Bryan Litfin - "After Acts"
1:37PM Jun 25, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it is our delight to be speaking with Dr. Bryan Litfin. Dr. Litfin earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from the University of Tennessee, as well as a master's degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. From there, he went on to the University of Virginia taking a PhD in the field of ancient church history. He is currently professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago, where he has been teaching since 2002. Dr. Litfin teaches courses in theology, church history and Western civilization from the ancient and medieval periods, and he is the author of a number of books on early Christianity. We have here Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, which Dr. Litfin published in 2007. From
press in 2014. Teen, Dr. Litfin published early murder stories and Evan jellicle introduction with new translations from Baker Academic Press in 2014. And Dr. littman, is also the author of the book that we'll be discussing today, After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles, Dr. Litfin, thank you so much for joining us today.
It's my privilege. Thank you.
Dr. Lipson, if I can ask you, as we begin speaking is one who also has professional interest in ancient church history.
I came to the field precisely
motivated by the question that you address in your book after x. It was this initial curiosity of an undergraduate student what happens in church history after the book of Acts closes? Tell me how did you come to be interested in this book that you
address in your text after x?
Yeah, you know, I think a lot of us probably have had that and I'm sure our stories are somewhat similar. Even Jeff would have story making less so for for a Catholic or orthodox, but his idea of our church being disconnected and so having been told the history that didn't go back more than three or four, five centuries, something like that, you know, back to the reformers and and then maybe also hearing about the fossils but but having this big ditch in between and not really knowing kind of what happened there. And so I can remember the first time when I was in seminary, coming, becoming aware of these figures, well wait, surely somebody received the baton, that the apostles in the first generation was wanting to hand off, but I had no names or no concepts for them. And I can remember making a little chart that I tried, I still have it. I think I laminated this thing. And when you How long ago was a piece of paper with nation on it, and it was my attempt to try to figure out exactly what you're talking about who is this next? And so I would say that That that sense of having a heritage in figures beyond the Bible, but not knowing who they were, or who they are is part of what motivated me to write this book for people that might be in that same position.
prayed? Listen, of course, you know very well that our primary source of information for the stories of the apostles is the book of Acts itself. And Luke tells us he leads the story up to chapter 28 and cuts off at a very dramatic scene. The apostle Paul is incarcerated in Rome, and we're not sure what's going to happen to this man. Tell us in your view, why did Luke and his narrative there?
Well, it's somewhat dramatic, I would say and then, in other ways, it's anti climactic. And so it's dramatic in the sense that it's another step of building the tension and having, you know, tried my hand is fiction. I know you have to keep turning that crank at not that axe and fiction, but when you're telling a story. You're cranking up the tension and you're you're heightening the path off. And you're you're laying in these scenes that, that build tension. And there's a kind of natural desire. I mean, so we have this within us there's a desire to finish the story, but what happened? And and so we have this dramatic scene, as you said, where there's been a shipwreck and drama. I mean, it's a classic motifs even in Greco Roman literature, and, and he comes to his climactic place, the capital city, the biggest city, and he's in house arrest. And then Luke says, He stayed there two years. And but there's been legal trials and the promise of a confrontation with the Emperor. And you know, you might stand trial before the Emperor to Rome, you shall go and there are these dramatic statements that the reader every reason to think they're going to get that story, and then they don't. So the answer to your question is why in Wari did, I think that's as much He knew at that point now many scholars will say no, no, it's it's the natural climax x is culminated with Paul in Rome. That's where he said he wanted to go. Or actually he didn't. He's 40 wants to go to the ends of the earth, beyond Rome. And so so. So for Luke to cut it off there, someone with his artistry, someone with his literary skill. So I mean, I just mean, what's demonstrated in the book of Acts, for him, put it off there. When he would have if he had been writing later than 60 to 80, which is the time you know that that's taking place. When he would have had the great fire in Rome, he would have had all smarter than he would have had a number of narrative points that Peters dead, that he could have given us, and James as well, but but he doesn't, and we know that he would want to tell a story like that because Steven, he gives a very long martyrdom story of Steven, who's not even as prominent as they like a Peter or Paul. The only logical conclusion one can take from that is that, that he's written up to the point that that's much how much time had elapsed. And so therefore, you would be setting the writing of x around 62 ad, which was the year that Paul was in under house arrest in Rome.
