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What We're Reading: Horae Paulinae

I've begun lately reading the Horae Paulinae by 18th century apologist William Paley. One of the gems of Christian apologetics, the Horae Paulinae should be much more widely known and widely read. It is eminently readable; I'm finding it difficult to put it down. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I'm not really a "dusty" reader, and my attention span is shorter than I like to admit, so take this as a real recommendation. If you're at all interested in the subject, you will find this book fascinating.

The concept behind the Horae Paulinae is a comparison of the Pauline epistles with the book of Acts. Paley is interested in seeing whether there are such correspondences between and among these texts as will tend to confirm the authenticity (that they are written by Paul) of the epistles as well as the historicity of Acts. He is, in fact, more interested in showing that the epistles were written by Paul rather than a forger than in confirming Acts. I am reading the book more with an eye to the latter question, but the two are epistemically intertwined.

Given my own goals, I have focused on the portions of the book that concern those epistles that are already widely acknowledged even by liberal scholars to have been written by Paul. (That doesn't actually mean that I think the authorship of the other Pauline epistles is open to serious doubt. It's purely a pragmatic decision for an article I may be writing.) So far I have read the sections on Romans and 1 Corinthians, and I'm partway through the section on II Corinthians. I sometimes get distracted by the additional fascinating material in the edition I have borrowed from Esteemed Husband. The editor of this particular edition of the Horae Paulinae is 19th century clergyman T. R. Birks, and he has published his own Horae Apostolicae along with the Horae Paulinae. Birks sometimes drops "teaser" notes at the bottom of the pages of Paley. They say things like, "For a further consideration of this point, including additional remarkable coincidences, see ____" with a reference to a portion of his own book, conveniently printed in the back. Birks, I may say, stands up favorably in comparison to Paley as a judicious collector of arguments on the subject.

The central type of argument in the Horae Paulinae is the argument from undesigned coincidences, which I have discussed a bit here. [I just realized while in the midst of writing this post that Esteemed Husband has up a series of no less than six posts on undesigned coincidences at the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog, which I had not read. Most of this post was written, including the overlapping examples, before I read his posts. His valuable posts are, in order, here, here, here, here, here, and here.]

The idea is that, when two texts refer to the same incidents or the same persons or time period, and when they are really drawn from life, we often find casual references to details which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, confirming both accounts.

Sometimes this jigsaw-like effect arises from a question or lacuna in one of the texts. An example of this from the gospels is the otherwise unexplained goading from Jesus to Peter, after Jesus' resurrection, "Do you love me more than these others do?" (that is a paraphrase). In the Gospel of John, no explanation or context for this question occurs. It looks like Jesus is just, in colloquial terms, giving Peter a hard time out of the blue. But in the synoptic Gospels we find the story of Peter's boast that even if all the other disciples forsake Jesus, he never will do so. In both the synoptics and John we find the story of Peter's actually disowning Jesus under pressure in the night in which Jesus was arrested, which is of course dramatically ironic after his boast. Jesus is evidently referring to this boast when he probes Peter for avowals of love, without boasting, after the resurrection. The synoptics do not contain the "lovest thou me" scene. John does not contain the boast. The two fit together like hand and glove and confirm that both come to some degree independently from sources actually acquainted with the events. It's worth noting that if John were creating his post-resurrection scene as part of a literary production, or if it were somehow a non-factual accretion arising from the author's knowledge of Peter's boast, it would have been natural for the author of the Gospel of John to have included the story of the boast as a foreshadowing both of the betrayal and of the (fictional) tale of Jesus' later goading. If, on the other hand, this is an eyewitness account of an actual conversation as remembered, it is less to be expected that all the earlier circumstances would be carefully and artistically included in the narrative. People often tell stories as they remember them without giving all the background.

That is just a wordy account of one undesigned coincidence that involves an otherwise unexplained question in the text. Paley, however, does not confine himself to coincidences where some question or gap arises in one text. Yet his jigsaw puzzle argument is all the more powerful for being varied.

