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Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 18:24-28

Apollos Speaks Boldly in Ephesus

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

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Last week’s passage was about Paul’s return to Caesarea, probably Jerusalem — although St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say — and then on to the churches in Syria and Asia Minor that he had founded.

Meanwhile, Paul’s friends from Corinth — Priscilla and Aquila — were ministering in Ephesus (Efes in Turkey).

During that time, Apollos, a learned Jew from Alexandria (Egypt) arrived in the port city. He was very well spoken and knew his Scripture equally well (verse 24).

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur state that Alexandria had a large Jewish population. MacArthur says that there were four different Jewish districts in the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Alexandria’s Jews numbered greatly because they had been sent into exile:

there were abundance of Jews in that city, since the dispersion of the people, as it was foretold (Deuteronomy 28:68): The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again.

Henry also explains Apollos, the name (emphases mine):

His name was not Apollo, the name of one of the heathen gods, but Apollos, some think the same with Apelles, Romans 16:10.

As for Apollos the man, he tells us:

He was a man of excellent good parts, and well fitted for public service. He was an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures of the Old Testament, in the knowledge of which he was, as a Jew, brought up. (1.) He had a great command of language: he was an eloquent man; he was aner logios–a prudent man, so some; a learned man, so others; historiarum peritus–a good historian, which is an excellent qualification for the ministry: he was one that could speak well, so it properly signifies; he was an oracle of a man; he was famous for speaking pertinently and closely, fully and fluently, upon any subject. (2.) He had a great command of scripture-language, and this was the eloquence he was remarkable for. He came to Ephesus, being mighty in the scriptures, so the words are placed; having an excellent faculty of expounding scripture, he came to Ephesus, which was a public place, to trade with that talent, for the honour of God and the good of many. He was not only ready in the scriptures, able to quote texts off-hand, and repeat them, and tell you where to find themHe understood the sense and meaning of them, he knew how to make use of them and to apply them, how to reason out of the scriptures, and to reason strongly; a convincing, commanding, confirming power went along with all his expositions and applications of the scripture. It is probable he had given proof of his knowledge of the scriptures, and his abilities in them, in many synagogues of the Jews.

Apollos was a Messianic Jew, one who knew of the Messiah’s imminent coming as prophesied by John the Baptist (verse 25). There were many followers of John the Baptist who evangelised his prophecy throughout the ancient world. Whoever taught Apollos did so carefully and accurately. Many of John the Baptist’s followers who evangelised did not know that much about Jesus’s ministry or that He died on the Cross, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. (Had John the Baptist lived, they would have.) Apollos was one of these people.

Note that verse 25’s words, ‘fervent in spirit’, carry an explanatory footnote: ‘Or “in the Spirit”‘. On this point, our two commentators disagree somewhat.

Henry says:

Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles had, he made use of the gifts he had; for the dispensation of the Spirit, whatever the measure of it is, is given to every man to profit withal. And our Savior, by a parable, designed to teach his ministers that though they had but one talent they must not bury that … He was a lively affectionate preacher; as he had a good head, so he had a good heart; he was fervent in Spirit. He had in him a great deal of divine fire as well as divine light, was burning as well as shining. He was full of zeal for the glory of God, and the salvation of precious souls. This appeared both in his forwardness to preach when he was called to it by the rulers of the synagogue, and in his fervency in his preaching. He preached as one in earnest, and that had his heart in his work. What a happy composition was here! Many are fervent in spirit, but are weak in knowledge, in scripture-knowledge–have far to seek for proper words and are full of improper ones; and, on the other hand, many are eloquent enough, and mighty in the scriptures, and learned, and judicious, but they have no life or fervency. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work; both eloquent and fervent, full both of divine knowledge and of divine affections.

MacArthur is less generous:

He was a powerful man in terms of teaching. And let me just say at this point that his power at this point was the natural. He was not a Christian at this point, so consequently, did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. So the power in his life was expressed really through his natural abilities, not yet having the Gifts of the Spirit as we know them. Later on, when he comes to Christ and he receives the Holy Spirit and gets the Gift of the Spirit in those areas, I mean, he becomes so devastating … But in this point, in the natural–and by that, I don’t mean that the Spirit didn’t touch his life, because nobody can know anything apart from the Holy Spirit, right, in any dispensation. So, I’m not disqualifying the Spirit. He had the Spirit’s work in his life in a very general sense, not in the specific sense of the Gift and the indwelling that the New Testament Saint knows. But he could, in his own natural ability, speak and communicate and was learned in the Old Testament. And believe me, it didn’t take him long to make an impression.

Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak in the synagogue and understood that he did not have the story of Jesus Christ as Paul had related it to them. So, they took him to one side and explained it to him, as they had been taught (verse 26). MacArthur thinks they might have shared a meal with him followed by a long discussion about the life of Jesus and how He fulfilled Scripture.

The well educated Apollos learned from two tent makers. Henry tells us:

[2.] See an instance of truly Christian charity in Aquila and Priscilla; they did good according to their ability. Aquila, though a man of great knowledge, yet did no undertake to speak in the synagogue, because he had not such gifts for public work as Apollos had; but he furnished Apollos with matter, and then left him to clothe it with acceptable words. Instructing young Christians and young ministers privately in conversation, who mean well, and perform well, as far as they go, is a piece of very good service, both to them and to the church. [3.] See an instance of great humility in Apollos. He was a very bright young man, of great parts and learning, newly come from the university, a popular preacher, and one mightily cried up and followed; and yet, finding that Aquila and Priscilla were judicious serious Christians, that could speak intelligently and experimentally of the things of God, though they were but mechanics, poor tent-makers, he was glad to receive instructions from them, to be shown by them his defects and mistakes, and to have his mistakes rectified by them, and his deficiencies made up. Young scholars may gain a great deal by converse with old Christians, as young students in the law may by old practitioners. Apollos, though he was instructed in the way of the Lord, did not rest in the knowledge he had attained, nor thought he understood Christianity as well as any man (which proud conceited young men are apt to do), but was willing to have it expounded to him more perfectly. Those that know much should covet to know more, and what they know to know it better, pressing forward towards perfection.

MacArthur says that learning from Priscilla and Aquila was the moment of conversion for Apollos:

They told him the fullness of the facts regarding Christ. Oh, man, there’s the conversion of Apollos right there in those verses. And the Spirit doesn’t say much about it. Why? Because it wasn’t much of a change. He was already a saint.

Henry had good words for Priscilla:

Here is an instance of a good woman, though not permitted to speak in the church or in the synagogue, yet doing good with the knowledge God had given her in private converse. Paul will have the aged women to be teachers of good things Titus 2:3,4.

It is thought that Priscilla had more spiritual depth than her husband Aquila, which is probably why Luke put her name before his so often.

Apollos decided to go to Achaia, so the men from the church in Ephesus sent a letter of introduction (verse 27). Achaia was the province where Corinth was located. Corinth was the centre of government for Achaia. Paul appeared before Achaia’s proconsul, Gallio.

Luke did not state why Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, however, a few possibilities spring to mind. First, the Jews in Ephesus were largely receptive to Paul’s teaching, and Priscilla and Aquila were building a solid congregation there. Secondly, Corinth might have resembled Alexandria with regard to intellectual life. Thirdly, and most importantly, Apollos might have wanted to finish the job that Paul had started. Corinth still had Jews who were hostile to the Gospel message.

When Apollos arrived in Achaia, his eloquence and precision reassured the converts (verse 27). Furthermore, he was also able to powerfully refute the errors of the Jews in scripturally demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah (verse 28).

Henry explains verse 28:

Unbelievers were greatly mortified. Their objections were fully answered, the folly and sophistry of their arguments were discovered, so that they had nothing to say in defence of the opposition they made to the gospel; their mouths were stopped, and their faces filled with shame (Acts 18:28): He mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, before the people; he did it, eutonos–earnestly, and with a great deal of vehemence; he took pains to do it; his heart was upon it, as one that was truly desirous both to serve the cause of Christ and to save the souls of men. He did it effectually and to universal satisfaction. He did it levi negotio–with facility. The case was so plain, and the arguments were so strong on Christ’s side, that it was an easy matter to baffle all that the Jews could say against it. Though they were so fierce, yet their cause was so weak that he made nothing of their opposition. Now that which he aimed to convince them of was that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the Messiah promised to the fathers, who should come, and they were to look for not other. If the Jews were but convinced of this–that Jesus is Christ, even their own law would teach them to hear him.

