You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Acts’ tag.
The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” is Gary V. Smith’s Mentor Commentary on Amos published by Mentor in 1998. The book was originally published by Zondervan in 1989, this is a “revised and expanded” edition. In the preface, Smith says the revisions are some developments in his own thinking about Amos especially as it relates to the “Sociology of Knowledge.”
You may recall Gary Smith’s recent Interpreting the Prophetic Books (Kregel, 2015) which I reviewed in May, or his commentary on Isaiah in the NAC series from Broadman & Holman. After this Mentor commentary was published, he contributed Hosea, Amos, Micah in The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2001). He has also contributed sections on Isaiah and Esther in Jason DeRouchie, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About (Kregel, 2014).
In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Irvin A. Busenitz ‘s Mentor Commentary on Joel & Obadiah for only $1.99. Busenitz was at Talbot Theological Seminary before becoming a founding member of The Master’s Seminary. This commentary was published in 2003.
Both Smith and Busenitz represent conservative voices on the prophets, so there is little in these commentaries discussing sources for the prophecies or potential revisions (such as those suggested by Wolff in his Hermenia commentary on Amos, for example). Smith gives a brief overview of composition theories for Amos and conclude these theories risk “stripping the heart” from the message of the prophet. With respect to Joel, Busenitz dates the book early, about 860-850 B.C., although he does recognize there is no “easy solution” to the complex problem of dating this particular prophet. Likewise, he dates Obadiah to the reign of Jehoram and before Jeremiah rather than the later Exilic date. Both commentaries represent careful exegesis from a conservative perspective from scholars who are experts on the Hebrew language.
Be sure to get both books during the month of September and enter the contest to win all 16 volumes of the Mentor series ($370 value).
As a bonus, Zondervan is also giving away a book in the Logos library: Walter Kaiser’s The Promise-Plan of God (Zondervan, 2008). This is a “biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments.” Like Goheen and Bartholomew’s The Drama of Scripture (Baker), this is a college level textbook which offers an overview of the story of the whole Bible. Anything Kaiser writes is worth your attention.
To celebrate the happiest time of the year (the beginning of school), I am going to give away a few books on Reading Acts. I gave Jake Bodet (@JakeBodet) a copy of The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids. Mich.: Baker Academic, 2013) edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald.
For this week’s giveaway, I have a copy of Reading Luke:Interpretation, Reflection, Formation edited by Craig Bartholomew, Joel B. Green, and Anthony C. Thiselton (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005). This is the sixth volume coming from the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar and contains essays Luke and Acts from a wide range of scholars. Graham Stanton said the essays “offer fresh perspectives, especially on issues of method and interpretation. The essays are accessible to a wide readership, yet they are full of insights which will stimulate further reflection and research.”
This book is a brand new hardback and is my own copy. The only caveat is that the book has a different slip jacket than the picture above. I think it is the Paternoster (British) printing rather than the North American Zondervan printing. I cannot see any other differences. I bought the book not realizing I already had the Zondervan edition, so my bad memory is your gain.
Same rules as last week: Enter by leaving a comment telling me which essay you will read first. On Tuesday September 8 I will randomly select one comment and ship the book out to the lucky winner. If you leave more than one comment, I will only count one comment per person for the contest.
Table of Contents:
The Hermeneutical Dynamics of ‘Reading Luke’ as Interpretation, Reflection, and Formation.
Anthony C. Thiselton
NARRATIVE, HISTORY, AND THEOLOGY
Learning Theological Interpretation from Luke.
Joel B. Green
The Purpose of Luke-Acts: Israel’s Story in the Context of the Roman Empire.
Preparing the Way of the Lord: Introducing and Interpreting Luke’s Narrative: A Response to David Wenham.
F. Scott Spencer
Reading Luke’s Gospel as Ancient Hellenistic Narrative: Luke’s Narrative Plan of Israel’s Suffering Messiah as God’s Saving Plan for the World.
David P. Moessner
LANGUAGE, PARABLES, AND LEVELS AND WAYS OF READING LUKE
Political and Eschatological Language in Luke.
I. Howard Marshall
The Role of Money and Possessions in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32): A Test Case.
Reading Luke, Hearing Jesus, Understanding God: Reflection on Hermeneutical Issues in Response to John Nolland.
Stephen I. Wright
A Critical Examination of David Bosch’s Missional Reading of Luke.
Michael W. Goheen.
