You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Forbidden Bible verses’ tag.

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 17:16-21

Paul in Athens

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

—————————————————————————————————————

My past two posts explained the first part of Acts 17: Paul’s establishing churches in Thessalonica and Berea.

These were important developments, as Paul wrote letters to the Thessalonians, who became very devout Christians. Berea appears in the Bible only this one time, but the Bereans are good Christian role models because, even before their conversion, they read Scripture regularly and properly discerned it.

As my posts explain, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica, where they were persecuted. The mob from that city then travelled to Berea to persecute the three again. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea for a time, until Paul received a divine command to summon them to Athens, where Bereans had escorted him.

As Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was overcome by the idolatry that pervaded the city (verse 16). Even though Paul was well versed in Greek philosophy, he found the sheer number of idols disturbing.

John MacArthur reminds us (emphases mine below):

Now I want us to set the picture, it’s a man and a city. It’s a simple thing. One man against one city. Look at the man. Let’s see what kind of a man he was. He was a Jew. And as a Jew he was beyond just being a Jew he was a Pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a student of the great teacher Gamaliel. He was expert in the law, he was expert in ceremonies, he was a leader,-..he was a teacher, he was an expert in the Old Testament. Beyond being a Jew he was a Roman, he was a Roman citizen. And with his Roman citizenship came that kind of special skill in secular affairs that belonged to the Romans, that special knowledge of the military and of politics. Beyond that he was a Greek, not by virtue of his heritage but by virtue of his environ­ment, he was raised in a place called Tarsus which was tremendously influenced by Greek culture. He was a Hellenistic man, he was exposed to Greek art and Greek philosophy. And so he had all of the bests of all of the worlds. He was a man who was cosmopolitan in every sense. And adding to those particu­lar things he had a brilliant and keen mind. He had an intense commitment to the cause he believed in. He was a tireless pursuer of any goal that he set. He was a matchless orator. He was a fearless preacher. He was a brilliant question and answer dialogue man. He was well read, he was well travelled. He was an extraordinary man.

MacArthur gives us a glimpse of Athens’ supremacy at the time, even though it was under Roman rule by then:

… some historians said Athens at the time of Paul was the intellectual center and the university of the world. The minds of that part of the world congregated in Athens. In fact, it was such – it was such a proud city that it even called its university The Eye of Greece and the Mother of Arts. And Athens offered a home, incidentally, to almost every god in existence. In a place called the Pantheon they had a god for everything. They had every god there and every public building in Athens was a shrine to a god. The record house, for example, like the Hall of Records today, was dedicated to the Mother of gods. The Council House housed a statue of Apollo and Jupiter and everything was religious. As I told you last week, some comments were made such as – You can easily find a god in Athens rather than a man. Gods were everywhere. And it was a pagan city in the fullest sense, super cultured. And all of its art had false deities in mind, great monuments were built, great beautiful buildings were built as tributes to gods. Apart from its religion was its tremendous philosophical bent. Socrates and Plato were from Athens. Athens was the adopted city of Aristotle, Epicurus who founded the Epicureans and Zeno who founded the Stoics. And here was the great mind of the world as it were. And from it came the directions that resulted in the activities of other parts of the world. So Athens was some city. Master­pieces of architecture, masterpieces of art, sculpture, the greatest orators who ever lived gave orations in Athens.

As he always did, Paul went to the synagogue to preach and he also went to the marketplace every day to discourse (verse 17). The Greek word for marketplace is agora. Matthew Henry has more …

He entered into conversation with all that came in his way about matters of religion: In the market–en te agora, in the exchange, or place of commerce, he disputed daily, as he had occasion, with those that met with him, or that he happened to fall into company with, that were heathen, and never came to the Jews’ synagogue.

… as does MacArthur:

The marketplace is interesting, it’s the word agora, and in the towns in those times they had a center place, maybe a large area, court kind of a thing, you know, the public buildings were there, the temples were there and around this big area would be a colonnade. And in the colonnade would be little shops and farmers would even bring on the outside areas their cattle in and any goods they’d raised on the countryside and it was a big marketplace. And in the middle area philosophers would walk around with their little groups, you know, and there was always a group of people in the agora, many different kinds, you know, there were peripatetic teachers, philosophers, magicians, hucksters, you know, step right up, folks – that kind of thing, sleight of hand artists.

Paul could debate with the most educated of men, and did so with the Stoics and Epicureans he encountered (verse 18).

Henry explains the Epicureans’ philosophy:

The Epicureans, who thought God altogether such a one as themselves, an idle inactive being, that minded nothing, nor put any difference between good and evil. They would not own, either that God made the world or that he governs it; nor that man needs to make any conscience of what he says or does, having no punishment to fear nor rewards to hope for, all which loose atheistical notions Christianity is levelled against. The Epicureans indulged themselves in all the pleasures of sense, and placed their happiness in them, in what Christ has taught us in the first place to deny ourselves.

MacArthur tells us:

… they got their name from Epicurus who was a philosopher in Athens who has started this movement. He was born in about 342 B.C. so he was long dead and this is like 400 years later but his movement is still going great. Now Epicureans just to give you a little identification believed – 1. that everything happened by chance. They believed everything happened by chance. There was no real reason or rhyme for anything and nobody was running the show. They were the rationalists, see. Second thing, death was the end of everything. You died and that was it. Three, there were gods, they believed in all the gods but they figured the gods were remote and didn’t get involved and didn’t care. Now if you believe everything happens by chance and death is the end of everything and nobody up there cares then the fourth principle of Epicureans is very easy, – pleasure is the main purpose in life. Translated into the modern day – grab all the gusto you can get – you only go around once. See. Which is a very, – which is a beer version of existentialism. Pleasure is the chief end of men. Listen if you believe everything happened by chance and everything was random and you believed that death was the end of everything and you just went into the grave and it was over and you believed that there weren’t any gods who cared what you did, you’d be an Epicurean too, wouldn’t you? Atheistic rationalism ends up in pleasure is the chief end of men. Grab it here, grab it now, do your own thing, live it up. This is ancient existentialism.

Henry describes Stoicism as follows:

The Stoics, who thought themselves altogether as good as God, and indulged themselves as much in the pride of life as the Epicureans did in the lusts of the flesh and of the eye; they made their virtuous man to be no way inferior to God himself, nay to be superior. Esse aliquid quo sapiens antecedat Deum–There is that in which a wise man excels God, so Seneca: to which Christianity is directly opposite, as it teaches us to deny ourselves and abase ourselves, and to come off from all confidence in ourselves, that Christ may be all in all.

MacArthur has this:

… the Stoics. They were the nice guys. They weren’t out each for themselves. They were sort of the humanitarian bunch. They believed, first of all, that everything was God … You know what pantheism is? It’s atheism. If everything’s God, nothing’s God. So everything is God. Secondly, everything is the will of God. No matter what happens in the will of God wills it. They were fatalists. See. The will of God [is] everything. And they believed every so often the world disintegrated and then started all over again. It goes through that cycle every so many years. And, of course, for them believing that every­thing was God, everything was sort of divine and they were Gods and they had to act like Gods and they had to treat everybody else like Gods

The one attribute that both commentators left out about Stoicism is actually a good one: the lack of extreme emotion — no tears, no anger, no complaining.

Some of the Stoics and Epicureans were interested in conversing with Paul (verse 18). While some called him a babbler, others were intrigued by what they understood to be a foreign deity and a resurrection.

Henry explains ‘babbler’, which has always had negative connotations as someone spouting whatever comes into his head:

Some called him a babbler, and thought he spoke, without any design, whatever came uppermost, as men of crazed imaginations do: What will this babbler say? ho spermologos houtos–this scatterer of words, that goes about, throwing here one idle word or story and there another, without any intendment or signification; or, this picker up of seeds. Some of the critics tell us that the term is used for a little sort of bird, that is worth nothing at all, either for the spit or for the cage, that picks up the seeds that lie uncovered, either in the field or by the way-side, and hops here and there for that purpose–Avicula parva quæ semina in triviis dispersa colligere solet; such a pitiful contemptible animal they took Paul to be, or supposed he went from place to place venting his notions to get money, a penny here and another there, as that bird picks up here and there a grain. They looked upon him as an idle fellow, and regarded him, as we say, no more than a ballad-singer.

MacArthur says the babbler is a gutter-sparrow, or guttersnipe:

It was referred to a gutter-sparrow. The gutter-sparrows, you know, they go around and pick up little bits and pieces and scraps of stuff and, you know, that’s how they live. And so this common term which really refers to gutter-sparrows became used for paupers who prowled around the marketplace, parasites who lived off what they could pick up. And it was translated into the philosophy thing and what they were saying was, – Paul, you’re not telling us a philosophy you’re nothing but a philosophical seed-picker. You’ve picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and religion and slapped it all together and you’re trying to pawn it off as knowledge. See. It’s like calling him an eclectic in a negative sense. What an uneducated babble you’re trying to pawn off, bits and scraps of all kinds of random philosophies and religions being passed off as information that is true. And so they mocked him.

