Book Review: David Bomar, Journeys of the Apostle Paul

Bomar, David. Journeys of the Apostle Paul. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 154 pp.; Hb.  $29.99  Link to Lexham Press

The essays in this volume are collected from a five-part series on Paul’s missionary journeys originally published in Bible Study Magazine, edited by David Bomar. After a brief section on the Paul’s Damascus (including two short essays on Acts 9:1-22), the book is divided into units based on the three missionary journeys and the trip to Rome.

Journeys of the Apostle PaulSince the front cover of the book puts Craig S. Keener at the head of the contributor list, it is disappointing to find only two brief contributions at the beginning and end of the book: “Who Was Saul of Tarsus?” And “Rome: To the Empire and Beyond.”  Keener suggests Paul was motivated to preserve his Jewish traditions by nationalistic zeal modeled by the Maccabees and Phinehas (Numbers  25:11). Keener explains why the book of Acts ends so abruptly by pointing out Luke’s narrative reaches a climax in Rome, but it also ends with a foretaste of the continuing mission to the nations.

Five essays on Paul’s ministry are scattered throughout the volume. First, Eckhard J. Schnabel “Paul the Missionary: Preaching to Everyone, Everywhere” (p. 46-49), including a chart of sixteen phases of Paul’s ministry suggested by Schnabel in his Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic 2004).

Caryn Reeder’s “Paul the Traveler: A Day’s Journey with Paul” (p. 61-61) Braves what it might have been like for Paul and his companions to travel 18 to 20 miles a day. As she points out, staying in an in was always dangerous; they were well known for lice, fleas, robbers and prostitution. During the second missionary journey put often stayed with members of the Christian community.

James W. Thompson’s “Paul the Pastor: Cultivating Faith, Nurturing the Church” touches on themes from his 2006 monograph, Pastoral Ministry according to Paul (Baker). For many of his churches, Paul focused on nurturing church is like a family. He considered the members of his church his children, and he took it upon himself to raise them in the faith.

Randolph Richards contributed a section to Rediscovering Paul (Second Edition, IVP Academic, 2017) on Paul’s letter writing, summarized here as “Paul the Writer: Spreading the Gospel through Everyday Letters” (p. 96-101). While admitting it is difficult to place into a timeline, he lists Galatians is the earliest letter in his chart of the Pauline letters (although the date range overlaps with 1-2 Thessalonians). He discusses letter writing as a collaborative effort, since most of Paul’s letters reflect the ministry team. The section briefly discuss is the process for writing letters, and there are illustrations of papyri documents (although not a letter, the editors chose to use p46 as one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts).

Brian M. Rapske distills his monograph Paul in Roman Custody (Eerdmans, 1994) int two pages, “Paul the Captive: Even in Chains, He Remained Christ’s Ambassador” (p. 131-35).  According to Rapske, “Imprisonment, far from being an interruption to or disqualification from ministry, was a true expression of it” (p. 132).

The book includes four essays each from Caryn A. Reeder, Joseph R. Dodson and Timothy Gombis. In addition to her essay on Paul the Traveler, “Who Were the Pharisees,” “Who Were the Christians Saul Persecuted?” and “Thessalonica: Turning the World Upside Down.”  Two of these sections were entitled “backdrops.” Unfortunately, these are the only two background essays in the book.  Joseph R. Dodson contributes “A New Hope and Divine Direction,” “Lystra: A Visit from the Gods?”, “Troas & Philippi: Who’s Calling?” and “Mediterranean Sea: A Tale of Two Storms.” Gombis wrote “The Jerusalem Council: The Good News Crosses Ethnic Borders,” “Philippi: Defamed & Vindicated in a Roman Colony,” “Miletus: Paul’s Emotional Farewell,” and “Caesarea: Threat, Trial, and Vindication.” Since he has four essays like Reeder and Dodson, I wonder why Gombis was not on the front cover of the book.

David B. Schreiner, has two essays, “Antioch: Paul’s Gateway to the West” and “Corinth: Paul’s Boomtown.” Stephen Witmer also contributes two essays, “Pisidian Antioch: The Good News of Salvation,” and “Troas: A Life-Giving Miracle” as does Andrew Sutherland, “Athens: Preaching Christ in a Place with Many Gods” and “Jerusalem: Receiving the Unexpectedness of God.”