DISTINCTIVE THEOLOGICAL THEMES IN LUKE-ACTS
Luke and the Spirit: Renewing Theological Interpretation of Biblical Pneumatology.
Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts From Davidic Christology to Kingdom Ecclesiology.
Scott W. Hahn
A Canonical Approach to Interpreting Luke. The Journey Motif as a Hermeneutical Key.
Charles H. H. Scobie
Prayer in/and the Drama of Redemption in Luke: Prayer and Exegetical Performance.
Craig G. Bartholomew and Robby Holt
ISSUES IN RECEPTION HISTORY AND RECEPTION THEORY
The Reception and Use of the Gospel of Luke to the Second Century.
Looking for Luke in the Second Century: A Dialogue with Francois Bovon
Illuminating Luke: The Third Gospel as Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting.
Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C. Parsons
The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” is Mikeal C. Parsons Acts commentary in the Paideia series from Baker. Mikeal Parsons is a top Acts scholar and the Paideia series pays close attention to the cultural and educational context from which it emerges. Parsons see Acts as a charter document explaining and legitimating Christian identity for a general audience of early Christians living in the ancient Mediterranean world
In addition to the free book, Logos is offering Charles Talbert’s Ephesians and Colossians volume in the Paideia series for only $1.99. I have always enjoyed reading Talbert’s work (especially his Reading Acts, which I still maintain I did not know about when I named this blog…) As always, Logos is running a giveaway for the month, this time for the whole twelve volumes of the Paideia series. Head over to Logos and enter the contest as many times as you possibly can, these commentaries are all worth owning.
Logos is also running a “back to school sale” (which is not unusual since it is back to school time and Logos runs sales about every three hours). Each week they will be offering a new book, and this week it is Claus Westermann’s Continental Commentary Series: Genesis 1-11 (Fortress, 1994). This free book is not exactly free, you have to share the sale on twitter or Facebook to download the book. Spamming your friends is a small price to pay for this classic commentary on Genesis.
Check the “back to school” sale next week for another offer.
The books of Luke – Acts end with the phrase, “boldly and without hindrance. Since Paul is in prison when the book ends, it is quite remarkable that Luke could describe Paul’s activity not being hindered. But the statement is not about Paul but the rather the Gospel. How is it that Paul’s preaching can be described in this way?
First, Paul’s preaching in Acts and throughout all his letters is based on Jesus as Messiah and his work on the cross. That the person and work of Jesus is the basis of the gospel is clear from the preaching of the apostles in Acts. Beginning with the preaching of the Apostles in Acts 2:22-24, the central theme is Jesus Christ, that he was crucified and rose from the dead. On Acts 13:26-31 Paul emphasizes the death and resurrection of Jesus. Notice that in both Peter and Paul’s sermon the fact that Jesus was crucified is clear, but also that God raised him from the dead and exalted him to his right hand, proving that he was in fact God’s son, the messiah. In fact, in 16:31, Paul says that the only want to be saved is to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is tempting to downplay the centrality of Jesus to our faith since he is still as controversial today as in the first century. People seem to like the idea of spirituality and religion, but they are not attracted to Jesus – the scandal of the cross is very real in contemporary culture. “Spiritual but not religious” is a movement which rejects religions, advocating love and respect without being dogmatic on who Jesus is or whether there is a God or not. It is also possible to place such a strong emphasis on building relationships and social activities that there is no confrontation with Jesus. Our churches need relationships and social activities, but we need to confront people with the truth of the Gospel, the Gospel demands a response!
Paul’s preaching centered on Jesus and what he did on the cross, and what this atonement for sin means for people in the present age. Paul brought his sermons to a decision. As the jailer in Acts 16:31 asks, “what must you do to be saved?”
Second, Paul taught freely and with boldness because his gospel was based on Scripture. If we go back in Acts and read Paul’s sermons, we find that they are based on the fulfillment of scripture. The same is true for the letters, Paul constantly quotes scripture and alludes to the Hebrew Bible as the revealed word of God.
Using Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 as an example, he blends several verses from the Hebrew Bible in order to show that Jesus is the messiah. In fact, ever apostolic sermon in Acts is laced with references to the Hebrew Bible, whether that is Peter in Acts 2 and 3 or Stephen in Acts 7. The only exception are the two sermons of Paul in pagan contexts, but even there he alludes to the story of the Bible without directly quoting it. This implies that Paul knew his Bible well and was able to apply that scripture to new events. In this case, to show that Jesus is the messiah and that his death on the cross means salvation for both Jews and Gentiles.
