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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — 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 28:30-31

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense,[a] and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s discourse to the Jews of Rome.

Some translations of Acts 28 have a verse 29:

And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great disputing among themselves.

One can imagine that, verse 29 or not, they no doubt parsed Paul’s words and debated his message intensely.

Now we come to the end of St Luke’s Book of Acts, a tremendous Spirit-inspired account of the growth of the early Church after the first Pentecost. Those who have not followed the passages excluded from the three-year Lectionary can find the relevant entries and exegeses on my Essential Bible Verses page beginning with Acts 2:12-13, which is nearly three years old now. It’s amazing how time flies.

Returning to today’s verses, Luke tells us that Paul remained in Rome for two years, living at his own expense, even though he was a prisoner of Caesar’s, and welcomed all who came to him (verse 30).

It is possible that he did have his case heard before Nero, who, at that time, did not have a particular issue with Christians preaching. His prohibition on such preaching came later.

Our commentators have diverging views on what happened during these two years with regard to Paul’s case.

Matthew Henry offers the possibilities that the Roman justice system either forgot about him or that he was indeed tried more than once (emphases mine):

Two whole years of that good man’s life are here spent in confinement, and, for aught that appears, he was never enquired after, all that time, by those whose prisoner he was. He appealed to Cæsar, in hope of a speedy discharge from his imprisonment, the governors having signified to his imperial majesty concerning the prisoner that he had done nothing worthy of death or bonds, and yet he is detained a prisoner. So little reason have we to trust in men, especially despised prisoners in great men; witness the case of Joseph, whom the chief butler remembered not, but forgot, Genesis 40:23. Yet some think that though it be not mentioned here, yet it was in the former of these two years, and early too in that year, that he was first brought before Nero, and then his bonds in Christ were manifest in Cæsar’s court, as he says, Philippians 1:13. And at this first answer it was that no man stood by him, 2 Timothy 4:16. But it seems, instead of being set at liberty upon this appeal, as he expected, he hardly escaped out of the emperor’s hands with his life; he calls it a deliverance out of the mouth of the lion, 2 Timothy 4:17, and his speaking there of his first answer intimates that since that he had a second, in which he had come off better, and yet was not discharged.

John MacArthur thinks that the Roman justice system was merely slow:

So, I did a little research, and I found some interesting things. Historians note that long delays were very common in first-century trials in the Roman government, because of the tremendous backup of trials that they had. They had a court system something like ours, and people kept getting stacked up, and trials were put off; only they didn’t let them out, they kept them in jail. Also, isn’t it likely that the records of all of the information about him that must have been sent from the Roman governor in Judea had been lost in the shipwreck?

And sending back to get more records, and then sending the records back again, was a many-month problem. In addition to that, Roman law required that the accusers, or those that were prosecuting the case, be in Rome to accuse him. And I told you before that I have serious doubts whether any of those Jews would have come to Rome to persecute Paul, because of the fact that they knew they had no case. Now, it is most likely that there was eighteen-month or a twenty-four month statutory period in which the prosecution must state his case.

At the end of that time, if the case had not been stated, the prisoner would be released. It is my conviction, at the end of those two years Paul was released, and for a period of time, ministered yet. Then was made a prisoner again, for the final time, and that was the time in which he was beheaded. Roman law dealt very very, very harshly with unsuccessful prosecutions, and so, there just never was one. And so, for two years he was free to minister. Those were busy two years. You know what he did in these two years? Led a whole bunch of people to Christ.

Luke ends Acts by saying that Paul preached about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God boldly and without hindrance (verse 31).

Paul also wrote letters to the churches.

Henry tells us:

During these two years’ imprisonment he wrote his epistle to the Galatians, then his second epistle to Timothy, then those to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon, in which he mentions several things particularly concerning his imprisonment; and, lastly, his epistle to the Hebrews just after he was set at liberty, as Timothy also was, who, coming to visit him, was upon some account or other made his fellow-prisoner (with whom, writes Paul to the Hebrews, Hebrews 13:23, if he come shortly, I will see you), but how or by what means he obtained his liberty we are not told, only that two years he was a prisoner.