There are single essays from Matthew D. Aernie, “Transformed by the Messiah,” Thomas W. Davis “Cyprus: A Turning Point in the Apostolic Mission” John Barry, “Paphos: The Gospel Advances with Power, Susan Wendel, “Jerusalem: The Challenge of the Gospel.” The essay on “Tyre and Caesarea: ‘The Lord’s Will Be Done’” appears to be anonymous.

Four other essays deserve mention. In “Ephesus: Shaking the Foundations,” Lynn H. Cohick suggests “Paul’s years in Ephesus revealed the typical pressures he faced in several common results of his gospel message” (p. 95). Preaching the gospel provokes opposition, whether this be from Jews who have a different understanding of Judaism than Paul, or Gentiles who simply fail to understand the life-changing power of the gospel.

Ruth Anne Reese Focus his attention on The Collection (“Macedonia & Achaia: Paul’s Collection for the Jerusalem Church”).  She points out that without Paul’s letters, we would not know about this collection for the poor with a generous giving of Paul’s churches (p. 104). In fact, her essay focuses on the importance of generous giving to the poor in Paul’s letters. She does not deal with the perplexing question of what happens to the collection once Paul finally reaches Jerusalem.

Holly Beers deals with Paul’s testimony before the Sanhedrin in Acts 22:30-23:11 (“Jerusalem: Testifying About the Messiah”). By claiming that the real reason that he was on trial is his believe in the resurrection of the dead, Paul is able to argue that the Messiah Jesus makes the reality of God’s kingdom available to everyone.

Joshua W. Jipp contributes on “Malta: Stranded, Shipwrecked, and Still Sharing the Gospel.” This episode is central to the thesis of his recent Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Eerdmans, 2017). According to Jipp, Paul is does not demonizing the locals he encounters on Malta, but rather he operates “within the pagan culture and religious mindset” in order to reach them with the message of the risen Christ (p. 147)

Conclusion. This book is beautifully published as an 9×11 inch hardback with rounded corners. Text pages have large margins with are occasionally used for quotations from the text on the left margin and a running geographical timeline (locations, not dates) on the right margin. Map pages use the whole page and new units have a fold-out page tracking that leg of Paul’s journeys. The individual essays are no more than two or three pages each including illustrations. This is something like a coffee table book in the best sense possible.

By way of criticism, the illustrations are good but could have been improved. The photograph of Saint Paul’s columns at Paphos is beautiful, for example. But I would have preferred to have more full-sized photographs of locations associated with Paul’s travels. There is no real need for a 9×11 print of a David Roberts illustration from 1839 (p. 53) or a seventeenth century painting of Paul (p. 85) while including no photographs of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea or Athens. I suspect part of the reason to keep the cost of the book low. The image credits at the end of the book indicates all illustrations are public domain except for seventeen, and seven of the image credits listed are from wikicommons.org.

Nevertheless, this is an intriguing book which will be helpful for tracking Paul’s missionary journeys as one reads through the book of Acts.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Unity of Luke-Acts in Current Scholarship

That we should even be talking about Luke-Acts or “Luke and Acts” is an open question in contemporary scholarship. It has become common in Luke-Acts studies to discuss several potential ways in which Luke and Acts can be read together. Following the outline of Pervo and Parsons (Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts), there are five factors to consider when discussing the unity of Luke and Acts.

First, authorial unity is almost universally accepted. Recently, however, Patricia Walters challenged this consensus in her 2009 monograph The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts. She argued the summary statements in Luke and Acts indicate two different authors. Walters’s study has been frequently reviewed so it is not necessary to fully examine her argument here. I agree with the common criticism her sample texts are too small to be significant. Although Walters’s study has convinced few, it is at least possible Luke and Acts come from two different authors.

