A paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society, Northwest Section
April 11, 1980
As has been the case for 1900 years, the New Testament is today under attack on all fronts. It is evident to any who have even a nodding acquaintance with New Testament criticism that much of the battle revolves around the historicity of Acts and the New Testament characterization of the Apostle Paul. Much has been written concerning whether or not the Luke of Acts is the same Luke of the Pauline epistles (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim.4:11; Philemon 24). Much has been written concerning whether or not Luke or Acts is an author or an editor. Much has been written concerning whether or not Luke of Acts was an accurate historian and observer. Much has been written concerning whether or not the Luke of Acts really understood Paul the Apostle. There seems to be some question whether or not the Luke of Acts associated with Paul at all! Given the “we” sections of Acts (i.e., 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16), this question makes Luke either a liar or an unbelievably sloppy editor, both alternatives having been rejected by honest and fair New Testament scholars.
However, almost ten years ago Ernst Haenchen of West Germany had his massive, and generally recognized (even by his theological foes) as brilliant, commentary on Acts translated by Westminster Press, thereby almost guaranteeing wide circulation and use in this country’s theological seminaries. As Ward Gasque points out in his History of the Criticism of the Acts of the Apostles, Haenchen’s work, while presuppositionally so wrong so much of the time will nevertheless “continue to have a wide influence on the present generation of New Testament scholars” (p. 244). Gasque also states that Haenchen’s work marks an “epoch in the history of criticism and must be answered specifically…” (p. 247). Some of Dr. Haenchen’s conclusions have been challenged by orthodox scholars such as Donald Guthrie and Gasque himself but the fact that W. G. Kummel in the 17th edition, 1975 of his Introduction to the New Testament which is standard fare at a great many American seminaries fails to credit those challenges means that we evangelicals must continue to press for the complete and accurate historicity of Luke’s work in Acts. Such is the aim of my meager attempt.
Haenchen writes at one point in his commentary:
“The time has come to strike the balance: the representation of Paul in Acts — not to mention the overall picture of missionary beginnings — shows that here we have no collaborator of Paul telling his story, but someone of a later generation trying in his own way to give an account of things that can no longer be viewed in their true perspective.”
This conclusion, Haenchen maintains, is warranted because there is, in his words, “a discrepancy between the ‘Lucan’ Paul as a “miracle worker,” as an “outstanding orator” and as one who is excluded from the apostolic company, none of which is confirmed in the Pauline epistles. It is the purpose of this paper to take issue with Haenchen over the second of these alleged discrepancies, that of the ‘Lucan’ Paul being an outstanding orator while Paul himself claims to be quite the opposite.
In his section entitled “Luke and Paul,” Haenchen presents his case thusly:
“… The same state of affairs may be demonstrated from a second point of difference: the ‘Lucan’ Paul is an outstanding orator. His enemies are obliged to engage an advocate — Paul defends himself with convincing eloquence (Acts 24:lff, 10ff.). Hardly snatched from the rough handling of the raging mob, he steps forward once again with the orator’s raised hand, and the turbulent throng is hushed (188.8.131.52f.). Whether he speaks before Jews (Acts 13:16-41; 22:1-21; 23:lff.; 26:2-23, 27; 28:17-20, 26-8) or Gentiles (14:15-17; 17:22-31), governors (13:9-11; 24:10-21; 25:10f.; 26:2-26) or philosophers (17.22-31), he is never at a loss for the right word. He is a born orator, imposing himself with the eloquence of a Demosthenes. Alas, the real Paul, as he himself admits, was anything but a master of the improvised speech. He has found, in dictating his letters, words which have echoed down the centuries: as a speaker he was feeble, unimpressive (2 Cor. 10.10). When Luke paints so different a portrait of him, it is not the alchemy of remembrance which is at work, but the presumption, so tempting for the later generation, that Paul the great missionary must also have been Paul the great orator” (p. 114).