As brainy as these fellows were, they did not understand the truth of Christ and the Resurrection, but interpreted both as new gods. Henry gives us the Greek expression:

Ton Iesoun kai ten anastasin, “Jesus they took for a new god, and anastasis, the resurrection, for a new goddess.” Thus they lost the benefit of the Christian doctrine by dressing it up in a pagan dialect, as if believing in Jesus, and looking for the resurrection, were the worshipping of new demons.

Wow.

But, don’t Christians run into similar opposition today? It’s a pity this passage isn’t in the three-year Lectionary. MacArthur gave the sermon I’m citing in 1973 at his church in southern California. Even then, atheism was rife, but, of course, it’s always been around. Atheists continue to give the same objections they always have:

You know, it’s an old story with Christianity but everybody who really believes the Bible and really preaches it at one time or another runs into the mockers who say you’re … intellectually not with it, you – you just, I mean, that’s old wives tales, that’s for old ladies and little kids that believe that Christianity bit. I mean, we intellectuals[,] we’re past that. You know, I get that when I go on a college campus. And I don’t pose to be an intellectlual. But, you know[,] you always hear well, you know Christianity is not even intelligent, well, it’s not even reasonable all that stuff in [the] Bible.

YES!!!

One of the reasons I keep writing Forbidden Bible Verses is to show the truth of the Scripture to those who doubt it. (The other is to learn it better myself.)

But I digress.

The interested philosophers took him to the Areopagus to give him an audience for his ‘new teaching’ (verse 19). There is much to unpack in that verse.

First, Areopagus, translated into English, is Mars Hill. Ares was the Greek god of war. Mars was the Roman god of war. Pagus means hill.

The Areopagus was the most important and most learned place in Athens, as Henry describes. Furthermore, it was the place where new gods could be approved. The philosophers thought Paul would put forward a new deity for approval:

… it was the town-house, or guildhall of their city, where the magistrates met upon public business, and the courts of justice were kept; and it was as the theatre in the university, or the schools, where learned men met to communicate their notions. The court of justice which sat here was famous for its equity, which drew appeals to it from all parts; if any denied a god, he was liable to the censure of this court. Diagoras was by them put to death, as a contemner of the gods; nor might any new god be admitted without their approbation. Hither they brought Paul to be tried, not as a criminal but as a candidate.

Secondly, anything ‘new’ in Athens at that time was seen as intriguing and novel (verse 21). Enquiring minds wanted to know. This is why we call current affairs and any recent information ‘news‘.

Paul explained the risen Christ to them in words they could understand, i.e. from a pagan perspective. More on that next time.

Next time — Acts 17:32-34

Advertisements

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

Bible readingThe 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 16:11-15

The Conversion of Lydia

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the[a] district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about the travels of Paul, Silas and Timothy in Asia Minor and the vision Paul received one night of a call to Macedonia. Luke, the author of Acts, joined the three in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

The four were on their way across the Aegean Sea to Samothrace (Thracia in the map below). From Troas, the journey would not have been far. This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58363914’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

They then went to Neapolis (verse 11) and on to Philippi, home to the Philippians and an important city of Macedonia (verse 12).

The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless. This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

In the map, Philippi is inland in the southern part of Thrace.

Luke wrote that the four stayed in the Roman colony of Philippi for several days. Matthew Henry’s commentary gives the rationale for beginning the Macedonian ministry there (emphases mine):

they began with the first city, because, if the gospel were received there, it would the more easily spread thence all the country over. (2.) It was a colony. The Romans not only had a garrison, but the inhabitants of the city were Romans, the magistrates at least, and the governing part. There were the greatest numbers and variety of people, and therefore the most likelihood of doing good.

John MacArthur tells us more about Philippi:

One of the reasons it was important was it was located on what was called the Egnatian Highway Now the Egnatian Highway was one of those massive Roman accomplishments, it was a road 490 miles long. Now that would have been built by hand … The Romans had built this road as a military access to the east. It ran from the western coast of Macedonia on the Adriatic Sea to across Macedonia to the Aegean Sea up and then right across the top area there and it went right through Philippi. So Philippi was a very important area. It was an area where there was much traffic and trade and military movement. Incidentally that road was built in about 146 B.C. Another footnote on that, if you took the Egnatian west you’d finally hit the Adriatic Sea. You take a boat across the Adriatic Sea and it would connect up with another road in Italy called the Appian Way which you may be familiar with. Well, that was one long extension of highway just separated by two of those little, that little sea the Adriatic and the Aegean. And so they were well-known geographical areas.

On the Sabbath, the four men went outside the city gates to the riverside to talk to women who had gathered for prayer (verse 13). Henry’s commentary says there was no synagogue and they were not going to preach in a pagan temple. Also note that the man who appeared in Paul’s vision was not to be found in Philippi. Hence the ministry among the women. MacArthur makes an important point:

You say, – You mean that the whole gospel spread in Europe is going to begin with a bunch of women? Listen, my dear friend, the gospel spread all over the world has been beginning with women for years. Just check out the nearest list of missionaries that you have and find out. In Christ there is neither male nor female.

He says that the women were probably exiled Jews:

There’s a sad thing, you know, they loved their temple, they didn’t have that. And you remember when they had been carried off into Babylon they founded those places called synagogues, remember Psalm 137, they sat by the rivers of Babylon and yes, we wept, it says in Psalm 137. And here were some exiled and only women, no men to lead them, no men to teach them. But they faithfully met.

MacArthur surmises that Paul found out where these women worshipped. A waterside location would have also been important for them for ritual cleansing purposes.

One of the women listening to the four was Lydia from Thyatira, later home to one of the churches in Revelation. Lydia sold purple goods (verse 14). Purple goods refers to dye and/or cloth. Thyatira was a long way from Philippi. Lydia probably moved there for better business opportunities.

MacArthur tells us:

Incidentally, Thyatira was famous for purple dye. Homer in the Iliad says the art of the women in Thyatira and the area is the art of dyeing with purple. So we have historical evidence that this woman came from the right place and she did what the women in that area did.

Proper purple was reserved for the wealthiest people in those days, and there was a cheaper kind of dye for everyone else. MacArthur explains the dyeing process and thinks Lydia was involved with the cheaper dye:

There were two kinds of dyes they used. The first kind was for the rich people. You know, most of the purple stuff was for, you know, royalty and all that. And they used to extract this purple dye drop by drop from a little thing called a murex which was a shellfish. And they would catch these shellfish and they would extract drop by drop this precious purple dye and really super rich people would have purple dye from the murex shellfish for their garments. And like everything, once the elite get it all of us peons want to get in on the thing, so the next thing you know they had to come up with a second class dye and they got it from an extraction from a madder root and they used that for the commoner’s dye. Well, she was in this business. And she was the one that the Lord had in mind, unbelievable, as Paul’s first convert in Europe. God was going to begin the work with a woman

Luke included two spiritual details about Lydia: she worshipped God and she opened her heart to Paul’s words.

MacArthur thinks that Lydia was probably a Gentile who became a God-fearer, the name the Jews gave to Gentile worshippers who did not fully convert or follow all aspects of Mosaic law.

Divine grace was working in her as she took in Paul’s words. She and her household were baptised (verse 15). She then invited the four to stay at her house, provided, she said, they judged her as being faithful to the Lord. They must have been reluctant, because Lydia ‘prevailed upon us’, meaning that she insisted they be her guests.

No doubt, she wanted to learn more from them. Henry has this:

She desired an opportunity of receiving further instruction. If she might but have them for awhile in her family, she might hear them daily (Proverbs 8:34), and not merely on sabbath days at the meeting. In her own house she might not only hear them, but ask them questions; and she might have them to pray with her daily, and to bless her household. Those that know something of Christ cannot but desire to know more, and seek opportunities of increasing their acquaintance with his gospel.