Here is another potential problem for modern Christians. We lack confidence in the Bible for several reasons:
- Biblical Ignorance – Biblical illiteracy is a problem in the church, it is an epidemic in the world. Most church kids are taught the Old Testament by vegetables, most twenty-somethings only know the few Bible stories that were on the Simpsons. This is a problem which must be overcome, but not by downplaying the text of the Bible.
- Biblical Embarrassment – some of the stories from the Hebrew Bible are difficult to read in a modern context. When I teach freshmen Bible survey classes, frequently I hear from students, “I had no idea that was in the Bible!) There are stories in the Hebrew Bible that are attacked by secularists as violent, misogynist, or portraying God as a sociopath.
- Biblical Replacement – it is sometimes easy to get people to a spiritual idea without using the Bible. (Using movie clips at camp, teaching the gospel through a secular song or literature, the Gospel according to Lord of the Rings, for example). This is a legitimate way to generate interest, but if the Bible is not the foundation of the sermon, it does not matter how crafty your illustration is.
As shocking as it seems, there are churches in America that do not peach from the Bible. Their people do not bring Bibles to church because they do not own Bibles and there is little need for them in the sermon.
Third, Paul taught freely and with boldness because his preaching of the gospel was the fulfillment of God’s plan. We are looking at the last line of the book of Acts and seeing how Luke wanted to end the story. But the idea that God is fulfilling the great story of redemption in the work of Jesus is a major theme of his two books.
Luke 1:1 states that his purpose for writing was so that Theophilus might have an accurate record of the “things which have been fulfilled among us.” Luke 24:44-49 concludes the book of Luke with the same idea, Jesus himself states that everything that happened fulfilled scripture. Acts is the story of how that fulfillment works it’s way from Jerusalem to the rest of the world, and ultimately to Rome itself.
If I absolutely knew how a sporting event was going to come out, I would be able to wager with confidence. I might even have a boldness to “bet it all” on the outcome of the game. What Luke is telling us in the last few verses of Acts is that we can have confidence in the outcome because God has already planned the key events of salvation history and he has already won the victory in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Standing on the foundation of the scripture, we can have confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ and share our faith “with boldness” and “without hindrance.”
Why is it, then, that we pretend we are hindered in our presentation of the Gospel?
The last words of the book of Acts in the Greek are “boldly and without hindrance.” This is a good theme to leave the book of Acts, that Paul preached the gospel boldly and without hindrance.
To speak “boldly” (παρρησία) is to have freedom to speak, perhaps even fearless speech. “Boldness” is a characteristic of apostolic preaching in the first part of Acts. The Sanhedrin saw that Peter and John spoke boldly (4:13), and the Jerusalem church prayed that God would continue to give them boldness (4:29); when they were filled with the Holy Spirit they did in fact speak with boldness (4:31).
But the word also has the nuance of confidence, knowing that you are speaking the truth; that you know the right answer, etc. In Acts 2:29 Peter makes an argument based on Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, he says this “with confidence.” This is the confidence which I began with – knowing that something is certainly true gives you a confidence and boldness which a “guess” does not. Paul can speak from his house arrest with confidence because he knows the gospel he proclaims is the truth.
“Without hindrance” (ἀκωλύτως) indicates that there were no groups that stood in his way, as Paul had to deal with earlier in the book. Sometimes this rare word is used in legal contexts (P.Oxy 502, Ant. 12.104, 16.41, for example). The word might be used to describe some legal constraint, you cannot do want you want to because of a legal ruling (think of a restraining order in contemporary culture).
If we read the whole book of Acts, we might see quite a bit of “restraining” going on, things hinder the progress of the Gospel from the very beginning of Paul’s ministry. Jews in Asia Minor actively work against him on the first missionary journey, attack him publicly and stone him at Lystra, and continue to harass him when he returns to Jerusalem in the late 50s.
While Rome does not actively hinder Paul’s mission, he was in Roman custody several times in the book: at Philippi, nearly so at Thessalonica, he was arrested in Corinth, and was likely under arrest at some point in Ephesus, he cause a riot there as well. When he finally returned to Jerusalem he was taken into protective custody by Rome, but held for two years in Caesarea before being shipped to Rome, where he is under house arrest (at his own expense) for two years.