Here are just a few of Paley's arguments from the Horae Paulinae. Please understand that this is merely dipping in a toe. I haven't even read the whole book, and it contains page after page after page of such arguments. Some of them compare one epistle to another. Some compare the epistles to Acts. Some have a greater force as support for the authenticity of the epistles than others. Some have greater force as support for the reliability of Acts and for its having been written by a companion of Paul than others. Overall, there is an embarrassment of riches. Let me also add that the support for the historicity of Acts is just vast and overwhelming and that this type of argument is in a sense a drop in a bucket. For Acts there are so many external evidences of accuracy and care and of contemporary authorship that these internal evidences are a kind of icing on the cake. But the icing is there. So, here goes with just a few from I and II Corinthians:

--I Cor. 4:17 says that Paul "has sent" Timothy to the Corinthians. I Cor. 16:10-11 says that "if Timothy comes" the Corinthians are to treat him with respect. We may therefore take it that I Corinthians was written after Timothy had already left Paul on a journey which was ultimately to take him to Corinth, but that Paul expected this letter to arrive prior to Timothy's own arrival. Apparently the letter was to be sent by a faster route than Timothy himself. In Acts 19, we find Paul at Ephesus, and we hear much of what happens to him there. (There are various independent arguments from I Corinthians for thinking that it was written from Ephesus. I may or may not have time and space to give those here.) By Acts 20, there has been a riot in Ephesus, and Paul leaves and goes into Macedonia and from there into Greece. Corinth, of course, was a major city of the Greek peninsula. In between, in Acts 19:21-22, we find

Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

Achaia was the region of Greece in which Corinth was located. Here we find that Paul was planning himself to go via Macedonia to Greece after he left Ephesus and that he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to Macedonia. If you look at a map, you will see that this is the longer or overland route. There is, in contrast, a sea route that one could take from Asia Minor (where Ephesus was located) to Greece.

The two passages fit together quite beautifully and support the following hypothesis: Paul, planning to visit the Corinthians as part of a future journey, made his own travel plans and sent Timothy ahead of him to go to Macedonia and thence south into Greece to Corinth. (The text of I Corinthians indicates that Paul had received both a letter and some negative verbal reports about conditions in the church at Corinth, prompting both the letter and his intention of an eventual visit.) He wrote the epistle we know as I Corinthians while in Ephesus but did not complete it before having sent Timothy on ahead. He intended to send the letter by the faster sea route to Corinth, expecting it therefore to arrive ahead of Timothy.

The correspondence here is wonderfully minute yet quite uncontrived. Acts, for example, says nothing about Paul's having received word about the Corinthians nor anything about his specific concerns for the Corinthians and nothing about his writing a letter to them or sending it. I Corinthians does not mention Erastus as Timothy's companion, nor does it go into detail about various dramatic events at Ephesus while Paul was there, though it appears to allude to them. Neither has at all the appearance of having merely been copied from the other or of having been made up. What we have here is the exact kind of thing that we would expect in a coincidence of true history and an authentic letter from the same time period--indirect, even prosaic, references to persons, place, and even travel plans which put together make a clear and compelling picture.

--Apollos is a character who comes up several times in I Corinthians. Paul chides the Corinthians in I Cor. 1:12 for dividing into factions, among which some said "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas [Peter]." He emphasizes that he and Apollos are allies, working to the same end: I Cor. 3:6, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." This latter verse seems to imply that Apollos was present at Corinth after Paul, thus "watering" the seeds among them which Paul had "planted."

If we look at Acts 18, we find Paul actually in Corinth, where he makes converts, apparently for the first time. Following a riot (Paul was not a peaceful person to travel with), Paul stays for a while and then leaves for Asia and eventually aims to go to Jerusalem for a coming feast. In part of this journey he has as companions Aquila and Priscilla, and vs. 19 states that he left them in Ephesus. After Paul left Ephesus, an Alexandrian (Hellenized) Jew named Apollos is said to have come to Ephesus (vs. 24). He has great gifts of oratory but appears to know nothing about Jesus and "the way," preaching instead the baptism of John the Baptist. Aquila and Priscilla take him and instruct him, he becomes a convinced Christian and a particularly powerful evangelist to the Jews, and he decides to go to Achaia, to Corinth, to which the Christians send him with letters of introduction (vs. 27). Chapter 19, vs. 1, expressly states that Apollos was in Corinth at a time when Paul was not there. This, of course, was after Paul had originally been at Corinth.

This picture is confirmed by the reference to Apollos in the letter--namely, that he came and "watered" in Corinth after Paul had "planted."

