DISSERTAZIONI DI DOTTORATO
“My Chosen Instrument”. The Characterisation of Paul in Acts 7:58–15:41
Mod.: R.P. Dean Béchard, S.J.
Studies of the specific Lucan portrait of Paul in Acts have tended to privilege only certain sections of the narrative, typically the accounts of the Damascus episode, the missionary journeys, defence speeches and the end of Acts, or to examine certain aspects of Paul’s character. These studies have led to diverse conclusions, and yield only a partial portrait of Paul.
This study follows the first time reader of Acts as he advances through the narrative from Paul’s first emergence as Saul through to his split with Barnabas (7:58-15:41). This responds in part to a significant lacuna in scholarship as no continuous study on the Lucan Paul has been published. It proposes at least for the first half of Acts, a more complete portrait of Paul. The reader, who presumably knows of Paul, is wrongfooted by his emergence under the lesser-known name of Saul. The reader’s preconceptions are bypassed and he is guided to discover the Lucan Paul.
The Damascus event occasions the transformation of Saul from persecutor to a disciple. Much information is revealed about Paul’s future role: that he will be the Lord’s chosen instrument to preach to Gentiles, rulers and Jews and that he will suffer for his name (9:15-16). This prediction, coupled with the promised receipt of the Holy Spirit sets a new horizon of expectations for Paul. A variable pattern of fulfilment follows in the subsequent narrative. Whilst most commentators skip ahead to the sections detailing the fulfilment, this study pays particular attention to the gap, delays and pauses in fulfilment and the importance of their respective timings for Paul’s characterisation.
The gap is employed productively to allow for Paul’s acceptance as a disciple and his integration into the church, for his formation to become a leading figure, for the preparation of the conditions for his predicted Gentile mission and for his ever closer relationship with Jesus and the Spirit to become manifest. The prolonged absence at Tarsus allows for others to prepare for Paul’s Gentile mission (9:31-11:24). The prolonged sojourn at Antioch allows for Paul’s formation within the church accompanied by his mentor Barnabas (11:25-13:3). The meeting at Jerusalem retrospectively confirms Paul’s mission to the Gentiles on his journey, and prospectively endorses future missions. Paul emerges as an ecclesial figure, associated ever more closely with Jesus and the Spirit, and with all individuals and groups within the church.