Apollos was a highly important church leader in Corinth, as Paul readily acknowledged in 1 Corinthians 3:6:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

MacArthur also says he was a better public speaker than Paul and had a better physical presence:

He was probably without equal as a speaker. You say, “Was he greater than Paul?” Well, very possibly. He was a greater preacher than Paul. Paul said to the Corinthians, in I Corinthians 2:1, “I, Brethren, when I came to you came not with excellency of speech.” Paul never did really value his preaching ability. Interesting. I don’t know if you ever read this verse. Interesting. II Corinthians 10:10, it says, “His letters say they are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” So he’s a lot better writer than he was a body, and he was an even better body than he was a speaker. Now, that’s a interesting little insight into the possibility that Paul perhaps was not as great an orator as was Apollos, and I’m only making the comparison because I want you to know the stature of this man. He was without peer, as far as we could see in the New Testament, as a preacher, as a speaker.

Shortly after Apollos arrived in Corinth, a church schism arose. Wikipedia has a simple explanation about the purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Paul’s Epistle refers to a schism between four parties in the Corinthian church, of which two attached themselves to Paul and Apollos respectively, using their names[9] (the third and fourth were Peter, identified as Cephas, and Jesus Christ himself).[10] It is possible, though, that, as Msgr. Ronald Knox suggests, the parties were actually two, one claiming to follow Paul, the other claiming to follow Apollos. “It is surely probable that the adherents of St. Paul […] alleged in defence of his orthodoxy the fact that he was in full agreement with, and in some sense commissioned by, the Apostolic College. Hence ‘I am for Cephas’. […] What reply was the faction of Apollos to make? It devised an expedient which has been imitated by sectaries more than once in later times; appealed behind the Apostolic College itself to him from whom the Apostolic College derived its dignity; ‘I am for Christ.'”[11] Paul states that the schism arose because of the Corinthians’ immaturity in faith.[12]

MacArthur says that Apollos left Corinth for a time because the schism distressed him:

And such a holy man was he that later on when he saw the factions in Corinth, it so grieved his heart that in I Corinthians 16:12, Paul had asked him to go back and he wouldn’t go back to Corinth. The factions that came in Corinth weren’t Apollos’ fault any more than they were Peter’s fault, Paul’s fault or Christ’s fault. But they grieved him.

Wikipedia has more interesting information about St Apollos, venerated by the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Apollos’ origin in Alexandria has led to speculations that he would have preached in the allegorical style of Philo. Theologian Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, for example, commented: “It is difficult to imagine that an Alexandrian Jew … could have escaped the influence of Philo, the great intellectual leader … particularly since the latter seems to have been especially concerned with education and preaching.”[14] Pope Benedict suggest there were those in Corinth “…fascinated by his way of speaking….[13]

Apollos is mentioned one more time in the New Testament. In the Epistle to Titus, the recipient is exhorted to “speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way”.[16]

Jerome states that Apollos was so dissatisfied with the division at Corinth that he retired to Crete with Zenas; and that once the schism had been healed by Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Apollos returned to the city and became one of its elders.[17] Less probable traditions assign to him the bishop of Duras, or of Iconium in Phrygia, or of Caesarea.[9]

Martin Luther and some modern scholars have proposed Apollos as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, rather than Paul or Barnabas.[9] Both Apollos and Barnabas were Jewish Christians with sufficient intellectual authority.[18] The Pulpit Commentary treats Apollos’ authorship of Hebrews as “generally believed”.[19] Other than this, there are no known surviving texts attributed to Apollos.

Hebrews is one of my favourite books in the New Testament. If Apollos wrote it, you will see — if you don’t already know — how persuasive and clear he was.

Next time — Acts 19:1-7

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What follows are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 17, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

The past few Sundays have been featuring passages about the life of Samuel. In last Sunday’s reading, Samuel had appointed Saul as king over Israel. Unfortunately, Saul only partly obeyed the Lord in his commission to destroy the Amalekites and their livestock. He retained some of the animals and left their king, Agag, alive. Although he was close to death, Samuel slayed Agag himself. Samuel was remorseful over appointing Saul king. With divine guidance, he anointed David, Jesse’s youngest son, king:

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

15:34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul.

15:35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

16:2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’

16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”

16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”

16:5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”

16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”

16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm

The Psalm discusses the blessings we receive when we trust in and obey the Lord:

Psalm 20

20:1 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!

20:2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.

20:3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah

20:4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.

20:5 May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.

20:6 Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.

20:7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.

20:8 They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.

20:9 Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call.

First reading

The reading from Ezekiel is about the Lord raising the lowly to be great in His sight:

Ezekiel 17:22-24

17:22 Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

17:23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.

17:24 All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it.

Psalm

The Psalm also uses trees to indicate how those who trust in the Lord flourish:

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

92:1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

92:2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,

92:3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.

92:4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

92:12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

92:13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.

92:14 In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap,

92:15 showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Epistle

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians continues with the themes of faith, blessing, salvation and renewal:

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

5:6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord —

5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.

5:8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.

5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.

5:13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

5:14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.

5:15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.

5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Gospel

The Gospel reading is Mark’s version of the parable of the mustard seed, which grows into a large tree — an allegory for the smallest becoming the greatest through faith:

Mark 4:26-34

4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,

4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?

4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

It’s important to remember the last sentence. Jesus took special care in teaching his disciples.

Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Acts 18:18-23

Paul Returns to Antioch

18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers[a] and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.

22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

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Last week’s post described the violent tribunal scene in Corinth before Gallio, the proconsul.

That post also has a biography of Gallio, who was a most learned man and brother of Seneca the Younger, the great poet. Matthew Henry’s commentary says there is evidence to suggest that Gallio might have met privately with Paul afterwards (emphases mine below):

Some tell us that Gallio did privately countenance Paul, and took him into his favour, and that this occasioned a correspondence between Paul and Seneca, Gallio’s brother, which some of the ancients speak of.

After the tribunal incident, Paul stayed on in the city. Readers following this series would have recalled an earlier verse in Acts 18:

11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

After that time, Paul took leave of the congregation in Corinth and sailed to Syria. Priscilla and Aquila, the converts with whom he had been living and working, joined him (verse 18). They were not natives of Corinth, so probably had no particular tie to the city. It was the place where they lived, having been exiled from Rome along with the rest of the Jews.

Henry explains:

He took with him Priscilla and Aquila, because they had a mind to accompany him; for they seemed disposed to remove, and not inclined to stay long at a place, a disposition which may arise from a good principle, and have good effects … There was a great friendship contracted between them and Paul, and therefore, when he went, they begged to go along with him.

They went to Cenchreae, which Henry tells us:

 … was hard by Corinth, the port where those that went to sea from Corinth took ship

There, Paul cut his hair because he was under a Nazarite vow. That might sound strange to us, knowing that Paul was such a committed follower of Christ. However, John MacArthur explains that Paul continued with some Jewish observances, as they were a fundamental part of his upbringing:

Paul was yes, in every whit a Christian. Being a Christian is a momentary miracle,but the transition takes time and old features of Judaism died slowly even in Paul’s life. By the time he gets to the book of Philippians, a lot more of them have died off. He says, after saying that, “I was a Jew, and I was a Hebrew, I was a Hebrew and a Pharisee and all,” he says in the next verse, “But what things were gained in me? Those I—” what? “Counted lost.”

In other words, those things used to be what made up my life, but I let them go, and I considered only Christ. From now on, I’m not interested in ceremonies. I’m not interested in rituals. I only know one thing—I want to know Him. That’s what he said to the Colossians. That’s all. “I want the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.”

Later on, more of the old things begin to die, but as we see Paul here, in chapter 18, most significantly, he is in transition.