MacArthur does not think that Paul wrote Hebrews, which I will discuss more this week, as it is the next book I intend to write about.

However, MacArthur has a bit more, including the names of people who were with him at least some of that time:

He wrote the book of Colossians, he wrote the book of Philemon, he wrote the book of Ephesians, and he wrote the book of Philippians. Everybody came and went. In Colossians, he tells them that Aristarchus is with him, Luke is with him, Mark is with him, Jesus Justus is with him, Epaphras is with him, Demas is with him. He was having a terrific time. In Philippians, he tells about what was going on. Philippians 1, he tells about the salvation that’s going on, and he’s just having a great time.

He further talks about his blessing, and how the gospel is spreading. Chapter 2, verse 24, he says, “It’s not going to be long; then I’ll come and see you Philippians.” And he apparently is realizing that the imprisonment is kind of winding down. His bonds – verse 1 – chapter 1:13 – are being manifest in all the palace. Chapter 4, the saints of Caesar’s household greet you. So people were being saved, and great things were happening. He was then likely released, had a ministry of travel, came back as a prisoner.

In his final imprisonment, he wrote 1-2 Timothy and Titus. Probably about four years later, and outside, on the road to Ostia, he was finally beheaded.

Henry says that Paul might have realised his goal of evangelising in Spain, although we cannot be certain:

Tradition says that after his discharge he went from Italy to Spain, thence to Crete, and so with Timothy into Judea, and thence went to visit the churches in Asia, and at length came a second time to Rome, and there was beheaded in the last year of Nero. But Baronius himself owns that there is no certainty of any thing concerning him betwixt his release from this imprisonment and his martyrdom

As for Nero’s volte face, Henry tells us what two of the early Church fathers — Tertullian and Chrysostom — wrote. The latter gave an account of one of the emperor’s mistresses who became a Christian and renounced her wicked ways, which enraged Nero:

… it is said by some that Nero, having, when he began to play the tyrant, set himself against the Christians, and persecuted them (and he was the first of the emperors that made a law against them, as Tertullian says, Apol. cap. 5), the church at Rome was much weakened by that persecution, and this brought Paul the second time to Rome, to re-establish the church there, and to comfort the souls of the disciples that were left, and so he fell a second time into Nero’s hand. And Chrysostom relates that a young woman that was one of Nero’s misses (to speak modishly) being converted, by Paul’s preaching, to the Christian faith, and so brought off from the lewd course of life she had lived, Nero was incensed against Paul for it, and ordered him first to be imprisoned, and then put to death.

As for takeaways from Paul’s ministry in Rome — and elsewhere — MacArthur says:

Let me sum this up this way. What does this teach us about evangelism? Just note these things, will you, on your outline? Let me make a statement about. What do we learn about his effective evangelism? … Where did he preach? Anywhere.

And how did he preach? I’m going to give you three thoughts. Number one, he preached lovingly. Notice verses 17 to 20. Remember how conciliating he was to the Jews, how loving he was? How he said, “I have no accusation against my nation – in spite of all that’s been done to me?” He preached lovingly. Second, he preached biblically. He expounded and testified the kingdom of God, as it was recorded in the law of Moses and out of the prophets, verse 23. He preached biblically. It wasn’t his opinion; it was biblical truth applied and fulfilled in the Messiah.

He also preached doctrinally. That is, he taught the great doctrines of the kingdom – verse 31. The things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 23 indicates he taught concerning the kingdom of God. He preached lovingly, biblically and doctrinally. When did he preach? When? Number one – promptly. Give you four thoughts. He preached promptly; verse 17, after three days he began. Second thing, tirelessly; verse 23, he preached from morning till evening, tirelessly. Thirdly, he preached incessantly; for two whole years he preached, verse 30 and 31.

