Monday, August 11, 2008

BIBL 5107 Lesson 4:

Acts 13 — Barnabas's and Paul's adventures in Pisidian Antioch — represents a crucial narratological moment in the development of Acts's account of Paul's proclamation of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. As R. Longenecker writes:
At Pisidian Antioch the typical pattern of the Pauline ministry was established: an initial proclamation in the synagogue to Jews and Gentile adherents and then, when refused an audience in the synagogue, a direct ministry to Gentiles. This pattern is reproduced in every city visited by Paul with a sizable Jewish population — except Athens." (Acts, 422)

I think Longenecker is spot on, for the most part. The extended account in Acts 13 establishes a basic pattern of ministry that is invoked in abbreviated form in every subsequent account of Paul's experiences in the cities of the Mediterranean. Luke, I think, does this deliberately as a way of instructing the reader on appropriate reading strategies (I'm incorporating here some of John Miles Foley's appropriation of Iser's and Jauss's Receptionalist work; cf. Foley 1995:42ff.) by which we can more faithfully read his account of Paul's proclamation. This is why I think Longenecker is spot on only "for the most part": If Luke intends for us to incorporate this pattern into each account of Paul's activities (with, of course, the explicit modifications to this pattern that Luke provides), then even Paul's experiences in Athens may incorporate this pattern (cf. Acts 17.17a). This is a narratological suggestion rather than a historical one.

This point becomes especially important, I think, because some scholars have suggested that Luke espouses a supersessionist theology in which God has abandoned his old people, Israel, and has chosen his new people, the Church. But this fails to notice that, in every possible instance of Paul's ministry (i.e., even in Rome [Acts 28] but not in Lystra [Acts 14]) Luke presents Paul as ministering explicitly to Jews, even after his caustic exclamation, ""It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13.46). In Luke's presentation, Israel continues to be at the heart of both God's people (see, inter alios, Paul and Barnabas) and God's mission (e.g., Paul's proclamation).

As concerns the importance of Galatia as an aspect of "the world of the NT," I note two things. First, as already suggested, the pattern of Paul's ministry throughout the Roman world was established (again, at least narratologically speaking) in Galatia. This might be a minor point, but I want to connect it with another point (perhaps equally minor): Famously, Luke's account of Paul's and Barnabas's experiences in Lystra (i.e., in Galatia) is strikingly parallel to his account of Peter's and John's experiences in the Jerusalem Temple in Acts 3–4. In terms of Acts' story, then, I wonder if these observations can be pressed to pry open Luke's perspective on the interaction of continuity and discontinuity between (a) Christianity as it developed under Paul's influence in the context of the wider Greco-Roman world (again, in Galatia) and (b) Christianity as it originally found expression as a Judean (or, in Luke's presentation, as a Jerusalem) sect.


Anonymous said...

This makes me wonder about Paul's function in the narrative. Obviously we know that Paul was a major figure in the early Jesus movement and was key (biblically speaking) to the founding of the early church. However, we also know that he wasn't the only traveling evangelist in the early church. Although Paul was no doubt very significant, I wonder if Luke uses Paul as an archetype for other evangelists — like using "patterns" in his accounts of Paul's missionary journeys— could we assume that, like Paul, there are others who have been similarly influenced by the Gospel?

I say that, but also recognize the centrality of Paul as a unique individual in Luke's narrative. I have always thought that Acts lacked a "balance" between the significance of Peter and Paul. This could be more the result of the prominence of Paul's other writings in the canon, but it never seemed quite right to me that Peter and the twelve get somewhat upstaged by Paul.

Rafael said...


Could points all round. I think you're right about the "patterns," at least to the extent that Luke spends so much time on Paul's story in order to establish a pattern of ministry for his own readers. In other words, I'm not so sure that Paul is a stand-in for other contemporaneous missionaries/preachers, but he certainly is an example Luke portrays in order to reproduce his [Paul's] style of ministry among his [Luke's] readers (e.g., in Acts 20). [For people who emphasize the disjunctions between Luke's Paul and what we read in the letters, Luke's portrayal of Paul's example, rather than Paul's actual example, would be operative here.]

I'd challenge (just a little) your second paragraph. I think in Luke's view he isn't focusing on Peter or Paul but rather on the relentless advance of the gospel. You're right that anyone who preferred Peter would have found Acts odd, but I suppose Paul's groupies ("Could you sign my Bible cover, St. Paul?!") would have been dissatisfied with certain aspects of Acts (esp. its ending).

But I wonder how much Acts' emphasis on Paul (which I've just denied but which is clear anyway) also influenced the reception of the Pauline corpus into the canon . . . hhhhmmmmm . . .

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