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.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review of Schellenberg's "The First Pauline Chronologist"

Ryan S. Schellenberg "The First Pauline Chronologist? Paul's Itinerary in the Letters and in Acts", JBL 134 (2015).

In Rom 15:19 Paul says that he had "fulfilled the gospel" from Jerusalem clear around to Illyricum. This means, for Schellenberg, that Acts does not provide "a complete account of the geographical scope of Paul's work". He then notes that the places that Luke uses as a narrative setting in Acts 15:36-20:16 correspond almost exactly to those places named in Paul's letters. He argues that this correspondence is more than we would expect if Luke's information was independent of Paul's letters, given that Paul worked in many places that are named in neither Acts nor Paul's letters. This is Schellenberg's main argument for his thesis, which is that Paul's letters were Luke's source for Paul's itinerary of Acts 15:36-20:16.

There are a number of problems with Schellenberg's paper:

1) Luke, naturally, narrates events that occurred in cities where Paul established churches, and Paul too tends to name places precisely because they were the locations of his churches and major centres of his work. Thus it should not be surprising that there is much correspondence between the places named by Luke and those named in the letters (Antioch, Syria, Cilicia, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, Galatia, Asia, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Cenchreae, Ephesus, and Miletus). It would be surprising if Luke, a companion of Paul, had not mentioned them. If Luke had failed to mention Paul's work in Ephesus or Philippi, for example, the critics would accuse him of ignorance; but Schellenberg accuses him of dependency on the letters because he does mention them. This seems like a game of "heads I win, tails you lose".
2) Rom 15:19 does not require us to believe that Paul personnally established any churches beyond those recorded by Luke. Paul's method was to go to the major urban centres. The gospel would then spread to the surrounding areas because Paul would preach to visitors from those areas. He might also send out emissaries.  See Acts 19:8-10; 1 Cor 16:15; 1 Thess 1:8; Col 1:7; 4:12-13. When Paul says that he had fulfilled the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum he is not saying that he had visited every intervening town himself. He had not visited the Lycos valley, for example.
3) Schellenberg arbitrarily limits the scope of his study to the texts that best fit his case. By limiting his scope to Acts 15:36-20:16 he ignores Luke's narrative setting in Cyprus, which is not mentioned by Paul. Also, his use of the disputed letters is questionable and selective. He suggests that Luke may have got the place names of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra from 2 Tim 3:11, but fails to mention that Paul's itinerary in 1 Timothy is famously hard to reconcile with Acts. Nor does he mention that Trophimus stays behind in Miletus in 2 Tim 4:20, but not in Acts 20:15; 21:29. If Luke was so sloppy in his use of sources, why does he not make mistakes (when he is judged against the undisputed letters)? Schellenberg does not mention the possibility that the author of 2 Timothy got place names from Acts.
4) The way that Luke mentions place names does not betray a literary dependency on Paul's letters. If Luke had got the name "Troas" from 2 Cor 2:12 we would expect him to record the evangelization of Troas at Acts 20:1. Instead Luke has Paul pass through Troas without preaching there at a much earlier date (Acts 16:8) and he also records a later visit (Acts 20:6-12). Luke's account is consistent with Paul's but not dependent on it.
5) Schellenberg writes, "If Richard Fellows's suggestion that Titus was Timothy is correct, then Luke could have decided to refer to him exclusively as Timothy for precisely the same reason" [because "Titus" was associated with controversy]. However, the Titus-Timothy hypothesis proves that Acts had information that was independent of Paul's letters, and this undermines Schellenberg's whole thesis. See my discussion here.
6) Schellenberg thinks that Acts 19:21 and 20:22 are dependent on Rom 15:25; 30-31. I was not convinced by his arguments. In any case, if the author of Acts was a companion of Paul he would have been with Paul when Romans was written and might well have heard the letter being read at that time (indeed I have argued that he was the Lucius of Rom 16:21). He might also have heard the letter after he arrived in Rome. The author's use of Paul's letters would not provide an argument for a late date of Acts.
7) In note 50 Schellenberg mentions Donfried's explanation of how the movements of Timothy in Acts 17:14-15 are consistent with those in 1 Thess 3. He then writes, "I will refrain from comment on the question here". This will not do. If Donfried's explanation (or my own variant of it) makes sense, then we have here a case where Acts looks on the surface to be contradicted by Paul, but on closer examination is found to be in elegant harmony with him. This is hard to explain if Luke got his information from Paul's letters.
8) Apocryphal Acts contain very few redundant toponyms. Acts is very different.
9) Schellenberg tries to address some of the problems with his hypothesis, such as the scarcity of "redundant toponyms" in Luke's gospel, and the Acts narrative in Beroea and Derbe. He has to concede that Luke had good geographical knowledge (which is consistent with him being a companion of Paul). He also has to hypothesize that Luke got Acts 20:4 from a source and took place names from it. It's OK to add assumptions to a theory, but we then need more evidence to prevent the theory from collapsing under its own weight, and in my view that evidence is lacking.

Please push back in the comments section if I have been unfair. I will invite Schellenberg to do so.

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