MacArthur says the church in Philippi was in Lydia’s home and tells us what happened later when Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians:

Lydia’s house became the place where the church meets. Look at verse 40; “They went out of the prison and returned entered into the house of Lydia and when they had seen the brethren they comforted them and departed.” Now the church met in Lydia’s house. So Lydia became a leader in the church. The little prosukee by the river became God’s ekklesia, God’s church in Philippi. You say, – But it was only womenYou say, – Well, where are the men? Ah, they’re there, verse 40. I don’t know – they must have been in Lydia’s household and the jailor and maybe his household. They [our four preachers, referring to the next part of Acts 16, coming next week] went out of the prison and went into the house of Lydia where they had seen the what? The brethren, there’s got to be some men, that’s a collective term but if it was only women they wouldn’t have used brethren. So there were some men there. But you know, what’s interesting. In later date, that little church that began with that group of women, some of those women still wanted to run things. They did … Phil. chapter 4, you know Paul loved the church at Philippi, he just loved them so much. Look at chapter 1 for a minute verse 3; he says, Phil. 1; “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He says, I’m just so excited about all of you, “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day“, what was the first day? We’ve Just been there, haven’t we? For that first day by the river. Oh, did he love them. But he says, You’ve got one problem named Euodias and Syntyche, both ladies. Verse 1, pardon me, verse 2 of chapter 4, “I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Now he says, I’m going to ask you true-yoke-fellow, the Greek is suzugos and it is likely a proper name so he says, Suzugos, help those ladies, get that issue straightened out. Here were a couple of women who were problematic. Now there’s no hierarchy in the body of Christ, men and women, male and female are one in Christ. But in the church the men are set to put things in order. So he says to this man, Suzugos, you take charge over these women and get them together. They are dear women who labored with Clement and with me in the gospel.

I enjoy reading about Lydia, a great female role model from the ancient world: a good businesswoman, a good hostess — and a good Christian. The world could certainly use more Lydias.

Next time — Acts 16:35-40

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 16:6-10

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

———————————————————————————–

Last week’s post introduced Timothy, who was from the area around Derbe and Lystra, where Paul and Silas were visiting the churches that the Apostle and Barnabas had established. They showed the churches the letter from the Council of Jerusalem about not having to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law.

Now the men were going into Asia Minor. John MacArthur tells us:

Paul was there, Silas was there, Timothy was there …

This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58363914’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

The preachers went to Phyrgia and Galatia (see the centre of the map), but the Holy Spirit forbade them from going further eastward (verse 6). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why (emphases mine below):

They were forbidden at this time to preach the gospel in Asia (the country properly so called), because it did not need, other hands being at work there; or because the people were not yet prepared to receive it, as they were afterwards (Acts 19:10), when all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord; or, as Dr. Lightfoot suggests, because at this time Christ would employ Paul in a piece of new work, which was to preach the gospel to a Roman colony at Philippi, for hitherto the Gentiles to whom he had preached were Greeks.

As for Phyrgia and Galatia:

it should seem, the gospel was already planted, but whether by Paul’s hand or no is not mentioned; it is likely it was, for in his epistle to the Galatians he speaks of his preaching the gospel to them at the first, and how very acceptable he was among them, Galatians 4:13-15.

They then travelled northwest to Mysia and tried to go northeast from there to reach Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it (verse 7).

John MacArthur explains that the men — Paul, in particular — would have accepted these divine decisions and sought to know where to go instead:

if you understand something of the persistence of Paul, you will know that he managed to wiggle a fine line between Bithynia and Asia and go along like that. And here was the persistence of a man that made him what he was. And in a sense we may believe that God actually closed all the visible doors in order to prove the faithfulness and the determination of this man Paul which would make him, really, the kind of man that God was really going to use. And it’s a great thing for us, you know, when you see doors slam, keep moving that may be God’s test of your faithfulness and out of that test may grow your capacity to do the job that really needs to be done. If you find yourself balking and folding when the first door closes it may be that you’ll never see much of a door again after that. But if you’re persistent as they were God will open some marvelous things.

So they ‘passed by’ — or through, probably preaching in — Mysia on their way westward to Troas, on the coast (verse 8). Henry gives us some insight about Mysia, which was not the nicest of places:

They came to Mysia, and, as it should seem, preached the gospel there; for though it was a very mean contemptible country, even to a proverb (Mysorum ultimus, in Cicero, is a most despicable man), yet the apostles disdained not to visit it, owning themselves debtors both to the wise and to the unwise, Romans 1:14.

Troas’s major city was Troia, or Troy, home of the Trojans. MacArthur explains:

Now Troas was named Alexander Troas for Alexander, Alexander the Great. It was a town that became somewhat well-known, ten miles away from Troas was the city of Troy and I’m sure we’re all aware of Trojans which comes from that.

Now this particular place had been a Greek city, a free Greek city until Caesar Augustus made it a Roman Colony. So Troas became a Roman Colony. This whole territory along the coast there on the eastern seaboard of the Aegean Sea was very famous. Helen of Troy, the great heroes of the Trojan War, Homer, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Thales, Heraclitus a lot of very, very famous Greek names came from that area there. It was as Greek really as the land of Greece just across the Aegean Sea. It had been saturated and infiltrated by these Greek people.

In Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia urging him to ‘help us’ (verse 9) and recognised this as divine intervention. MacArthur elaborates:

God immediately gave them direction in verse 9. “A vision appeared to Paul. He saw a Macedonian man” perhaps he recognized him because of his attire or maybe the man said he was from Macedonia, apart from what he did say. “He said, Come over into Macedonia and help us.” There was the call of God in a dream, in a vision, at night.

The men prepared to go to Macedonia. The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless.

This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

It is interesting to look at the cities on the map. We find some of the names or people in the New Testament, specifically in Paul’s letters (e.g. Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth) and in Revelation (Smyrna).

In closing, note a change of person in verse 10: ‘we’, meaning that Luke, the author of Acts, joined the men in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

MacArthur tells us:

Here, somehow, Luke joins up. Now we don’t know the circumstances. We do know that Luke was a doctor, he was a physician, and it may have been that Paul had one of his chronic ailments act up in Troas and they managed to find a local doctor. When this local doctor plugged into Paul they had a house physician from then on because he went with them. But here, apparently, Luke joins up and it becomes a ‘we’ so the author is indicating himself in the situation.

It isn’t much of a journey by boat from Troy to reach Thrace.

More on their mission next week.

Next time — Acts 16:11-15

Bible readingThe 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 16:1-5

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

16 Paul[a] came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers[b] at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed the point at which Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways after a heated quarrel over whether to take John Mark with them. Paul did not want to make the same mistake twice. The post mentions the verses from Paul’s letters wherein he wrote, some years later, good words about both John Mark and Barnabas. Outside of that, we read no more of Barnabas or John Mark, both of whom went to Cyprus to strengthen the churches there.

Acts 16 is rather exciting as we read of Timothy and Lydia for the first time. Paul and Silas ended up in prison, Paul drove an evil spirit out of a woman and a jailer converted.

Paul and Barnabas had established churches in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 14, also see here). Timothy was from that area (verse 1). He was the son of a Greek Gentile and a Jewish woman who converted. Her name was Eunice, and her mother’s name was Lois. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Paul speaks of them both with great respect, as women of eminent virtue and piety, and commends them especially for their unfeigned faith (2 Timothy 1:5), their sincerely embracing and adhering to the doctrine of Christ.

If, like me, you are puzzled by a Jew and Gentile marrying so long ago, Henry explains (emphases mine):

The marriage of a Jewish woman to a Gentile husband (though some would make a difference) was prohibited as much as the marriage of a Jewish man to a Gentile wife, Deuteronomy 7:3. Thou shalt no more give thy daughter to his son than take his daughter to thy son; yet this seems to have been limited to the nations that lived among them in Canaan, whom they were most in danger of infection from.

The congregations at the churches in Lystra and Iconium — also in the area — spoke highly of Timothy. Timothy was another part of God’s plan to increase the Church. John MacArthur tells us:

What a perfect choice. Here’s a guy that’s from the Roman Empire. He’s got an in with the gentiles and he’s got the potentiality of having an in with the Jews. He’s the perfect man, the kind of the man of the world that can go both ways, and again God’s selection of personnel is just remarkable as he selects out this one young man.

Now people say, “How old was Timothy when this started?” The best guess would be between 16 and 25 years old. He was a young man and I think Paul enjoyed the opportunity to disciple young men. He hadn’t had great success with John Mark. I think he looked forward to success with Timothy. I think this is a great way to teach incidentally.

Henry has more:

he was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium; he had not only an unblemished reputation, and was free from scandal, but he had a bright reputation, and great encomiums were given of him, as an extraordinary young man, and one from whom great things were expected. Not only those in the place where he was born, but those in the neighbouring cities, admired him, and spoke honourably of him. He had a name for good things with good people.

Paul wanted Timothy to minister alongside him and had him circumcised because everyone knew him as a Greek Gentile (verse 3). That verse made me pause. Acts 15 was all about the Jerusalem Council, which determined that converted Gentiles did not need to be circumcised.