Thank you, doctor. Listen, I think then the question on the table becomes if Luke finishes his narrative in 62 ad, because that's chronologically the point up to which he's experienced and lived. And you've mentioned a number of pieces of evidence that would lead us to that conclusion, then what does this relatively early dating for x and 62 ad or shortly thereafter mean for the other New Testament books, especially the Gospel accounts?
Well, at the beginning, xe, he makes reference to a life of Jesus or you know, like, basically, gospel. So one would assume that that had been written already. So if 62 let's say we Be the time that he is written. x. One would have to say that not much earlier he wrote the Gospel of Luke. Now, that's not to say that it has to be years and years and years ago. I mean, we sometimes have the idea that this must have been, you know, like, you know, Tolstoy, you know, Warren, or something, but it's not that you can sit down in one setting and read it out. And so one could, you know, write it out. And I'm not saying you did it in a day, but I'm not saying you needed five years to write loops or x either once he had maybe his notes and his, his, you know, things assemble, he was ready to go to pick. So, what I'm saying is that one really can date Luke acts as a two volume work into the timeframe of around 6162 ad. Thank you. But to listen,
Luke at the end of his book x does not tell us what happens. Paul, but we know from the book of Romans that Paul really desperately wanted to get to Spain to evangelize there. And that was, of course known as the end of the world during Paul's day. One of the interesting features that you put in your book that I think is especially attractive to your student readership is this atmospheric report card that you've put at the end of each chapter. And on Paul's report card, as it were, you've listed the tradition of went on a mission trip to Spain with a relatively solid grade of a B, indicating to the reader that you're relatively confident that Paul did make it to Spain. And that's very interesting. Tell us why you believe Paul did achieve his his dream of going to Spain?
Well, the The reason for that is not because there's very much remnant of any evidence in Spain itself. So one one look vain for some kind of online church or some kind of kind of early tradition or even like a grave traditionalists. Someone might find that he came here and died or something you don't have that you don't really get the sense that he left any kind of work or ministry in Spain that was successful. So then one would think, well, then why would I give that a B? What's the deal with that? But but there's two other factors. And one is that, as you mentioned, Spain representative for Paul the end of the earth, and that was that was a, that was more than just a kind of an expression or, or it was a powerful symbol for him, because he had a whole theology and it's coming out of the Old Testament of the light of Yahweh and of God, expanding to the Gentiles in Israel as a light to the nation's and reaching the ends of the earth. And you really have to understand the way that someone like Paul did. It literally was the end of the earth. Of course, they didn't know about the full globe, of course, they didn't really know you know, about China or the New World, obviously at all. So if you think about the western coast of Spain, there's nothing beyond And no one knows what to do. So Columbus, and so it's just the Atlantic Ocean. So for Paul, if it is he would have had the sense that his ministry had failed. If he had not taken if he had not been the apostle, he had this sense of being the designated apostle to go to the ends of the earth, He would have had a ministry, or the concept that his ministry had failed. So so you have that strong impetus, which is more than just Hey, I think I'd like to go here next. It meant everything to Paul. And then basically why I think you could give this a b grade is because Spain's not that far. If you're in parts of Spain, now, could he have gotten all the way around to the Atlantic coast or up there where James was supposedly buried today? Probably not. Could he have gotten to Mediterranean space? Like Terra Kona? Yes, that's not that's probably a three day hop along the coast in both it in the Mediterranean was going on. All the time in Rome as a very in depth trade with with its province of dysphonia. So parts of Spain that Paul could have set his foot in a very accessible and we have this period of time between his end of Book of Acts and then when he died, where he easily with the money that was would have been available for some people in the Roman Church, he easily could have charted a ship, made it to Spain, stay there a few months didn't really get anything going and probably came back to the Aegean. So I find that, given his desire to go there, and the ease and the travel, I find it plausible.
Good. Thank you, Dr. Lifton. And I should
just ask you to give us one further point. One thing that I didn't explain to the listener is so so we have Paul's strong desire to go to Spain, we have the relative ease of transportation there, but if Paul is locked away in prison, he can't follow up on those opportunities. So very briefly, why do you believe that Paul was In fact released from his first imprisonment as recorded by Luke.
