Are there theological implications? Yes.
Perjury is a bad strategy
Paul is on trial (Acts 22:30) and his prosecutors are out for blood (Acts 22:22). If he makes a statement that can be falsified, he can be charged under both Jewish (Leviticus 19:11) & Roman law (Paul on Trial p.156).
By highlighting a difference in the theological views among his accusers (Pharisees & Sadducees) he gives himself a way out...but also goes on record in a court of law--a record to which his accusers will have access (ibid p. 156) when they try to impeach/discredit his testimony later (Acts 24:1-2)
Now that Paul is on record declaring himself a Pharisee, if there's a viable means of showing that testimony to be false, Tertullus can show Paul to have perjured himself when he accuses Paul in Acts 24 (see vss. 5,6,9)
Matters of in-house debate among Pharisees won't be too helpful to Tertullus et al here (e.g. varying levels of rigidity in interpreting the law), but the salient differences among the Jewish sects would. Luke calls out the most relevant differences in verse 8: the afterlife & non-mortal beings.
Paul's teachings are well-known and widespread (see Acts 24:5); if he's been preaching something that is a clear departure from Pharisaic views on the contested matter of the afterlife, the Sanhedrin can paint him into a corner. "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (verse 6) is a very risky thing to say in front of the authorities on Pharisaic doctrine. To get away with this (no accusations against Paul on this matter are raised before the Sanhedrin or in the appeal before Felix), Paul's Pharisaic credentials must be as impeccable as he himself suggests when writing to the Philippians a few years later:
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of
Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness
which is in the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:5-6)
Paul's letters support his testimony of his Pharisaic credentials. He regularly quotes from the Writings & the Prophets. Origen of Alexandria reported that:
the Samaritans and Sadducees...receive the books of Moses alone (Contra Celsum 1.49)
Others suggest that perhaps the Sadducees held the Torah in a place of greater honor not afforded to the Writings & the Prophets, but still used most/all of them. Either way, Paul's extensive usage of the Tanakh (not just limiting himself to the Torah) suggests a Pharisaic leaning well after his conversion to Christ.
Indeed, Paul's method was to start proselyting in a city by going to the synagogue and teaching the message of the Messiah from the Jewish scriptures (see Acts 17:1-2, 18:4-6). Paul saw Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament promises, not the destruction of them. Paul was capable of 1) being familiar with Ecclesiastes & the Psalms without 2) believing in post-mortal unconsciousness.
There is no statement from him or his enemies suggesting that belief ever changed or engendered conflict.
Under Roman Law, Judaism had the significant distinction of "religio licita" (legal religion), a privilege granted only to the Jews & its own (Roman) Pantheon of gods (Paul on Trial p.13). In order for Christianity to receive these legal benefits it was necessary to present it as part of Judaism (or as the true Judaism), not a separation from it.
The litigation strategy of Paul's accusers was to charge that he was
creating an illegal religion thereby disrupting society. Although
Christianity had a persuasive claim to legality as a sect of Judaism,
it was caught in the cross-currents between Jerusalem and Rome. In the
midst of this legal/political/religious cauldron, Acts was written
(ibid pp. 13-14).
Men like Peter, James the brother of the Lord, and Paul were Jews from the beginning to the end of their lives; and it is no wonder that Luke is at pains to present them as such in Acts. The separation of Judaism & Christianity into clearly distinct religions did not occur until the Flavian era, after all 3 of these men were dead (see discussion by Edmundson here).
If Paul has taught (or can credibly be accused of teaching) a view of the spiritual realm foreign to all major sects of contemporary Judaism, Paul (and Luke) have no religio licita leg to stand on.
When in doubt, check with the doctor
Let's consider the history preserved in our 3 earliest surviving sources documenting that the Gospel of Luke was written by Luke (the physician).
The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the
well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had
taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name (translation by Metzger)
Irenaeus of Lyons:
Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel
preached by him (Against Heresies 3.1.1)
Indeed Luke was an Antiochene Syrian, a doctor by profession, a
disciple of the apostles: later however he followed Paul until his
martyrdom, serving the Lord blamelessly...moved by the Holy Spirit
he wrote down this gospel in the parts of Achaia (translation by Pearce)
It is quite consistently reported that the author was Luke, a companion/student of Paul--and it is clear that the early church accepted the Gospel of Luke on Paul's apostolic authority (this is precisely the point Irenaeus is making in Against Heresies 3.1). Indeed the Gospel of Luke appears to have been written for Pauline Christians (my work on the subject here).
This creates a very interesting conundrum -- the one Gospel that includes the parable of the rich man & Lazarus (a representation of Pharisaic views on the afterlife)...is not the Gospel written on the authority of the tax collector, nor one of the Gospels written on the authority of the fishermen...but the Gospel written on the authority of the Pharisee.
Why would Paul the Pharisee support the inclusion of blatantly Pharisaic views in Luke's account if he (Paul) believed those views were wrong? This is something he could not have done ignorantly; he would be deliberately misleading his audience. Paul is nothing short of scathing in his denouncements of false doctrine in his own letters--it is quite the claim (and an enormous unsupported assumption) to suggest he's willfully guilty of the practice himself.
