Paul vs. Paul in Acts

From TaborBlog – Did Paul Make a Break with Peter, James, and the Jerusalem Apostles? JULY 13, 2021 by Dr. James Tabor.

As early as the letter of Galatians Paul makes it clear that these “so called pillars of the church”–referring by name to James the brother of Jesus, Peter, and John–meant nothing to him, in terms of vouching for, or certifying, the authenticity of his revelations from Jesus or his “gospel” as he called it. The book of Acts, written a generation later, tries to smooth over the tension, presenting a picture of harmony between Paul and Peter (see Acts 15), but Galatians 2 tells an entirely different story. In the end, as is plain from reading between the lines in Acts 21, when Paul makes his last visit to Jerusalem, that the underlying tension between Paul and James is irreconcilable–despite the author’s attempt to mute Paul (notice, he says nothing in reply to James!) and present a shaky agreement between them.

From Bart Ehrman’s book Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene

Page 98 – Paul insists that God called him specifically to this task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. It is interesting to see that Luke, who wants harmony at every point, claims that it was Peter who started the Gentile mission, before Paul (Acts 10-11). Moreover, as ‘we have seen, Peter and Paul are in complete harmony in the book of Acts when it comes to this Gentile mission (Acts 15). But not according to Paul. In his account, he and Peter have a rather nasty confrontation over just this issue in the city of Antioch (Gal. 2:11-
14).

Page 97 – Sometimes the differences between Paul’s self-portrait and the portrait in Acts involve the content of Paul’s message. According to Acts, for example, when Paul is speaking to a group of pagan
philosophers in Athens, he tells them that they and all pagans worship many gods because they simply don’t know any better. But God is forgiving of this oversight and wants them to realize that he alone is to be worshiped.
Now, having learned the truth, they can repent and believe in Jesus (Acts 17). It is interesting to contrast this with what Paul himself says about the pagan religions in his own writings. In his letter to the Romans Paul is quite blunt: pagans worship many gods not because they are ignorant. In fact, it is just the opposite: pagans know perfectly well there is only one God, and they’ve rejected that knowledge of God in order to worship other gods. Because they’ve known all along what they are doing, God is not at all forgiving of them, but is incensed and sends his wrath down upon them (Rom. 1:18-32).

Page 97 – There are discrepancies between the book of Acts and Paul’s own letters, for instance, with reference to Paul’s traveling itinerary. In the book of Acts, for example, we’re told that when Paul makes
a trip to Athens after converting a number of people in the city of Thessalonica, he is completely alone: his companions Timothy and Silas do not accompany him (Acts 17:15; see 18:5).
But that’s not what Paul himself says. In 1 Thessalonians Paul indicates that Timothy had been with him in Athens, and that because Paul is eager to get news of how the new Thessalonian converts are doing, he sent Timothy back to them to find out (3:1-2). Maybe it doesn’t much matter, but it does show that Luke doesn’t have the details right.

Page 97 – A second, comparable difference really does matter. According to Paul himself, once he was converted by his vision of Christ, he did not go to Jerusalem in order to meet with the apostles (Gal. 1:17).
Paul is quite insistent on the point. He stresses the fact and says, “Before God, I do not lie!” (1:20). The reason is quite clear: he wants his readers to realize that the gospel message he preaches was not handed on to him by Jesus’ earthly disciples. He got it directly from Christ himself in a vision that led to his conversion. No one, then, can accuse him of perverting the gospel as he inherited it from those who were apostles before him. This makes it all the more interesting to see how the events play out according to the book of Acts. There, after his conversion, Paul leaves Damascus and goes directly to Jerusalem, precisely in order to meet with the apostles (Acts 9:23-30). Luke has his own reasons for wanting Paul to make immediate acquaintance with the apostles. For him, all of the apostles—Peter, James, Paul, and everyone else—were in complete agreement about all the important matters facing the church. The need to show apostolic agreement led him to tell the story of an early apostolic meeting, even though Paul explicitly denies it.

Page 107 – Luke also claims that Paul, as a young man, came to study Judaism in Jerusalem with the great rabbi of his day, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). This tradition is even more unlikely than the others. Paul himself would have had good reasons to emphasize his educational pedigree when highlighting his pre-Christian credentials in the passages I quoted above, but he is silent about the specifics of his training. In fact, Paul gives no clear indication at all that he was familiar with distinctively Aramaic/Hebrew modes of interpretation: he is thoroughly at home with the Greek Septuagint, on the other hand. Luke, however, would have had plenty of reasons to claim that Paul was trained “at the feet of Gamaliel”: this provides the hero of his Acts with the very best Jewish education one could have, with the most famous rabbi of his day, in Jerusalem itself. If these were the circles Paul himself actually ran in, however, it is virtually impossible to explain some of the things that he says in his letters, for example, that the Jewish people who converted to worship Jesus in Judea didn’t know him in person—even what he looked like. It appears Paul had never spent much, if any, time in Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, before he became a follower of Jesus.

Page 107 – One claim in Acts that recurs in later legends about Paul is that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25). This has struck some historians as highly unlikely. Paul himself never says anything of the sort, and in fact very few Jews were actually citizens of the empire. For one thing, being a citizen meant performing occasional sacrifices to the gods for the well-being of the state. Jews who didn’t adhere to some kind of strict Judaism would probably have had few qualms about the matter. But a highly religious Jew such as Paul? It seems unlikely. Moreover, citizenship in this period was, for the most part, restricted to the elite. Paul, on the other hand, even though he was well educated, appears to have been strictly working-class. Here again it may be that Luke is trying to stress just how prominent Paul was—a citizen of Rome, even—before his conversion.

From Bart’s post titled Is the Paul of Acts at Odds with the Paul of His Own Letters?

April 10, 2024 – He said he took this from his book Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene.

Paul and his companion Barnabas arrive in town, and on the Sabbath they go to the synagogue for worship with their fellow Jews.  As outside guests, they are asked if they have anything to say to the congregation.  Paul stands up and delivers a long sermon (Acts 13:16-42). … Finally, there is an important theological contrast between this sermon in Acts and Paul’s own writings.  It has to do with one of the most fundamental questions of Christian doctrine.  How is it that Christ’s death brings salvation?  Paul had a definite view of the matter; so did Luke, the author of Acts.  What careful readers have realized over the years is that Paul and Luke express their doctrines of salvation quite differently. According to Paul, Christ’s death provides an atonement for sins; according to Luke, Christ’s death leads to forgiveness of sins.  These are not the same thing … In Paul’s own way of looking at salvation, Christ had to be sacrificed to pay the debt of others; in Luke’s way of looking at it, God forgives the debt without requiring a sacrifice.

The idea of “atonement” is that something needs to be done in order to deal with sins.  A sacrifice has to be made that can make up for the fact that someone has transgressed the divine law.  The sacrifice satisfies the just demands of God, whose Law has been broken and who requires a penalty.  In Paul’s view, Jesus’ death brought about an atonement: it was a sacrifice made for the sake of others, so that they would not have to pay for their sins themselves.  This atonement purchased a right standing before God.

The idea of “forgiveness” is that someone lets you off the hook for something that you’ve done wrong, without any requirement of payment.  If you forgive a debt, it means you don’t make the other person pay.  That’s quite different from accepting the payment of your debt from someone else (which would be the basic idea of atonement).  In Paul’s own way of looking at salvation, Christ had to be sacrificed to pay the debt of others; in Luke’s way of looking at it, God forgives the debt without requiring a sacrifice.