphasize the Christians’ continuity with the antiquity of the rich Jewish Scriptural heritage while contrasting them with the much larger and more established Jewish minority. The social interactions between Jews, Christians, and others in the ancient Mediterranean were likely much more complex on the ground; some Jews function as literary foils for the purposes of Christian identity construction in the book of Acts. Unfortunately, this polemic was turned into a weapon when Christians attained political power and this contributed to the sins of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the author of Acts may have also looked beyond the contemporary circumstances of the Christians to a more hopeful future of justice, peace, and reconciliation when the divine promises for Israel and all the nations are finally realized.

The Opening Ending of Acts: Part 1

Mark 16:7-8 ends on a cliff-hanger: the tomb has been unsealed, the “youth” in white (i.e. an angel) has proclaimed to the women that the risen Jesus is waiting to reunite with the disciples in Galilee, and the women hurry off in reverent silence. At this point the curtain drops, leader the reader to wonder what would have happened next if Mark’s narrative had continued and what might be their role in the story in proclaiming the good news about the resurrected and vindicated Jesus.

The open ending of Acts 28:30-31 has a similar effect. Paul hinted at his impending death in his Miletus speech (20:24, 25, 38), was seized as a perceived agitator in Jerusalem (21:27-36), stood trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:30-23:10) and the Roman procurators Antonius Felix (ca. 52-58 CE) and Porcius Festus (ca. 59-62 CE) alongside King Herod Agrippa II (ca. 53-93 CE) (23:33-24:27; 25:1-26:32) in echoes of Jesus’ passion, made a fateful appeal to the emperor (25:11-12; 26:32; cf. 23:11) that lead him to be transferred to Rome on a perilous sea journey (27:1-44), and was placed under house arrest in Rome (28:30). Readers may wonder about the outcome of Paul’s trial in Rome. Indeed, one of the classic arguments for dating Luke-Acts before 64 CE is that the book was finished before the outcome of Paul’s trial was known; the book also does not note the martyrdom of Peter or James (cf. Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History [WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1989], 365, 407-8). There is a further hypothesis that Paul was initially released from Roman imprisonment, possibly explaining his further travels documented in the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Clement 5:6 (cf. Romans 15:24), before he was re-arrested in Rome and executed (2 Timothy 4:6, 16).

On the other hand, there seem to be subtle hints in the texts above that the author of Acts knew that Paul’s solitary Roman imprisonment and his testimony before the emperor would end in death. Moreover, Acts was not writing a biography of Paul, nor of Peter in the first half of the narrative, but explaining how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth by reaching the heart of the Empire (1:8). Since the narrative achieved its purpose in the final act, the curtain is closed at this point.

A Book on “Paul as Pastor”

In light of the last post about Paul’s pastoral address to the Ephesian elders, there is an edited volume entitled Paul as Pastor (ed. Brian S. Rosner, Andrew S. Malone, and Trevor J. Burke; London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018) that may be of interest. The second chapter covers Paul’s pastoral example in Acts. I noticed that many of my fellow scholars working within the Australian College of Theology consortium contributed to this book.

The Farewell Address to the Ephesian Elders

When writing to Christ assemblies in Rome that he did not personally found about his upcoming plans to go to Spain, Paul remarked that he liked to be the one to introduce the good news about Christ rather than build on another person’s foundation (Romans 15:20). The narrative of Acts accords with this picture of Paul as the missionary par excellence who traveled all over the ancient Mediterranean and occasionally had extended stays in certain places. What readers do not really get from Acts is a picture of Paul as a pastor caring for the daily needs of a particular congregation or writing letters to them when he was not present with them. However, one notable exception is in Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian “elders” (presbyteroi) in Miletus which is the sole lengthy speech addressed to Christ followers (20:17-35). It takes the form of a last testament, where Paul reviews his accomplishments and trials, compares his life to a course that he has nearly completed (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:6), encourages the audience who have been made “overseers” (episkopoi) “to shepherd” (poimainein) the flock in their care, predicts the onslaught of false teachers who are savage wolves, and concludes with final encouragements and his own positive example. I am convinced that this passage is a mirror to the structure and situation of Ephesian Christian assemblies in the author’s own day and this explains many areas where the contents of Luke-Acts overlaps with various traditions attested by Papias of Hierapolis. For the case for an Ephesian provenance for the composition of Luke-Acts, see the following online article “Acts in Ephesus (and Environs) c. 115.”