We might also add a kind of spiritual hindrance to this list as well. For example, Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica and was unable to return to the city, although he wanted to. In 1 Thess 3:18 he says that “Satan blocked our way,” literally “Satan tore up the road” so that Paul could not return and finish his work in the city. What happens in Corinth and Ephesus can also be taken as spiritual warfare, Satan was actively hindering Paul’s mission.
The book ends by telling us nothing is restraining the gospel. Paul is not hindered in the least by his imprisonment and there is nothing Rome can do to stop the gospel from going “to the ends of the earth.”
Christianity came to Rome before Paul, but we have very little idea of how it got there or how closely it was aligned with Jerusalem. As Luke tells the story, Christianity did more out from Jerusalem, to Samaria and Judea, then to major Diaspora Jewish communities – Antioch, then Asia Minor, Greece (Corinth) and finally Ephesus. Paul’s mission to the gentile world began at Antioch in the Synagogue and his normal strategy was to find the synagogue in a community in order to reach the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles first, then he moved into the marketplace in order to reach Gentiles.
It is possible that the Roman church was not Pauline in theology, having been founded by Jews after Pentecost. We know that the letter to the Romans was sent five years before this time to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles, but we have no idea how that letter was received by the community in Rome.
Ben Witherington suggests Paul was the first to bring the gospel of grace through faith and gentile salvation apart from the Law to Rome (Witherington, Acts, 785). This is entirely possible, since the only reference we have to pre-Pauline Roman Christianity is Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18) and the reference in Tacitus to Jewish rioting over Chrestus. It there appears as though pre-Acts 28 Christianity in Rome was quite Jewish.
The similar questions arise when thinking about the Jewish community. To what extent were the Jews in Rome in contact with Jerusalem? What authority did the Sanhedrin have over synagogues in Rome? (Or anywhere, for that matter. In Acts 9 the High Priest requests that Christians be turned over to Paul, he does not order the synagogue to do anything!) There is therefore a tension in Paul’s arrival – how will he be received? Have Jews from Jerusalem managed to arrive before him? If they had left about the same time as he did from Jerusalem they could hardly have traveled faster given the time of the year. Paul has no idea if he will meet Jewish Christians who are predisposed to attack him, or whether they will be like the Bereans, more open to his teaching.
This uncertainty does not seem to bother Paul. Once he finds lodgings in Rome he begins to meet with individuals in order to explain his presence in Rome and, likely as not, to explain his “side of the story.” He is still the apostle to the Gentiles and his imprisonment will permit him to reach the household of Caesar.
If Luke has carefully designed his two-volume history, we should probably pause to wonder why he includes such lengthy description of the journey to Rome. This must be more than an exciting story (did he think readers were getting bored?), nor was Luke trying to fill out a scroll (as if he was a student trying to make it to 10 pages for a paper). There are literary and theological reasons for Luke’s inclusion of Paul’s shipwreck.
First, Luke is traveling with Paul. On the one hand, this accounts for the details. But often ancient historians narrate a story up to the time in which they are living and then include themselves in the story in order to build credibility. Josephus summarized all of Jewish history up to the time of the Jewish revolt and included himself in the story as a leader in Galilee. Thucydidies wrote a history of the Peloponesian War and included his own participation at various points. This shipwreck functions to give Luke credibility – he witnessed the events himself and was a participant in the history he tells. A Greco-Roman reader would expect this sort of thing if the book of Acts was to be seen as credible.
Second, there is more going on here than Luke’s interest in travel. If someone (say, Theophilus) has been reading through Luke and Acts, he would notice some similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both are arrested by the Jews and handed over to the Romans, both are tried by a secular authority (Pilate and Herod; Felix/Festus and Agrippa) and both are the victims of a miscarriage of justice motivated by the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Will Paul suffer the same fate as Jesus? Will he be executed by the Romans as a political undesirable, or will he receive justice from Rome?
Third, we need to remember Luke’s theme for the whole book: “beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth.” Luke knows that Paul will go to Rome to testify before the Emperor, but the reader may think that Paul will be killed along the way. As James Dunn has observed, Luke is trying to show that “come what may, God will fulfill his purpose by having Paul preach the good news in the very heart of the empire.”
Fourth, some scholars question the historicity of the shipwreck based on parallels with other ancient literature, including Homer’s Odyssey. Often a guilty man will try to escape justice (or fate), head out to the seas to avoid capture, but ultimately he will suffer and die anyway. Paul is escaping from the Jews, yet is shipwrecked and eventually nearly killed by a snake, it is thought that Luke is patterning this story after the archetypal Greco-Roman novel plot-line.