But there is even more about Apollos, some of it in II Corinthians. Paul's tone in I and II Corinthians is sometimes a bit tetchy and defensive. In II Corinthians 3:1, he asks, "Need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you?" While the point is not decisive, the fact that Apollos himself was sent to Corinth with letters of commendation is certainly an interesting coincidence, especially in light of the fact that some in Corinth were treating Paul and Apollos as competitors. Paul here points out, in his somewhat tactless fashion, that unlike some other people, he has no need of such letters to them. One might argue that, if this is an allusion to Apollos, it is in tension with his evident desire in I Corinthians to speak positively of Apollos, as indeed he does whenever he names him. But what could be more typical of human nature? It is extremely believable that, while Paul's conscious and official stance was that he and Apollos were fellow-laborers in Christ, he was nonetheless hurt (indeed, many passages in I and II Corinthians indicate that he was hurt) that some in Corinth spoke disparagingly of him, and it seems that this disparagement took in some cases the form of comparing him unfavorably with Apollos. What more likely than that, in defending himself, he would not have resisted the urge to make such an allusion to Apollos, noting his own higher status as an Apostle who doesn't need letters of commendation? (This last argument, by the way, about Paul's defensiveness, is not in Paley, though Paley does conjecture that the mention of letters in II Corinthians is an allusion to Apollos.) Here again, then, though not decisively, the epistle confirms the history in Acts regarding Apollos.

Further: In Acts 18 we are told that Apollos was "an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures" and that, once converted fully to Christianity, he "mightily convinced the Jews." Apollos, in other words, was a rhetorician of some skill, and well known as such. At the beginning of I Corinthians Paul argues at some length for the relative unimportance to God of natural gifts. I will not quote the entire passage here (see I Cor. 1:18ff). He emphasizes that among them "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called" (I Cor. I:26). Then, at the beginning of chapter 2, he emphasizes his own unimpressiveness as a speaker: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom...for I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom...that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." Here, though again not decisive, it seems that Paul may be indirectly alluding to the contrast between his own ministry and that which some of the Corinthians now prefer--namely, the more verbally eloquent ministry of Apollos. He defends his own ministry as, in a sense, spiritually preferable to one that is more impressive in human terms. This can be taken as an indirect confirmation of the account in Acts of Apollos as going to Corinth and making something of a "splash" there as a rhetor. (This argument, about Apollos's rhetorical skill, is mine, not Paley's, though I have no doubt that it has been noted by others before.)

--I Cor. 4:11-12 Paul says that "even unto this hour" he "labors, working with [his] own hands." Paul was quite concerned to defend himself against the charge that he was "in it for the money" or was in any way taking advantage of the Corinthians (compare II Cor. 11:8-9). So, here, he emphasizes among other dangers and persecutions his working to support himself. This already confirms the history, for Acts 18:3 states that Paul worked to support himself as a tent maker. But there is much more to be gleaned here.

Consider that there is evidence that I Corinthians was written from Ephesus. We have already seen some of that evidence in the coincidence among Paul's second journey into Greece, Timothy's being sent to Macedonia ahead of him, and allusions in the epistle to Timothy. Moreover, I Cor. 16:8-9 says, "I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost, for a great door...is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries." In other words, he states almost in so many words that he is writing from Ephesus and intends to stay there until Pentecost in order to continue his work there and thwart his adversaries. There are additional reasons to think that I Corinthians was written from Ephesus, but these suffice for the present.

Now, compare Paul's farewell exhortation in Acts 20 to the elders of the church at Ephesus. They meet him at Miletus, and he says in vs. 34 that they know themselves that "these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me," thus showing them an example of how one ought to work in order to give to others, fulfilling Jesus' words that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Here Paul emphasizes that he worked with his hands, presumably making tents, and supported himself while at Ephesus. The consonance between the similar claim in the epistle to the Corinthians--that he worked with his hands to support himself "unto this very hour" while apparently writing from Ephesus--and this speech in Acts 20 confirms the accuracy of the account of Paul's speech and doings in Acts. Like these other confirmations, it gives us strong reason to believe that the author of Acts was deeply familiar with Paul's actions and words, that the book of Acts is an authentic document of the very early church, probably written by a companion of Paul's. (There is other evidence, most notably the famous "we" passages, for believing that the author of Acts was a companion of Paul.)

There are dozens of these undesigned coincidences between and among the epistles and Acts. I've had space here only to discuss a few but hope that it has given readers a taste for more. The Horae Paulinae is available electronically for free here (in a different edition from the Birks edition, but also with a really good, old editor). So take up and read.