Both Henry and MacArthur emphasise that Timothy was half Jewish and half Gentile. In order for Timothy to minister effectively to Jews as well as Gentiles, he would have to have a sign that he was indeed Jewish, even if he was seen to be a Gentile because of his patrilineal side.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

You know what? Some people have read this and Ramsey in his book just goes bananas at this point and accuses Paul of all kinds of things. He says, “Paul was a Judaizer here. Paul has fallen into the circumcision air. He was down there in Jerusalem and the circumcision came and said, ‘Well you’ve got to be circumcised’ and what does he do? He goes and circumcises some guy. That isn’t necessary for salvation” but beloved, that isn’t the point. It doesn’t say he circumcised Timothy so he could get saved. It says he circumcised him because of what? The Jews in those quarters.

Now watch this. Timothy was a half-Jew and half-gentile. IF he was not circumcised the Jews would assume then that he had accepted his gentile identity. True? Because circumcision was the very mark of Judaism. So the Jew would’ve assumed that he accepted gentile characteristics, and so Paul recognizing that the key to reaching the Jewish people and that was the first place he went in every new town wasn’t it, the Synagogue? The key was that Timothy had all this Jewish character. He had been brought up in a synagogue situation. All he needed to do was just get circumcised and he would have full entrance and full acceptance among the Jews and it wouldn’t hinder his work among the gentiles. And so it was for expediency’s sake; it was not for salvation’s sake. It was just to allow the ministry to function more smoothly.

Paul explains this manner of thinking in 1 Corinthians 9. MacArthur tells us Paul wanted to reach Jews and Gentiles on equal terms, which is why he wrote:

To the Jews I became as a Jew. To those that are under the law as under the law though I myself am not under the law.” He says, “I become all things to all men that” what? “That by any means I might win some.” Now that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-20 and following. Paul is looking at expediency.

However:

Titus came along and Paul forb[ade] Titus to be circumcised. Absolutely no, and some people are confused why he let Timothy get circumcised and not Titus simple answer. Titus was a gentile. To circumcise a gentile would then have been to impose legalism but to circumcise a Jew already a Jew was simply to allow him the liberty to be more effective. He would’ve been wrong to circumcise Titus. He would’ve been wrong not to circumcise Timothy for the sake of effectiveness.

MacArthur explains that this principle of being all things to all men still applies today. Some mistakenly look at it as meaning wishy-washy unity at all costs. No, it means the ability to reach people on their own cultural and/or religious terms when giving them the Good News:

If you’re going to witness to Jews you’re going to need to know be able to know a little bit about Judaism. If you’re going to witness to somebody who’s in the Roman Catholic church you ought to be able to know a little bit about them so that you can approach them on a tactful basis and the same is true with other religions and other systems of religion and so forth. If you’re gonna talk to a man who happens to be a fanatic on this and this, maybe if you know a little about what he knows about you can gain an entrance into his heart.

Henry posits that Paul confirmed Timothy in the Holy Spirit after his circumcision:

It is probable that it was at this time that Paul laid his hands on Timothy, for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon him, 2 Timothy 1:6.

Timothy joined Paul and Silas as they travelled to the churches in the various cities. Remember that Paul wanted to go back and visit the churches that he and Barnabas established (Acts 15:36):

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Also important during these visits was to show each church the decision about circumcision that the Jerusalem Council reached (verse 4). Recall that the Judaisers had followed Paul and Barnabas after they established churches and gave the Gentile converts false teachings about having to be circumcised. Now Paul returned to prove to them that that the Judaisers were wrong. MacArthur reminds us:

The decision of the Jerusalem Council, and what did they decide? Go back to verse 11, chapter 15. Here’s their message. “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” That was their message wasn’t it? Salvation by grace through faith, but there was something else to it. Oh yes. You remember they had said, “We want to add this, that you abstain from blood and things strangled and fornication and things offered to idols.” Why? So you don’t offend.

As a result of these visits, the churches were strengthened in the faith and their numbers grew (verse 5).

We shouldn’t confuse that increase with the modern day false teaching of ‘church growth’. These churches grew because they maintained purity in doctrine, worship and behaviour. They were Spirit-filled. They did not need to have coffee mornings or children’s playtime in the afternoon. These were people who, first and foremost, loved God through His Son Jesus Christ. They had the love, they had the doctrine and, because of these things, through the Holy Spirit, it grew from there.

Churches with pure doctrine do not need growth gimmicks or formulaic programmes! John MacArthur’s is a case in point.

It is apposite at this point to find out more about Timothy. MacArthur explains the use of ‘was’ regarding Timothy’s father in verse 1:

As an interesting footnote the particular imperfect tense that is used in relationship to Timothy’s father indicates that Timothy’s father was perhaps dead. It would be that he was a Greek with the emphasis on the “was” indicating that perhaps at the point it was written he was dead, so he may have been just the son of a widow, but Paul saw something good in him, something potential.

He also gives us an interesting insight into verse 3 — Paul’s desire to have Timothy join him — and what happened years later:

The last time Eunice and Lois saw Paul you know where he was? He was blood-soaked and he was lying on the city dump. He had just been stoned. And here he was saying, “I’d like to invite your son to come along on our missionary efforts. How about it, Mom?” That’s quite a sacrifice, right? They don’t know what’s gonna happen but they let him go, and you know they had a little official meeting? They sure did.

1 Timothy 4:14 this gives us a little indication of that meeting. Paul says to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given to thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbyters or the elders.” In other words they had a little commissioning and they laid their hands on them. Here Paul was reminding Timothy not to forget that they had ordained them. Same things in 2 Timothy 1 verse 6 he says, “I want to put you in remembrance. Stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” so they had a little commissioning service ordaining him, laying hands on him, praying for him, standing behind him, and they sent him out as a representative of the church right there in Lystra and Derbe, and the Lord had filled up the ranks of his team – Paul, Silas, Timothy.

If Timothy’s father was dead, Paul stepped in as spiritual adviser and mentor. He loved Timothy as if he were family:

Paul called Timothy, “My true child in the faith” verse Timothy 1:2. He called him “My son” he called him “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 4 and he called him “my beloved child” in 2 Timothy 1. Now many people for many years have read those and have said, “Now that means that Paul led Timothy to Christ” but you know something? You cannot find that in Scripture. Nowhere does it say that Paul led Timothy to Christ. You say, “But he calls him his spiritual son.” Ah, but watch this beautiful fact. I just love this.

2 Timothy 1:5 he says, “I’m running to you, Timothy. I call to remembrance the unframed faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother, Lois and your mother, Eunice and I am persuaded that it’s also in you” which indicates that he really did not necessarily know about Timothy, all the facts. You know who I believe Paul led to Christ? Lois and Eunice the first time through. You know who I believe led Timothy to Christ? Lois and Eunice.

Looking at all of those verses together, we see that another beautiful part of God’s plan came to fruition. What blessings for Paul, Timothy, Eunice and Lois.

More to come next week.

Next time — Acts 16:6-10

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 15:36-41

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed the encouraging letter to the Gentiles in the church of Antioch (Syria) from the church in Jerusalem, the product of the Jerusalem Council.

The Jerusalem Council was now over. Paul, Barnabas and Silas, from Jerusalem, stayed on a while in Antioch to continue to nurture the church there. Recall that Barnabas started the church in that great trading city and called for Paul (Saul, at that time) to come and help him minister to the ever increasing numbers of converts there.

After theologically reasurring the Gentiles, they were ready to leave. Paul suggested to Barnabas that they go to the churches in other areas which they founded (verse 36). Paul felt a spiritual obligation to return to build up their faith. He also had much love for his congregations.

Barnabas agreed but wanted to take John Mark, his relative (verse 37). Matthew Henry says John Mark was Barnabas’s nephew. John MacArthur says he was Barnabas’s cousin. Either way, they had a blood relationship.

Those who have been following this series recognise John Mark’s name from Acts 12 and Acts 13 (here and here). The second Acts 13 link explains why John Mark possibly did not want to be in that part of Asia Minor. It was dangerous with the Taurus Mountains and bandits. Another possible factor was that, Paul effectively became head of the Antioch church. John Mark might not have liked that his relative Barnabas was no longer the spiritual leader. In any event, John Mark returned to Jerusalem.

Paul certainly had not forgotten. St Luke, the author of Acts, saw fit to mention that John Mark had bailed out at Pamphylia (verse 38). Consider Paul’s personality based on the information Luke gave us in Acts. Paul was strong-willed and on fire for Christ. John Mark had a track record with him that was not very good. He probably did not want to make the same mistake again.

MacArthur explains:

Well, Paul was a strong guy and there’s one thing that’s hard for strong people to tolerate – weakness. Paul was courageous and there’s one thing hard for courageous people to tolerate, that’s cowardice.

Then, in contrast to all the Spirit-led behaviour we have read previously, Paul and Barnabas had a ‘sharp disagreement’ such that they went their separate ways (verse 39).