There is something to the parallels and it may be Luke tells this story in such detail because shipwrecks were popular in literature at the time. But this does not necessarily negate the historicity of the story. Paul went to Rome, the best way to do that is by ship. It is entirely plausible Festus would send him off in this way. Shipwrecks were in fact common, so much so that Paul has already suffered shipwrecks twice in his travels (2 Cor 11:25)!
While I think Paul did travel to Rome by ship and experienced a shipwreck, Luke’s theological motivation is that nothing will hinder the Gospel getting to Rome.
In his defense before Festus, Paul offers a his view on the Servant in Isaiah: The Servant is Jesus, who suffered for our sins (Luke 4:18, Is 61:1). There seems to have been some discussion of who the servant was; recall that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading this text in Acts 8 and the idea of a suffering, dying and rising messiah appears at several points in the book of Acts. This is anticipated as early as Luke 2:32, Simeon’s blessing on Jesus cites Isaiah and proclaims that this salvation has come to Israel.
But the “Light to the Gentiles” in Acts 26 refers to Paul and his ministry. This is a rather bold statement since it might appear the Servant is the light to the Gentiles. Luke 2:32 has already applied Isaiah 42:6 to Jesus, but here Paul sees his ministry as a participation in Jesus’ messianic office as delivering the “light to the Gentiles.”
Paul describes salvation as “turning to God” and “opening eyes,” are both drawn from Isaiah 42:6, but may allude back to the paradigmatic miracle on Cypress, the blinding of Bar-Jesus (13:4-11). Like Isaiah, both Jesus and Paul ministered to blind people, both literal and spiritual blindness. The disciples, for example, were in need of healing in their understanding, so they might believe that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. Paul is sent to preach repentance to both the Jews and the Gentiles (recalling Romans 1:16-17, to the Jew first).
Festus interrupts Paul’s speech: “You are out of your mind!” It is possible that this means that Paul’s knowledge of esoteric doctrines find things that are not necessarily true. This may reflect the common-sense “down to earth” Roman worldview. Festus is saying that the conclusions to which Paul comes is “beyond common sense,” not that these are strange and outlandish things.
Paul states that he is speaking “true and rational (σωφροσύνη) words.” This description is good Greek rhetoric, sobriety is a chief virtue in Greek philosophy. Agrippa, on the other hand, understands that Paul’s speech has a persuasive value, which he is trying to convince them both of the truth of the Gospel. What Paul has done has “not been done in a corner,” but rather out in the open for all to hear and evaluate. This too is a feature of good philosophy and rhetoric, those who engage in secrets and mysteries are questionable (and probably not sober and self-controlled).
So Paul sees himself as engaged in messianic ministry (although he is a servant of Messiah Jesus; Paul does not see himself as a messiah!) This claim is rational, based on evidence and is both truthful and rational. Festus recognizes Paul’s “great learning” but thinks Paul has gone out of his mind-the opposite of rational. The Greek μανία can refer to madness or even delirium. This was an accusation against a political or philosophical opponent, or as BDAG says, “eccentric or bizarre behavior in word or action.”
For a Roman official like Festus, Paul presents strange ideas in rational manner, and he is impressed but unconvinced. To what extent can Paul claim to be rational in his arguments that Jesus is the Messiah or that he has been called by God to this particular mission? Is there a way to use Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus as a model for ministry in a post-modern world?
In Acts 23:12-15, a group of more than forty Jews make a vow to kill Paul. The verb here (ἀναθεματίζω) has the sense of putting oneself under a curse if a action is not performed. This is a rather strong response, but it is not unexpected after the events in the Temple. Paul was accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple, and in his defense he claims to have had a vision in the Temple itself sending him to the Gentiles.
The group has gathered as part of a “plot” (συστροφή), a word which is associated with a gathering for seditious purposes (Witherington, Acts, 694). The word appears in Amos 7:10 (Amos is accused of plotting against the Israelite priesthood) and in LXX Psalm 63:3 for those making “secret plots” against the psalmist. Luke used the word to describe the illegal, unruly mob in Ephesus (Acts 19:40).
It is possible this rather zealous group are similar to the Sicarri, a group of assassins who were active during the governorship of Felix. Chronologically this story takes place only about eight years prior to the beginning of the revolt against Rome, so many of the tensions which explode into that conflict are already present. Paul’s near-lynching for allegedly bringing a Gentile into the Temple indicates that the city of Jerusalem is ready to take violent action against Jews who are in violation of the Law.