Haenchen claims that Luke portrays Paul in Acts as an “advocate,” a man with “convincing eloquence,” a man who with the raising of his hand can “hush a turbulent throng,” a man “never at a loss for the right word,”; in short, “a born orator, imposing himself with the eloquence of a Demosthenes.” To support his view, Haenchen cites several passages in Acts.
The first passage Haenchen cites is Acts 13:9-11. This speech of Paul’s is pure and simple Old Testament preaching (Exodus 9:3; 1 Samuel 5:6f.; Job 19:21; Psalm 32:4; Proverbs 10:9; Hosea 14:9; Jer. 5:27; 1 Samuel 12:7; Gen. 32:11, Gen. 12:19; 1 Samuel 7:13). In fact, note how the Old Testament even forms the organization of Paul’s speech! In verse nine we see that Paul was empowered by the Holy Spirit to say even these few words. All we have here is a man who knew his sacred writings as well as was befitting a Pharisee and was empowered by the same Holy Spirit that empowers all Christians.
In Acts 13:16-41, 44-47 we see a simple history of God’s redemptive dealing with Israel step by step. No great flashes of oratory or eloquence, just a simple narrative all done in the power of the Holy Spirit (vs. 9). Note again that the structure comes out of the Old Testament itself.
In Acts 14:8-18 we again see the same technique of Paul, quoting and alluding to the sacred Old Covenant Scriptures for his “eloquence” (Exodus 20:11; Deuteronomy 11:14; 32:21; 1 Samuel 12:21; Job 5:10; Psalm 65:10f.; 81:12; 146:6; 147:8; Jeremiah 5:24; 8:19; 14:22; Ezekiel 34:26f.; Joel 2:23; Micah 4:5). In verse 12 we read of Paul being referred to as “Hermes” (Hermes was the son of Zeus of Greek mythology. He was the herald of the gods) because Paul was the “chief speaker” or “leader in speaking” between he and Barnabas. This phrase and this name given to him in no way implies that Paul had the “eloquence of a Demosthenes,” only that Paul was better versed in Christian apologetics and doctrine than Barnabas and is recorded as doing most of the speaking.
In Acts 17:22-32 Paul clearly shows his education and mental capabilities to deal with philosophy. In fact, Paul never denies that he is well educated, intelligent and able to defend the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:5-6!). However, Paul never uses oratory tricks to seduce the minds of his listeners, and Luke never portrays Paul as the oratorical seducer. It is interesting to note that after this speech to the Athenians Paul is “sneered” not only because of his ideas but because of his speaking manner. The Athenians were used to the best speakers in the Mediterranean world with flights of oratorical powers that could not be matched by any. Obviously, Paul did not impress them with his preaching prowess because most of his audience did not even stick around to hear him again. The fact that Paul in this instance was not “at a loss for the right word” reflects his training and intelligence, not his oratorical skills.
In Acts 21:33-22:21 we see Paul before the large Jerusalem crowd giving a long personal testimony of God’s redeeming him on the Damascus road. There is little eloquence or versatility here, just a simple blow-by-blow account of Paul’s salvation. As for Haenchen’s allegation that “with the orator’s raised band, the turbulent throng is hushed” (21:40) this can be explained by remembering that when Paul stepped forward and raised his hand, he obviously had been given permission (and therefore, the authority for a moment) by the commander of the troops and this would be enough to quiet the mob. Secondly, he spoke in a Hebrew dialect to the crowd rather than Greek, thus identifying himself with them. It was, therefore, not his oratorical imposition which quieted the “turbulent throng” but the historical situation itself.
In Acts 23:1-6 Paul is speaking before the Sanhedrin and again he uses the sacred books for the content and structure of his speech (Exodus 22:28; Leviticus 19:15; Job 19:25-26; Deuteronomy 25:2; Ezekiel 13:10-15). Clearly, a personal testimony and a personal knowledge of the Scriptures compose this simple address.
