(Per my usual modus operandi, all pics are linked)
For reference, we are dealing with the first four verses of Acts chapter 9, I will include the main story for clarity:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested lettersfrom him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“Who are You, Lord?” he said.
“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Then Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.
(Acts 9:1-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB])
I had an interesting challenge… one that I have never heard before. Here is the challenge:
As we will see, he has been searching in the wrong places. Later in conversation the challenge was restated a bit after I said Paul was “arresting Jews who became Christians. In fact, all the early converts were Jewish? He wasn’t arresting Roman citizens?”
I pointed out of course that this is an argument from silence. There ends up being good evidence of this being a special agreement with Rome and the Jewish religious leaders as part of Rome preserving their version of religious freedom, but my point still stands:
Besides my example above of the previous VERY SMALL list of attack on the Bible via skeptics arguing from silence and later being proven wrong, to wit:
- “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.” – Dr. William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1956), p. 176.
- “On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine….Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics. It has shown, in a number of instances, that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal, artificial schemes of historical development. This is a real contribution and not to be minimized.” – Millar Burrows, Professor of Archaeology at Yale University, What Mean These Stones? (Meridian Books, New York, NY, 1956), p. 1
- “The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.” – Professor Millar Burrows (Professor of Archaeology at Yale University), What Mean These Stones? (Meridian Books, New York, NY, 1956), p. 176.
- “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical description has often led to amazing discoveries.” – Dr. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959), 136.
- “I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.” – Sir William Ramsey (eminent archaeologists who changed his mind regarding Luke after extensive study in the field), (1915), The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975 reprint), page 89.
But most importantly about the author of Acts:
To wit, this external evidence for the reliability of the Bible is immense:
25,000 SITES CONFIRM N.T.
William Ramsay, the skeptical archaeologist and foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor, was converted to faith because of the ACCURACY and historicity of the book of Acts, here is a snippet from a wonderful book entitled, A Zeal For God Not According to Knowledge:
WILLIAM MITCHELL RAMSAY
~ PIVOT ~
Nothing has changed other than MORE archaeological proofs have substantiated Acts since Ramsey’s time. But now we will pivot to a more specific refutation of the challenge by first allowing the honest “what we do not know” into the conversation as well as “what we do know.”
What we do not know is “that we have no certain information as to whether the Sanhedrin had this kind of power.” But what we do know or can question is this:
- a question as to whether Rome was in control of the city at this time or the Nabeteans were
- We do know that Damascus was known in Jewish history and thought as a place of refuge and exile… it is conceivable that Jewish Christians would flee there.
- We also know that the Sanhedrin had jurisdiction as a legislative body over Jews throughout the Diaspora
- collecting the Temple tax abroad
- and that Jews had the right of internal discipline in their synagogues
- Therefore, we could conceive of some sort of right of extradition,
- especially since we know that the Romans granted this right to Judaea as a sovereign state under the Hasmoneans
- and that this privilege was renewed in 47 BC
Tektonics continues in their summation: “But the question is really not relevant, because we don’t know whether Saul/Paul would have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ.”
- It has been claimed there is no historical basis for Paul’s commission from the High Priest to extradite from Damascus to Jerusalem any Jews who had become Christians, and that neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin had any jurisdiction in Damascus.
And then is the refutation:
- Peerbolte raises a parallel in the history of the Maccabees, in which a Roman consul ordered Jewish rebels in Egypt to be extradited to the High Priest for punishment according to Jewish law
- [F.F.] Bruce defends it with reference to a decree by Julius Caesar re-affirming all the previously held rights of the High Priest [quoted below]
- Kistemaker and Hendriksen likewise believe the High Priest actually had extradition authority [quoted below]
- Dunn disputes the idea of formal jurisdiction, [BUT] notes the informal influence of the high priest and Sanhedrin over provincial synagogues was far higher.
- Wallace and Williams approach the legal-historical background with care. Observing the letters were addressed to the synagogues not local officials, they argue the matter was internal Jewish business in which Roman officials would not become involved….
- Noting the apparent absence of Roman forces in Damascus at the time, they suggest this would have reduced the probability of Roman interference.
So we see some great evidence from history and culture that would allow such a practice to have happened… but again to repeat Tektonics,
- “But the question is really not relevant, because we don’t know whether Saul/Paul would have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ.”
Amen, and Amen.
20[+] Year Search Answered
So here is effectively how the discussion ended. The skeptic wanted — essentially — paperwork from Paul’s time-period rather than a few years prior showing authority to do this. This is an unreasonable request and show the “enmity” between the natural man and God (including reasonable evidence for their countering their pet peeves ~ Romans 8:7). Why is this unreasonable? Simply because filing, file cabinets, computers, computer server back-ups, copy machines, and the like were not the normal order then.
So all the historian needs to do is show that this happened close to the time, coupled with the dual-citizen Saul knowing that this extradition was still possible under past/current laws. Until a specific “order” of cease-and-desist can be shown, it is REASONABLE to assume the players involved here knew from history that the law was still up-and-running.
This is the reason I included the many commentaries below, because they show basically the following to some extent or another:
- Extradition from Egypt was granted for Simon the high priest by Ptolemy VII in 142 B.C. (1 Macc. 15:15-21)
- Julius Caesar formally acknowledged the sovereignty of the high priest in all matters of Jewish religion in a decree of 47 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14. 192-195)
(via John B. Polhill)
Of course, apropos of my presented response the skeptic merely countered with the time between Julias Caesars death and Saul (Paul), and then said “do you know how many laws have changed in America in a similar time-period?” Unfortunately for him, this is not how history is interpreted — that is, by applying 21st Century customes to the B.C. and A.D. shift in rulers and laws in Rome. So the skeptic felt unfulfilled, but I can now teach well on these three verses in a class setting preparing younger (and older) minds to combat secular silliness and encourage them in their faith.
Here are some great commentaries to support this historicity. I include pics because the people I deal with think I “google” stuff, little do they know. (In fact, in referencing my own site they mentioned my site is biased when I merely used my own library to note stats in a post/challenge on “religious wars” from The Encyclopedia of War.)