Paul and Rome: The Thematic Relationship between the Acts of Paul and Luke’s Acts Reconsidered

As a second century text by an unknown presbyter, the Acts of Paul (APaul) like other Acts of that time period focuses on the life and ministry of one of the central figures in early Christianity. This text recounts Paul’s missionary travels and ultimately his martyrdom before Nero in Rome. Though Paul is the protagonist, the APaul shows little engagement with Paul’s letters; however, a growing number of scholars think the APaul shows some knowledge and use of Luke’s Acts (LA). Nevertheless, there is no consensus regarding the nature of the relationship between the APaul and LA, other than the fact that the (significant) differences between the two point to the Presbyter’s very different purpose. This is most clear when the Presbyter recounts Paul’s martyrdom before Nero, which many see as a complete about-face from the quasi-apologetic purpose of LA. Accordingly, Harry Tajra concludes: “The image [of the Paul of faith from the APaul] bears little resemblance—indeed it is quite alien—to the image of the historical Paul as he is understood from his own Epistles and from the canonical Acts.” By focusing on the conflict with the Rome in the martyrdom, Tajra and others have, however, missed the rhetorical and theological similarities that unite the two accounts. As a result, this essay will build upon Kavin Rowe’s analysis in World Upside Down and show how Paul’s martyrdom in the APaul reflects virtually the same values with LA, namely that 1) Jesus is “Lord of all” and the coming Judge, 2) Christians should thus be engaged in worldwide mission by proclaiming the resurrection, and 3) following Jesus in martyrdom is a subversion of the power of the Roman state. Therefore, while the narrative details vary significantly, the two texts share similar perspectives regarding Christ, the church’s mission, and engagement with the Roman Empire.