In Acts 24:10-21 we read of Paul’s speech before Felix and this address, like his Athenian address, does show great skill in organization and content. But he again claims his power and his source of knowledge to be the “Law and that (which) is written in the prophets (verse 14). It cannot be denied that this short speech before the governor is a masterpiece of personal defense. Felix, himself, gives testimony to that! But again, this shows as much of Paul’s brain power as it does his mouth power.
In Acts 25:9-11 we read of Paul’s appeal for justice at the hands of a Roman court and not injustice at the hands of the Sanhedrin court. Paul’s plea for self-preservation was borne out of knowledge of political and judicial affairs and not rhetorical affairs. Again, it is Paul’s brain that is on display, not his tongue (see Bruce, Commentary, pp. 477- 479 for an excellent treatment of this plea).
In Acts 26:1-23 we read of Paul’s speech before Agrippa and again the Apostle gives a personal testimony of his salvation experience on the Damascus road and then he sermonizes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 33:3-4; 1 Chronicles 16:35; Isaiah 9:2-3; 35:5; 42:7, 16; 61:1; Jeremiah 1:7-8, 19; Ezekiel 2:1; Daniel 10:11). Also, as in his speech before Felix (24:10-21), Paul states plainly that he is “stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said. . .” Clearly, Paul always submits his oratory to the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit and the structure of the Old Testament Scripture. No flighty, awe-inspiring eloquence here either. The fact that Agrippa is impressed with Paul’s speech is more due to Paul’s knowledge of the Prophets (vs. 27) and his sincere desire that Agrippa be saved (vs. 29) than to flashy phraseology (“convincing eloquence”).
In Acts 28:16-20, 25-28 we get first of all (vss. 16¬20) a simple introduction of Paul to the Jewish leaders of Rome. Nothing out of the ordinary here, just a simple Jewish salutatory and an explanation of why the Pharisee from Jeru¬salem is in the capitol city of Rome. The last part of this chapter (vss. 25-28) we read of Paul telling the Jews that regardless of speaking technique some hearts will remain dull, some ears will remain deaf and some eyes will remain closed. A remarkably humble ending to the allegedly great orator of Ernst Haenchen’s Luke. F. F. Bruce points out (The Book of Acts) that Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 which was God’s warning to Isaiah not to expect a favorable response from the people to his preaching no matter how great of a speaker he was!
The picture of Paul then that comes out of Acts is not one of a great independent orator of “convincing eloquence,” but rather a picture of one who is empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to speak and one who is by and large dependent upon his beloved Scriptures for the content and structure of his speeches. So, Haenchen’s own Scriptural citations from the book of Acts upon a closer examination can be used to disprove his thesis. Paul states the final word in 2 Cor. 11:6, “I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge.”
Let us briefly stay with Acts to finish our argument from the ‘Lukan’ Paul side. In Acts 18:5, 9 we have a couple of interesting verses which bear on our discussion. In verse five we read of Paul “devoting himself completely to the word” in Corinth. How some have tried to maintain that this channeling of his efforts to only the “word” was a result of his poor showing in Athens just a short time before. In other words, Paul had given up the philosophic approach after he got his ears beat back at Athens. This argument looks to 1 Corinthians 1:17 and I Corinthians 2:1-5, 13 for support. However, I believe this verse only indicates (as does 1 Corinthians) that Paul wanted to be free from other pastoral duties so he could spend his time with his sacred Scriptures which, as we have pointed out, formed the content and structure of his public utterances.
In Acts 18:9 we read of Paul’s vision in which the Lord tells him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, because I am with you . . .” Clearly, Paul was discouraged and needed assurance (i.e., confirmation) from the Lord. It is terribly difficult to claim that Paul is portrayed in Acts as “a born orator” as we read of the Lord propping up his sagging spirits and courage. In both these verses, then, the picture we get is a Paul who understood where his power came from and where his content and credibility came from; and that he was aware they definitely did not come from his oratorical prowess and training.
