"The presence of anti-Pauline texts in [Matthew's] Gospel, point inevitably towards the conclusion that the evangelist himself [sic: really Jesus] was anti-Pauline." D.C. Sim [2002:780]

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Traditional View Revived:

 

Luke Wrote Gospel-Acts to Help Paul in Upcoming Trial With Pagan Caesar

 

Introduction.

 

A church tradition had been long recognized that the Book of Acts was aimed at a pagan magistrate named Theophilus (Acts 1:1) investigating Paul's pending trial coming up before Nero. This is known as "The Traditional View" among scholars. But this became forgotten until in 1720 Heumann restored attention upon that traditional understanding of the purpose of Luke's Acts. Mr. Mauck in an excellent book in 2001 likewise revived Heumann's efforts once more. We will share that scholarship below.

 

Regardless of scholars' opinions, it makes sense just reading Acts. For in Acts, from chapter 22 to the end, Paul is in a series of court hearings on a charge of Paul's alleged responsibility for Trophimus' entry uncircumcised into the Temple. Paul in defense to the charge said that his accusers merely found him (Paul) purifying himself in the temple. (Acts 24:18.) This was the only inadequacy Paul cited to the charge that he (Paul) was responsible for Trophimus’ profaning the Temple. (See Acts 21:28, Paul "brought Greeks also into the temple, and .... defiled this holy place.") 

 

Before a final ruling could be issued, Paul appeals to Ceasar as his right as a Roman citizen. This means Paul now must be taken to Rome for trial before Nero.

 

When Acts concludes, that trial is not yet set, and Paul is kept at Rome waiting for the witnesses to appear from Jerusalem.

 

Hence, the traditional view within the church perfectly matches what is obvious just reading Acts.

 

Who Is Theophilus?

 

Theophilus to whom Acts is addressed is a common name of that period. Luke’s manner of addressing him is as one would address a Roman investigator. The book of Acts presents Paul’s case that he was an orthodox member of a sect within the Roman-tolerated religion of Judaism, and Paul was in a ceremonial bath at the Temple when Trophimus transgressed the Temple's warning about illicit entry beyond a certain point. The Book of Acts is designed to address the concerns which a pagan ruler would naturally have to determine whether Christianity was truly a sect within Judaism, or was teaching principles that would disrespect the sanctity of the Temple which Rome itself protected under its standard principles of Pax Romana. 

As Mauck states:

“Luke-Acts was written as a legal defense of Paul as he awaited trial before Nero and was intended to bring the gospel to Theophilus even as he gathered facts concerning the charges against Paul.” (John W. Mauck, Esq., Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001) at 4.)


Mauck, a trial lawyer, is defending the “traditional view” that Luke in Acts was writing a legal defense for the upcoming trial before Caesar.

 

This view was restored in 1720 by C.A. Heumann in his article, “Dissertatio de Theophilo cui Lucas Historiam Sacram Inscripsit,” Bibliotheca historico-philologico-theologica, classis IV (Bremen, 1720) at 483-505 (arguing that Luke wrote to the Roman magistrate Theophilus to defend against false accusations against Christianity).  

 

What did Heumann precisely restore attention to?

 

Joshua Yoder, Representatives of Roman Rule: Roman Provincial Governors in Luke-Acts (Walter de Gruyter, 2014) at 6 explains that Heumann reflected the traditional view that

 

“Theophilus was a pagan magistrate to whom Luke addressed his book as an apologia....”

 

The Primary Aim of Luke In Acts Was To Save Christianity & Secondarily Paul from Losing the Upcoming Trial.

 

What was at stake is that if Paul were convicted, this could destroy Christianity. Why? 

 

The issue on appeal to Caesar was whether Paul brought Trophimus in an uncircumcised state inside the Temple. If Paul lost, Christianity could be viewed as authorizing an act of defilement of the Temple of Judaism, and Nero could strip Christianity of its legal right to operate under Judaism's official recognition as a religion approved by Rome.

 

Luke carefully crafts Paul's defense, but also the church leaders' defense.

 

First, Paul's testimony was that he was in a ceremonial washing at the time Trophimus -- his traveling companion from Ephesus -- violated the Temple. Luke preserves that. This is key to get Paul acquitted. For as mentioned above, Paul said his accusers merely found him (Paul) purifying himself in the temple. (Acts 24:18.) This was Paul's sole defense why he was not responsible for Trophimus’ profaning the Temple. (See Acts 21:28, Paul "brought Greeks also into the temple, and .... defiled this holy place.") 

 

There was no dispute that Trophimus did violate the Temple. See Acts 21:29, 24:6, 13, 18; 25:7-8.) 

 

Incidentally, Paul was acquitted in this trial before Nero. Possibly a later case before Nero arose many years later with a different outcome. But this one -- the one the Book of Acts was meant to win the case -- ended in acquittal. How do we know? 

Eusebius - the author in about 325 AD of the History of the Church -- wrote that Paul was acquitted by Nero in this trial. Eusebius makes it emphatic that Paul was "absolved of all crime." (Eusebius, Eccl Hist. 325 AD (Ed. Cruse 1905) at page 62 / Bk II, Ch. XII.

Jerome says likewise in a book which is excerpted in its entirety on this issue at this link.

 

How Luke Protected the Church As A Whole Should Paul Lose. 

 

But Luke also crafted Acts so if Paul's innocence were not found, there were many different defenses that the church leadership should be found  not responsible for Paul's actions.

