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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Differing Potrayals of Paul's Miracle Working -- Evidence Against Lukan Authorship?

Continuing in our series of supposed arguments against Lukan authorship of Acts, our skeptic claims that Paul portrays Acts as a miracle worker while Paul’s letters do not:

Acts presents Paul as a miracle worker. The performance of miracles forms a major part of Paul's apostleship. He was supposed to have made a blind man see again (Acts 13:6-12), to have enabled a cripple to walk (Acts 14:8-10) and to have raised a young man from the dead (Acts 20:7-2). Even his handkerchief had miraculous powers (Acts 19:12)! His miraculous powers also enabled him to survive stoning unscathed, although those who stoned him thought he was dead (Acts 14:19-20) and to survive what would have been a lethal snakebite (Acts 28:3-6).

Our skeptic begins by overstating Acts’ portrayal of Paul as a miracle worker. It is true that the author of Acts narrates the performance of three miracles by Paul (Acts 13:6-12; 14:8-10; 20:7-12), as well as the people healed by contact with clothing that had been in contact with Paul (Acts 19:12). This latter, however, is more similar to the purported healing effects of relics or sacred shrines than portraying Paul himself as a miracle worker. The raising of the dead boy is portrayed as a miracle, but it is soft pedaled as Paul himself says that the boys’ spirit had not left him.

Regarding Paul supposedly surviving (it nowhere says that he was unscathed) being stoned by his “miraculous powers,” Acts 14:19-20 does not attribute Paul’s survival to his miracle working. Even if the reference to, “But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city,” means to imply the laying on of hands and healing of Paul (which I doubt), the miracle working is not done by Paul. If the author of Acts wanted to portray Paul as the miracle worker here, he would have had perform a miracle. He does not. In fact, by stressing that Paul only appeared to be dead, the author of Acts appears to be ruling out a miracle altogether. Indeed, we know from Paul’s own letters that he survived many beatings, including a stoning. 1 Cor. 11:25.

Finally, as noted by Stanley Porter, there is decidedly less emphasis on miracles in the “we-passages” than in the rest of Acts, as well as the fact that the “we-passages” often pass over opportunities to advertise or emphasize Paul’s miracle working. (“The author of the ‘we’ source provides a credible portrait of Paul the apostle, without exaggeration or embellishment. Not only is Paul not depicted as a miracle worker, but clear opportunities to depict him as such are passed by.” Porter, Paul in Acts, page 62). So, compared to the miracle working of his first volume, Acts is actually quite tame.

Our skeptic again:

Yet we find very little of such claims of miracles in the authentic epistles. In his own statements about this Paul used vague terms like "signs of the Apostle" (II Corinthians 12:12), "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (I Corinthians 2:4) and "the power of signs and wonders" (Romans 15:18-19). Paul's tone in these remarks was generally defensive, showing us that these were made in defense against some accusations of his opponents. In II Corinthians (chapters 10-12) for instance, he was defending against the critiques of his presence and public speaking skills (10:7-11), of his status as an apostle (11:7-15) and that he was granted no vision (12:1-10). Within this context then, the criticism which forced Paul into verse 12:12 must be that he had performed few and unimpressive miracles.

This argument is wrong on at least two counts. First, Paul’s opponents did not deny that he performed miracles. Second, Paul clearly claims to have performed miracles.

Our skeptic vaguely claims that Paul was being ‘defensive' about something when he discussed his miracles. The only example he gives, however, has Paul defending himself against charges concerning public speaking skills. Nothing is said about his miracle working. Indeed, if anything, the miracle working is conceded. And, in fact, there is no evidence in any of Paul’s letters that he was accused of an inability to perform miracles. Instead, Paul’s performance of miracles seems assumed by those he writes to and is expressly claimed by Paul himself.

First, let us look closer at 2 Corinthians. Therein, Paul states that he performed the “signs of a true apostle” among them.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me -- to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.

2 Corinthians 12:7-12.

There is no doubt that Paul here is claiming that he performed miracles among the Corinthians. His claim to have performed miracles among the Corinthians could be easily dismissed or contradicted if there was no basis upon which he could base this claim. Further support against our skeptic's argument is gained from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. . . .

1 Corinthians 2:2-4.

According to Graham H. Twelftree, “[i]n contrasting his weakness, fear and spoken word with the demonstration of the gospel, Paul is probably referring not only to the Corinthians’ encounter with God’s power to transform their lives in conversion, . . . but also to the miracles involved in his mission as the demonstration or proof of his gospel (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10; 1 Thess. 1:9). For in Romans 15:19 the power of the Holy Spirit is paralleled with the power of signs and wonders, and when the Galatians received Paul’s message they experienced the gift of the Spirit and miracles.” Twelftree, “Signs, Wonders, Miracles,” in Paul and His Letters, page 876.