In Acts 23:11 again we read of the Lord coming to Paul and telling him, “Take courage” because he was going to be the Lord’s witness in Rome in the same manner as he was in Jerusalem, i.e., empowered by the Holy Spirit. This visit from the Lord came right after Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-6). This appearance before the Sanhedrin was obviously unsettling to Paul and he needed to have his courage and confidence bolstered a bit. Surely the picture here is one of a man who is committed to the truth as he understands it, but he must constantly be working at, and studying that truth; and he must constantly be assured that the Holy Spirit is with him.
In Acts 27:23-25 we read of Paul’s trip to Rome by ship and the storm in which the sailors were frightened and his little speech to the frightened men. Paul tells them not to be afraid because “an angel of God” appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid Paul, you must stand before Caesar.” And Paul believes the angel and does take courage for he continues, “Therefore keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out as I have been told.” Here we have an instance where the Lord must come to Paul a second time concerning his Rome appearance to tell him truly God will get him there and He will see to it that he speaks before Caesar. There just can be no doubt that Paul fully understood that any power-in his preaching was due to God and to God alone. In 2 Timothy 4:16-17a we read Paul’s own words of his first Roman judicial hearing, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; . . . But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fulfilled.”
Here in his letters Paul is giving complete credit to the Lord for anything that was accomplished in his proclamation of the gospel. Here in 2 Timothy Paul is stating that the Acts 23:11 and 27:24 appearance of the Lord and his angel were not in vain for he believed and understood that it was God who was empowering his apologetics. Here, as in Acts, Paul is disclaiming any oratorical skills and maneuvers lest the gospel be rejected. C.K. Barett translates ou kath’ huperochen logou e sophias “without rhetorical skill” (1 Cor. 1:2). Lightfoot takes the phrase, “the cross of Christ should not be made void,” to mean lest the cross “dwindle to nothing, vanish under the weight of rhetorical argument and dialectic subtlety.” Clearly, Paul does not want rhetorical devices to hold the attention and hearts of his hearers. That is not to disclaim logical, well-organized and articulate speaking but only to disclaim flamboyance. Barrett rightly concludes, “The convincing power of the cross could not be fully manifest if preaching shared too evidently in the devices of human rhetoric; if men are persuaded by eloquence they are not persuaded by Christ crucified.”
This verse will become even clearer as we study 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
In I Corinthians 2:1-5 we have perhaps the key passage of our discussion for it explains why Paul does not use rhetorical devices, does not approve of subtle oratorical persuasion and fully submits himself to the Word of God for the content and the form of his speeches. While we cannot make a detailed study of this passage in this paper, by touching the high points we can help form the picture as we move through the Corinthian correspondence. Paul is here laying the groundwork (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17) in his approach to the Corinthian churches that will guide his argument throughout the correspondence. He is saying to them that despite their love and great admiration of ora¬torical eloquence (“the spurious act of persuading without instructing”), he will not use such tricks. He, on the contrary, will base his argument on the wisdom of God which is secure and everlasting, and he would not even attempt to understand and use the tactics and philosophies that titillate the Corinthian ears. His message will be the pure message of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” A closer look at the text of this passage will bear out my understanding of Pauline oratorical methodology.
In verse 1 we have huperochen from huperoche which means “preeminence” or “rising above” (cf. Philippians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:13). Robertson takes it here to mean “excess” or “superfluity.” Lightfoot agrees. kath (kata), on the basis of Philippians 2:3 and the Corinthian context, can be taken to mean that Paul wished not to fashion his ministry after that of rhetorical display or philosophic subtlety but rather after the gospel he preached (verse two). In verse two we have the negative (ou) going with “to judge” (ekrina) and not with ti (“anything”). Thus, I reject the NASV rendering of this verse in favor of the following: “I did not decide to know anything in the midst of you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This is not a change of plan for Paul, not a reaction to the Acts 17 “failure”, but rather a description of his normal practice. What is striking is that even here in Corinth, the Hyde Park of Greece, Paul is not going to change his speaking style. As James Moffatt argued in his commentary on First Corinthians, Paul is not contrasting his evangelistic method in Corinth with that which he employed elsewhere, but with that which others employed in Corinth. In verse 3 we read Paul’s words, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. Haenchen concludes that Paul was afraid of external danger and was in fact a “feeble, unimpressive” speaker. This verse, however, does not speak of external danger, but rather it refers to the awesome responsibility of handling the “testimony (mystery) of God,” of speaking “God’s wisdom” to people, and of ministering to the children of God in God’s actual presence (2 Corinthians 7; Philippians 2; Colossians 1).