Let me back up a bit and make a big picture point: Those who wish to deny Christianity will often make vague references to the origins of the "stories" about Jesus' resurrection as having resulted from "mutual story-telling" or legendary accretion over a lot of time. Acts is a great stumbling-block for such theories. The book is replete with historical references and is meticulously, even prosaically written. Its historical reliability has been confirmed again and again, and it appears to be a work by a companion of Paul's in his journeys in the 50's A.D., while the apostles who claimed to have seen Jesus after the resurrection were still alive. It contains accounts in the early chapters of clear testimonies by Peter and John to the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus. The author of Acts (in all probability Luke, the traditionally ascribed author) may not have witnessed those events, since his definite personal association is only asserted with Paul later on. But his carefulness and accuracy are attested in so many ways that there is every reason to believe that he would have gotten reliable accounts of what Peter and the other disciples claimed and did. Indeed, he would very likely have had opportunity to talk with them personally. The entire edifice of vague story-telling and legendary accretion holds up very poorly in the light of these considerations. If Peter and the other apostles were definitely, clearly, and at the risk of their lives attesting, within two months after Jesus' crucifixion, that Jesus had literally risen from the dead and that they had all had ample opportunity to see him, speak with him, and empirically verify that it was really he, then they were either lying or insane. This stark testimonial reality is what modernist critics want to avoid, with their attempted tertium quid of evolving tradition and story-telling. But if we have Acts as a reliable source of the bare facts of apostolic words and actions, all of that simply will not do.

Comments (10)

Great, great post Lydia. This sounds fascinating and I just may download it for my own reading. I am impressed that you could absorb all of those details and then turn around and create an easy-to-understand article for the benefit of non-academics like myself.

I love the book of Acts and I do often get lost in the details of who went where and when and how does this detail relate to the Epistles whose authors were writing as they were on those missionary journeys.

Thanks, Gina. I sometimes like to read several pages (it's divided into short sections) with a Bible in hand and then take a while to absorb them.

I second Gina's thought: This is great stuff.


And I second Tony's comment -- this is indeed great stuff. My heart practically soared when I read this at the end:

The entire edifice of vague story-telling and legendary accretion holds up very poorly in the light of these considerations. If Peter and the other apostles were definitely, clearly, and at the risk of their lives attesting, within two months after Jesus' crucifixion, that Jesus had literally risen from the dead and that they had all had ample opportunity to see him, speak with him, and empirically verify that it was really he, then they were either lying or insane. This stark testimonial reality is what modernist critics want to avoid, with their attempted tertium quid of evolving tradition and story-telling. But if we have Acts as a reliable source of the bare facts of apostolic words and actions, all of that simply will not do.

As Lydia already knows, part of my own personal challenge in coming back to Christ a number of years ago were skeptics who made precisely the types of claims Lydia discusses in this post. The type of apologetic work she and her husband are engaged in now (those posts over at Christian Apologetics Alliance blog are fantastic!) and was done by first-rate minds over 200 years ago -- at the very least it should be enough to bring any skeptic to want to investigate Biblical claims with more seriousness than is done on most atheist internet websites.

Indeed, there is something comforting about all these brilliant minds tackling these same skeptical questions that keep popping up through the ages -- there must be a good reason that God gave us both free will to choose to believe in Him and good evidence for us to know that He died for our sins.

Thanks again Lydia for helping me see the evidence that is there if I choose to look.

How can I choose to believe in god Jeffrey? I am an terrified of death because I do not believe in the afterlife, and would gladly accept the existence of god if I thought that it would save me from oblivion. That doesn't mean I can "choose" to accept the truth of Christianity. I actually find that idea quite silly, it's like saying you could decide to believe in Islam. You might be able to say that you're a Muslim, but that doesn't mean you would actually believe in it. I have always believed that Calvinists were the most sensible Christians because their explanation for how people come to Christ resonates with my own personal religious experiences (or lack thereof). People do not consciously choose to believe in Christianity or other religions, that is not how the human mind works.