Matthew Henry’s commentary warns those of us — myself included — who feel empathy for the two men in their strongly felt passions:

We must own it was their infirmity, and is recorded for our admonition; not that we must make use of it to excuse our own intemperate heats and passions, or to rebate the edge of our sorrow and shame for them; we must not say, “What if I was in a passion, were not Paul and Barnabas so?” No; but it must check our censures of others, and moderate them.

MacArthur says (emphases mine):

Verse 39, “The contention was so sharp” paroxysm, a sharp contention, “between them that they departed asunder.” It doesn’t say that they shook hands, put their arms around each other and said, “Well bless you, brother but we’re going to part.” You know what the word is for departed asunder? It’s only used one other time in the New Testament and that’s Revelations 6:14 when an apocalyptic disaster, the Heavens departed. So when they departed, they departed. There wasn’t a lot of love there.

It is pretty amazing that they didn’t call a time out and reconcile the next day through prayer and apologies.

That said, God works everything to His plan. This split also produced good for the Church.

Barnabas and ‘Mark’ (note the name change) went to Cyprus (verse 40).

Acts 13 describes the founding of the church in Cyprus: here and here. At the instruction of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 13:1-3, which represents the narrative shifting from Jerusalem to a Gentile Church), Barnabas, Saul and John Mark (author of the Gospel of Mark) set sail from Seleucia for Cyprus to preach the Good News in synagogues from east to west on the island. They began at Salamis on the east coast and travelled to the west coast. Their final destination was Paphos, off the coast of which the goddess Venus was said to have been born. The sorcerer (‘magician’) Bar-Jesus — also known as Elymas — was Satan’s instrument to disrupt their ministry. Sergius Paulus was a learned man who was the island’s Roman governor. He summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear about the Word of God.

The second link (previous paragraph) has the story of Paul’s confrontation with the sorcerer Elymas. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Paul struck Elymas — Bar-Jesus — blind for his attempt to subvert Paulus Sergius’s conversion. Elymas needed friends to guide him around.

Both Henry and MacArthur mention that Cyprus was Barnabas’s homeland, so the many churches he had helped to establish there on a coast-to-coast journey with Paul and Mark, were especially important to him.

Paul and Silas went in another direction, with the blessing of the church in Antioch (verse 40). That is of note. Antioch did not give a recommendation to either Barnabas or Mark. Henry explains that those in Antioch thought that Barnabas should have accepted Paul’s — the leader’s — decision and not argue about it:

They thought he was in the right in refusing to make use of John Mark, and could not but blame Barnabas for insisting upon it, though he was one who had deserved well of the church (Acts 11:22) before they knew Paul; and therefore they prayed publicly for Paul, and for the success of his ministry, encouraged him to go on in his work, and, though they could do nothing themselves to further him, they transferred the matter to the grace of God, leaving it to that grace both to work upon him and to work with him.

MacArthur arrives at the same assessment but thinks Barnabas and Mark hurried to Cyprus as a result of a lack of commendation:

One, Paul really was an apostolic authority over Barnabas and I feel that if Barnabas was truly the man that he should’ve been at that moment he would’ve submitted to Paul’s apostolic authority. This is an issue I think is important. Paul was in terms of Christ the one who stood in rank next to Christ, and had Barnabas been what he should’ve been there would’ve been some submission.

Second reason. The Lord in the end – and since I believe in the sovereignty of God this is important – the Lord in the end did not have Mark go with Paul, did he? And it seems to me that that then was the plan of God that Mark not go originally. Now God of course had all of this within the framework of His plan but God did not plan for Mark to go and so it seems perhaps then that Barnabas was truly out of line in bringing Mark along or desiring to.

Third reason, verse 40. “Paul chose Silas and departed being commended by the brethren under the grace of God.” The church definitely recognized the duo of Paul and Silas and perhaps they had the mind of the Spirit on that and so they commended them. There is no such commendation of Barnabas and Mark. In fact you get the idea a little bit in verse 39 that they kind of hustled to Cyprus.

Fourthly, I feel in my own mind that it was a lot better for Mark to go with Barnabas than it would’ve been for him to go along with him anyway. I think it would’ve been awfully tough on Mark to go along with Paul when he knew all the time that Paul didn’t trust him, so I think the Spirit worked it out beautifully. That’s just my opinion for what it’s worth and you can deal with it in your own mind. Anyway, they took off, but I want you to remember this.

Later on, as Timothy’s ministry developed, Paul recommended Mark to him. Paul also recommended him to the Colossians. Henry states:

… Paul afterwards seems to have had, though not upon second thoughts, yet upon further trial, a better opinion of John Mark than now he had; for he writes to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:11), Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry; and he writes to the Colossians concerning Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, that if he came to them they should receive him, bid him welcome, and employ him (Colossians 4:10) …

The lesson here being that we should not be too harsh in judgement (‘great deal of temper’ below means ‘restraint’):

(1.) That even those whom we justly condemn we should condemn moderately, and with a great deal of temper, because we know not but afterwards we may see cause to think better of them, and both to make use of them and make friendship with them, and we should so regulate our resentments that if it should prove so we may not afterwards be ashamed of them. (2.) That even those whom we have justly condemned, if afterwards they prove more faithful, we should cheerfully receive, forgive and forget, and put a confidence in, and, as there is occasion, give a good word to.

On Henry’s first point, I know someone who really disliked a then-new business associate of his to the point that they had harsh words for each other during a meeting with several other participants. It turned out, some weeks later at a subsequent meeting, that each had misunderstood what the other was saying. They were aiming for the same solution via different routes. Fortunately, the two became friends, worked closely together for several years and met each other socially for dinner.

Paul and Silas went through Syria and then on to Cicilia (verse 41). No doubt Paul was delighted not only to visit the churches outside of Antioch, as Henry puts it, but to also introduce Silas to them. Afterwards, Paul was probably also pleased to return to preach in his homeland, Cicilia, in Asia Minor. Together, the two strengthened the churches.

In conclusion, existing churches were strengthened by return visits from two teams of preachers and teachers. The lead men — Paul and Barnabas — also had with them new assistants, as it were, who would have their own ministries. Silas might have been further along his spiritual journey than Mark, because he was a ‘prophet’ (Acts 15:32). The Holy Spirit was working through the four marvellously.

In closing, a word about John Mark being Mark of the Gospel. Henry doubted it, but MacArthur is quite sure of this. We can also be confident that Paul and Barnabas reconciled:

Barnabas later was commended by Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:6, Paul mentions him there. He held no continuing animosity, not Paul, not at all, and Mark, I mean Paul absolutely loved Mark but Paul was in Rome in jail and he wrote to Timothy and he says, “Timothy, come and be with me. Demas has forsaken me having loved the present world. Luke alone is with me, and by the way when you come would you bring Mark, for he is profitable to me?” Now that’s restoration, isn’t it? That’s the loving heart of Paul so Barnabas did a good job on Mark, really shaped him up, and Paul loved him. Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and Mark was a companion of Peter, 1 Peter 5:13. In fact many scholars say that the information in the Gospel of Mark comes from Peter and perhaps Peter was instrumental in working with Mark as the Holy Spirit used him to write.

Next time, we read more about Timothy, who was from the area surrounding Derbe and Lystra. Paul and Barnabas had established churches there (Acts 14, also see here).

Next time — Acts 16:1-5

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.

Acts 15:22-29

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers[a] who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

———————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed James’s remarks to the Jerusalem Council. James spoke after Peter did, referring to him as Simeon. James’s opinion was that the church in Jerusalem should write to the Gentile churches stating the few restrictions by which they should abide:

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Recall that the Judaisers — the circumcision party — wanted Gentile converts to abide by Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James were among those who said that was not what God intended for the Church.

The reference to blood had to do with the Gentile custom of drinking blood in pagan ceremonies.

The ‘what has been strangled’ part eventually went by the wayside, but while Gentile converts were living side by side with Jewish converts and Jewish people, it was deemed prudent that Gentiles not give offence to those who had grown up in a different tradition.

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives this explanation. ‘Shambles’ below was an ancient name for the street where butchers traded. York still has The Shambles, where butchers were located for centuries. Emphases mine below:

(1.) The matter of the injunction, which is according to the advice given by James, that, to avoid giving offence to the Jews, [1.] They should never eat any thing that they knew had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, but look upon it as, though clean in itself, yet thereby polluted to them. This prohibition was afterwards in part taken off, for they were allowed to eat whatever was sold in the shambles, or set before them at their friend’s table, though it had been offered to idols, except when there was danger of giving offence by it, that is, of giving occasion either to a weak Christian to think the worse of our Christianity, or to a wicked heathen to think the better of his idolatry; and in these cases it is good to forbear, 1 Corinthians 10:25, &c. This to us is an antiquated case. [2.] That they should not eat blood, nor drink it; but avoid every thing that looked cruel and barbarous in that ceremony which had been of so long standing. [3.] That they should not eat any thing that was strangled, or died of itself, or had not the blood let out … the apostles required no more of them than what was required of the proselytes of the gate, which was to observe the seven precepts of the sons of Noah

The Apostles, the elders — and, amazingly, the whole church — agreed to send carefully chosen men from the congregation to Antioch (Syria) to accompany Paul and Barnabas with the gist of James’s message (verse 22).