In verse four we have a one-sentence summary of my argument:
“My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
The double possessive pronouns (logos mou . . . kerugma mou) give an emphatic emphasis between Paul’s message and preaching, and that of the Corinthian philosophers. peithoi a Pauline derivative of peithain meaning “persuasive.” It occurs only here. Robertson points out that peithanos is used by Josephus to mean “of the plausible words of the lying prophet” in I Kings 13. A similar word, pithanologiai, is used in Colossians 2:4 for the “deluding” argument of gnostic philosophers. The point is that Paul is not going to be a flim-flam man giving the Corinthians nothing but false rhetoric .and thin thinking in an attempt to make the foolish seem wise, but rather he is going to be, and give them, a demonstration of the Holy Spirit and the power of God. “Wisdom” (sophias) adds to this meaning because it is subjective, which means words not concerning wisdom but words directed by wisdom. And in this case, it is worldly wisdom. C. K. Barrett, in his commentary on First Corinthians, has a good discussion of the four types of wisdom which Paul differentiates here in 1 Corinthians. There is human wisdom which is not necessarily evil but it becomes such if it replaces the gospel (1:17; 2:1, 4). There is evil “wisdom” of human derivation which is against the gospel, i.e., rationalism (2:4-5, 13). There is a deeper spiritual wisdom which the immature in the faith are not able to understand (2:6, cf. 3:1-3). Finally, there is the wisdom of God which is manifest openly in Christ (2:6-12). In verse 5 we see Paul giving the Corinthians the reason why he only speaks the “wisdom” of God in any sense.
Again, C. K. Barrett: “Preaching that depends for its effectiveness on the logical and rhetorical power of the preacher could engender only a faith that rested upon the same supports, and such a faith would be at the mercy of any superior show of logic and oratory, and thus completely insecure. Moreover, it would not be Christian in its content.”
Paul’s preaching, however, leads to a faith which does not depend.- in sophia anthropon al en dunami Theos.
In 1 Corinthians 2:13 we get a reiteration of the same theme: a repudiation of worldly and empty oratorical wisdom in favor of God’s true wisdom taught only by the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 10:10 we have the only epistolary reference by Haenchen to Paul being “weak” and “unimpressive” as a speaker. Amazingly, it is this verse, in its context, which is patently opposed to Haenchen’s thesis! For this verse is clearly the argument of Paul’s opponents and Paul dismisses it with little elaboration. The verse is, “For the letters, his opponents say, are weighty and impressive but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.”
The fact that Paul’s enemies term his letters “weighty and strong” (bareiai kai ischurai) should be no surprise to anyone. These two terms can mean “weighty and powerful” which would imply authority, vigor, severity, dignity, gravity and perhaps dogmatism. In any case, Paul himself would agree with this assessment (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). But, Paul’s opponents continue by saying that he is “unimpressive” or “weak” in presence. That this is completely false is evidenced by Paul’s adventures in Acts and his strong urging to discipline wayward Christians in his letters (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 7; 2 Thessalonians 3; 1 Timothy 5) and to separate from non-Christians (I Corinthians 6; 2 Corinthians 6). The fact that Paul was gentle and understanding with the believers with whom he was working does not imply nor warrant the assumption that he was timid and nondescript in his personal dealings. Finally, Paul’s enemies claimed that his speech was exouthenemenos which can mean either “contemptible,” “despised,” (Wiclif: “worthy to be despised”) “of no account,” or “disdained.” As has been pointed out, the fact that the Corinthians called Paul’s oratory exouthenemenos only means that his speech was not brilliant and facile and enchanting. In fact, Luke records an incident in-Acts 20:9 where “a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor . . .”
