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June 1, 2002
Column #1083

''Paul On Trial''

     It is rare for a book to appear which forces a wholesale rethinking of the purpose of a major New Testament author. ''Paul on Trial'' by John Mauck is such a book.

     Luke, the author both of a Gospel and of Acts of the Apostles, wrote a quarter of the New Testament. Why? Both were written to Theophilus. Conventional wisdom says he was ''likely either a new believer or someone seeking to learn about Christ,'' as the Quest Study Bible put it. Quest states Luke wrote Acts ''to tell what happened after the Resurrection'' to explain ''Christianity's amazing growth...perhaps to confirm the faith of believers.''

     A seasoned attorney, John Mauck, has a radically different view. He believes Luke wrote both books ''to defend Paul from charges pending against him as he awaited trial before the Roman Emperor Nero. Mauck argues Theophilus was ''probably was a Roman official'' who ''was neither a believer in Jesus not an inquirer.'' Rather, he was a pretrial judicial investigator appointed to examine the charges against Paul. 

     Mauck views Acts as an extraordinary legal brief, which was crafted by Luke ''to present the Gospel so that even the very investigator would come to believe in Jesus.'' 

     The most serious charges against Paul were that he was a ''troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world'' who even ''tried to desecrate the temple'' (Acts 24:5-6). This charge surfaced in a trial before the governor, Felix.

     Luke refutes it by quoting Paul's response: ''You can easily verify that no more than 12 days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd.''

     Paul asserts the real reason Ananias, the Chief Priest, brought the charges: ''It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'' Hearing that, and no evidence from Ananias to back up his charges, Felix abruptly ''adjourned the proceedings.'' Theophilus could independently verify Luke's account from court records of the trial. Felix kept Paul in prison for two years to please the Jews while hoping ''that Paul would offer him a bribe.''

     Those are serious countercharges by Luke. If untrue, he could have been executed.  

     Paul was blamed for a riot in Ephesus, reported in Acts Chapter 19. However, it was preceded by two years of peaceful ministry marked by ''extraordinary miracles.'' People were healed by handkerchiefs that had touched Paul. His ministry persuaded many to stop buying silver images of the goddess Artemis. Luke reports the riot began when a silversmith named Demetrius stirred up craftsmen who were losing business because Paul said ''man made gods are no gods at all.'' Paul wanted to answer the charges but provincial officials begged him not to do so. 

     ''Why this detail?'' asks Mouck. ''If Luke is writing to believers, it does little to further a catechistic agenda.'' However, the incident shows Paul had important friends among local Roman officials, which could be verified independently, aiding his case. 

     Mouck lists 33 documents cited in Acts which provide independent evidence of Paul's innocence. Half were probably in existence at the time of Paul's trial. One was a letter from a Roman commander, Lysias, to Felix explaining why he rescued Paul from Jews who were about to kill him. First he is a Roman citizen. More important, ''There was no charge against him that deserved death.'' (Acts 23:27-30). 

     Scholars have long been puzzled by the fact Acts make no mention of any of Paul's famous letters, three of which actually mention Luke. If Luke's goal in writing was to instruct in the faith, or to simply provide an historical account, they would have been quoted. 

     But Paul's letters are ''substantially irrelevant or even counterproductive'' in making a case to defend Paul or to evangelize his accusors, Mauck asserts.

     Prof. Darrell Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary reviewed ''Paul on Trial'' in manuscript and encouraged its publication. However, he says ''It is asking a lot to think Acts is a Pauline defense when it is a defense of this new movement.'' And the Luke Gospel has little to do with that defense.

     Mauck's answer is that the Luke Gospel, while quite similar to Mark and Matthew, adds a substantial element of credibility to Roman readers: ''In those days...a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.'' After the healing of a centurion's servant, only Luke has Jesus remarking, ''I say to you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel.'' 

     ''Paul on Trial'' is must reading for any student of the Bible. 

 

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