And I like it at the end of verse 31: “with all confidence” – he preached boldly. When did he preach? Promptly, tirelessly, incessantly, and with great boldness. That’s just kind of an addition. To whom did he preach? Verse 17, to the Jews; verse 28, to the Gentiles; to anybody. And what did he preach? What was Paul’s message? Verse 23, persuading them concerning Jesus. Verse 31, teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. He preached Jesus, that’s who he preached.

People, what does that say to us? Where are we to preach? Wherever we are. How are we to preach? Lovingly, biblically, doctrinally. When are we to preach? Promptly, tirelessly, incessantly, and with boldness. To whom are we to preach? Jew or Gentile; anybody. And what are we to preach? Jesus Christ. And what are the results? The results are exciting. Verse 24, some believed; some believed. Verse 29, some argued and went away. Some believe and some do not.

There is another important point. Rome then was not unlike some of the world’s great cities today. It was degenerate. It had a few rich people and a lot of poor people. The Romans also owned slaves. Yet, Paul never preached a social gospel.

MacArthur describes the city and Paul’s approach:

As Paul entered the city, he would have seen the temple of Jupiter, which stood out and dominated the city. There was no Coliseum in Rome at the time of Paul. He would have seen on the Palatine hill the three houses of Augustus Tiberius and Caligula, which now had been tied together to make one formidable and massive palace, the home of Nero. He would have seen the great temple of Mars.

And all of this would have spoken to him of the degeneracy, and the idolatry and paganism, of this great city. Rome had become the center of paganism, and the center of decadence, and it was on its way down. The population of Rome at the time when Paul arrived would be approximately two million people; two million people confined to a very small area. Historians tell us that one million of them were slaves, and the other million of them were known as citizens. That is, they were legitimate citizens.

The vast majority of them were absolutely penniless, paupers who slept in the street, and who slept upon the parapets, and whatever else they could find, outdoors in the city of Rome, because they had absolutely nothing. But they were citizens, and they had citizenship, and consequently, they lorded it over the slaves. But nearly all of the two million people were absolute paupers – both the slaves and the citizens – and all of the money resided in the hands of a very few. There were 700 senators – once there was a thousand, but that had begun to degenerate.

There were 10,000 knights, 15,000 soldiers, and then a handful or so of dignitaries, and that was pretty much it. And all of the finances, and all of the power, rested with those people, and the mass of the two-million people existed in abject poverty. This bred all kinds of decadence. The great mass of paupers, who were even proud of their citizenship, held the slaves in contempt beneath them, and of course, there were constant slave revolts. Thousands of these poor people had no homes, and their lives were totally amoral.

Into this melee of depraved and deprived humanity came the apostle Paul, the messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ. And his interest in Rome was not sociological, it was not economic, it was not cultural; it was purely evangelism. He desired to win them to Jesus Christ and to mature the Christians.

Paul’s example demonstrates why today’s focus on the social gospel is wrong.

Paul did not preach about revolt.

Paul did not advocate reparations.

Paul preached the Good News of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life to those who believe.

May we, therefore, learn from his ministry and do likewise ourselves.

Next time — Hebrews 1:13-14

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 omit — 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 28:23-28

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”[a]

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Last week’s entry discussed the Roman Jews’ request for more information on Christianity, which they called a ‘sect’.

Before delving into today’s passage, John MacArthur makes an excellent observation not only about the content of Acts 28 but also about the entire Book of Acts (emphases mine):

the whole book of Acts is the story of God’s final striving with the Hebrew people. From the time that God called Abraham and founded the nation, He has been striving with Israel.

Historically, throughout all of the Old Testament, Israel failed to live up to the information and the revelation that they had. They grieved the heart of God, they wounded His heart, they broke His heart, and judgment after judgment after judgment after judgment came. There were several captivities that came. One tragic note in the history of Israel was when the entire northern kingdom just disintegrated. Israel was just continually failing to live up to the covenant with God. And yet God was gracious, and Christ finally came.