Oddly enough, Dunsany, while I am often accused of being a "rationalist" in some circles for the premium and emphasis I put on using reason, I don't quite agree with you on this. My experience and that of friends is that there is ALWAYS an element of choosing even though there is often a large aspect of "use your mind, brother" as well. The way a couple of my friends describe it when they came to accept Christianity was that reason led them a long, long way to the faith, but not all the way, there remained a gap that reason could not lead them across. Not that anything in the gap was contrary to reason, just that reason did not provide ALL that was necessary to cross the gap. And the only way they could get beyond that point was an act of the will, being willing to allow grace to bridge the gap between merely seeing that faith is reasonable and actually adhering to the faith. That willingness is both a gift from outside, and is in the believer an act of the will to urge the mind to accept with certitude what it sees (by its own natural light) only as reasonable.

This experience of belief is not wholly dissimilar to the acts belief we have in humans when we form attachments of deep friendship and loyalty, especially that of a marital bond. I decide, I choose to adhere to a person firmly, definitely, permanently, not based on certain knowledge that this person will always do right by me (nobody can have certain knowledge like that because the future is contingent), but such a rational technical basis for incomplete certainty is not held to be a sufficient basis for refusing to place my trust and loyalty, my attested unswerving commitment, in this person I am marrying, this person whom I have good reason to love but not adequate rational proof will always love me perfectly in return. Loyalty and adherence is an act of will that can exceed the knowledge of the reason.

I have more than one friend who "consciously chose" to adhere to Christianity after finding that they could not reasonably locate a more reasonable answer to what we are about - they consciously chose in the sense of accepting the gift faith moving them to consent to Christ and believe in him.

It is my opinion that in us humans will and intellect are two faculties that need each other to function well. Will needs reason, or the will can simply hare off into actually unreasonable loves, things that are damaging or even outright evil. Reason needs will because the best things to love cannot be comprehended wholly by the reason, which needs a faculty open to mercy and gift, things that exceed justice.

Dunsany, I think you are reading what Jeff said in a somewhat invidious fashion. It was overwhelmingly obvious from the entirety of his comment that he wasn't talking about choosing to believe in God in some kind of out-of-the-blue, Kierkegaardian fashion that is disconnected from reason! Whereas your question, "How can I choose to believe in God?" implies that that is what he was talking about. Yet his entire comment was about evidence!

There are lots of elements of choice, all along the way. For example, there is choosing to look into the reasons for belief in God at all. One might choose to spend one's time some other way. There is choosing to follow that evidence with resolute honesty when it appears to be pointing to the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, rather than dismissing it in some ad hoc fashion.

But more: There is choosing to _follow_ God and _love_ God when one concludes that he exists. According to Christianity, the devils believe in God. While our own atheist v. Christian modern way of construing things tends to imply that the entire issue is whether one believes in the existence of God, that isn't necessarily true. There are plenty of beings in the universe (some of them human) who believe in God and hate him and fight against him! Graham Greene's novel _The End of the Affair_ (not a family-friendly novel, let me add) tells the story of a man who encounters evidence for the existence of God and who then tells God, "Leave me alone forever." Interestingly, he also plays the sophist with an acquaintance of his and, contrary to what he himself secretly believes, convinces that other man that no miracle has occurred. The urge to drag someone else down with him is just too strong.


You say, "People do not consciously choose to believe in Christianity or other religions, that is not how the human mind works." Given that we know of many adult converts over the years, what are these folks doing when they decide to convert if not choose to believe in Christianity? I think Tony's analysis of the way reason and will work together is quite good and I endorse his thoughts on the matter -- Lydia is also right that of course I was describing a process that begins with an investigation into the truth of God's existence.

Anyway, I'd love to find out from you exactly how you think "the human mind works" if it doesn't work the way Lydia, Tony and I describe it here.

My most charitable interpretation is that Dunsany is saying that believing in God is not _just_ a choice, as if one could force oneself to do it "just because." I agree with that, and in fact it's been a rather important part of my whole intellectual life that, as I put it to myself, I can't "give out beliefs like coins" in exchange for some other benefit, such as peace of mind or getting along with other people. (This creates problems for some versions of Pascal's Wager though not for others.) And any attempt to _try_ to make belief a "pure choice" or a "pure act of will" seems to me to be an intellectually dishonest attempt to force emotion or to force belief irrationally. As a descriptive matter, that may actually be the way some people's minds _do_ work, but it isn't the way they _should_ work, and it certainly isn't the way my mind works.

Well and good. That's the charitable interp. of Dusany's concern. But since we obviously aren't advising him or anyone else to make a choice in a vacuum like that to believe in God as a sheer act of will, it seems like an irrelevant point for him to make.

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