 

First,  Luke made sure to mention that the 12th apostle -- to fill out the  council of leaders in a pagan's eyes -- did not include Paul. And it was clear in context that their number could not exceed 12. For by mentioning the casting of lots where Jesus would make the decision on how the lot fell, this meant the 11 rejected the second candidate, and accepted only Matthias as the 12th as truly from Jesus. By Luke including the Gospel in a separate delivery to Theophilus, this magistrate would know that 12 was the limit on who could be among the ruling council over the church. Luke made it abundantly clear this did not include Paul in any way.

 

Second, Luke never records in any of the Damascus Road accounts that Jesus called Paul an apostle of himself. The terminology came from an otherwise unknown figure named Ananias who said Paul was called as a "martus" -- a witness of this encounter.  Thus, Paul is never elevated to the same level of leadership as the 12.

 

Third, on the sensitive topic of circumcision, Luke carefully crafted the facts in Acts 15:1-2 so that the issue of circumcision at the famous Jerusalem Conference was only whether a Gentile had to be circumcised to be saved. There was no question about whether a Gentile could enter the Temple uncircumcised. 

 

Fourth, the book of Acts depicts the leadership -- James -- asking Paul years later and close to the troubling events with Trophimus -- about whether Paul was guilty of "apostasy" by supposedly teaching -- as rumors had it -- that even Jews did not have to circumcise their children any more (Acts 21:21). Paul affirmatively led James to understand that was false by agreeing to take a Nazarite vow. If Paul is found guilty at Rome, the leadership had no idea that Paul taught apostasy against the Jewish religion, and were being misled if Paul's apostasy emerges as truly proven at the trial of Rome.

 

Hence, these facts could exonerate the leaders of the main body of believers from being outlawed even if Paul were convicted.   

 

How This Impacts How to Read Acts

 Hence, the Book of Acts was not aimed at Christians, but at a pagan court with a pagan ruler who would make a legal decision upon which the fate of Christianity could turn. 

 

Hence, many times in reading Acts, it is helpful to note that Luke does not suspect Christians in future years would think this was meant to make Paul appear a hero in the sight of Christians. For Luke includes many things about Paul that extremely appeal to pagans but are repulsive to Christians -- true followers of Christ.  Luke knew it was worth including such facts destructive of Paul's validity among us, but were necessary to use in Court to win the case for Christianity, even if it meant leaving Paul to hang out to dry among true followers of Christ.

 

There are many such examples. The most significant is that Luke records in Acts 16 that the demon-possessed Python Priestess at Philippi endorses Paul's "way of salvation" for many days until Paul casts out the demon from her. A pagan ruler like Nero could rely exclusively on that fact to acquit Paul. First, to a pagan, (a) demons are both good and bad; and (b) those women who served as the Python Priestess of Philipi and Delphi were highly regarded by all pagans as a source of prophecies which people paid for. If one such priestess declared someone would be king, the people of that territory would rise up to make it so. The Python Priestess was a king maker, e.g., Philip of Macedon bribed her for such an endorsement, and it worked.  See our article The Python Priestess Endorses Paul's Way of Salvation.  

 

 

Ask yourself for example, also, why does Luke's account in Acts 23:6-7 of Paul before the Sanhedrin court show Paul deliberately dividing the Sanhedrin Court by falsely answering their question on what was the legal issue that the Roman court had referred him to themelves about. See Did Paul Deliberately Lie in Acts 23:6-7?  Luke previously disclosed the true reason was about Paul supposedly defiling the temple by bringing in uncircumcised Gentiles. See Acts 21:28 (Paul allegedly "brought Greeks also into the temple, and .... defiled this holy place.") 

Instead of Paul saying he was being investigated over his responsibility for Trophimus breaching the Temple in an uncirumcised state, Paul in Acts 23:6-7 says he is on trial for teaching there is a Resurrection of the Dead -- something the Pharisees believed but which Luke tells us Paul knew the Sadducees on the Court did not. Paul's false statement derailed the hearing, and it turned into a non-Christian debate on whether the dead will rise. For more on this passage, see our article: Did Paul deliberately lie before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:6-7?

 

How does disclosing this clever lie fit Luke's true purpose?

 

I can speak as an attorney who has tried many cases.

 

Why would I risk showing my client lies about the legal issue previously in dispute when asked by a Jewish Court of Pharisees and Sadducees? Paul's answer is clever, although misleading, yet it explains possibly why Paul is on trial in Rome.  There now appears to be party division within Judaism over a purely religious doctrinal dispute. Its upside for Luke's aim to defend Paul's innocence on the Temple charge is it proves Paul has earned enemies within one part of Judaism over a theoretical doctrine of the Resurrection. The issue then is made to appear to a pagan court at Rome to be solely a sectarian dispute having nothing to do with the Temple's sanctity. This allows the pagan court at Rome to dismiss Paul's case as solely a sectarian dispute over doctrine unrelated to anything involving the Temple. A pagan court would see that otherwise Paul himself was not the one who personally transgressed the Temple in an uncircumcised state; that was what Trophimus alone did. Hence, I as Paul's defense counsel can risk exposing a clever lie by Paul as a means of getting a dismissal from a pagan court on the charge that really matters.

 

What does that mean for Christians reading Acts?

 

Luke would never have imagined Christians would connive to justify Paul's lying to the Sanhedrin merely because it is "the book of Acts."

 

Yet, because we forget why Luke wrote Acts, you will see in my article on Acts 23:6-7 how Christians connive to justify Paul's behavior in Acts 23:6-7. See Did Paul Deliberately Lie in Court in Acts 23:6-7?