Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mikeal C. Parsons on Luke's Paul in Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist

I got to know Mikeal Parsons while he was on sabbatical during my Cambridge years. What year now slips me. I found Mikeal to be a great guy and someone who was both engaging and generous. Recently I picked up his book on Luke which is in the Hendrickson series Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. I really like the series. I have used the two books Warren Carter has writen on Matthew and John for classes I've taught. Parson's book is quite different that Carter's two and is not really ideal for an introduction to the book. However this is not a criticism of the books since Parson's makes it plain in the introduction that he has not intended it to be such a book.

Parsons uses the format of Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist to focus his discussion on the Greco-Roman context of Luke's Gospel and Acts. One of its chief concerns is to show the role of ancient rhetoric in Luke's writing. Parson's chapters are informative and insightful. Parson's also has a very interesting chapter on the concept of "friendship" and "physiognomy" in the Greco-Roman world and Luke-Acts.

One of the most important sections of the book as far as I'm concerned is his discussion of the relationship between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the Pauline Letters. For me these 16 pages (123-39) are worth the price of the book. In this section Parsons critiques the standard view that the Paul of Acts is irreconcilably different than the Paul of the letters.

As an aside, teaching a course on Paul I run into this issue a great deal. As recently as this semester I've had to lecture on this topic because one of the textbooks I'm using for the course Pamela Eisenbaum's Paul Was Not a Christian assumes just such a negative stance toward the Paul of Acts. In her study she excludes Acts as evidence for reconstructing Paul.

Parson's however shows by an unconventional means that Luke's Paul would have appeared familiar to the authorial audience who had known Paul through his letters. Parson writes:
We conclude that the authorial audience who knew Paul through his letters (and probably knew him only through those letters) would have recognized Luke's portrait of Paul as a reliable, though enriched and expanded, presentation of that same Apostle who through his rhetoric, miracles, suffering, adn throught, proclaimed that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (p. 139).
I would only quibble with Parson's discussion of the Torah in Paul and Acts (pp. 137-8). The discussion is weakened by the assumption that Paul's on-going relationship to the Torah was not motivated by theological conviction but rather expediency as evidenced in Timothy's circumcision (Acts 16:1-3) and Paul's statements in 1 Cor 9:19-23.

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