Paul was familiar with the teachings of the Pharisees--if there were points of disagreement between him and them, they would have featured regularly in settings such as Acts 19:8-10. Paul's letters give us a pretty good idea what the controversies were in the churches he wrote to; the absence of debate/dissension over Pharisaic views of the afterlife suggests this isn't one of those controversies -- rather it would be a matter where no major correction to prior beliefs was needed.
If post-mortal consciousness were a point of disagreement between Paul and the Pharisees, his support/authorization/endorsement of the Gospel of Luke--the only Gospel to include the parable of the rich man & Lazarus--would work against Paul's efforts to teach his theological views.
I suggest on the basis of reductio ad absurdum that Paul did not do this.
- Paul was the son of a Pharisee
- Paul studied under Gamaliel
- Paul presents himself as a Pharisee while on trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23)
- Paul presents himself as a Pharisee when writing to the Philippians (Phil. 3) -- not a brilliant move if this is a claim that already got him into trouble in Jerusalem and/or Caesarea
Conclusion: the written record supports the claim that Paul never stopped being a Pharisee.
Paul's enemies wanted him dead, and catching him in perjured testimony before the Sanhedrin would have been devastating to Paul's case. I suggest that the inference to the best explanation is that Paul's enemies didn't use this tactic because there was no evidence of perjury: Paul's claim to be a Pharisee was incontrovertible.
Paul was a Pharisee who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah; he continued to employ a Pharisaic understanding of the Tanakh throughout his life.
His points of divergence with the leaders of the Pharisees are documented in the disagreements he had with them; on other matters--such as the afterlife--we can reasonably conclude that Paul's theology was broadly consistent with first century Pharisaic Judaism.
These thoughts are inspired by:
- Paul on Trial by John Mauck
- Spirit Realm Investigator's post here
Is this an argument from silence?
Note the force of the statement by Irenaeus of Lyons (see above): "Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him".
This is not an argument that Paul may have passively encountered discussion on the afterlife during the 18+ months of disputing the kingdom of God in Corinth & 27+ months in Ephesus (see Acts 18:11 & 19:8-10) -- Paul actively taught the Gospel as recorded by Luke, the Gospel that contains the parable of the rich man & Lazarus. Paul's subsequent correspondence with the Corinthians shows that the state of the dead was not a doctrine on which Paul had to correct his students because they misunderstood his previous message (contra 2 Thess., for example, which addresses a misunderstanding of 1 Thess. 4).
For a review of the evidence that Paul was already using the Gospel of Luke in preaching in Corinth during his 2nd missionary journey, and in Ephesus during his 3rd, see John Wenham's Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke p.223, 230-237, and my (still in process) video series Who, When, and Why - the Writing of the Gospels. This is not an argument from silence.
Could someone be both Jewish & Christian?
Yes. In Paul's own words:
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the
truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being
a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews,
why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Galatians
Paul called the (mortal) leader of the Christian movement a Jew...because he was a Jew. He was also quite clearly a Christian. Paul recognized the existence of the distinction Jew/Gentile, and often used the terms circumcision/uncircumcision as a proxy. One of Paul's primary goals, however, was to bring these historically-separated groups together in faith in Christ (this is one of the major themes of his epistle to the Romans). At no point did Paul have to stop being a Jew to do this.
There have been various efforts historically (sometimes with awful ulterior motives) to make Jesus, Peter, Paul and others un-Jewish. This is anachronistic. They believed in Christ & they were also Jewish. It was not until a later date that "Jew" and "Christian" would come to be seen (by some) as mutually exclusive categories.
Is Paul on trial in Acts 23?
It is possible to argue that Paul's trial before the Sanhedrin was irregular or even illegal--but this does not make it any less of a trial than was the illegal trial of Jesus. Both broke the rules & norms, but both of these "shadow trials" were carried out by the governing body and had legal consequences.
Of Jesus' illegal trial Chandler wrote:
The pages of human history present no stronger case of judicial murder
than the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, for the simple
reason that all forms of law were outraged and trampled under foot in
the proceedings instituted against Him (The Trial of Jesus from a
Lawyer's Standpoint vol. 1 p. 216)
And yet through the misuse of judicial might Jesus was sentenced for a crime He did not commit. Had the Sanhedrin had their way, Paul would have been as well.
For a lengthy treatment, see this post on the site regarding the jurisdiction over capital punishment during the relevant interval. The post concludes:
The only ways a person could be executed were to obtain the imprimatur
of the Roman prefect (the legal method) or gather up a lynch mob and
do it yourself (the illegal method)
Note that both Stephen and James the brother of the Lord were executed by lynch mobs for this very reason. The Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, John 18:31, and Josephus' account of the death of James (Antiquities 20.9) all suggest the Sanhedrin did not have the power to execute anyone (legally) without Roman approval.
Josephus in fact acknowledges this in the words he attributes to Titus:
Have not we [Rome] given you leave to kill such as go
beyond it (Wars of the Jews 6.2.4)
Legal executions were performed only with Roman permission.