Paul claimed in front of the crowds in the Temple that he was called by God to a ministry among the Gentiles. He believed that he was functioning as the messianic “light to the Gentiles.” This carries the implication that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and that his death and resurrection was a part of God’s plan to establish the kingdom anticipated in the Hebrew Bible. This was understood as treasonous by those who were “zealous for the Law.”
Paul is warned of this plot by his nephew. It is possible to render this verse “he heard the plotting having been present…” implying that the nephew of Paul was at the meeting when these men took the oath. This may hint at the fact that Paul had family members who were involved in the more radical, revolutionary politics of the period.
As a result of this warning he is placed in protective custody by the Romans (23:16-22). Rapske comments that Roman citizens in protective custody were kept well with good meals and comfortable quarters (Paul in Roman Custody, 28-35). This is another example of Luke making a contrast between the irrational mobs in Jerusalem and the Roman authorities. Rome treated Paul legally and with respect, while this mob takes an irrational oath to assassinate him!
It is significant that once again there is no reference to anyone else rising to defend Paul, either James or his group (which included Pharisees and priests, people who would surely have heard of this kind of a plot) or Peter and the other Apostles. It is possible that the Twelve no longer were in Jerusalem, but James might have been able to stop Paul’s arrest by stating that he was not in the Temple with any Gentiles.
Is this an indication of a breach between Paul and Jerusalem?
In Acts 23:1 Paul claims to have “lived his life in good conscience up to this day.” In the context of a hearing before the Sanhedrin, it is possible to read this as a statement that he has been faithful to the Jewish Law. This is very similar to what Paul says in Acts 24:16 when he describes his entry into the Temple as “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” He even points out that he was giving alms to the poor (the collection) and participating in a purification ritual when he was unjustly attacked.
In fact, Paul was in the temple “purifying himself” (ἁγνίζω, Acts 21:24, 24:18). The verb is not normally associated with the Nazarite vow (which took thirty days, not the seven mentioned in Acts 21). The verb is used in John 11:55 for Jews purifying themselves prior to the Passover (cf., JW 6, 425, Ant. 12, 145). Pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem from Gentile territory purified themselves in the Temple. In Num 19:12 the verb is used to purify oneself after touching a corpse. That Paul was willing to undergo this level of purity ritual at this point in his career indicates that he is still willing to “be a Jew among the Jews” (1 Cor 9:20).
Paul goes a bit further and claims to be a Pharisee. After his exchange with the High Priest in Acts 23:2-5, Paul shifts the focus to the controversy between Pharisees and Sadducees (23:6-10). This maneuver has caused some commentators to criticize Paul. It is not an honest argument by Paul, he instigates a near riot between the two factions of the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees were a minority in the Sanhedrin, but a popular and vocal minority. They believed in the resurrection of the dead as well as angels and spirits.
Is this true? Can Paul be considered a “practicing Pharisee” at this point in his ministry? For some interpreters, this is not at all the historical Paul who wrote Galatians. At the very least, he has broken purity traditions by eating with Gentiles. Yet with regard to the issue of the resurrection, he was a Pharisee. Paul is simply stating that he agrees on this major point, and for the Pharisees, at this moment, it is enough for them to defend Paul.
By making this statement, Paul gains the favor of the Pharisees while enraging the Sadducees. The argument that ensues was so fierce that the Roman official thought that Paul would be “torn to pieces,” so he takes him back to the barracks, leaving the Jews to their “theological dispute.”
While it was a crafty way of deflecting attention away from himself, it is possible that Paul was serious – with respect to the Law Paul has a clear conscience. James Dunn offers the suggestion that Paul’s statement was less for the Sanhedrin (which had probably already judged him as guilty), but for the Roman tribune and soldiers. The word conscience (συνείδησις) is a concept that does not really appear in Hebrew (Dunn, Beginning at Jerusalem, 974, n. 73, the word is only found in the LXX in Eccl. 10:29 and Wisdom 17:10). If he spoke Greek and used this particular expression, it is possible that he was claiming to the Romans that he was not guilty of any crime.
What do we do with this incident? Is Paul playing both sides in order to gain converts? Did he really “keep the Law” while telling Gentiles to “not keep the Law”? I can think of a number of issues I might hold loosely so that I can reach both sides. Perhaps there is an application to Christian involvement in politics or other social issues.