Well, anybody that holds to Paul line authorship, the first and second Timothy and Titus needs to have something like that. Because those don't really fit into any chronology of his life that we see in the book of Acts or prior prior to his imprisonment, house arrest in rough sea attacks. So one has the positive Paul is the author of those and he talks about different locations in the Aegean area that he's been to and I overwinter here and bringing my stuff here and so he's referencing a GMC and Greece type locales that he's recently been at. One One needs to find a place to accommodate those. So conservative scholars for that reason, suggests that he did get released on house arrest because as x itself reports, the Jewish authorities didn't really show up and press their charges. And they they were the ones that were Pressing this, but they didn't come and press it. And so, you know, the case kind of came to a dead end. And therefore policy has been released, but a few years later, and reason to think that he was back in the Capitol and martyr there. So so we have a short maybe he any four or five years, timespan that is planning for a trip to Spain and what we know for sure is that he was back in
we have heard the tradition that Thomas traveled as far as India, what's the likelihood of this particular historical tradition being true?
Well, I have to be careful about that. Because so many Christians in India make a big deal about that, including my, my brother in law, who's whose name, his last name is Thomas and, and that's because he's part of the historic families and tradition that was came to India. So the name Thomas is big among the Christian community, in India and there he's kind of there. founding guide would be like saying, hey, George Washington, you know, never he was actually Canadian. And you don't want to say that. So So that being said with that carbon yet, I think it's better in the case of Thomas to think about a trajectory toward India, rather than setting foot in what we would call India. And so with the, with the Christians in India, that the area that's christianized, or has the earliest roots of Christianity is in Kerala and the southern Malabar Coast and down on the southern tip of southern tip, and then the, the western part of that. And so that was the part that did have a vigorous sea trade with the Roman Empire to Alexandria, and ports that were on the Red Sea, that were Roman ports. So there was kind of a triangle of wind that you can just the ships can describe these winds, and there was a very active trade with the southern part of India. The problem with connecting Thomas to that is that well, you would have had to have gone to Egypt to get there. And then the traditions about that are frankly not reliable because they are based on Well, there are these stone crosses that come from quite a bit later time. But then the most of it is based on these oral traditions kept in these Christian castes in these families, of Bishops within their families, going back to the kind of comments and it's just as a historical stories, it's, it's not reliable enough to think that we got there. So the more reliable tradition is that we might, he might have gotten to ward or to the Indus River Valley, with the Indus River is in Pakistan, but would have been called India to the Romans and there was another way to get there through the Silk Road, not by sea, really for that. But overland and that would be connected to Antioch. So it would be more like Thomas would have gone that way. But one of the spots along that a major place along that route was a Desa. And what we find in the earliest texts that are reliable about Thomas, at least, to some degree reliable, is that located there and had kind of connections and even who's supposed grade was there. And by the fourth century that great there was a grave in it. So so I think probably a trajectory toward India along the Silk Route toward a Desa and then Thomas getting there, but to sort of launch him all the way into Pakistan or what we call Pakistan or India, India, is a little bit of a stretch in terms of actual proof. So I can't give that as high of a grade and what what has the least high grade is that there's a shrine It was St. Thomas's mount. So today you can go on the, on the eastern coast of India, all the way around to Chennai, where there's this shrine for St. Thomas was martyred and on top of the mountain. Well, that was brought in by the Catholics and Portuguese in the early in the period of exploration. There's no evidence of that. So, hey, did Thomas ever go to India? No. Did you launch the church in the direction of India?
That's much more likely.
Thank you for that helpful explanation. Dr. Lifton. In 2009, the Vatican announced that carbon dating tests quote seemed to conclude that the bone fragments found inside the surf cough Agus by the altar of St. Paul's outside the walls are in fact, those are the historical St. Paul. In other words, the Vatican believes that we probably have found the actual bones of St. Paul, what's your view? Is it possible that the bones of St. Paul have actually been preserves until today.