Henry has a few important facts about the Nazarite vow:

Those that lived in Judea were, in such a case, bound to do it at the temple: but those who lived in other countries might do it in other places. The Nazarite’s head was to be shaved when either his consecration was accidentally polluted, in which case he must begin again, or when the days of his separation were fulfilled (Numbers 6:9,13:18), which, we suppose, was the case herethe vow of the Nazarites, though ceremonial, and as such ready to vanish away, had yet a great deal of moral and very pious significance, and therefore was fit to die the last of all the Jewish ceremonies. The Nazarites are joined with the prophets (Amos 2:11), and were very much the glory of Israel (Lamentations 4:7), and therefore it is not strange if Paul bound himself for some time with the vow of a Nazarite from wine and strong drink, and from being trimmed, to recommend himself to the Jews; and from this he now discharged himself.

MacArthur thinks that Paul took the 30-day vow as a form of thanksgiving:

they took it out of gratitude to God for some great deliverance and he had just experienced a great deliverance in the city of Corinth and very likely took a 30-day Nazarite vow. And a Nazarite would touch nothing from the fruit of the vine at all. He would restrict himself to holiness under God. He would let his hair grow as an outward sign to others and to himself, touch no dead body. It was just an abstinence from everything in order that he might set himself unto God to express his gratitude for God’s deliverance. This was common in the Old Testament.

Men who took a Nazarite vow had to keep the cut hair, which they took to the temple to offer as a burnt sacrifice:

… in the Old Testament, the hair that he cut off had to be taken to Jerusalem and burned with an offering in order to complete the vow, and so he’s got to hustle to Jerusalem.

When the three reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila there to start spreading the Gospel message. Ephesus — Efes — is in modern-day Turkey, ancient Asia Minor. It is an important port city dating back to the 10th century BC.

However, Paul did not leave Ephesus without preaching in the synagogue first (verse 19). The Jews in Ephesus were receptive to Paul’s reasoned discussion of Christ and ancient Scripture. They asked him to stay (verse 20). Although he declined the invitation, he said he would return if it were God’s will (verse 21).

This positive reaction from a Jewish congregation was unusual in Paul’s ministry. Paul normally had trouble and often had to leave. Henry has this explanation:

These were more noble, and better bred, than those Jews at Corinth, and other places, and it was a sign that God had not quite cast away his people, but had a remnant among them.

Having left Ephesus, Paul continued on his way home to Jerusalem, a long journey.

He arrived to greet the church in Caesarea (verse 22). Peter founded this church when he spoke with Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Cornelius and his whole household converted. Cornelius was the first Gentile — and Italian — convert. Acts 10 has his and Peter’s dramatic story:

Acts 10:1-8 – Cornelius, divine vision, angel, Peter, God-fearer

Acts 10:9-16– Peter, divine vision, allegory, animals, Gentiles, forbidden food is now clean

Acts 10:17-23— Peter, Holy Spirit, obedience, Gentiles, hospitality

Acts 10:24-29 — Peter, Cornelius, Jewish converts, Gentile converts

Acts 10:30-33 – Peter, Cornelius, Jew, Gentile, Jesus Christ

Acts 10:44-48 – Peter, Cornelius, the Holy Spirit, baptism, Gentile, Jew

Verse 22 tells us that after Paul left Caesarea, he went to Antioch, but John MacArthur says Paul went to Jerusalem after visiting nearby Caesarea:

When he landed, verse 22, at Caesarea, he went and greeted the church. Then he went to the church in Jerusalem and finished his vow, met with the church for just a brief time and then went to Antioch.

Paul then visited all the churches he had founded in that part of the world to strengthen the disciples (verse 23). Luke documented these churches in Acts: Antioch (Syria), Perga and Antioch (Pisidia), Iconium and Lystra. For some of these congregations, it was the second time Paul made a return visit, having made his first return trip with Barnabas (Acts 14).

Paul was an excellent preacher and servant for Christ. He really loved his flocks and expended a lot of physical and emotional energy on them for the Lord’s sake. What a shining example he set for the Church.

Next time — Acts 18:24-28

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 18:12-17

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews[a] made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Acts 18 begins with Paul’s arrival in the debauched city of Corinth, where St Luke — the author of Acts — recorded that Paul met, worked and lived with Priscilla and Aquila.

Silas and Timothy travelled from Macedonia to join Paul there. Paul preached in the synagogue, and some of the Jews did not want to hear what he had to say. It was significant that Crispus, the synagogue leader, converted as did Titius Justus, who let Paul preach in his house — which was next door to said synagogue. Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul converted.

That said, there was so much tension that Paul was ready to throw in the towel, but he didn’t (emphases mine below):

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Nonetheless, the Jews who rejected Paul wanted him silenced (verse 12). A man named Gallio was the Roman proconsul — governor — of Achaia, the district of which Corinth was a part. Bringing Paul before a tribunal, the Jews told Gallio that Paul was speaking against worshipping God according to ‘the law’ (verse 13).

It’s worth knowing who Gallio was. Wikipedia has a short but informative entry on Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, originally named Lucius Annaeus Novatus. He was the son of Seneca the Elder and the brother of Seneca the Younger. He was born in Córdoba (Spain) — part of the Roman Empire — around 5 BC. Note how beloved he was yet how his life ended:

His brother Seneca, who dedicated to him the treatises De Ira and De Vita Beata, speaks of the charm of his disposition, also alluded to by the poet Statius (Silvae, ii.7, 32). It is probable that he was banished to Corsica with his brother, and that they returned together to Rome when Agrippina selected Seneca to be tutor to Nero. Towards the close of the reign of Claudius, Gallio was proconsul of the newly-constituted senatorial province of Achaea, but seems to have been compelled by ill-health to resign the post within a few years. He was referred to by Claudius as “my friend and proconsul” in the Delphi Inscription, circa 52.

Gallio was a suffect consul in the mid-50s[1] and Cassius Dio records that he introduced Nero’s performances.[2] Not long after the death of his brother, Seneca, Gallio (according to Tacitus, Ann. 15.73) was attacked in the Senate by Salienus Clemens, who accused him of being a “parricide and public enemy, though the Senate unanimously appealed to Salienus not to profit “from public misfortunes to satisfy a private animosity”.[3] He did not survive this reprieve long. When his second brother, Annaeus Mela, opened his veins after being accused of involvement in a conspiracy (Tacitus, Ann. 16.17), Gallio seems to have committed suicide, perhaps under instruction in 65 AD at the age of 64.[4]

Wikipedia confirms that the tribunal scene in Acts would have taken place between 51 and 52 AD:

Therefore, the events of Acts 18 can be dated to this period. This is significant because it is the most accurately known date in the life of Paul.[6]

At the tribunal, Paul did not say anything. He was ready to speak, but did not have the opportunity to do so.

Gallio simply told the Jews that Paul advocated no crime that would violate Roman law and that their grievance against him was a religious one they would need to discuss among themselves (verses 14 and 15).

John MacArthur explains the Roman view of Judaism and Christianity:

Christianity officially was viewed as a sect of Judaism. The Romans saw it as a sect of Judaism, therefore, it came under what the Romans called “religio licita.” They had a category called “permitted religions.” Although they believed in emperor worship, and you know all about that, they had category of permitted religions. Judaism was one of the permitted ones. Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism.

Gallio was no dumbbell. He was cool, and I’m sure he’d heard Paul preach. He knew enough about the Jewish religion assuredly to know that the Jews had this and that and the other kind of standard, and they believed in a Messiah, and they were looking for their Messiah. All that Paul was announcing was that Jesus is that Messiah. Therefore, Gallio could see that Paul’s brand of Christianity was, in fact, just a form of Judaism in his own mind.

Gallio’s dismissal disappointed the Jews greatly. They were hoping Gallio would have set a legal precedent silencing Paul. If Paul went elsewhere, other proconsuls would rule against him as they hoped Gallio would have done. MacArthur explains how harmful that would have been for the Church:

If he had judged against Paul, as I said, Christianity’s history would’ve been drastically changed for 10-12 years, because it would’ve become the standard judgment against Christianity. Paul wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere.

But, nothing can prevail against Christ’s Bride:

God prevented it. Later on, God had him bring different verdicts and finally, Paul lost his life, but that was in God’s plan, too, at a different time, a different place. Here, Gallio says, “Nothing doing. You don’t even have an issue.”

Gallio drove them out of the tribunal (verse 16), which might imply that they stayed to argue with Gallio. MacArthur says:

They probably really hung around and persisted. Finally, he called his lictors and said, “Get them out.” He drove them out of there.