Second, literary unity refers to reading Luke and Acts together as a unit. Since Cadbury’s The Making of Luke-Acts in 1939, it has become customary to refer to Luke and Acts with a hyphen, or perhaps a slash, as if to say there is a single book with two parts. An analogy might be Josephus’s multi-volume Antiquities of the Jews or The Jewish War.  In both cases there are themes and interests running through all of the books in the series and it is quite clear Josephus intended his Antiquities as a unit. In fact, there are no real segues in Antiquities at the beginning of a new book. In the case of Luke-Acts, there is an intentional allusion to the first book at the beginning of Acts and many have observed some literary connections between the end of Luke and the beginnings of Acts. Luke Timothy Johnson focuses on the literary aspects of Luke-Acts in his commentary, the most significant to him are similar miracles by Jesus, Peter and Paul. In fact, these are the only parallels most commentators notice between Luke and Acts. Johnson does state that “Acts should be read in the light of the Gospel: just as Luke’s first volume can best be understood in the light of these literary patterns established in the first section of Acts” (13).

Third, it is possible to accept a single author but reject literary unity based on the genre of each book. Mikeal Parson and Richard Pervo issued just this challenge to the consensus view in their 1993 monograph Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (Fortress 1992). Parsons and Pervo do not deny the same author wrote both books, but they question whether the genre of Luke is the same as Acts. If it differs, were the books intended to be read as a unit? For Pervo, “The unities of Luke and Acts are questions to be pursued rather than presuppositions to be exploited” (Pervo, Acts, 20)

Fourth, unity may refer to the purpose of the two books. Did a single author intended a single, overarching purpose for a unified two volume work? For Johnson, “As a whole, Luke-Acts should be read as an Apology in the form of a historical narrative” (Acts, 7). Yet the purpose of Luke may be narrowed to Jesus and his death on the Cross, while Acts concerns the spread of the message of the Cross throughout the Roman world. These may be related purposes, but they are not necessarily the same.

Fifth, even if some or all of these other unities prove true, it is possible to challenge the unity of Luke-Acts by using a relatively new approach, Reception History. Kavin Rowe, for example, argues no one in the early church ever read a book called “Luke-Acts” as a single unit. Canonically, the two were always separated and it was not until modern scholarship that anyone thought to read them as a unit. Building on the work of Andrew Gregory, Rowe examines Gregory’s two exceptions which appear to read Luke and Acts together, and concludes these are not true exceptions at all. Both Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon focus on the authority of the Gospel of Luke rather than Acts. In fact, for Rowe, there is no evidence Luke and Acts were ever circulated as a unit. Acts sometimes introduced the Pauline or Catholic epistles, but no manuscript collected Luke and Acts as a two-part book.

Nevertheless I suggest there are a number of intra-textual links between Luke and Acts that support a literary unity between the two books. The introduction to both books certain link them together as a two-part work. A real problem for reading the two books together (whether hyphenated or slashed) is that there is no evidence the two books were ever considered together in the early church. In every New Testament canonical collection, Luke is placed with the gospels, Acts is set off on its own (sometimes as an introduction to the Pauline collection, but not always). Even if Luke intended them to be read together, until the modern era, no one read a book called “Luke-Acts.”

 

On Acts and Reception history, see C. Kavin Rowe, “History, Hermeneutics and the Unity of Luke-Acts,” JSNT 28 (2005): 131-157; Luke Timothy Johnson, “Literary Criticism of Luke-Acts: Is Reception-History Pertinent?” JSNT 28 (2005): 159-162; Markus Bockmuehl, “Why Not Let Acts Be Acts?: In Conversation With C. Kavin Rowe.” JSNT 28 (2005): 163-166; Andrew Gregory, “The Reception of Luke and Acts and the Unity of Luke-Acts.” JSNT 29 (2007): 459-472. [1] Andrew F. Gregory, The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period before Irenaeus: Looking for Luke in the Second Century (WUNT 2/169; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003). Gregory responds to Rowe’s use of this work in “The Reception of Luke and Acts and the Unity of Luke-Acts,” JSNT 29 (2007): 459-72.

Acts 28:30 – The Main Theme of Acts

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?

Acts 28 – Nothing Will Hinder 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).

apostle_paulBut 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.”

Acts 28:11-16 – Paul in Rome

Front of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls - Roma - Italy

Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome

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.