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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reply to Schellenberg

Firstly, thank you, Ryan, for your thoughtful rebuttals and clarifications. This moves the conversation forward faster than can be done by means of journal articles alone. I'll comment on each of your numbered points, which correspond to my numbering in the earlier post.

1) Yes, my choice of words was confusing. I did not mean to imply that it would be shameful to be dependent on Paul's letters.

2) On page 212 you summarize your main argument: "First, we noted the striking correspondence between Luke's "primary toponyms" - that is, the places in which the action happens - and those cities that appear in the Pauline corpus, as well as correspondence between Luke's "redundant toponyms" and those absent from it. Given that the scope of Paul's work was broader than that directly attested either in the letters or in Acts, this is difficult to explain except as literary dependence of Acts on Paul's letters." This argument works only if the "broader scope" covers the same time period as the "striking correspondence". You now rely on 2 Cor 11:23-27 to argue for the "broader scope", but the imprisonments and shipwrecks could have occurred well before Paul's Aegean ministry, which is where the "striking correspondence" occurs. Rom 16:7 might be a hint in that direction. In any case, if we were to reconstruct events without regards to Acts we would not put Paul in boats in his Aegean period more often than Acts does, so it is hard to see the relevance of the shipwrecks. Also you require that the "broader scope" involved the kinds of activity (such as establishing churches) that Luke would want to report. Imprisonments are not in this category, and Acts would be less interesting if there were more than one shipwreck narrative. Also note that 2 Cor 11:23-27 cuts both ways: if Luke used Paul's letters why did he not use 2 Cor 11:23-27? The "striking correspondence" is not quite so striking when we remember this and other "misses", such as Illyricum, Spain, and Arabia.

3. Your argument about the "striking correspondence" is statistical so we have to be careful to include all the "misses" as well as all the "hits". If you are excluding the PE you have to include Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, and Miletus in the list of "misses". Also Troas becomes half a "miss" because Paul refers only to the region, the Troad, and not to the city (see Thrall). If, on the other hand, you hypothesize that Paul used the PE, you should include Nicopolis and also deal with the tensions that exist between the PE and Acts. Either way, the "striking correspondence" is not so striking. Also, I was not completely convinced by your attempt to explain why Luke would not have mentioned Paul's visit to the Troad (2 Cor 2:12) or his second or third visits to Corinth. Luke would have been able to mention these visits without having to bring up the controversies that Paul had with the Corinthians. In any case, Luke was not reluctant to describe conflicts between Christians. The lack of "striking correspondence" does not disprove your theory, but it does mean that you need other evidence. Let's turn now to that other evidence.

4. The second argument in the summary on page 212 states "The failure of each author to name specific localities for Paul's work in Galatia further strengthens the case." As I think you agree, this argument has force only if we accept that Luke was a north Galatianist. I am a south Galatianist because I see Gal 2:3-5 as Paul's response to the events of Acts 16:1-3, and because the Galatians seem to know Barnabas, and because Luke's whole point in Acts 16:6-10 is that God was calling the missionaries to Macedonia without delay. There is no hint that he stopped to preach anywhere on the route. Luke was a south Galatianist.
The argument would not be strong, even if Luke was a north Galatianists. It is true that Acts 16:6 and Paul both mention Galatia without naming cities. However, again, we must list the "misses" as well as the "hits". Luke mentions Phrygia in the same breath, but Paul nowhere mentions Phrygia. Also, Luke does not record evangelism in "Galatia" in Acts 16:6 and this would be surprising.

5. If, as I argued, Acts had accurate independent information about the movements of Erastus and Timothy (which is a small detail), then he is likely to have had independent information about the major movements of Paul. I agree that this does not completely disprove your theory, but it does give you a bigger burden of proof.

6. The third and final argument (on page 212) reads "the twin announcements in Acts 19:21 and 20:22 of Paul's intention to make a perilous visit to Jerusalem and then to proceed to Rome evince not only knowledge of Paul's route but also knowledge of his anticipatory description of that route in Rom 15."  I'll change my argument here and question whether the correspondences between Rom 15 and Acts 19:21; 20:22 are really so compelling. Works as large as Acts and the Pauline corpus are likely to have some points of verbal agreement, merely by chance. The other texts that concern itinerary do not have such verbal agreement so they must be counted as "misses" if you count this one as a "hit".

7. The understanding of 1 Thess 3 and Acts 17:14-15 suggested by Donfried and me is not "complex", but simple. It involves no duplications of events. Indeed, those who read 1 Thess 3 without regard to Acts have Timothy travel from Macedonia to Achaia twice, but Donfried and I have him make only one such trip. Why do you find the theory "complex"?

I have a couple of further questions:

a) Do you know if anyone has attempted to quantify the frequency of shipwrecks in the first century mediterranean?
b) When ancient authors took personal names from a source did they always leave those names in the same form? That is to say, might Luke have read Rom 16:21 and abbreviated the name "Sosipater" to "Sopater", and might he have read "Prisca" in 1 Cor or Rom and changed it to "Priscilla"?


  1. Richard,

    Thanks for engaging the argument in such detail. Two general comments, and then one detail.

    First, I think it is important to remember the nature of the use of the letters that I hypothesize: “[Paul’s letters] need not have been open before our author, nor, for the most part, recalled with any great precision. In fact, a fairly general familiarity with what Paul had written, combined with a willingness creatively to connect the dots, could have sufficed to suggest these routes” (p. 200). This will influence, of course, how we evaluate the significance of the “misses” you note. In other words, the argument cannot be “statistical” in the sense you suggest. I anticipate the objection that this makes my argument impossible to falsify; still, what we know of ancient compositional practices (see n. 94) requires such a formulation, and means the hypothesis must be evaluated primarily on the basis of the positive evidence.

    Second, I conceive of the article as a way of testing a hypothesis that has already been put forward, on other grounds, by the likes of Pervo, Walker, Enslin, and Aejmelaeus (see p. 194). Thus the evidence I adduce is not intended to stand on its own, but rather to contribute to the larger body of evidence that they have collected. One specific example: My argument that Acts 19:21 and 20:22 are dependent on Romans 15 will be much more compelling, I think, for those who have seen the similar instances of verbal dependence collected in Pervo’s Dating Acts than for those who have not, since the former will not have the “some points of verbal agreement, merely by chance” objection available.

    Re: Acts 16:6, it should be noted that Acts 18:23 presupposes evangelistic activity during Paul’s first foray through “North Galatia.”

    Interesting questions on shipwrecks and names. I’m afraid I have noting to contribute here but curiosity.


  2. Paul preached in major cities such as Pisidian Antioch. I mentioned before that the gospel would spread from there into the surrounding region. Pisidian Antioch was on the edge of Phrygia. The spread of the gospel from Pisidian Antioch to the surrounding territory begins in Acts 13:49 "Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region." Yes, there were disciples in Phrygia when Paul arrived in Acts 18:23, but that does not require us to believe that he had preached in their towns before. The presence of disciples in Phrygia is explained by the coming and going of people between there and Pisidian Antioch.