This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review of Aletheia on Ephesus as the destination of Acts

Here I review Xabier Aletheia, "Localización de la comunidad de Lucas", Estudios Bíblicos, LXIX p289-300. This paper is in Spanish, but Xabier has kindly written a summary in English, which I paste below:

  Some authors have proposed that Ephesus is the home of Theophilus. The “classical” arguments in favour of Ephesus point to the importance of this city in Acts and especially the important speech to the elders of Ephesus. My purpose is to reinforce this view with new arguments: 1. Local colour.
 Luke assumes that Theophilus is familiar with the general geography of the Empire but, for example, considers necessary to explain that Philippi is a Roman colony and one of the major cities in Macedonia (Acts 16:12).
 In contrast, it appears that he assumes that Theophilus is familiar with Asia (Acts 16:11, 20:6-15) and Italy (Acts 28:12-14). It seems that he also knows about Ephesus as neokoros of Artemis and the theatre as a place for assemblies (Acts 19:29 ff).
 The treatment of Roman magistrates is also significant. Luke is very accurate when naming local magistrates of the Aegean (politarchs, grammateus...), but outside this region he uses generic terms, such as "leading men" or "rulers" (Acts 13:50, 14:5).
 Regarding the treatment of the characters, Luke usually gives an introduction and many times he uses the expression "a certain ..." Of the 94 characters mentioned in Acts, Luke presents without introduces, as if the reader knows them, Agrippa I and II and Bernice (Acts 12:1, 25:13), Jason (Acts 17:5), Alexander of Ephesus (Acts 19:33) and Tyrannus of Ephesus (Acts 19:10), giving the impression that Luke assumes that the reader knows the location of his school. With the exception of Jason, the characters are Jewish rulers and Ephesians.
 2. The Roman legal system and Ephesus.
 I agree with the authors that think that Luke's treatment of the Roman magistrates is negative: the rulers of Philippi and Thessaloniki are hostile to Paul, Gallio allows the punishment of Sosthenes, Felix is a corrupt... In fact, the only Roman magistrate (except the new Christian Sergius Paulus of Cyprus) that protects the Christians and is shown in good terms is the Grammateus of Ephesus in the riot of the silversmiths (Acts 19:23-40)
 3. Paul at Ephesus.  We know that the three years that Paul remained in Ephesus were not easy (1 Cor. 15:31 - 32) and it’s very probable that he was imprisoned in that city.
 However, reading Acts 19 doesn’t seem that Paul was in danger. This is not due to Luke’s ignorance. In fact, in the speech to the elders of Ephesus Paul talks about “tears” and “plot of the Jews” (Acts. 20:19).
 In my view, Luke delivers the events in Ephesus in a "kind" chapter and leaves dispersed the uncomfortable material in order to give a positive image of Paul to the non-Christians in Ephesus, taking precautions against possible infiltrators in the assemblies (see 1 Cor. 14:23-24). 4. Asians or Ephesians? Another argument in favour of the Ephesian hypothesis is the camouflage of the Ephesians and the events in this city.
 Luke gives the names of two "Asian" disciples, Tychicus and Trophimus (Acts 20:4), who could be from Ephesus or from other city.
 In Jerusalem, Paul is beaten in a riot started by "Jews from Asia" who accused him of bringing Greeks into the Temple because "they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city" (Acts 21:21-29, 24:19). If Trophimus (and Tychichus?) is Ephesian, the Jews who recognized him were undoubtedly Ephesians too.
 There are two good reasons to hide this fact. First, Luke wants to protect the Ephesian Christians, and on this issue, it’s possible that Tychicus or Trophimus were alive at the time of writing Acts.
 Second, saying that the Jews were Asians and not Ephesians, it is likely that Luke seaks to prevent Jewish-Christian relations in Ephesus becoming worse than they already were.
The issues raised in this paper deserve careful consideration. I am particularly impressed with his observation, in point 1 above, that Tyrannus's hall, Alexander, and Jason are mentioned without introduction, as if the audience already knows them. I hope to devote a separate blog post to this point soon.

In points 2, 3, and 4 above he finds silences in Acts that would have served to protect the Ephesian Christians from persecution in the event that the text of Acts fell into hostile hands. I wish that more scholars would follow this line of thinking. However, I am not yet convinced that this argument points exclusively to Ephesus as the destination of Acts. There are protective silences involving other cities too. Acts withholds the name of the community of Christians who harbored an escaped prisoner, Peter (Acts 12:17). Luke also avoids mentioning the fact that Paul was wanted by the civil authorities of Arabia. Also I suspect that many Christians of Rome fled from Nero's men and went into hiding. Luke helps them to keep a low profile by underplaying the role of the church of Rome, and by not mentioning any of their names, and by keeping silent about the fact that Paul was found guilty.

What do others think?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for your kind review.

    About Paul in Rome, there is probably a protective silence with Prisca, Aquila and so on, but perhaps Luke also wants to silence some rivalries: "Owing to ENVY, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance..." (1 Clement 5).

    I agree that Paul was found guilty, but he probably was exiled to Spain. This fits very well with Acts 13:46-47 and with Clement: "Paul...[was] compelled to flee...and come to the extreme limit of the west"

    A few years ago, there was a Congress of historians and teologians in Tarragona (Spain) in which take part John Barclay, Rainer Riesner and many others ( They concluded that Paul was probably deported to Spain (deportatio or relegatio). (in English, very breef) (in Spanish)

    Thank you again,