Given Twelftree’s reference to Romans, we turn there next.

Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Romans 15:17-19.

Paul clearly claims that miracles were performed “through me.” The language of “signs and wonders” is typical Jewish language for miracles. Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, page 713 (referring to Dn. 6:28 (Theod.); 2 Thess. 2:9; Heb. 2:4 and Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 14:3; 15:12). Given our comparison of Acts and Paul’s letters, the use of the same language for miracles in Acts as used by Paul is all the more relevant. Further, he equates those miracles with “the power of God’s Spirit.” The similarity to Paul’s reference to the power of God’s spirit through him in 1 Corinthians 2:4 is all the more reason to read that verse as referring to Paul’s performance of miracles.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul again refers to his miracle working.

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-5.

Paul is clear that he did not just preach, but convinced them of the Gospel “in power and in the Holy Spirit,” another reference to his miracle working. Again Paul is claiming before and audience that would know that he performed miracles in their midst.

So, Paul three times claims to churches he founded that he performed miracles amongst them. In fact, the miracles he performed played a role in convincing them to follow Christ and in the founding of their churches. This claim was made to people who would have known if they were baseless. Moreover, Paul claims to the Christians in Rome that he has performed miracles. The notion that Paul is vague about his miracle workings, much less denied doing any, is entirely false. Paul clearly and explicitly claimed to have performed miracles as part of his work in establishing churches.

Thus, arguments against Lukan’s authorship based on the supposed difference in portrayals of Paul’s miracle working are baseless. Even if some of Paul’s enemies denied he had performed any miracles – and there is no evidence of this – Paul’s letters clearly showed that he believed he had performed miracles and that some in the churches he founded agreed with him. Why would Luke, a companion and friend of Paul, side with Paul’s opponents against the word of Paul himself?

4 comments:

You haven’t really dealt with what the scholars who make the argument that Luke’s miracle-working Paul is different from Paul as he describes himself in his letters are saying. They are saying that Paul’s “signs, wonders, and powers” are perfectly explicable in terms of the sort of things he attributes to himself elsewhere in his letters, such as his revelations and visions, his speaking in tongues, and his Spirit-driven proclamation of the gospel. There is no specific mention of the sort of retributive and healing/revivification miracles attributed to Paul in Acts and no need to interpret what he says about himself in his letters in light of them.

NTE

You only have a point if Paul's references to "signs, wonders, and powers" can only mean something other than the kinds of miracles he is said to have performed in Acts. In fact, in the LXX, the phrase for "signs and wonders" is used for pretty elaborate miracles, such as those done by Moses.

So, there still is no there, there. Simply assuming that a phrase which can perfectly well refer to a dramatic miracle does not is not a persuasive argument.

Also, please comment on this from the article. It seems right on point:

"The language of “signs and wonders” is typical Jewish language for miracles. Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, page 713 (referring to Dn. 6:28 (Theod.); 2 Thess. 2:9; Heb. 2:4 and Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 14:3; 15:12). Given our comparison of Acts and Paul’s letters, the use of the same language for miracles in Acts as used by Paul is all the more relevant. Further, he equates those miracles with “the power of God’s Spirit.” The similarity to Paul’s reference to the power of God’s spirit through him in 1 Corinthians 2:4 is all the more reason to read that verse as referring to Paul’s performance of miracles."

Just finished double checking some things.

The phrase "signs and wonders" that Paul uses in 2 Cor. 12:12 and Rom. 15:19 is used before Paul in the LXX and after Paul throughout the rest of the New Testament, to refer to miracles. Not to visions or speaking in tongues.

In the LXX, check Exod. 7:3; Deut 4:34; 28:46; 29:2; 34:11; Ps 135:9; Isa 8:18.

In the NT, check John 4:48; Matthew 24:24; Acts 4:30; 14:3; 15:12. For the same terms, but reversed ("wonders and signs"), check Acts 2:22, 43; 7:36.

In 2 Cor. 12:12, Paul also refers to "miracles." This term, "dunamis," is used elsewhere to refer to miracles, not visions or speaking in tongues. Check Heb 2:4 especially, as well as Luke 10:13; Mark 6:2; Matthew 11:23; and, perhaps most notably, Acts 19:11 to refer to the miracles performed by Paul.

I seriously would like to see any analysis which suggests that by using such a clearly established term to refer to miracles, Paul meant to foreclose that very meaning.

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