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.