John MacArthur picks up on the unanimity among the Christians in Jerusalem:

They were not only pleased with the decision, they were pleased to send along two of their leaders. I’ll tell you something friends, and I’ll just digress for a minute. You know why it pleased all of those people? … if everybody is Spirit filled and Spirit controlled then everybody’s goin’ come out agreeing You say, that’s a different kind of church than I’m used to. Well you know what was the genius…what’d I tell ya was the genius of the early church? They were subject to the Spirit’s control

Verse 22 also tells us that Judas — not the betrayer, but another — and Silas were chosen as being leading men in the Jerusalem congregation. This is the only time we read about Judas Barsabbas, but St Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was important to mention him. Henry posits Judas might have been related to Joseph Barsabbas, a candidate for apostlehood (Acts 1:23).

MacArthur has more about Silas:

… of Silas we know very much. Silas, called Silas in the book of Acts is called Silvanus by Paul and Peter, and he wasthe guy who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, he was a citizen of Rome, he was the one who carried the first Epistle of Peter.

Some might ask why Paul and Barnabas didn’t just go back themselves. Why would they need Judas Barsabbas and Silas?

They sent these messengers, (1.) To show their respect to the church at Antioch, as a sister-church, though a younger sister, and that they looked upon it as upon the same level with them; as also that they were desirous further to know their state. (2.) To encourage Paul and Barnabas, and to make their journey home the more pleasant (for it is likely they travelled on foot) by sending such excellent men to bear them company; amicus pro vehiculo–a friend instead of a carriage. (3.) To put a reputation upon the letters they carried, that it might appear a solemn embassy, and so much the more regard might be paid to the message, which was likely to meet with opposition from some. (4.) To keep up the communion of the saints, and cultivate an acquaintance between churches and ministers that were at a distance from each other, and to show that, though they were many, yet they were one.

MacArthur says that by having Judas and Silas accompany them, Paul and Barnabas wanted to convey a message that came straight from the church in Jerusalem, not just the two of them:

Jerusalem sent two of its best, to give a solid report on what the decision was salvation’s by grace through faith, plus nothing! You tell ‘em that, not just Paul and Barnabas but you tell ‘em from us in Jerusalem. That’s our commitment.

He explains the Greek word used for ‘leading men among the brothers’, or ‘chief among the brethren’ in older translations:

The Greek word hegeomon, is an interesting word. It, it is the word for commander. We don’t usually think of church leadership as commanders.

It is the word used of the procurator of Judaea, it is the word used of the governor of a province. Keep this in mind beloved, God has always sent in the church authority.

Verse 23 gives us the greeting to the letter and the churches to which it was addressed. The greeting is as egalitarian as it can be — from brothers to brothers — considering Jerusalem was the head church and these were former Jews addressing Gentile converts. Jerusalem was not lording it over the newer outpost churches or the Gentiles there. The Holy Spirit was at work.

MacArthur explains the churches mentioned and omitted:

Now you say, it doesn’t talk about Cyprus and Galatia where they founded the churches, well they were extensions of Antioch. They would have been included in the Antioch. And the word Cilicia, you say, well when did the churches get founded in Cilicia? I’ll tell ya when, remember when the Apostle Paul was hustled out of Jerusalem ‘cause he caused so much trouble? I mean that was when he was a Christian, he brought down so much persecution that the Christians decided that he needed to get outa town. So they sent him to Tarsus, you know what he did? He went to Tarsus for a while and then he took off to Cilicia and founded churches.

The remaining verses in today’s reading give us the text of the letter.

The letter began with the problems the Judaisers were causing (verse 24). The Jerusalem church acknowledged the troublemakers were from there but with no instruction to say or do what they did. It’s a way of saying the church in Jerusalem accepted responsibility for these false teachers, which is rather humbling.

Note that the letter acknowledged the deep distress and mental turmoil the Gentiles were going through because of these horrible men and their egregious falsehoods: ‘troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds’. This was serious business.

MacArthur explains:

Now I want ya to notice the word, troubled, that is a very interesting word.

It is a different word than verse 19. You remember I told you the word trouble in verse 19 means to annoy or to hassle, it’s like a gnat, you know just, just a, just an annoyance, an irritation. Let’s not…irritate them by imposing some foolish ritual on them. But here the word is a tremendously strong word, it means to deeply upset, to deeply disturb, to perplex, to create fear. A very severe kind of response. In fact it is used in John 14, the very same word. Remember when Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those disciples were not just annoyed, they were really torn up. He had just announced His death, and they were shaking, they were horrified, they were in terror.

Knowing that, the letter stated, the church in Jerusalem met to discuss the matter and, having come to a unanimous agreement, decided to send two of their esteemed men to accompany the ‘beloved’ Paul and Barnabas (verse 25) who risked their lives for Christ (verse 26).

Those verses mean that the church of Jerusalem heartily approved of Paul, Barnabas as men and the way they presented the Good News to Gentiles. Henry has more:

[1.] “They are men that are dear to us; they are our beloved Barnabas and Paul–men whom we have a value for, a kindness for, a concern for.” Sometimes it is good for those that are of eminence to express their esteem, not only for the despised truth of Christ, but for the despised preachers and defenders of that truth, to encourage them, and weaken the hands of their opposers. [2.] “They are men that have signalized themselves in the service of Christ, and therefore have deserved well of all the churches: they are men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:26), and therefore are worthy of double honour, and cannot be suspected of having sought any secular advantage to themselves; for they have ventured their all for Christ, have engaged in the most dangerous services, as good soldiers of Christ, and not only in laborious services.” It is not likely that such faithful confessors should be unfaithful preachers.

The letter from the Jerusalem church went on to say that those hearing it could equally rely on Judas and Silas to be faithful to those same teachings (verse 27).

The next sentence of the letter mentioned that their decision to send it seemed good to the Holy Spirit as well as to them (verse 28). The Jerusalem congregation considered the matter and their decision with seriousness in wanting to arrive at a decision of which the Holy Spirit would approve. The unanimity attested they had arrived at the correct decision.

The decision was exactly as James had put it: no further burden other than no idolatry, no blood, no strangled creatures and no sexual immorality (verse 29).

I really like how the letter ends: avoid these things and ‘you will do well. Farewell’.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 15:30-35

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 15:12-21

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant[a] of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
     says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council, specifically Peter’s words to those assembled from both the pro-Gentile converts and the anti-Gentile converts, the latter being what is referred to in the New Testament as the circumcision party.

After hearing Peter’s words, the assembly fell silent (verse 12). John MacArthur says:

… you know why? Pretty tough to argue with that speech, pretty tough, they kept silence …

Then, Paul and Barnabas spoke of the signs and wonders God had wrought through them with the Gentiles (verse 12). St Luke, the author of Acts, did not detail this. First, because he already alluded to it in Acts 15:3-4. Secondly, he had also referred to this in Acts 14:27-28, Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch (Syria).

MacArthur makes a good point (emphases mine):

“and they listened to Barnabas and Paul,” and you know what they were doing? “Declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” You say, well what is that supposed to mean? Watch this one, God, now get it, does not get involved in confirming by miracles false doctrine. Are you with me? Paul and Barnabas were traveling around preaching salvation by what? Grace and faith. God was attesting to their message by what? Miracles. God…I don’t see the Judaizers having any confirming miracles, do you? I don’t see God running around with the party of the circumcision confirming their witness by miracles. But everywhere Paul and Barnabas went they preached grace through faith, and you know what happened? They had miracle after miracle after miracle, God was confirming what they were saying. You say, well how do you know they were preaching grace? l3:38, “Be it known onto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” That was their message, grace without law. And you know what? God kept doing miracles to prove that they were from Him. Do you understand that point? God only confirms true doctrine with miracles. God is not in the business of confirming false prophets.

Then James spoke, addressing the assembled as ‘brothers’, requesting them to listen to him (verse 13). Incidentally, we do not know which James this is. Neither Matthew Henry or John MacArthur says.

James referred to Peter as Simeon (Simon), recapping what Peter had just said (verse 14). However, note how James said it: God visiting the Gentiles to take from among them a people in His name. James backed that up by telling those assembled that this was something the prophets foretold (verse 15). That was no doubt directed towards the circumcision party.