Those lictors had those little things that they used, and whack! whack! and away you go. Chased them out. “Clear the court!” he said, in effect.

A lictor carried a big bundle of switches tied together, which he used to maintain order. Lictors could also hide an axe in the bundle to behead someone, if ordered.

In their anger at having been refused, ‘they’ then set upon Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue and beat him up. Gallio paid no attention (verse 16).

There is much to explain in this verse.

Matthew Henry explains who Sosthenes probably was:

Many conjectures there are concerning this matter, because it is uncertain who this Sosthenes was, and who the Greeks were that abused him. It seems most probable that Sosthenes was a Christian, and Paul’s particular friend, that appeared for him on this occasion, and probably had taken care of his safety, and conveyed him away, when Gallio dismissed the cause; so that, when they could not light on Paul, they fell foul on him who protected him. It is certain that there was one Sosthenes that was a friend of Paul, and well known at Corinth; it is likely he was a minister, for Paul calls him his brother, and joins him with himself in his first epistle to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1), as he does Timothy in his second, and it is probable that this was he; he is said to be a ruler of the synagogue, either joint-ruler with Crispus (Acts 18:8), or a ruler of one synagogue, as Crispus was of another. As for the Greeks that abused him, it is very probable that they were either Hellenist Jews, or Jewish Greeks, those that joined with the Jews in opposing the gospel (Acts 18:4,6), and that the native Jews put them on to do it, thinking it would in them be less offensive. They were so enraged against Paul that they beat Sosthenes; and so enraged against Gallio, because he would not countenance the prosecution, that they beat him before the judgment-seat, whereby they did, in effect, tell him that they cared not for him; if he would not be their executioner, they would be their own judges.

In older translations such as the one Henry would have read, this verse says ‘the Greeks’ seized Sosthenes, but more modern translators say the original manuscripts did not specify Jew or Greek. MacArthur explains:

Who are these all that beat them? That’s interesting to think about. Some people say it was the policemen, the lictors of verse 16 that beat Sosthenes up, because he kept persisting in the case. Others say, “No, it was the Jews. They were so mad at him, even though he was the chief ruler of the synagogue, they were so mad at him that he blew the case that his own Jews beat him up.” Others say, “No. Because of the rough stuff that was going on and the hassle and the chasing and the driving them out, the Jews, already being hated, the people who were anti-Semitic, the crowd who didn’t like the Jews, anyway, took the opportunity, and the Greeks beat up Sosthenes.”

Whoever did it, Sosthenes got it. We really don’t know who beat up Sosthenes, but somebody really let him have it. They beat him right in front of the judgment seat and Gallio “cared for none of these things.” Gallio just turned an indifferent eye. He just said, “I’m not going to get involved in this deal.” Which in a sense makes me think that perhaps it was the Jews who were beating up Sosthenes for handling the case so poorly.

Henry says that Gallio should have stepped in to have the violence stopped:

Gallio, as a judge, ought to have protected Sosthenes, and restrained and punished the Greeks that assaulted him. For a man to be mobbed in the street or in the market, perhaps, may not be easily helped; but to be so in his court, the judgment-seat, the court sitting and not concerned at it, is an evidence that truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter; for he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14,15. Those that see and hear of the sufferings of God’s people, and have no sympathy with them, nor concern for them, do not pity and pray for them, it being all one to them whether the interests of religion sink or swim, are of the spirit of Gallio here, who, when a good man was abused before his face, cared for none of these things; like those that were at ease in Zion, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (Amos 6:6), like the king and Haman, that sat down to drink when the city Shushan was perplexed, Esther 3:15.

That makes me wonder about Gallio’s death, which seems a strange way for such a beloved man to die. Hmm.

The aforementioned verse from Isaiah 59 resonates.

Next time — Acts 18:18-23

The feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is on May 31 this year.

Lectionary readings for Year B follow. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading is about Hannah, who longed for a child. One day, she went to the temple and prayed tearfully. Eli the High Priest heard her and blessed her. Hannah gave birth to Samuel and promised the Lord that he would serve Him. Mary’s Magnificat — see the Gospel reading below — echoes what is known as Hannah’s song of thanksgiving.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

2:1 Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

2:2 “There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

2:3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

2:4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

2:5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.

2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

2:7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.

2:8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

2:9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.

2:10 The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

The words and sentiment of the Psalm are similar to Hannah’s song:

Psalm 113

113:1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.

113:2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.

113:3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.

113:4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.

113:5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,

113:6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

113:7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

113:8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

113:9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!

In the Epistle, St Paul exhorts — encourages — the Romans to a truly holy way of life:

Romans 12:9-16b

12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

12:10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;

The Gospel reading from Luke is Mary’s Magnificat, which she said to her cousin Elizabeth, who was expecting John the Baptist at the time. Note the similarities in wording and sentiment to Hannah’s song in the first reading:

Luke 1:39-57

1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,

1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

1:56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

1:57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.

I cannot imagine what that moment must have been like for Mary and Elizabeth: two expectant mothers and two holy women.

The Holy Spirit entered Elizabeth, enabling her to understand that Mary would give birth to the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Then Mary spoke, spontaneously echoing Scripture and those who lived before her so long ago.

In closing, the Sunday Lectionary readings continue with the two Books of Samuel for the First Reading during the first several weeks of the Season after Pentecost.

Trinity Sunday is on May 27, 2018.

My past posts explain more about this important feast in the Church calendar honouring the Triune God. I would suggest perusing them before going into the readings:

On Trinity Sunday

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday — an Anglican analysis of its importance

The Holy Trinity is difficult to explain, not only to children but also to adults. One Lutheran came up with an intelligent yet simple way of doing so, by using an egg:

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

Themes for today’s readings — Year B in the three-year Lectionary — include forgiveness of sin, God’s infinite mercy, God’s glory and rebirth through the Holy Spirit. Emphases mine below.

In the first reading, Isaiah describes how he was cleansed of sin in a vision, which resulted in his asking the Lord to be sent out to prophesy:

Isaiah 6:1-8

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.

6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

The Psalm glorifies the Lord:

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

In the Epistle, Paul says that each of us has a personal relationship with the Holy Trinity:

Romans 8:12-17

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–

8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

The Gospel reading recounts Nicodemus’s night time discussion with Jesus, who explains rebirth through water and the Spirit:

John 3:1-17

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Where vestments are worn, the celebrant will wear white on Trinity Sunday.

After this, the Church calendar refers to subsequent Sundays as being ‘after Trinity’, ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘in Ordinary Time’ until the first Sunday of Advent. The vestment colour will be green during this time.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday this year is May 20.

This is one of the most important feasts in the Church year. The posts below explain why:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Pentecost Sunday — May 15, 2016 (John MacArthur explains adoption in the ancient world)

What follows are the Lectionary readings for Year B. Emphases mine below.

If the passage from Ezekiel is read, the celebrant must also include the reading from the Book of Acts:

If the passage from Ezekiel is chosen for the First Reading, the passage from Acts is used as the Second Reading.

The reading from Ezekiel is the famous one about the dry bones, used as the basis for the 20th century spiritual ‘Dem Bones’:

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, Now hear the word of the Lord.

This is about the remnant that God brought back to life as the house of Israel:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

37:1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

37:2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

37:3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

37:4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

37:5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

37:6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

37:7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

37:8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

37:9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

37:10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

37:11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

37:13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

37:14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

The passage from Acts relates the awe of the Holy Spirit’s descent at the first Pentecost, which took place during Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. (Shavuot is also celebrated this year on May 20.) This explains the presence of so many foreign Jews in Jerusalem:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The Psalm proclaims God’s infinite power and majesty:

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

The Epistle is from one of Paul’s letters to the Romans, explaining the importance of the Holy Spirit:

Romans 8:22-27

8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;

8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?

8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

8:27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The Gospel reading recounts Jesus’s explanation of sending the Advocate — the Holy Spirit — to the disciples:

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.

15:27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.

16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’

16:6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

16:9 about sin, because they do not believe in me;

16:10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer;

16:11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Note John 16:8, which is something very important for Christians to remember, hence the significance of the Holy Spirit and the feast of Pentecost.