Well, apart from thinking that's really cool. And one thing is to be true. Because of this, we love Paul so much. And he liked the idea that somehow we could connect to him in that way. Even Protestants who don't generate relics probably think that's cool. We wouldn't go there to pray for a favor from the apostle. But we still would like to think that that would have some reality. So I don't want to be credulous or gullible. But the bones are tall or in a little bit of a different category than the bones of Peter, in the sense that Peters, there's a whole bunch of intrigue and ransacking and plundering that happened of the tumor feeder. And so we get into the issues of his bones, which the Vatican also says that they that they now have, but it's way more sketchy. But here's the thing with Paul
beautiful church. One can be the day you've been there, I'm sure. Yeah, so you can sort of picture it and and it's vast and cavernous and beautifully decorated with mosaics. But, but almost all of that structure has been erected since 1823. When burned down, there's a there's an arch that one can still see there that enters into the crossing there that is his own, but the rest of it is, is has been built up. So it burned down in 1823. But what that means, and that was due to a work man repairing the roof through accident instead of fire. Tragic, but what that tells us is that that church survived into basically modern time. I mean, 1823 is within certainly, you know, recent records and memories, and even getting close to the fact where you'd have artists drawing it that we have their pictures, so forth. So So, that church was there, up till 1823, when did it get built, really at the end of the fourth century, in the time, you know. And so that means that you have basically a kind of protected in case two, it just never got busted into my knowledge never. It was surrounded and protected back to the fourth century to the late fourth century, which in turn that church by Theodosius, which was the one that burned down is on top of a previous church that was there, but up in the time in the early fourth century, much smaller. And so they made it bigger and turned it around to accommodate the pilgrims that were coming and then that one stayed until age 23. So this takes you back until the early fourth century, where you have this continuous occupancy of this structure the to honor the altar on that site, and then What did they build the smaller church on top of a grade marker that we know from textual sources was there around 280. And if and, and maybe even a few decades before that. So you really have probably within 100 years of Paul's death marker, and then it doesn't get disturbed. And then a small church gets built on it in early fourth century, then a larger church gets built on it in the late fourth century, then that church stays there until 1823. Then they build it burns down, but the nothing happens to the tomb. And so it's underground. And so then they build up the new church. And that's why in in the year 2000, when everybody is coming to this church and visited your Jubilee, but they're finding that there's no access to the tomb under the author, they're disappointed. So the Vatican the 30s, decided, well, let's dig in here. They find this sarcophagus and they find this marble slab that says To call apostle and martyr and, and the long story short is that there's continuous occupancy of that church from call it third century until, you know modern times. So for that reason to find the bone fragments of a single human male, the date for the period that is appropriate is to say, pretty good chance those then are the bones of the original. Hmm.
That's amazing documentation and it's not the only amazing discovery that's been made in recent times concerning the apostles. In 2011. A first century tomb was uncovered, which archaeologists believe at one time how's the remains of Jesus disciple, Philip, what is the significance of this discovery for our understanding of the historical epistatic community?
Well, the issue with Philip is located by the time That? Yes. Okay, so this, this tomb did get discovered. And it's the first injury grave that so the it's in the city of propolis. And there was a to add a little chapel with it and and there was a sister church that was part of it. And there are graphic representations that have survived that the buildings have survived but a little stamp that they used to press on the bread used to make an impression on bread. And so the stamp was used to make that and in this tab, you have a depiction of the tomb and the church with domes on it and so, so. So this is what seems to be a first century Tomb of Philip Philip named Philip is connected with pyre opolis. But as I was going to say, the the complicating issue is that the Bible has two tulips and so you've got Philip who's named in the gospels as one of Jesus's disciples, but you haven't done Philip, Philip the evangelist that shows up in the book of Acts, where he's interacting with Simon mages, and he's Simon, the magician, and he's active there evangelizing. And then later in Acts 21, I think it is he, he has these daughters that prophesied. So the the film of the evangelist of x is not the same as one of the disciples of Jesus that will refer to different Philips. But even you and I probably didn't really know that. And so, the ancients confused these two figures or didn't look closely and figure that they were the same. And so the issue with the tomb that's found in Iraq was, it is a first inch retune and it is connected with the man Philip from the book of Acts. It's that Philip because it mentions that Oh, his daughters and prophesied they came there. I knew that. So these texts show the demand for Philip from the book of Acts who had prophetic daughters. came and settled there. And people knew what happened to the daughters. And they remember when she died, and this was a lot, and so forth. So the tomb that has been discovered there is filling. The evangelists fill up the book of Acts, fill up the book, The disciple of Jesus. Many people confuse the two, assuming they mean the same thing here, but in reality, they weren't. And so the disciple thought, we don't know really what happened to him. Thank you, Dr. littman.
Dr. Lifton. Is the Bible clear on what the role or the Office of an apostle is. And in your view, does this office continue to this day?
