In modern NT liberal scholarship, the book of Acts has fallen on hard times. Scholars dismiss most of the events recorded within the book as historically unlikely. One event that is often brushed to the side by most liberal scholars is Luke’s portrayal of Paul preaching in synagogues to Jewish people. These scholars contend that Luke’s portrait of Paul preaching to Jews is incompatible with what we find in Paul’s undisputed letters (Romans, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon), for Paul consistently identifies himself as an “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11.13; Gal 2.8; etc.). As a result of this self-identification, most liberal scholars argue that it is highly unlikely that Paul preached to the Jews on his missionary journeys.
|Possibly the oldest extant picture of Paul. Taken by the author from the cave of Paul and Thecla in Ephesus.|
I find this line of reasons problematic for one reason. That is, the extent to which Paul stresses his desire for the salvation of the Jews in his most famous letter, Romans. In a section of the letter in which Paul addresses what seems to be the failure of the gospel to penetrate the hearts of the Jewish people, Paul notes the following:
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (Rom 9.3) (NRSV).
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Rom 10.1) (NRSV).
“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (Rom 11.11-12) (NRSV).
“For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (Rom 11.15) (NRSV).
Are we to believe that someone who wished himself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of the Jewish people never attempted to covert Jewish people on his missionary journeys?
Are we to believe that someone who prayed for the salvation of the Jews never entered a synagogue and attempted to persuade them to accept Jesus as the Messiah?
Are we to believe that someone who thought the inclusion of the Jews would mean something more than riches consistently bypassed Jewish synagogues in each of the cities that he visited?
Finally, are we to believe that someone who thought that the acceptance of the gospel by the Jewish people meant that the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead did not try to speed that day by preaching to large gatherings of Jews in the cities in which he traveled across the Mediterranean?
After all, does not Paul himself say in Romans that the gospel is for everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek?