Borg and Crossan on the Purpose of Luke’s Acts

I just started reading The First Paul by Marcus Borg and john Dominic Crossan. I generally like Crossan, who tends to respect both fact and reason – more than most New Testament scholars. Early in the book the authors try to explain why Luke’s Acts of the Apostles said nothing about Paul’s death:

“Because Acts does not report Paul’s death, some scholars have argued that Acts must have been written while Paul was still alive, which would mean the early 60s at the latest. This argument presumes that the purpose of Acts was to provide a ‘life of Paul’ and that the most plausible explanation for the lack of mention of Paul’s death is that he hadn’t yet died. But the purpose of Acts … is to tell the story of the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome (see, for example, Acts 1:8). And so Acts ends appropriately with Paul preaching the gospel in the capital of the empire. For the author to have ended with, ‘And then Rome executed him,’ would have been an odd climax, to say the least” (15-16).

The two authors show a nearly miraculous loss of reason. Though this was only page 15, they had already cited Paul’s letter to the Church of Rome several times. That church had been thriving for a long time. In fact, Paul wrote in part to obtain financial assistance. For Borg and Crossan to claim that the Christianity did not reach Rome until Paul brought it there requires simultaneous massive cognitive failures. If Luke really wanted to trace the spread of Christianity to Rome, he would have completely ignored Paul, who had nothing to do with it. The founders of the Church of Rome heard Peter in Jerusalem, and were persuaded/ “converted.” They may also have brought back one or more members of the “Jerusalem Church.” But this happened long before Paul got there.

In fact, Christianity reached Rome before Paul left Antioch, before he founded any of his churches. As the authors know and have written about, around 48 CE the emperor Claudius threw Christians and other Jews out of Rome for creating public disturbances over Christ. Christianity was obviously well established in Rome before this. At this time, Paul was still assisting Barnabas in Antioch. If Luke were really interested in telling of how Christianity reached Rome, he would have followed Peter’s converts and never mentioned Paul at all.

This is another amazing example of intelligent people saying profoundly stupid things on Paul’s behalf. But unlike many of their colleagues, they were not dishonest.

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