Incidentally, Eastertide ends with this feast.

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (also here).

Acts 18:5-11

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry introduced Corinth, a corrupt, vice-filled centre of trade and government.

My post also provided information about Priscilla and her husband Aquila, fellow tent makers with whom Paul lodged during his lengthy stay in Corinth. Aquila was a converted Jew. Scholars are unclear as to whether Priscilla — full name Prisca — was a converted Jew or Gentile. The couple were exiled from Rome along with other Jews, by edict of the emperor Claudius.

Some will ask if there really was a church in Rome at that time. Scholars say that there was, and that it could have started after Roman visitors to Jerusalem for the first Pentecost returned and told their fellow Jews about Christ. This led to dissension among Roman Jews over ‘Chrestus’. Dissension turned into riots, and that is why Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Paul and Peter later gave the church in Rome a defined structure with strong doctrinal foundations. See my post for more detail.

Last week’s post also discussed Paul’s stay in Athens, where Silas and Timothy met up with him as instructed. It is thought Paul sent them back to shepherd the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, respectively.

At this point, Paul sent for Silas and Timothy to be with him in Corinth, where he had been preaching to the Jews in the synagogue that Christ was Jesus — the Messiah (verse 5).

Their reunion was a happy one indeed, as both brought Paul good tidings. Timothy reported that the church in Thessalonica was growing. Silas also brought with him a monetary gift from the Philippians. John MacArthur explains that Paul mentioned both in his letters. Paul wrote to the Philippians and the Thessalonians during his time in Corinth (emphases mine below):

Look at Philippians chapter 4. Now he’s writing to the Philippians. Now, you Philippians know, also, that in the beginning … “When I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving but you only.” Now, wait a minute. Stop right there. The Philippian church sent him money, didn’t they? No church supported me but you Philippians. How did that money get to them? Go to 2 Corinthians 11:9.

This is exciting. Watch this. He said, “When I was present with you, and lacked, I was chargeable to no man. For that which was lacking to me, the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in all things, I have kept myself from being burdensome.” The brethren who came from Macedonia brought him this. Now, apparently, Silas and Timothy, verse 5 of Acts 18: When Timothy and Silas were come from Macedonia, they’re a friend. I have some brethren from Macedonia.

So Silas had gone to Philippi, and the Philippian church had taken a love offering, and he brought that, and Timothy brought news that the Thessalonians were moving out and growing. Listen, now you know why that was a joyous reunion. It was terrific.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, listen to this. Now watch, here’s some more historical notes. As soon as Timothy arrives, he says, “Paul, the gang in Thessalonica is growing, and they’re comforted, and they’re strong.” And he was so excited. Paul sat right down and took out his little whatever he wrote with, and he wrote 1 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians was written right there in verse 5 of Acts 18:5. when Timothy and Silas arrived, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.

You know what he says to them? Listen to this: 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “But now when Timothy came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and love, and that you have good remembrance of us always, and are engrated to see us as we all sort of see you; therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you an all our affliction and distress.” He was hurting ____ the comfort game when he heard Timothy’s words about the Thessalonian Christians. And I love verse 8. He says, “For now, we live if you stand fast in the Lord.”

Thanks to the donation from the Philippians, MacArthur says that Paul was able to stop his day job making tents and fully devote his time to preaching:

He quit making tents, and completely devoted himself to the Word. Now you see how God comforts a disheartened saint: with companionship. What a joyous time.

The Jews in Corinth were angry at what Paul preached, so the Apostle shook their dust off his garments and told them that he would go preach instead to the Gentiles (verse 6).

We have seen throughout Acts how angry Paul’s Jewish audiences were. Although many Jews who heard him in the synagogue converted, just as many took against him and, where there were Gentiles, stirred them up against him, too.

Yet, wherever he went, Paul addressed the Jews first and usually in the synagogue.

In Corinth, he had had enough. Verse 6 says that the Jews ‘opposed and reviled’ him. Older versions say ‘opposed themselves’ and also include ‘blasphemed’. Matthew Henry’s commentary breaks it down for us. Note the etymology of blasphemy:

they opposed themselves and blasphemed; they set themselves in battle array (so the word signifies) against the gospel; they joined hand in hand to stop the progress of it. They resolved they would not believe it themselves, and would do all they could to keep others from believing it. They could not argue against it, but what was wanting in reason they made up in ill language: they blasphemed, spoke reproachfully of Christ, and in him of God himself, as Revelation 13:5,6. To justify their infidelity, they broke out into downright blasphemy.

MacArthur looks at ‘opposed’:

And the word oppose means they had an organized opposition. It’s the word that indicates organized resistance. They came to a deliberate and ultimate final decision that this was wrong; that Jesus was not Messiah. They organized themselves. They set themselves against, and they blasphemed Christ.

Paul shook his garments at them, returning their dust to them. Remember the New Testament passages about shaking the dust from one’s feet. MacArthur walks us through the reasoning behind this gesture:

You know, the Jews had a saying about shaking the dust off your feet. And it was used in reference to Gentile countries. Whenever a Jew traveled in a Gentile country, when he left he would shake the dust off his feet because he didn’t want to take any Gentile dust to soil the dust of Israel.

And you see, the idea of the shaking of dust was the Jews’ way of sort of casting degrading statements toward the Gentiles. Well, you know what Paul does? He turns it around, and he takes his cloak off, and he just starts shaking all the dust out of it in the faces of all those Jews, and saying in effect, “You don’t like Gentile dust on your shoes. I don’t want Jewish dust on my cloak.” And he shook it right out in their face.

Now you know if they weren’t mad by then, they were really hopping when that was done. That flagrant kind of insult must’ve absolutely torn them to pieces. He was done with them. Shook out his whole cloak.

Then, he said, ‘Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent’. Oh, man alive, that was the ultimate, especially since he followed with ‘From now on I will go to the Gentiles’. Whoa!

Blood being upon one’s head is an expression that runs through the Bible. Paul had preached eloquently and truthfully to the Corinthian Jews, but most would not accept what he said. So, he told them that he was innocent — i.e. he did all that he could to exhort (encourage) them to turn to Christ as Messiah. Since they were engaging in crude and blasphemous behaviour, Paul told them he had no choice but to devote his energy to the Gentiles.

MacArthur explains the significance of this and adds that Paul’s statement points to individual spiritual responsibility:

He said, “Your blood be upon your own heads.”

That’s again a statement that the Jews made. It’s in Joshua 2:19, 2 Samuel 1:16,, 1 Kings 2:37, and perhaps elsewhere. And do you remember in Matthew 27:25? “That the Jews, when Jesus was being crucified, cried out ‘His blood be upon us and our children.'” They wanted to accept the responsibility for Christ’s death. The phrase means we accept the responsibility for His death. And Paul is saying here, Your blood is on your own hands. I’m clean. Why? I fulfilled my responsibility. I delivered the Gospel. I presented it clearly. You are responsible for what you do.

People say to me, “John, do you believe the bible teaches individual responsibility?” There it is, my friend. If you die without Jesus Christ, your blood is on your own head. And I can say to you this morning what Paul said: “I’m clean. I presented you the Gospel. What you do with it will determine your eternal destiny, and the responsibility is your own.”

After Paul left the Jews, he went to the house next door to the synagogue — yes — where a man named Titius (Titus) Justus lived (verse 7). Titius Justus was a ‘worshipper of God’, meaning that he was a Gentile who took part in Jewish worship and probably certain Mosaic customs without full conversion.

Oh, how God’s plans work. Paul leaves the Jews to their synagogue and goes next door to a God fearing Gentile’s house to continue preaching.

Just as important was the fact that Crispus, the synagogue leader, also converted to Christianity (verse 8).

MacArthur says that Titius Justus is the Gaius whom Paul refers to in his letters. Paul also mentioned Crispus:

Titus Justus. That’s interesting. It’s a Roman name. He was a Gentile, god fearer, who attended the synagogue. And you know, he’s the same apparently as the man called Gaius, G-A-I-U-S, in Romans 16:23. And in 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul says, “I baptized only two; Gaius and Crispus.”

