Mimicry of Power: The Subservient Paul and the Jewish-Christian Sanhedrin in Acts 21

By Munoz-Larrondo, Ruben | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Mimicry of Power: The Subservient Paul and the Jewish-Christian Sanhedrin in Acts 21


Munoz-Larrondo, Ruben, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Studies in Acts on "the role of leadership in the politics of power among the nascent Jewish-Christians" are scarce. The issue of leadership has been studied in general terms under two main fronts; between the understanding of 'charisma,' and the primacy of the 'office.' The first one was based on the letters of Paul; and the latter, on its development during the second century CE, of the hierarchical institutional structure with the creation of the 'office' and 'apostolic successions'--in which the bishops as disciples of the apostles lead to a monarchical episcopate. All these studies seem to be competing for an unfinished ecclesiology of power.

I would argue for a more Jewish oriented model based on the Sanhedrin and the synagogue with the institutions of Judaism. This paper focuses on the representations of the structures of power in Acts 20-24 in general and in particular to the encounter of Paul with the Jewish-Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 21). I argue that the constitution of James and the elders as a Christian Jewish Sanhedrin was an act of mimicry of the Jewish Sanhedrin. This shift was not only from the power of the traditional center of Judaism, but also as a new establishment of the Jewish-Christian Church in Jerusalem in opposition to the apostle to the Gentiles. The Jewish-Christian council of elders in an ambivalent attitude denies the rights of defense of the apostle Paul, making him submit to the establishment of the Jerusalem-temple, utterly obliterating his public ministry. In addition, the council according to its theological-political propaganda for power utilizes the Jewish Sanhedrin to get rid of Paul. I maintain that Luke represents what I call a "hybrid Paul--a Lukan Paul" though not as a rebel revolutionary against the customs of the ancestors, but as a subservient disciple, being obedient to this newest structure of power and leadership. I think, Luke 'domesticates' Paul into a more 'organization man' palatable to a Christianity that is becoming institutionalized. In this complex stance, the Jewish-Christian elite scrutinize his teaching system--seeing him as competition also among the believers. At the same time perhaps, accepting the monetary gifts for the poor of Judah, though the collection is ignored in the text. The issue escalates when there is neither intercession, nor any defense against the Jewish Sanhedrin to the hyperbolic involvement of the "whole city" and the symbolic act of "the shutting down of the temple," thus silencing Paul.

My methodological framework is based on the one hand, on categories of Postcolonial criticism and Cultural Studies, such as mimicry, alterity, identity, difference, mockery, resistance, and hybridity; and on the other hand, on literary, comparative and intertextual exegetical methods. I will review the structures of power displayed in the encounter of the apostle Paul in front of the Jerusalem leadership--James and all the elders as reflected in Acts 21. (1) In the sections that follow, I will make a brief description on the historical review between the views on "charisma and office; to later explain the terms of Sanhedrin, elders-presbuteros and bishops-episkopos in their social context as foundation for a postcolonial reading of Acts 21, and a final conclusion.

"Charisma vs. Office"--a brief review

The publication of Rudolph Sohm's charismatic thesis in 1892, challenged the Protestant position of the church as voluntary associations based on Greek models, which saw the work and leadership of the apostles, prophets, and teachers under almost democratic decisions of the community in matter of preaching, teaching and administration but later regulated by presbyters and episcopes. (2) E. Nardoni characterizes Sohm's thesis as "being charismatic by origin and nature, the Church is [seen as] a spiritual and supernatural entity, independent of any human, ecclesiastical organization and, therefore, free from any human law. …

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