Well, no, I don't think you would have an apostle today. I mean, that term gets used I mean, that the term apostle Costello's you know, being an expert in Greek is a sentence sending out and what it originally meant was just somebody sent overseas without any designation. or authority they were just sent. But what you have in, in Hebrew, which seems to be informing the New Testament usage of a possible loss, apostle, in Hebrew, you have the Shinya, which is the divine messenger, a messenger of some kind of an appointed man who has a task or a message to give, you know, so you're being sent. But you're not just being sent for no reason or just part of a expedition, you're actually commissioned by somebody sent to proclaim sent to give a message sent to be a deputy for the one who was sending it. So that's what the shield actually is. And that seems to be informing the term of possible as it's being used by the Christians and by the New Testament. So if that's the case, then an apostle was someone that Jesus sent. People say, sometimes it's someone who saw the risen Christ. Well, technically, it didn't have to be the risen Christ because Jesus sends His disciples out. on mission even before he dies and rises again, but then of course he does rise again and in Matthew 28, you know, he seems speckles out, go to all the world that dies. So that's why all is also considered an apostle. Because he's Jesus does appear to him, permission him, send him out. Barnabas is also called an apostle. We don't have really a record of Barnabas receiving a new vision of Christ. But maybe because Jesus appeared to 500 followers, part of his could have been associated with them. I think James is called the brother Lord is called an apostle, and I'm sure that reference I forget, but those would be the few and then there's this one reference to possibly junia in Romans but that that's it a separate topic maybe for another day. So So what is an apostle, an apostle is somebody that Jesus, the risen Christ, or during his earthly life, commissioned and said, Go represent me. And that's why I don't really think you have apostles today unless somebody's got a vision of the risen Christ, I suppose but but it also has the overtone of being part of that first generation for the eyewitnesses. So I don't think I would want to go around saying that anybody today is an apostle of Jesus Christ in that.
Thank you, Dr. litsen for that. And if I could ask you one final reflection. This interview series is in a series called win the toss fi day. It's a venue that we've created for the purpose of discussing with a broad range of Christian scholars, church unity and how we might be able to participate in working together for church unity. Is it possible today to envision Christian unity without the Apostolic office? This giving the church that unity, what's your view?
so obviously the Roman Catholic Church as a document of that historic succession and other groups can use that term or a similar concept where they're saying, you don't have apostles today, but you have the designees of the apostle, you have those who receive the commissioning from the apostles and they they're the same authority that the apostles had. And so that continues in the magisterium for the Roman Catholic Church, that continues, of course, in the Bishop of Rome, through Peter the the apostle are excellent. So I doubt very much that that you're going to get the Protestant evangelicals globally, for sure. To think that they're going to have an ecumenical unity with other Christian comedians, if it requires bowing the need to the magisterium as inheritors. So your project is a good one. But I think we probably would have to build our unity around something else. And where, where one could perhaps find that would be not in the apostles themselves, but in the content of the curriculum, the content of the preaching of the apostles. And so what we call the apostles pre, which did the apostles actually pin that greeting? Well, you know, that they didn't. But as that creed as we now have it, encapsulate earlier confessions sending all the way back to the preaching of Peter, and the first Corinthians 15 and fetal forms in the New Testament. Yes. So the unity of the faith you're describing these past few days would be something that we could build, not around apostles, or inheritors today or their successors today, but those who share in common debt for teaching, which we actually do. I mean, if you Look at the apostles creed. There's not anything really in it, that would be agreed to by evangelicals and denied by Catholics or vice versa. We would all hope to that to that content. So that shows, you know, we have a lot of core commonality even with something like Rome. Not to say with blueprints, the method is just like that. But there would be other things dividing, I mean, having, like doctrine in place, might, we might still find other reasons to provide. But I can answer your question. I would say we should focus around unity with Christians that hold a common for a kind of Mere Christianity, and agree to disagree on the other.
It's been our delight to be speaking with Dr. Brian Lipson. Today, Dr. Lipton is professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and also author of the book We've been discussing after x exploring the lines and legends of the apostles, Dr. Lifton, thank you so much for being with us today.
Well, truly, it's my honor. Dr. Armstrong, thank you for your tech savvy and global perspective and just for the Ministry of unicast. Today in May that ministry go forward