Apparently, this is Gaius, and his Roman name, and there were often three names, would be Gaius Titus Justus. So this man became a Christian. They had a church in his house next door to the synagogue. Kind of like we are right here with the temple about three doors down. And he began to bear fruit. Now if you think that was something, look at verse 8, absolutely thrilling. “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord and his entire household.” Can you imagine that?

So, we have Titius Justus, Crispus and his household — and many more Corinthians — who converted when they heard Paul speak (verse 8).

Henry reminds us of the wicked nature of the Corinthians, yet, they converted:

Many of the Corinthians, who were Gentiles (and some of them persons of bad character, as appears, 1 Corinthians 6:11, such were some of you), hearing, believed, and were baptized.

Note how conversion — and salvation — occur:

First, they heard, for faith comes by hearing. Some perhaps came to hear Paul under some convictions of conscience that the way they were in was not right; but it is probable that the most came only for curiosity, because it was a new doctrine that was preached; but, hearing, they believed, by the power of God working upon them; and, believing, they were baptized, and so fixed for Christ, took upon them the profession of Christianity, and became entitled to the privileges of Christians.

MacArthur says the same thing:

… verse 8: “Hearing, believed and were baptized.” Notice the sequence, would you? That’s the order of salvation. You hear the Gospel. You what? You believe it. You publicly proclaim it in baptism.

Also here:

… many of the Corinthians, imperfect tense verbs, were hearing, were believing, and were being baptized; showing a daily sequence of growth.

Despite this, the crisis that had occurred with the Jews must have upset Paul, because the Lord came to him in a vision (verse 9). MacArthur says that this only happened when Paul was unsure as to what to do next. Acts 18 was not the last time. Acts 22, 23 and 27 also recount visions. Looking at the previous ones:

God has special times for Paul when Paul just got against the wall and was just about at the end of his rope. I think the first time was he had tried to go to Asia Minor. The Spirit said no. He tried to go to Bithynia. The Spirit says no. He can’t go backwards. He’s been there. He walks the little thin line. He finally gets to the sea and he’s at the end of his rope. God says, “No, no, no, no.” He doesn’t know what to do, and immediately what happens? He comes to the edge of Macedonia, chapter 16, verse 9, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night.”

He was at the point where he didn’t know what to do, where to go; at the end of his rope. And God comes to him and sends the man to Macedonia. He said, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” And he gets direction from God, and he takes off. The next time he had a vision is in chapter 18

So here again, at the end of his rope, not knowing where to go, God comes personally and speaks.

God told Paul not to be afraid and to speak freely and boldly (verse 9):

Now this implies that Paul was getting kind of a little tentative about whether he ought to keep preaching. The thing was getting so hot, he figured maybe I’ll cool it a while.

God says, “Paul, don’t stop.”

The Lord reassured Paul by telling him no harm would come to him in Corinth because He had many people there to be saved (verse 10). Henry explains:

He gave him a prospect of success: “For I have much people in this city. Therefore no man shall prevail to obstruct thy work, therefore I will be with thee to own thy work, and therefore do thou go on vigorously and cheerfully in it; for there are many in this city that are to be effectually called by thy ministry, in whom thou shalt see of the travail of thy soul.”

That verse points towards the concept of election:

Laos esti moi polys–There is to me a great people here. The Lord knows those that are his, yea, and those that shall be his; for it is by his work upon them that they become his, and known unto him are all his works. “I have them, though they yet know me not, though yet they are let captive by Satan at his will; for the Father has given them to me, to be a seed to serve me; I have them written in the book of life; I have their names down, and of all that were given me I will lose none; I have them, for I am sure to have them;” whom he did predestinate, those he called.

The first two purple highlights in that paragraph come from John 17, verses 6, 9 and 12 — coincidentally read on May 13, Exaudi Sunday.

So Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months (verse 11).

In closing, MacArthur explains the paradox between election and personal spiritual responsibility:

You say, “John, do you believe in election?” Well, how else would you explain that verse? “I have many people in this city.” You say you believe that God chooses people to be saved? Of course. That’s what it says in Ephesians 1:4, “According as He hath chosen us in Him when before the foundation of the world.” You say, “John MacArthur, you believe that you are chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world?” Yes, that’s because the bible says that. You say, “Oh, but wait a minute.” Well, you wait a minute. Revelations 13:8 says, “My name is written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world.”

You say, “Well, what about human responsibility?” Oh, I believe that, too. Sure, look at verse 6, “Your blood be upon,” what? Your own heads. Listen; if you come to Jesus Christ, you know why you came to Him? Because you were chosen before the world began. If you reject Jesus Christ, it’s your own responsibility. You say, “Those two don’t go together.” Right. But I’ve told you before, and I say again, you must allow in the scripture for the paradox of sovereignty and responsibility. Realize that we have little pea brains, and God is the God bigger than the universe. And when God reduces His mind to the little pea brain, there’s got to be some spillage. So we are not rattled because we can’t justify sovereignty with responsibility. We just let the two exist, because you see, that paradox exists in every other major doctrine.

I’ll ask you this? Who wrote the book of Acts? You’ll say Luke. And then I’ll say the Holy Spirit. And which one is right? and yet it wasn’t Luke and the Holy Spirit working together. No, sir, every word was chosen by the Holy Spirit, and yet Luke himself had all those words in his own vocabulary. It was a perfect paradox. You say, “Who lives a Christian life?” I do. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Without me, you can do. He does. No, I do. He does. No, we both do together. No, he does and me. Well, that’s sort of it. It’s a paradox. What was Jesus Christ; God or man? Both. That’s a paradox; 100% God, 100% man. You can’t be 200% of something. That’s a paradox.

You see, in every major biblical doctrine where God reduces Himself to human terms, there is paradox. And I say this, “If a man goes to hell, it is his own responsibility for rejecting Christ.” The bible says, “If he goes to heaven, it is because he was chosen before the foundation of the world.” I’ll tell you what I love, though. I love the fact that the bible closes with these words, “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.”

Only God knows who the elect are. Therefore, we should approach everyone as if s/he is elect — even unbelievers who might not yet have understood or received the Good News.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return in a few weeks’ time.

Next time — Acts 18:12-17

Exaudi Sunday comes between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

I have read that it is the saddest Sunday of the Church year. The faithful recall the forlorn disciples, among them the Apostles, who saw Christ’s ascent into Heaven and then awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

You can find out more about it from the following post, including Lutheran perspectives:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

Below are the readings for this final Sunday of Eastertide for Year B in the three-year Lectionary. Emphases mine below.

The first reading describes Peter and the other ten Apostles looking for a replacement for Judas:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,

1:16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus —

1:17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

1:22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

1:23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

1:24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen

1:25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

1:26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

The Psalm is about the happiness true believers have in God, who will thwart the way of the wicked:

Psalm 1

1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The second reading — the Epistle — is from John’s letters. Either the reading from Acts or this one is generally the Epistle.

God’s testimony is greater than man’s:

1 John 5:9-13

5:9 If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son.

5:10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.

5:11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

5:12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

The Gospel reading is from John. Note that Jesus said He receives believers on His Father’s behalf. God chooses believers and gives them to Jesus. Therefore, we do not choose God. God chooses us. This blows centuries-own theological concepts — i.e. Arminianism and Universalism — out of the water:

John 17:6-19

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

17:12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.

17:13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

17:14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17:15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

17:16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

17:18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

17:19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Although Exaudi Sunday is bittersweet, the first Pentecost saw the Apostles rush out into the world, contending earnestly for the faith, beginning with Peter.

Over the centuries, much has been written about the origins of the church in Rome.

Catholics and the Orthodox hold to a different history than do Protestants.

Much hinges on what has been recorded a) by historians and b) in the New Testament.

Wikipedia has a bewildering array of ancient historical writings about Peter’s ministry there and whether he and Paul were martyred together, as Catholics and the Orthodox hold. I’ll let you read those.

What brought this to mind was Paul’s friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, introduced in Acts 18:1-4.

Acts 18:2 says that Aquila, born in Pontus in Asia Minor, was a Jew — a convert by then — who had been exiled from Rome. He and his wife Priscilla ended up in Corinth, which is where Paul made their acquaintance.

The Jews and Rome

Bible.org has an informative article by Dr Greg MaGee, ‘The Origins of the Church at Rome’, excerpts of which follow. Emphases mine below.

