David Pawson (Unlocking the Bible) has an interesting theory regarding Theophilus and therefore Luke’s purpose in Acts. He imagines or postulates that Theophilus was Paul’s lawyer in his trial in Rome. So as the lawyer for the case, he has carefully researched the pending case to find all the relevant background before he presented Paul’s case before the Roman authorities. I have always held to the view that Acts was written for Theophilus the God Lover, just as Luke’s Gospel was. I.e. Dear God lover, here are the facts concerning your new found faith – covering both the time of Jesus on earth (Luke) and the growth of Christianity in the world (Acts). Given the facts we have, it seems to be a natural way of looking at the documents. However, Pawson has put forth a new theory (and I stress it is a theory), going back to the notion that Theophilus is a particular person rather than being representative of all those who love God. So Pawson’s idea is that Luke wrote Luke and Acts for Paul’s lawyer to give him the background as to why Paul changed from Saul to Paul and from persecutor of Christians to becoming prominent in promoting the faith.
Pawson’s idea is that when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, Luke researched the life and death of Jesus, in otherwords, wrote his first book, the Gospel of Luke. Then when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, Luke researched Paul’s involvement in propagating this new faith. If that is the case, then everything Luke has recorded is his defence brief for Theophilus, Paul’s lawyer. Thus Acts is an attempt to find the facts behind this new religion. How did it start? Who was the founder? How is it that Paul became a major promoter of this new faith or belief and furthermore, what is the link between Christianity and Judaism since Paul is the one involved and the trial is to determine Paul’s part in disrupting sacred Jewish teachings?
Pawson writes, “If the notion of the ‘defence brief’ is correct, it would explain so much in both volumes. It would explain why the Romans are portrayed as entirely sympathetic to this new religion throughout the two books: both in the trial of Jesus and in the trial of Paul. Luke includes three statements that the men are totally innocent. Pilate says three times that Jesus is innocent, and three times Roman authorities say Paul could have gone free if he had not appealed to Rome. So in both volumes the trouble surrounding the Christians is not caused by Romans, but by Jews seeking to cause problems for this new faith.” David Pawson feels both of Luke’s books include careful dating of the events by matching them to Roman events. He claims Luke’s introduction to his Gospel reads as though it is the introduction to factual material supplied for a lawyer’s defence of a client. He maintains this theory explains the unusual features of Acts. While being known as the Acts of the Apostles, it really just focuses on two – Paul and Peter. He says it explains also why there is an overwhelming focus solely on Paul. Pawson claims this theory explains why Paul is on trial in Rome and why he appealed to Caesar. It also explains why Paul’s testimony is given three times throughout the book.
Pawson claims that seeing Acts as a defence lawyer’s brief, explains why Acts finishes so suddenly. It concludes with Paul awaiting trial. For those who see Acts as merely an account of Paul’s life, they have a major problem to explain why it ends before the ending. Luke lived until he was 84, long enough to see the end of Paul’s life. Thus, why did he not include in the story, the death of Paul? If on the other hand, this is input to a legal brief, then it makes perfect sense for it to be prepared before the trial, not post trial. It also explains why Luke gives so much space to the shipwreck on Malta if he was writing a history of the Christianity. Why does he take so much time on this one disaster when Paul suffered so many more?
The question then remains as to how the case finished? Furthermore, we need to be aware that it was not just Paul on trial but Christianity as well. Pawson makes some interesting suggestions relating to the name of Luke’s Second Volume. It’s traditionally called “The Acts of the Apostles” but that is a misnomer in that most of the Apostles don’t appear in it. Pawson suggests it could be called “Acts of Jesus Continued” given Luke’s words in the first volume, that this was about all that Jesuscontinued doing and teachingand the fact that Jesus’ name appears 40 times in the first 13 chapters of Acts. It could also be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” given the prominence of the Holy Spirit throughout the book. However, Pawson’s choice for best title for the book is, “The Acts of God Through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Apostles”.
My intention as I gem Acts is to solve for myself whether I agree with Pawson’s view on Acts and Theophilus or not. It is a radical idea and one which I don’t accept first off. But because I respect David Pawson and have had contact with him and his teaching over many years, I will at least give him the benefit of the doubt and weigh up the evidence for myself. Hence I put this out there as well in the Gems and Deeper Bible Forum to allow you also to weigh up the evidence and draw your own conclusions. Whether you accept Pawson’s theory or not, it will make you sharper in your understanding of the Book of Acts as you weigh all the evidence.
There is one more point of view we need to explore regarding the purpose of the Book of Acts before we begin with the text. Yes, we will start with the text of what Luke wrote very soon now. We can’t miss that focus. Whatever we do in digging deeper in the Bible, we always need to pay attention to the text. The first step is always to enter Beth Sepher, the House of the Book.
Yes, listen to the input of others but you must always weigh up the evidence for yourself.Ian Vail
The best time to take in what others think is when you have carefully come to your own conclusions first.Ian Vail
If you don’t know what you think first then you are more likely to take on board other’s opinions because you are still ignorant of the facts.Ian Vail
This is especially true when it comes to the Bible –read the Bible, not books about the Bible.Ian Vail
The days you are most uncomfortable are the days you learn the most about yourself.Mary L. Bean