Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Can Acts Be Used as a Background for Paul?

My NT professor is now claiming that Acts is not a legitimate source for information about Paul. I find this claim highly suspicious.

Apparently, what we are supposed to do is let Paul speak from his own words. THIS is supposed to be the sole influence on our thoughts about what Paul was like, and what his theology was like. Acts really only counts in the places where it is explicitly in agreement with Paul (in which case it is redundant anyway).

Now, let's think about this for a minute. What is the thing that they hammer into your head about hermeneutics?


Okay, what is the thing that they hammer into your head about the hermeneutics of epistles?

1) They are occasional (i.e. written in response to specific situations)
2) They are for the most part not general theological works
3) They were not intended by the author to be scripture

Now, I agree with all of these, except for perhaps 3 (does anyone want to argue that Paul didn't view his letters as normative?). So, if all we have are non-systematic, occasional works, why should we think that these are sufficient to produce a typical idea of how Paul thought and worked? Shouldn't these be viewed as being punctuations on a backdrop of a more "typical" Pauline style which isn't necessarily expressed in the letters?

Therefore, the idea that we should "let Paul speak in his own words" is going _against_ what is the most important hermeneutical principle -- CONTEXT! On a more general historical background, we don't use autobiographies as the only definitive source of information on an author. I believe it is well recognized that it takes an outsider to judge a person as a whole -- people often don't do a good job of that themselves. Therefore, rejecting Acts' depiction of Paul just because it doesn't mimmick exactly what you would get by reading the letters alone is counter to any legitimate claims of historical inquiry. The only purpose it seems to serve is to aid those who are attempting to de-legitimatize scripture by dicing it up and only viewing the parts individually, and in doing so, so overemphasize the details of difference as to make them seem contradictory. By removing Paul's letters from their context, it distorts Paul. Would any of you want the details of your life to be judged as true or false based on whether a scholar 2,000 years later thought that a letter you wrote someone made you sound like a different person?


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