A number of historical artifacts and writings give us an idea of the Jewish population and where they lived:

Sources indicate that before Christians emerged in Rome, Jews had already established a presence in the city. Inscriptions from Jewish catacombs and comments from literary documents open a window into the life, organization, and struggles of the Jews in Rome. The catacomb inscriptions have most recently been dated from the late second through the fifth centuries A.D.1 Richardson concludes that the inscriptions attest to the existence of at least five synagogues in Rome in the early first century, with the possibility of even more. The “Hebrew synagogue” probably arose first, with subsequent synagogues named after famous allies of the Jews.2 The language used in inscriptions suggests that many of the synagogues were in the poorer districts of the city.3 Scholars have noted the lack of evidence for a central organization or leadership structure that oversaw the different synagogues.4 At the same time, in the inscriptions only leaders are identified in relation to their synagogues. Ordinary Jews affiliated themselves with Judaism as a whole rather than their particular synagogue.5 Thus the Jews viewed themselves as a unified group despite the apparent lack of a controlling body of spiritual leaders in the city.

Literary excepts describe the social and political environment of the Roman Jews. For instance, as early as 59 B.C., Cicero offers his opinion on the Jews during his defense of Flaccus: “You know what a big crowd it is, how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies… every year it was customary to send gold to Jerusalem on the order of the Jews from Italy and from all our provinces.”6 Cicero’s remarks confirm the presence of a large community of Jews in Rome and indicate misgivings about their separatist tendencies. Comments by Philo about events under the reign of Augustus provide further information:

[T]he great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber is occupied and inhabited by Jews, most of whom were Roman citizens emancipated. For having been brought as captives to Italy they were liberated by their owners and were not forced to violate any of their native institutions… . [T]hey have houses of prayer and meet together in them, particularly on the sacred Sabbaths when they receive as a body of training in their ancestral philosophy … [T]hey collect money for sacred purposes from their first-fruits and send them to Jerusalem by persons who would offer the sacrifices.”7

Like Cicero, Philo notes that the Jews maintained a distinct identity. The section of Rome Philo mentions (Trastevere) was “the chief foreign quarter of the city, a district characterized by narrow, crowded streets, towering tenement houses, teeming with population.”8 Philo also refers to the reason some of the Jews now lived in Rome: their ancestors had been forcibly taken to Rome as slaves (under Pompey).9 Once freed, the Jews bore the title libertini.

Augustus allowed the Jews to practise their faith freely.

However, Tiberius took against the Jews in 19 AD, shipping them to Sardinia. MaGee cites Tacitus’s account:

“Another debate dealt with the proscription of the Egyptian and Jewish rites, and a senatorial edict directed that four thousand descendants of enfranchised slaves, tainted with that superstition and suitable in point of age, were to be shipped to Sardinia and there be employed in suppressing brigandageThe rest had orders to leave Italy, unless they had renounced their impious ceremonial by a given date.”10

John MacArthur adds that Sardinia was rife with plague at the time of Tiberius’s edict:

He took 4,000 Jews and sent them to a country that had the plague, hoping they’d all catch the plague and die. So they were unpopular.

In 39 AD, Claudius also banished the Jews from Rome. MacArthur tells us:

every one of them had to go. Now we know a little about Claudius. And the reason we do is that about 70 years after the edict, it was written about 120 A.D., Suetonius wrote about Claudius. Suetonius was a historian, and he got all the information on Claudius, and he wrote about his life. And one of the statements that Suetonius makes in his life of Claudius is this: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots – listen – at the instigation of Chrestus, Claudius banished them from Rome.”

Aquila was one of those Jews. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

That the reason of his leaving Italy was because by a late edict of the emperor Claudius Cæsar all Jews were banished from Rome; for the Jews were generally hated, and every occasion was taken to put hardship and disgrace upon them. God’s heritage was as a speckled bird, the birds round about were against her, Jeremiah 12:9. Aquila, though a Christian, was banished because he had been a Jew; and the Gentiles had such confused notions of the thing that they could not distinguish between a Jew and a Christian. Suetonius, in the life of Claudius, speaks of this decree in the ninth year of his reign, and says, The reason was because the Jews were a turbulent people–assiduo tumultuantes; and that it was impulsore Christo–upon the account of Christ; some zealous for him, others bitter against him, which occasioned great heats, such as gave umbrage to the government, and provoked the emperor, who was a timorous jealous man, to order them all to be gone. If Jews persecute Christians, it is not strange if heathens persecute them both.

Chrestus

The name Chrestus is connected with Claudius’s edict.

It is unclear whether Chrestus was a person or, as is more likely, how the Jews in Rome referred to Christ.

MacArthur gives us more information about Chrestus:

Now, Claudius unloaded all of the Jews because they were always having riots, and the riots were instigated by a person named Chrestus. Now, you know, you can go back in history until you’re blue in the face and never find anything about anyone in that area who fits the bill named Chrestus. But what is very interesting is that the Greek Chrestus is only one letter different than the Greek Christis, which is Christ. It’s only the difference between an I and an E. And what it seems to be indicating is this: That what caused Claudius to send all the Jews out was they were rioting over the issue of Christ, which indicated probably some missionaries had come there, and had proclaimed Christ again as always was done in the synagogue, and as always happened with Paul, right? A riot ensued, and the element they had accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah was set against the Jews that were unbelieving, and they threw the city into turmoil, and Claudius got uptight and kicked them all out of town.

They were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus. And you see, Suetonius thinks that Chrestus is some guy who lived then in Rome. And remember, he was writing 70 years later, so it’s easy to see how he could’ve made that simple error. They were probably rioting over the issue of Christ. And it seems to me that that kind of issue would preclude the fact there had to be Christ presented there. So therefore, there was the possibility of Aquilla and Priscilla being saved already. You see? And so they arrive over there in Corinth to ply their trade, and they’re already Christians.

MaGee also mentions Chrestus in his article. He also believes there was no such person:

The claim that Christ stands at the center of the conflict of A.D. 49 is contested on several fronts. First, the most straightforward reading of Suetonius’s account implies that Chrestus himself was present in Rome, as an instigator of the unrest.29 In response to this objection, some advocates of seeing Christians in the mix of the unrest of A.D. 49 propose that either Suetonius or his source was confused about the event.30 Other scholars have supposed that instead of Suetonius confusing the vowels in the name, Christian copyists incorrectly copied the document.31 Alternatively, it is contended that the Latin sentence structure allows for Chrestus being simply identified as the cause of the disturbance rather than being physically present in Rome.32 In further rebuttal of the Christian hypothesis, critics point out that Suetonius only later introduces Christian movement, at the time of Nero.33 This suggests that the Christianity had not been on Suetonius’s radar up to that point. Spence counters by explaining that the chief aim in Claudius 25.4 is to highlight the Jewish rather than Christian experience, even though the claims of Christ were involved.34

Scholars skeptical of a Christian angle to the controversy offer an alternative theory. They assert that the reference to Chrestus indicates that a messianic figure living in Rome was generating turmoil among the Jews.35 One problem with this theory is that no such person is known from any other historical sources. Moreover, Suetonius does not qualify his description by designating the character as “a certain Chrestus,” which would be more expected if the leader had been a figure of only fleeting interest.36 Finally, a rebellion led by a messianic figure would have evoked a more violent response from the Roman authorities.37 The more likely scenario is that Jewish contentions involving the claims of Christ brought about the Roman opposition.

Origins of the church in Rome

For a big clue on the origins of the church in Rome, MaGee says we have only to look at Acts 2:10, part of the story of who witnessed the first Pentecost:

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,

about whom, he writes the following:

A number of scholars suggest that these temporary residents of Jerusalem may have taken the gospel back to Rome.52

MaGee points out other clues in Acts 6:9 and Acts 8:1:

In Acts 6:9, Luke mentions Stephen’s confrontation with Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (tine” tw’n ejk th'” sunagwgh'” th'” legomevnh” Libertivnwn). These libertini likely correspond to the freed slaves mentioned in sources examined earlier. If some of these freedmen eventually received the gospel message, their contact with libertini elsewhere could have facilitated the spread of the gospel to other regions, including Rome.53 The geographical spread of the gospel to new regions would have been further encouraged when persecutions against Christians erupted in Jerusalem (see Acts 8:1).