Why Acts Focuses on Gentile God-Fearers

When I enrolled in an undergraduate unit on Luke-Acts back when I was working on my Bachelor’s degree, the textbook we were using was Philip Francis Esler’s Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology (Cambridge University Press, 1987). Esler makes a number of points in his redactional and social-scientific approach to the biblical text, but one key point is that Acts addressed an audience primarily constituted by Jews and non-Jewish “God-fearers” rather than ex-pagans and sought to legitimate their shared beliefs and practices including their open table fellowship. While the bibliography below questions the older view that “God-fearers” (phoboumenoi ton theon) was a technical term for non-Jewish sympathizers who had not become full proselytes, there should be no question that there were interested non-Jews who attended synagogues where the Jewish Scriptures were read, adopted Jewish practices, contributed financially to the Jewish community, or positively interacted with their Jewish neighbours to varying degrees. Esler’s approach offers one possible explanation for why Paul seems to have the greatest successes in persuading Gentile “God-fearers” in the synagogue, while Paul’s letters often seem to indicate that his addressees had abandoned a former life of idolatry (cf. Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Meanwhile, despite engaging Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Acts 17:16-34, Paul’s message does not get much traction among the “Pagans” in Athens.

On the other hand, there have been increasing criticisms of mirror-reading literary narratives such as the Gospels and Acts in order to reconstruct the specific contours of a “community” that was supposedly the initial readers of the text. There may be a few other reasons why the book of Acts focuses on God-fearers in the synagogue. First, it may have been Paul’s actual practice to make connections through the synagogue in every new place he visited and he may have found a more receptive audience since they already had some exposure to the scriptural story that Paul claimed was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. These “Gentiles” could have perceived themselves as reverencing Israel’s God and learning from the Jewish Scriptures and traditions in synagogues on the Sabbath, while also continuing to practice their native customs and cultic practices towards their own ancestral deities. Second, since the Romans were suspicious of new and potentially subversive voluntary associations, the author of Acts may have emphasized that the (largely Gentile?) Christians were in complete continuity with the ancient Jewish scriptural heritage. The focus on the Gentile “God-fearers” helped to serve this purpose.

For  a brief bibliography of sources on the “God-fearers,” see:

Resources on Paul’s Missionary Journeys

I have been looking for online resources that cover Paul’s three missionary journeys of Paul in Acts 13:1-14:28 and 15:30-28:31. I started by checking out the links at NT Gateway and, while some of the links are now broken, I found Craig Koester’s website Journeys of Paul to be a helpful introduction to the various places that Paul visited in Acts. If you have a favourite scholarly resource that you like to use online, please email me and I will add the link below.

There is also a recent Onscript Podcast where Chris Tilling interviews Douglas A. Campbell about his book Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. For online reviews of this book and his earlier Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, see here, hereherehere, here, and here. The question is whether we should slot the different letters of Paul into the timeline established by Acts or begin any reconstructions of the chronology of Paul’s life, travels, and letter-writing activity primarily from Paul’s own epistles first before looking to the points where Acts may corroborate, supplement, or disagree with them.

The Split between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark

Shortly after Paul and the Jerusalem “Pillars” hammered out an agreement on the terms for non-Jews joining the Christ movement, another controversy broke out at Antioch. According to Galatians 2:11-14, the issue was that emissaries sent from the Jerusalem leader James encouraged Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with non-Jews and even Barnabas followed suit, while Paul voiced his disapproval. According to Acts 15:36-41, Barnabas wanted John Mark to accompany him on further travels after he had abandoned the team on a prior mission (13:13), but Paul flatly refused to give John Mark a second chance, even though Barnabas had offered Paul a second chance too (9:27). Some commentators are suspicious of Acts at this point, arguing that it covered up a more serious split between Paul and Barnabas along with the Jerusalem Pillars over how the “Gentile mission” was to be conducted. However, C. Clifton Black counters in Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter that John Mark failed to continue in “the work” (to ergon) of being ministers of the gospel to the nations (p. 38-42). Although Black differentiates John Mark from Paul’s faithful co-missionary Mark in the epistles (pp. 28-29), it seems to me more likely that we are dealing with the same person who is consistently associated with Paul or a Pauline co-worker like Barnabas and Silas/Silvanus (Philemon 23; Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11; cf. 1 Peter 5:13). Perhaps the reason why Acts ends the narrative about Barnabas and John Mark here, rather than narrating how Mark rejoined Paul’s team as is clear from the epistles, is that the book is just concerned with the missionary expansion of the Jesus movement, even if it was sometimes the result of conflict. Another possibility that I have suggested in an article and book is that the author of Acts may have been aware of traditions about Mark as the writer of a Gospel and may have viewed both the person and the text as important (i.e. connected to apostles) yet flawed. But if the author of Acts was unaware of the traditions about the evangelist Mark that I think may have been developing among certain elders located in Asia Minor at the end of the first century CE (i.e. the Elder John), it is sufficient that Acts abruptly moves Barnabas/John Mark off stage just as he did earlier with Peter (12:17) so that the spotlight could shine on the advancement of the gospel through Paul’s missionary journeys until it arrives in the heart of the Empire.