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Essay:Contradictions in Acts
In Acts 21:28-30 the Apostle Paul is arrested by the Jews for teaching "against our people and our law" and bringing Gentiles to the temple. In the speech Paul delivers in his defense he recounts his conversion to Christianity but does not address the issues for which he was arrested. In a historical context Paul's actions would not make sense but they do serve to further the theological agenda of the author of Acts, which is to provide continuity for Christianity. Many similar speeches in Acts are obviously fictitious and included solely to advance the plot.
In Acts 15:10 Peter describes "the law" as being unbearable. This is not the opinion that one would expect to be expressed by a Jew of the time period. Rather it seems to be the result of a frequent effort on the part of the author of Acts to "Christianize" the apostles. In addition Peter's statement is contradictory to Jesus' unequivocal decree that the law be strictly upheld. See, for example, Matthew 5:18-19 and Luke 16:17.
In Acts 5:36 the Pharisee Gamaliel makes a reference to the Theudas uprising, which occurred in roughly 45 CE. However, Gamaliel gave his speech about 15 years beforehand and thus could not have known about the uprising. Additionally, Gamaliel states that Judas the Galilean arose after Theudas, "at the time of the census," (Acts 5:37) but the census was before Theudas, in about 6 CE.
Acts 10:23-48 documents an incident in which Cornelius, a Gentile, is baptized, to the astonishment of the Jews. However, it should not have astonished the Jews that a Gentile could be baptized since Jesus commanded that the apostles preach to "all the world." (Mk. 16:15, Mt. 28:19) It should also be noted that Jesus' command contradicts his earlier statement that he was "sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." (Mt. 15:24)
Cornelius belonged to a military unit referred to as the "Italian Cohort." (Acts 10:1) Although there is no historical evidence of this unit in Caesarea at this time, it existed in Syria roughly 30 years later.
Acts 15:1-20 documents a council at which it was decided that Gentiles may join the church without the necessity of being circumcised or following the "law of Moses." This decision would seem unnecessary as it had already been demonstrated previously at the baptizing of Cornelius that the uncircumcised would be allowed to join the church.
At the conclusion of the above-mentioned council James enumerates a few activities from which Gentiles should abstain, one the consumption of "food polluted by idols." (Acts 15:20) However, Paul denies the importance of ascertaining the origin of food and never mentions James' decision on the subject. See Paul's thoughts on this matter in 1 Corinthians 8:7-8 and 10:19-29.
In Acts 10:9-16 Peter receives a message from "heaven" that he was permitted to eat all kinds of animals. This directive would seem unnecessary as Jesus had already dictated that all foods were "clean." (Mk. 7:17-19)
In Acts 15:7 Peter states that "God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel." However, Galatians 2:7 indicates that Peter had been tasked with teaching the Gospel to the Jews.
Paul as portrayed in Acts differs significantly from the man seen in Paul's own canonical letters. For specific examples see the article on Paul.
Acts 8:1-3 records that, before his conversion to Christianity, Saul (AKA Paul) set out to destroy the church at Jerusalem by removing persons from their houses and imprisoning them. Nevertheless Paul states that he "was personally unknown to the churches of Judea." (Gal. 1:22) Paul's conversion is detailed in chapters 9, 22, and 26 of Acts, although the accounts differ as far as who saw the light, heard the voice, and fell to the ground and when Paul was given his commission to preach.
Acts 9:26 has Paul brought to the apostles in Jerusalem after his conversion. On the contrary Paul indicates after Jesus was "revealed" in him that he did not go to Jerusalem and "did not consult any man." (Gal. 1:16-17) Paul further states that after three years he went to Jerusalem and saw only Peter and James. (Gal. 1:18-19) It should be noted that Acts documents five trips to Jerusalem (chapters 9, 11, 15, 18, and 21) while Paul refers to only three (Gal. 1:18, 2:1, Rom. 15:25). It seems unlikely that Paul would fail to mention some of his trips.
Acts 16:1-3 mentions that Paul had a disciple named Timothy circumcised "because of the Jews who lived in that area." This would seem to go against everything that Paul stands for since it was decided he would preach "to the uncircumcised." (Gal. 2:7, 9) Also compare to Galatians 2:3 in which Paul's companion Titus was not "compelled to be circumcised." In Galatians 5:11 Paul asks, "Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?" In 1 Corinthians 7:20 Paul states regarding circumcision, "Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him." In Romans 2:26 he asserts the irrelevance of circumcision to faith.
In Acts 18:9-10 God promises Paul that he will not be hurt. However, Paul enumerates many occasions on which he was injured. (2 Cor. 11:23-25) In Acts 9:22-24 Paul indicates that while in Damascus the Jews intended to kill him, but in 2 Corinthians 11:32 he claims that he was in danger of being arrested by the governor. Perhaps both were true.
In Acts 22:23-29 the commander learns of Paul's Roman citizenship after he is removed from the crowd, however in Acts 23:27 the commander claims that he rescued Paul because of prior knowledge of his Roman citizenship.
In Acts 20:35 Paul quotes Jesus as having said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," although there is no record of Jesus having made this statement in the Gospels. Additionally, for Paul to quote Jesus is contradictory to Paul's style in his epistles in which he does not acknowledge a recent, historical Jesus.
In Acts 7:22 Stephen claims that Moses was "learned" and "mighty in words," however Moses himself admits that he is "not eloquent" and is "slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Ex. 4:10). In Acts, Stephen explains that Jacob was buried in Shechem in a tomb that was bought from the sons of Hamor by Abraham. (Acts 7:15-16) However, per Genesis 50:13 the burial place was near Mamre and was purchased from Ephron the Hittite while Joshua 24:32 has the land having been purchased by Jacob.
The accounts of Judas' death found in Acts 1:18-19 and Matthew 27:5-8 cannot be reconciled. In Acts, Judas bought a field while in the Gospel of Matthew he threw the money in the temple and the "chief priests" used it to buy the field after Judas' death. In Acts Judas fell in the field and suffered a mortal injury while in Matthew Judas hanged himself. In Acts the field is called Field of Blood because Judas' blood spilled there while in Matthew it is explained that it is because the money used to buy it was "blood money."
Acts 26:22-23 plainly states that Jesus was "the first that should rise from the dead," as predicted by "the prophets." In contradiction to this statement, there are several stories in the Bible about prior resurrections, including the well-known account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43-44). Chapter 1 of Acts identifies 11 apostles that saw the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:13), however 1 Corinthians 15:5 indicates that "he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve," for a total of 13 apostles.
Mark and Matthew record that upon his resurrection Jesus requested his disciples go to Galilee to see him (Mk. 16:7, Mt. 28:10), although in Acts he instructs that the apostles wait in Jerusalem in order to be "baptized with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 1:4-5). John 20:22 indicates that the bestowing of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles occurred at Jesus' resurrection appearance to them, while Acts 2:1-4 identifies this event as having taken place at Pentecost, after the ascension. Acts 1:9-12 indicates Jesus' ascension took place at the Mount of Olives, while it is identified as having taken place near Bethany in Luke 24:50-51.
In Acts 1:1 the author claims to have recorded "all that Jesus began to do and to teach," however John 21:25 admits that, regarding the things that Jesus did, "the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."