Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Book Review: “Paul on Trial” (Jul-Aug 2002)

Filed under: — @ 6:22 pm and

By Todd Austin
July-August 2002

In Paul On Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity, lawyer John W. Mauck seeks to prove that the book of Acts was written primarily as a legal brief, prepared by Luke and Paul for Paul’s defense before Caesar.

Mauck presents arguments for his case as if the reader were a member of a jury charged with determining the original intent of Luke in writing Acts. The net result, in effect a legal brief about a legal brief, works surprisingly well. Paul On Trial is probably one of the few books in its genre about which people could say, “Once I started it I couldn’t put it down.”

To get to the verdict he desires, Mauck tries to convince the reader of a few simple and straightforward findings.

First, both Luke and Acts were written to a Roman official, Theophilus, who was responsible for investigating the facts surrounding any trial before Caesar.

Second, the books were written to defend Paul against two primary charges:

a) that he was spreading a new, illegal religion
b) that he was intentionally sowing insurrection and unrest wherever he went.

Third, the books were written with another, more subtle purpose: to lead Theophilus, and any other Roman officials who might read the “brief” (including Nero), to belief in Christ.

As he presented his case Mauck captured my attention by mixing detailed charts of factual and historical information with blunt, colorful zingers that give readers a burst of energy and enthusiasm at just the right moment. At the end of a section describing Nero, the various officials who would be involved in Paul’s trial, and the prevailing depravity of the day, Mauck leaves the reader with a memorable summation of the current Caesar: “The historical portraiture which emerges is Josef Stalin in drag.”

Laying a foundation of detailed factual background information, Mauck builds on that foundation with evidence and testimony pulled from the text of the book of Acts itself. The reader is shown how Acts is different in significant ways from every other book in the New Testament, and how those differences support Mr. Mauck’s case. For example, on page 84, Mr. Mauck writes,
Acts is a book of trials. Sixteen formal and informal, investigative and quasi-judicial trials occur… Certainly, Acts is not just about trials, but rather a tapestry of many threads. However, just as he uses speeches, Luke uses arrests, investigations, and trials to unify the narrative.
The presence of so many legal and quasi-legal proceedings in the framework of Acts suggests a forensic purpose for its composition…

Paul On Trial concludes with a presentation of other possible explanations for the purpose of Acts, followed by a “closing argument.”

Paul On Trial is thoroughly researched, carefully documented and well-written. Mauck presents a convincing argument for his case. The only weakness is that the reader doesn’t get to hear the opposing arguments and cross-examinations. It’s a trial where only one side shows up. Mauck does provide some alternative explanations for the purpose of Acts, but these alternatives are set up as “straw men” that he proceeds to knock down. That, however, is the approach any lawyer worth his legal fees would take to an opposing viewpoint, and Mauck makes clear early on that he is advocating a certain position. The weakness is a side-effect of his method, and can be mitigated by remembering that if the case were really as clear-cut as he presents it, no one could reasonably advocate any other explanation for the writing of Acts.

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