James went on to cite Amos 9:11-12 (verses 16-18), rephrasing it a bit. This is what the verses say:

The Restoration of Israel

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”[a]
    declares the Lord who does this.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful exposition of these verses:

It is written, Amos 9:11,12, where is foretold, (1.) The setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah (Acts 15:16): I will raise up the tabernacle of David, that is fallen. The covenant was made with David and his seed; but the house and family of David are here called his tabernacle, because David in his beginning was a shepherd, and dwelt in tents, and his house, that had been as a stately palace, had become a mean and despicable tabernacle, reduced in a manner to its small beginning. This tabernacle was ruined and fallen down; there had not been for many ages a king of the house of David; the sceptre had departed from Judah, the royal family was sunk and buried in obscurity, and, as it should seem, not enquired after. But God will return, and will build it again, raise it out of its ruins, a phoenix out of its ashes; and this was now lately fulfilled, when our Lord Jesus was raised out of that family, had the throne of his father David given him, with a promise that he should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, Luke 1:32,33. And, when the tabernacle of David was thus rebuilt in Christ, all the rest of it was, not many years after, wholly extirpated and cut off, as was also the nation of the Jews itself, and all their genealogies were lost. The church of Christ may be called the tabernacle of David. This may sometimes be brought very low, and may seem to be in ruins, but it shall be built again, its withering interests shall revive; it is cast down, but not destroyed: even dry bones are made to live.

Note the mention of Edom in Amos 9:12:

Then Israel shall possess the remnant of Edom (so it is in the Hebrew); but the Jews called all the Gentiles Edomites, and therefore the Septuagint leave out the particular mention of Edom, and read it just as it is here, that the residue of men might seek (James here adds, after the Lord), and all the Gentiles, or heathen, upon whom my name is called. The Jews were for many ages so peculiarly favoured that the residue of men seemed neglected; but now God will have an eye to them, and his name shall be called upon by the Gentiles; his name shall be declared and published among them, and they shall be brought both to know his name and to call upon it: they shall call themselves the people of God, and he shall call them so; and thus, by consent of both parties, his name is called upon them.

These verses from Amos point to the fulfilment of God’s promise, with Gentiles brought into the Church:

This promise we may depend upon the fulfilling of in its season; and now it begins to be fulfilled, for it is added, saith the Lord, who doeth this; who doeth all these things (so the Seventy); and the apostle here: he saith it who doeth it, who therefore said it because he was determined to do it; and who therefore does it because he hath said it; for though with us saying and doing are two things they are not so with God. The uniting of Jews and Gentiles in one body, and all those things that were done in order to it, which were here foretold, were, [1.] What God did: This was the Lord’s doing, whatever instruments were employed in it: and, [2.] It was what God delighted in, and was well pleased with; for he is the God of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, and it is his honour to be rich in mercy to all that call upon him.

James concluded, offering a ‘judgement’ — informed opinion, not a diktat — that the Gentiles should not have burdens (Mosaic law) imposed upon them (verse 19). That said, James thought that the Gentiles should be keeping the broader law, which is in the Ten Commandments: no idolatry, no sexual immorality.

He also added to that what has been strangled and also blood (verse 20). Henry says that even in the time of Noah — before the law of Moses — the Jews had an aversion to these two things. MacArthur says these two principles were a matter of fellowship. Today, we would not serve our Jewish friends pork, for example.

MacArthur also tells us that Gentiles drank blood:

Gentiles drank blood, did you know that? And in their pagan ceremonies, they drank it, couldn’t imagine anything worse, but they did. And so he says for the sake of fellowship, follow some principles. Now do you see what we’re seeing here? This is so beautiful. You can’t take grace and run with it. You can’t say oh, I’m saved by grace, I don’t have to do anything, everything is perfect, and then just take off and stomp all over everybody.

Verse 21 might appear puzzling, but it is saying that, since Moses is still preached in the synagogues, let us not, as followers of Christ, be offensive to the Jews.

MacArthur says we should not get carried away with Christian freedom:

There’s no need to violate these things just for the sake of freedom, that is what the Bible calls using your freedom as a cloak of maliciousness, you see.

Indeed.

Next week — Acts 15:22-29

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 15:6-11

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post introduced the background to the Jerusalem Council, the topic of Acts 15.

John MacArthur says that many theologians consider the Jerusalem Council to be the Magna Carta of the Church.

Briefly, Pharisees who converted were telling Gentile converts they had to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law in order to be notionally proper Christians. Said Pharisees went so far as to disassociate themselves from the Gentile converts who were uncircumcised.

These Pharisees were known as the circumcision party and as Judaisers. Both terms are in the New Testament. A group from Judea was going to new churches in Gentile lands spreading this false teaching. John MacArthur and other Bible scholars think that they could have been trailing Paul and Barnabas, who established these new churches, and infiltrated after they left. Paul had to deal with this issue in his letters to the Galatians, Galatia being in Asia Minor. These were determined men, some of them were political zealots. Last week’s post has more information about them.

Today’s reading describes how the Jerusalem Council unfolded. Note (verse 6) how the elders and Apostles spontaneously gathered together to discuss this issue which, left unresolved, could have fractured the Church into two parts — a Jewish one and a Gentile one.

Matthew Henry says the Jerusalem Council shows the example that churches must resolve issues when they arise rather then letting them play out:

Here is a direction to the pastors of the churches, when difficulties arise, to come together in solemn meetings for mutual advice and encouragement, that they may know one another’s mind, and strengthen one another’s hands, and may act in concert.

Much debate had been taking place before Peter rose to speak (verse 7). Some translations use ‘disputing’, but MacArthur says:

the word doesn’t really mean fighting, it really means discussing, back and forth …

Judaisers were among those debating.

Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us exactly when Peter spoke, but it was before the end, since Paul and Barnabas spoke next, followed by James. Henry’s commentary says of Peter (emphases mine):

He was not master of this assembly, nor so much as chairman or moderator, pro hac vice–on this occasion; for we do not find that either he spoke first, to open the synod (there having been much disputing before he rose up), nor that he spoke last, to sum up the cause and collect the suffrages; but he was a faithful, prudent zealous member of this assembly, and offered that which was very much to the purpose, and which would come better from him than from another … When both sides had been heard, Peter rose up, and addressed himself to the assembly

Peter said that ‘early on’ — meaning at the first Pentecost, which MacArthur says was ten years earlier — God chose him to be the first to preach to the Gentiles. Luke recounted this in Acts 10, with the conversion of Cornelius and those close to him. Up to then, either Jews or Samaritans (half-Jews) converted.

Henry points out that Peter spoke when he did because:

he had himself been the first that preached the gospel to the Gentiles.

Also, Peter was the first to get blowback for it when the ‘circumcision party’ criticised him afterwards in Jerusalem for converting Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). The issue was resolved at the time. Henry’s commentary reminds us:

He put them in mind of the call and commission he had some time ago to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; he wondered there should be any difficulty made of a matter already settled: You know that aph hemeron archaion–from the beginning of the days of the gospel, many years ago, God made choice among us apostles of one to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and I was the person chosen, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word, and believe, Acts 15:7. You know I was questioned about it and cleared myself to the universal satisfaction; every body rejoiced that God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life, and nobody said a word of circumcising them, nor was there any thought of such a thing. See Acts 11:18. “Why should the Gentiles who hear the word of the gospel by Paul’s mouth be compelled to submit to circumcision, any more than those that heard it by my mouth? Or why should the terms of their admission now be made harder than they were then?”

Yes, everyone glorified God:

18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter went on to say that God knows men’s hearts — i.e. knows those who are His — and He went on to give the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles just as He had to the Jews (verse 8). He made no distinction between the two peoples and cleansed their hearts by faith (verse 9). And that was all. God attached no conditions. He generously gave them the free gift of the Holy Spirit. He generously gave them the free gift of grace to strengthen their faith. They were saved by faith through grace. No wonder people glorified God (Acts 11:18). That’s exciting news then and now! That’s what God continues to do.

Peter then asked, with that in mind, why were some of those assembled testing God, in effect, by asserting their conditions were higher than His by demanding Mosaic law, a law that the Jews couldn’t bear and one that does not save (verse 10).

Peter used the word ‘yoke’ — the heavy wooden brace put on an ox’s neck — to describe Mosaic law. Remember what Jesus said (Matthew 11:28-30):

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Peter concluded by affirming that ‘we believe’ — a reminder for the Judaisers — that both Jew and Gentile will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).

MacArthur points out:

God does not cleanse people from sin, whose salvation is not legitimate, right? … The Jews just kept doing more sacrifices without any relief of their consciences. Christ came along and clears the conscience, forgiveness is complete. So Peter says, look, he says they’ve already been purified by faith, what is law goin’ add to that? It’s done. Then Peter points out another fantastic evidence, that salvation is by free grace alone.