Clues from Acts may be incorporated into a wider model that surmises that geographical dispersions of Christians in the first century likely brought Christianity to Rome.54 Both Roman inhabitants who visited Jerusalem before returning to Rome and Jews who settled into Rome for the first time may have played a role.55 Once Jewish Christians reached Rome, they would have had relatively unhindered ministry access in the synagogues, since no Jewish controlling authority could step in to quickly and definitively oppose the propagation of the message.56

Peter — and Paul

MaGee looks at the difference between establishing and building the foundations for the church in Rome with regard to Peter, citing Acts 12:17:

A competing theory promotes Peter as the carrier of the gospel to Rome. The mysterious reference in 12:17 (Peter “went to another place”) opens the door to speculation that Rome was the destination.57 Later church tradition asserts that Peter’s ministry as bishop of Rome spanned 25 years. While the biblical evidence rules out a continuous presence in Rome, it is surmised that Peter could have founded the church in A.D. 42 and then continued his leadership over the church even when in other locations.58 Finally, Rom 15:20-24 could contain an allusion to Peter’s ministry to the Romans, which dissuaded Paul from focusing his outreach in Rome.59

A closer look at earlier Patristic testimony lessens the probability that Peter established the church at Rome. In the mid-second century A.D., Irenaeus envisions a founding role for Peter alongside Paul: “Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, laying the foundations of the Church.”60 Soon after, he refers to the “universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”61 Immediately, the problem surfaces that in comparing Peter to Paul, who arrived to Rome relatively late in the church’s history, Peter’s unique founding influence in the church becomes less likely.62 More likely, relatively obscure Christians made contributions to the church’s establishment, leading to a vital and growing community. As a parallel, Christianity surfaces in places like Cyprus and Cyrene without any apparent missionary journey by noted apostles (Acts 11:20). In the fourth century, the theologian Ambrosiaster shares a similar perspective on the beginnings of the Roman church:

It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law … One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ.”63

Scholars are quick to discount the value of Ambrosiaster’s viewpoint as independent testimony.64 Even so, one would expect that the memory of a prominent founder such as Peter or Paul would not likely be forgotten if one of them had indeed established the church of Rome.65

Lonely Pilgrim, a Protestant, wrote a well-researched article, ‘Early Testimonies to St Peter’s Ministry in Rome’. He wonders why anyone would dispute it:

This is somewhat surprising to me. Even as a Protestant, there was never any question in my mind that Peter ministered and died in Rome — perhaps because I’m also an historian. The historical evidence for Peter being in Rome is not just solid; it’s unanimous. Every historical record that speaks to Peter’s later life and death attests that he died in Rome a martyr under the emperor Nero, ca. A.D. 67. No record places the end of his life anywhere else.

Lonely Pilgrim points out that those who doubt Peter had much to do with the church in Rome are also the same people who support Paul’s presence there:

The primary reason for this opposition, I suspect, is that in a fundamentalist view, all religious truth must come from Scripture, sola scriptura — and it is not self-evident from Scripture that St. Peter was ever in Rome. This is also the reason why few Protestants seem to dispute that St. Paul was in Rome: because he tells us he was, repeatedly, in his scriptural epistles. Most more thoughtful Protestants realize that there is a difference between religious truth and historical truth, however intertwined the two may sometimes be; and historical sources are valid authorities for historical truth. These tend to be, incidentally, the Protestants least inclined toward anti-Catholicism.

Lonely Pilgrim cites the first of Peter’s letters:

But the Bible can be an historical source, too. And there is actually a significant testimony in the Bible to Peter’s presence in Rome. In the valediction of Peter’s first epistle, he wrote (1 Peter 5:13 ESV):

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.

Here the Greek grammar is clear: ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς (sends greetings to y’all) ἡ ἐν βαβυλῶνι (she who is in/at Babylon) συνεκλεκτὴ (she elected/chosen together) καὶ Μᾶρκος (and also Mark) ὁ υἱός μου (my son). Peter, writing the letter, and therefore sending the greetings, is obviously with “she who is at Babylon,” and also with Mark, “[his] son.” She elected is the Church, always personified as a woman; and Peter is with the Church. But the Church where? The ancient city of Babylon had been in ruins for centuries. Peter must have been speaking in a cryptic metaphor. The Babylon of the Bible was the capital of a vast, powerful empire, and stood at the height of sin and excess. Where else could that be in Peter’s day but Rome?

Writing under the emperor Nero, Peter would wisely have used discretion in revealing his whereabouts in writing, lest his letter be intercepted by Roman authorities. The symbolism that is transparent to Christians today would not have been so explicit to those not so steeped in the Old Testament or ancient Mesopotamian history.

Peter and Paul together in Rome

Lonely Pilgrim cites St Clement of Rome — an early bishop of the city — as mentioning that Peter and Paul were there together:

Among the earliest surviving testimony outside the Bible is the first letter of Clement (1 Clement), which is usually dated to around 95 or 96 A.D. Clement of Rome, as evident from the letter, was a high official of the Church in Rome, writing in exhortation to the Church at Corinth to settle a division between the established elders and an upstart faction. The Roman Catholic Church today holds St. Clement to have been the third bishop of Rome (i.e. pope); early patristic writers varied in their listings, placing Clement anywhere from second to fourth. His letter is a clear early example of the bishop of Rome exerting authority over other churches …

Clement was the first writer to place Saints Peter and Paul as a pair, as they have always been in the Roman Church. He showed a clear and personal knowledge of the deaths of both Peter and Paul, and he assumed that his recipients also knew the stories. Most Christians accept that Paul was martyred in Rome; it is not a far stretch to assume from Clement’s pairing of the two Apostles that he also believed Peter to have died in Rome. In fact, his grammar is revealing: Peter and Paul offered their example—their martyrdom—“among us” (ἐν ἡμῖν)—that is, among the Romans. Clement was consistent throughout his letter in the use of the pronouns ὑμεῖς (you, i.e. Corinthians) and ἡμεῖς (we, us, i.e. Romans).

St Ignatius of Antioch, Lonely Pilgrim says, wrote his Epistle to the Romans, which is dated between 98 and 117 AD:

Again he placed Peter and Paul as a pair, and implied that the Romans have had personal contact with the Apostles, who enjoined them with authority.

He also cites Irenaeus of Antioch, who wrote about Peter and Paul in Against Heresies III.1.1 and III.3.1-2:

Here we have, clearly stated, not only the statement that Saints Peter and Paul built the Church at Romenot that they were the first Christian missionaries there, but that by their apostolic ministry they laid its foundations—but also, Irenaeus affirmed the doctrines of Apostolic succession and Petrine primacy, unequivocally and authoritatively, at a date earlier than many Protestants would like to recognize. What is more, St. Irenaeus was not a partisan of the Church at Rome, but the Greek-born bishop of Lugdunum (today the city of Lyon in France). In the face of the growing threat of Gnosticism, the unity of the Church and the authority of Rome were more important than ever.

You can read the citations and more early testimonies from doctors of the Church at the link.

Conclusion

The church in Rome probably started thanks to Roman Jews who witnessed the first Pentecost in Jerusalem.

From there, Peter and Paul — separately and together — laid solid foundations for the church.

I’ll leave the final word to Dr MaGee:

Based on a study of relevant biblical and extra-biblical documents, it is generally agreed that non-apostolic Jewish Christians brought the faith of Christ to Rome in the early decades of the church. After generating both interest and controversy within the synagogues, Christianity was forced to reorganize in the wake of Claudius’s edict against the Jews. The resulting Gentile-dominated church that received Paul’s letter in the late 50’s met in small groups around the city of Rome but maintained communication and held onto a common identity and mission. Paul and Peter leave their mark on these believers, though they merely strengthen the work that had already begun to flourish in the capital city. Beyond these main points, scholars still differ on the exact timeline of the birth and growth of the Christian community, as well as on to what degree Roman reactions against Jewish instability stem from disagreements about Christ. When all is said though, the overall picture of the emergence of Christianity in Rome constitutes yet another significant example of God’s extraordinary work in the early church during the decades following Christ’s death and resurrection.

I hope this is helpful as an insight to the early church in Rome.

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