This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Schellenberg responds

Ryan Schellenberg has kindly taken the time to respond to my last blog post, in which I commented on his JBL paper "The First Pauline Chronologist?" I paste his reply below, with his permission. I plan to comment again sometime in the next few days.


1) It’s not clear to me how any one is winning or losing here. The task, as I perceive it, is to understand how Luke constructed the book, not to judge or “accuse” him. In any case, the article  begins by acknowledging that scholars on both sides of the debate adduce as evidence the correspondence between Paul’s itinerary in Acts and that in the letters (p. 200). Given that this correspondence can be explained in multiple ways—Luke as an eyewitness; dependence on Paul’s letters; other sources—the burden of the article is to determine which explanation of the data is preferable (again, see p. 200f.). In other words, you seem here simply to be restating the problem the article seeks to address (but doing so in a way that presumes that Luke’s honor is at stake, and thus prejudicing the question).

2) I agree with you that Rom 15:19 admits of interpretations other than that Paul engaged in substantive missionary work in cities unmentioned in the Pauline corpus. (Though note that this interpretation of the verse is important in the efforts of scholars like Witherington and Keener to argue for Luke’s historical accuracy.) More to the point, perhaps, is the text I cite next, 2 Cor 11:23-27, which  refers to (mis)adventures that are simply undocumented in Acts. Two examples: Paul writes to the Corinthians of having experienced “far more imprisonments”; up until this point in the Acts narrative, Paul has only spent one night in a Philippian jail. Wherever those other imprisonments occurred, Acts hasn’t told us about them. Nor does Acts give any account of the three shipwrecks to which Paul refers. One could perhaps argue that Luke provides a complete itinerary but has left out a number of the episodes which occurred enroute, but that would be a way of defending a presumption, rather than evaluating historical probability. 

3) The scope of the study is limited by the geographical data in Paul’s letters, which provide information only about this portion of Paul’s itinerary. Evidently, this means that Paul’s letters cannot have been used as a source for the itinerary of ch. 13–14. This complicates the question of Luke’s sources, perhaps, but does not invalidate my hypothesis. Analogously, the hypothesis that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source is not compromised by the fact that it fails to explain the material in Luke 1–2.

Perhaps I could have been clearer with regard to my references to 2 Timothy. I do not in fact argue that Luke used 2 Timothy, but rather point out that my hypothesis can be extended if one posits his use thereof (see p. 213). I am not committed to any particular reading of the evidence here, but mention it because: a) a number of scholars who doubt the authenticity of 1 Tim and Titus have argued that 2 Tim is authentic; and b) Walker has argued, on other grounds, for Paul’s use of 2 Tim. In other words, my goal was to lay out the data and point out that the question of the status of 2 Tim merited further study.

4) As I note on p. 200 and reiterate in the final paragraph, what I am proposing is not that Luke has undertaken the sort of careful collation of data that nurtures modern critical scholarship, but rather that he has been informed by geographical cues in the letters. In other words, from 2 Cor 2:12 he remembers Troas as a “Pauline place”, and perhaps remembers also that Paul did not pause there but continued on his journey west. This would account very well for the story in Acts 16. (Ancient writing/reading technology would have made flipping from text to text to remind himself that this happens after Paul has already been in Corinth untenable.) 

In regard to your more general concern—whether the way Luke mentions place names betrays literary dependence—I’d invite you to reconsider the case of Galatia. See the first paragraph on p. 202.

5) Acts having information independent of Paul’s letters hardly “undermines . . . the whole thesis.” Of course Luke had other information too, as Acts 1-14 amply attests. Given Paul’s reputation, he can hardly have heard nothing about his mission except what the letters contain. My argument is not that Luke had no knowledge except Luke’s letters (see p. 213), but rather that they are the source from which he derived the Pauline itinerary. Again, an analogy: If Luke’s gospel betrays knowledge of traditions that are not in Mark, that hardly undermines the hypothesis that he used Mark.

6) It seems to me that alternative hypotheses you provide for the resemblance between Acts 19:21 and 20:22 and Rom 15 are essentially different ways of saying that the author of Acts was dependent on Romans. (But why should the specific phrasing of the letter have been so memorable, if Luke was talking to Paul daily, at all stages of planning and conception of his travels.)

7) I invite you to consider again the context in which my reference to the Acts 17 vs. 1 Thess 3 contradiction arises. If one is creative enough, perhaps one can find “elegant harmony” here. That is, if one begins from the presupposition of agreement, one can come up with complex (if not quite elegant) explanations for apparent disagreement. But my point is that in his Gospel it is quite clear that he is willing to depart from his sources, and that therefore we should approach Acts expecting to find the same. To my mind, this makes attempts to harmonize Acts 17 and 1 Thess 3 (or, e.g., Gal 1–2 and Acts 9:26) look very much like those theories that have Peter denying Jesus six times so that the Gospel accounts might stand in “elegant agreement.”

8) Yes, of course. But then Acts is unusual in this regard regardless of what comparators we choose. The most thoughtful reflections on this are that of Loveday Alexander in “Narrative Maps.”

9) What geographical knowledge Luke has—better at sea than inland (see n. 33 and, again, Alexander’s essay)—may be consistent with the notion that he accompanied Paul, but of course it can also be explained in any number of other ways, as I suggest in pp. 208-9. Only if one assumes in advance that Luke travelled with Paul does it look like clear evidence for that position.

On Acts 20:4, it should be noted that I am not “adding assumptions” to my hypothesis, but rather noting that it works well in concert with another common source-critical theory (see n. 76). As I state clearly on p. 212, there is no reason to assume that Luke’s use of Paul’s letters precludes his use of other sources. The point is simply that Luke’s use of Paul’s letters provides the most economical explanation for a certain set of data. (An analogy may again be helpful: The notion that Luke used Mark works well in concert, many think, with the idea that he used either Matthew or Q.)

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