Salvation via faith through free grace is a marvellous note on which to close.

More on the Jerusalem Council next week.

Next time — Acts 15:12-21

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 15:1-5

The Jerusalem Council

15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

——————————————————————————–

Last week’s post was about Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch — the one in Syria — on their return to Jerusalem.

This is an essential passage showing how close the Church came to splitting between Jewish and Gentile converts. As we see from the title, Acts 15 is all about the Jerusalem Council which prevented this split.

This is very important, especially for Christians who are enthralled by Hebraic Christianity.

First, a review of the reading, then an analysis to follow.

Some men had gone to Antioch from Judea to preach to the converted Gentiles that if they were not circumcised according to Mosaic law, they could not be saved (verse 1).

This, of course, was contrary to God’s will and to what Paul and Barnabas had preached in Antioch when they founded the church there. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas took against this false teaching, fiercely debating the issue with the false teachers. The church in Antioch appointed the two of them along with selected members of the church there to go to Jerusalem and sort the matter out once and for all (verse 2).

On their way, they visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria to tell the people of the many, many Gentiles who converted (verse 3), which made those listening very happy indeed.

When they reached Jerusalem, the church there formally greeted — ‘welcomed’ — them. Paul and Barnabas told how God worked through them to build strong churches in various faraway towns and cities, converting Gentiles as well as Jews (verse 4).

However, some Christians who were former Pharisees, objected saying that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised (verse 5). The use of the word ‘party’ in that verse is the same as reference to a political party today. There are references to the ‘circumcision party’ in the New Testament. These are the same people. They are also referred to as Judaisers.

Judaisers believed that no Gentile man could truly become Christian without circumcision. Their reasoning was that, as the Messiah — Jesus — was promised to the Jews, every true Christian in their eyes had to follow Jewish law. Gentiles were not worthy, because they had not initially been included in the promise of a Messiah. Therefore, they had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved.

John MacArthur compares their false teaching to a house with an enclosed front porch (see no. 8). You can sit on the front porch all you like without ever being invited into the main house, where all the real activity takes place. The Judaizers were willing to welcome Gentiles to a certain extent, but they would have to stay on the front porch until they earned their way — via circumcision — into the inner sanctum, i.e. eternal salvation. Wrong.

There were some exceptions to this, but all had to do with either people who were part Jewish — the Samaritans — or Gentiles who had renounced paganism and worshipped with the Jews without getting circumcised, such as Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Not surprisingly, the Gentile converts in Antioch, so happy that they, too, could be saved, were troubled by these false teachers from Judea. So were Paul and Barnabas.

MacArthur says that this was fracturing the church in Antioch, because the converted Jews would no longer eat with converted Gentiles or — worse — go to the Lord’s table with them. Even Peter fell for this when he went to Antioch. Paul was furious (emphases mine):

And you know a guy that you’d expect better out of really goofed up, and it’s Peter. In Galatians 2:11 Paul tells us what Peter did, Peter was at Antioch too, at the time that some of these people, whether the same group or not we don’t know, but some Judaizers showed up, of the circumcision party, that was the group that believed you had to get circumcised to get saved. “When Peter was come to Antioch,” verse 11 of Galatians 2, Paul said, “I withstood him to the face,” that must have been quite a confrontation, Peter was no slouch, “because he was to be blamed.”

There was also a political aspect here. Some of these Judaisers were Zealots, keen on overthrowing Roman rule by any means necessary. Some thought that by making Gentile Christian men get circumcised, they could increase their numbers in order to dominate Rome. Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that, if an insurrection were successful, some of those Zealots were quite willing to blame Gentiles, who would then have been imprisoned or killed:

But now that they hear the doctrine of Christ is received among the Gentiles, and his kingdom begins to be set up in the midst of them, if they can but persuade those that embrace Christ to embrace the law of Moses too they hope their point will be gained, the Jewish nation will be made as considerable as they can wish, though in another way; and “Therefore by all means let the brethren be pressed to be circumcised and keep the law, and then with our religion our dominion will be extended, and we shall in a little time be able to shake off the Roman yoke; and not only so, but to put it on the necks of our neighbours, and so shall have such a kingdom of the Messiah as we promised ourselves.”

John MacArthur says it is possible that the Judeans who were preaching falsely to the Gentiles might have been tailing Paul and Barnabas on their long journey, going to the churches after they left town:

… these guys may well have traversed the paths of Paul and Barnabas, if they did that they were pretty zealous, wouldn’t you say? If they went to all of that trouble? Transportation in those days being what it was, by foot, everywhere through the Taurus Mountains, the whole bit. If that did happen, and we can’t be dogmatic, but if it did they were zealous. Even their journey to Antioch alone gives some indication of their zeal. And along that line, I think they were probably, some of them at least sincere. Feeling that a whole lot of pagans who didn’t know anything about Judaism couldn’t jump in at the end of a process, they had to come the whole route, including Judaism and the law of Moses.

We find that, according to those in Jerusalem, not only was circumcision necessary, following Mosaic law was, too (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that this could have harmed the Church immeasurably, because there would have been a Jewish church and a Gentile church, which is not at all what God intends:

Now here you had a terrible, terrible potential disaster, because this was to impose legalism on the Gentiles, this could have been a…absolutely destructive, it could have created two churches, it could have created the Gentile church who would have maintained their salvation by grace, and the Jewish church maintaining their salvation by law, and you would have had two churches, the very thing our Lord prayed for that they may be what? One would have been violated from the very beginning. And so it became a crucial issue to deal with this.

MacArthur spends some time in his sermon explaining how St Paul had to tackle these same false teachings in his letters to the Galatians, warning against resubmitting to the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) — ceremonial law. MacArthur has more on Paul — an ex-Pharisee himself — and Galatians:

In chapter 3 verse 11, just in case you didn’t get the message, he says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident because,” even in Habakkuk, in the Old Testament it says, “The just shall live by,” what? by “faith. And the law is not of faith.”

You can’t mix the two. Over in chapter 5 verse 6, this is a clear statement, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but,” what’s the next word? “Faith.” Now you see Paul in his own mind was clear on this issue, it wasn’t a problem for him.

Several years ago, when I first started my website, there was a book making the rounds on certain Protestant websites about living the ‘perfect’ life by following the Book of Leviticus. It was not written by a convert, but by a pastor who had always been in the Church. You can’t get saved by following the law. Divine grace is a free gift from God. Faith via grace saves us, not circumcision or, for the ladies, ritual baths. Nor do Mosaic dietary rules save. What did we see in Cornelius’s story? The Lord gave Peter a divine vision about food, before sending him off to preach to the Gentile, Cornelius.

In Galatians, Paul taught other lessons relating to Mosaic law. One was that we should not glorify in other people’s flesh, meaning that Judaisers were thrilled when a Gentile Christian began to follow the old law,. They were counting up the numbers of misled converts. The other lesson was that if the law supersedes Christ, then He died in vain:

In chapter 6 … “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh,” ha, they wanta show off their legalism, “they constrain you to be circumcised.” So he knew there were teachers doin’ this, “they make the issue in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised.” But look at 13, “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” What does that mean?

That they made glory over the fact that you became a Jew. You see they have an exalted..’such an exalted view of Judaism, that the very fact that you had to become what they are to get saved, makes them think they’re somethin’. If everybody’s gotta come…become what I am to be saved, then I must really be somethin’. Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory in the flesh.” That’s what he means. I should glory only in what? “In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in Christ Jesus (verse 15) neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” So law, legalism, ritual, ceremony, circumcision, the whole thing means nothing in salvation, absolutely nothing. Now in chapter 2 verse 21 of Galatians he kind of gives what might be a summary statement. “I do not make void the grace of God.” You know what happens if you add law to grace? You know what you do to grace? You make it void. “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

MacArthur explains the essentials about grace and salvation:

If righteousness is ours through law, then we don’t need grace. In other words if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re innocent, go free, I don’t need grace, right? I didn’t break the law. But if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re guilty, go free, that’s grace. And every man is guilty. We’ve all broken the law, law can’t satisfy, we shattered the law, only grace. You can’t confuse law and grace, they don’t go together, if you add law to grace you don’t have grace. If you add grace to law for that matter you don’t have law. And so the Apostle Paul was clear, he just simply said there is no connection between the two. Nobody ever got saved by keeping the law all the law did was show you how bad you were, nobody ever was justified by the law, only by grace, and if ya try to mix the two you destroy grace. God wants to confirm every man a sinner and then give him grace.

In other words, there is no front porch — legalism — to salvation.

The story of the Jerusalem Council continues next week. Peter also makes a brief appearance.

Next time — Acts 15:6-11

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,126 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

April 2018
S M T W T F S
« Mar    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,291,836 hits
Advertisements