Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Book review of "Paul, His Letters, and Acts" by Thomas Phillips
In his 243 pages Phillips compares the Paul of the letters with the Paul of Acts. Instead of addressing Paul's theology, he focusses on Paul's "life", meaning his travels, chronology, and interactions with the Jerusalem church and others. These issues are central to any assessment of the historicity of Acts and for this reason Phillips' book deserves to be read.
Phillips starts by reviewing the Paul that Chilton reconstructs in Rabbi Paul, as well as the Paul of In Search of Paul, by Crossan and Reed. He then gives a useful summary of how the relationship between the Paul of the letters and the Paul of Acts has evolved, highlighting Baur and John Knox. However, I was disappointed that, having introduced the hypotheses of these authors, Phillips does not assess them.
Phillips rigorously follows a clear methodology for each topic. He first sets out the data found in the undisputed letters, then he does the same for Acts, and finally he compares the data sets. His approach is useful as it allows readers to make their own assessments. Scholars, who (rightly) focus on the apparent discrepancies between Acts and he letters, may be surprised at the degree of agreement between these texts. In chapter 3 Phillips applies his methodology to the chronological data. Chapter 4 concerns Paul's social status. Having equated Gal 2:1-10 with Acts 15, in chapter 5 he looks at Paul's relationship to the participants in this Jerusalem conference. In chapter 6 he assesses the data on the minor characters surrounding Paul.
In some ways Phillips gives a very balanced and cautious view. For example, he recognizes that there is considerable uncertainty in the social status of the Paul of the letters. However, on other occasions he is quite reckless. He attempts no careful exegesis of any passage, but simply assumes particular interpretations. This is unfortunate since his conclusion that there are discrepancies between the "two Pauls" relies almost entirely on ambiguous and much disputed passages in Galatians.
I noticed from the footnotes that he has clearly misunderstood modern writers on a number of occasions (e.g. p135 n25). There is a lot of repetition in the book, but it is readable, accessible, and worth the US $24.95.