What Haenchen does with this verse in his ‘Lukan’ Paul description he never says! By the standards of Greek rhetoric to which the Corinthians were accustomed Paul’s oratorical skill did leave something to be desired, it was most contemptible in their eyes!
Our last passage under consideration is 2 Corinthians 11:5-6 and its context. In this verse we have Paul admitting to the charge by his adversaries that indeed he is not a trained orator. But he responds that nevertheless he is completely knowledgeable in Christian matters and his life with people bears this out. Again, we see Paul stating clearly that the power of his speaking is based solely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit in his life, and not on his rhetorical tricks.
This verse is set in a broad context very similar to 2 Corinthians 10:10 where Paul is responding to critics, i.e., false prophets. We see this in 2 Cor. 11:5 – 6, where Paul uses the term he apparently coined for the occasion, huperlian (“super,” “very chiefest,” “pre-eminent,” “supreme,” etc.), to throw irony on the claim and presence of the false teachers (11:4, 13, 20; 10:10; 12:11). He is rightly maintaining that he, Paul, is not intimidated by these theological deviants and is in no way less of a teacher of truth than they. In verse six, however, we do see Paul admitting his lack of professional training in oratorical skills. Ei de kai is concessive which would be translated, “But if, as is true, I am unskilled in speech.” This is a better way of expressing the Greek phrase than the NASV, “But even if I am unskilled in speech . . .” which concedes nothing.
Charles Hodge is correct: “What Paul concedes is not the want of eloquence, of which his writings afford abundant evidence, but of the special training of a Grecian” (2nd Corinthian commentary).
idiotes (“unskilled”) had evolved by the time of the New Testament to mean: “One who had no technical or professional training, with regard to some particular art or science: unskilled, a layman or amateur, as distinct from an expert or professional.” (Plummer, Kittel, & Liddell & Scott)
This definition is confirmed by the usage in Acts 4:13 and I Corinthians 14:16, 23-24. J. J. Lias quotes Bishop Wordsworth at this point: “It does not mean one who is not eloquent, but one who has not learned eloquence by the rules of rhetorical schools” (commentary). It is worthy of note that idiotas is dative, which would refer to a certain point in which Paul was “unskilled, i.e., logoi (language) but not gnosis (knowledge) as Robertson points out in his fine Grammar. No one has ever denied that Paul was exceptionally intelligent and well–educated. His letters testify to his knowledge and so does his training (Acts 22:3). Finally, here is the answer to the lie of 2 Corinthians 10:10, when Paul says that the best proof of his knowledge of the truth, the best proof of his apostolicity is in his life as he lives it among the Corinthians. Away with the vicious rumor that his life does not correspond to his letters, he claims in 11:6 that his life is the best phanerosanteo (manifestation, demonstration) of the truth of Christianity. Paul is saying here, “I don’t have to tell you I am knowledgeable in Christian affairs because my life shows you that I am an apostle.” No weak, vacillating, milksop preacher this Paul. His personal presence was immense! (See I Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; I Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:9 for Paul’s affirmation of his exemplary life!)
Our conclusion of Haenchen’s “discrepancy,” when everything is said and done, is a rather affirmation of Guthrie’s simple conclusion: It is very doubtful, therefore, whether much weight should be attached to this supposed discrepancy” (New Testament Introduction).
While this particular point of Haenchen’s occupies only about 180 words of his huge commentary, it is one of the presuppositions from which he attacks the historicity of Acts. And since the University of Munster professor’s commentary is a standard text in German university and some American seminary classes, it doubly behooves us to interact with his thinking.
It seems clear to me from the evidence presented above that Paul’s oratorical skills, such as they are, are presented consistently throughout Acts and the Pauline corpus. While Paul was a great intellect, he was not a great trained orator and always attributed what happened through his preaching to the Holy Spirit and to the content and form given him by the sacred Scriptures.
(Footnotes and some Greek have been deleted from this blog but are available upon request.)