And first, John the Baptist announced it to Israel. Then, Christ came first to Israel. Then, at the day of Pentecost, when the church was born, the Spirit of God was sent to the midst of Israel. As the church scattered, the apostle Paul went into town, and he went first to Israel, into the synagogues. And finally, now we come to Rome; the last solemn abandonment of Israel. It was only 10 years later – or less – from the record of this passage, that the Roman eagles stormed into Jerusalem, and destroyed Judaism, for good.

What we have today that is called Judaism is only a faint shadow of what Judaism was. It was destroyed in 70 A.D. This is the last solemn, biblical warning to Israel. This is the last time God ever went to the Jew first, right here. Now, the words that Paul quotes in this passage are taken from Isaiah 6. Isaiah spoke them at a time when Israel was in sin. Our Lord Jesus spoke them in Matthew 13, showing the kingdom would be taken from Israel. John quotes the same words in John, chapter 12, and now Paul quotes them.

The prominent Jews in Rome went to Paul’s lodgings on an appointed day to hear what he had to say about Christianity (verse 23). In his love for them, which he had for all Jews — even those who wanted to kill him, as Luke documented throughout Acts — Paul spent hours trying to persuade them that Jesus is the Messiah. He cited the Pentateuch — the first five books from Moses — and he cited the prophets.

I cannot imagine how passionately yet rationally Paul, a converted Pharisee, laid this out. He would have felt duty bound from his heart. He wanted so much to persuade these Jews, his brothers, to believe.

He succeeded with some, but not with all (verse 24).

They left after Paul cited Isaiah 6:9-10 (verses 26, 27), which Paul prefaced by saying that the Holy Spirit was correct about those to whom Isaiah prophesied (verse 25).

In effect, Paul asked them to really consider that one last message. Paul was saying that what had happened to their forefathers will happen to them if they do not heed his discourse. God would make them spiritually blind with no way back.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He perceived by what they muttered that there were many among them, and perhaps the greater part, that were obstinate, and would not yield to the conviction of what he said; and they were getting up to be gone, they had had enough of it: “Hold,” says Paul, “take one word with you before you go, and consider of it when you come home: what do you think will be the effect of your obstinate infidelity? What will you do in the end hereof? What will it come to?”

1. “You will by the righteous judgment of God be sealed up under unbelief. You harden your own hearts, and God will harden them as he did Pharaoh’s’; and this is what was prophesied of concerning you. Turn to that scripture (Isaiah 6:9,10), and read it seriously, and tremble lest the case there described should prove to be your case.” As there are in the Old Testament gospel promises, which will be accomplished in all that believe, so there are gospel threatenings of spiritual judgments, which will be fulfilled in those that believe not; and this is one. It is part of the commission given to Isaiah the prophet; he is sent to make those worse that would not be made better. Well spoke the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers. What was spoken by JEHOVAH is here said to be spoken by the Holy Ghost, which proves that the Holy Ghost is God; and what was spoken to Isaiah is here said to be spoken by him to their fathers, for he was ordered to tell the people what God said to him; and, though what is there said had in it much of terror to the people and of grief to the prophet, yet it is here said to be well spoken. Hezekiah said concerning a message of wrath, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken, Isaiah 39:8. And he that believes not shall be damned is gospel, as well as, He that believes shall be saved, Mark 16:16. Or this may be explained by that of our Saviour (Matthew 15:7), “Well did Esaias prophesy of you. The Holy Ghost said to your fathers, that which would be fulfilled in you, Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand.” (1.) “That which was their great sin against God is yours; and that is this, you will not see. You shut your eyes against the most convincing evidence possible, and will not admit the conclusion, though you cannot deny the premises: Your eyes you have closed,” Acts 28:27. This intimates an obstinate infidelity, and a willing slavery to prejudice. “As your fathers would not see God’s hand lifted up against them in his judgments (Isaiah 26:11), so you will not see God’s hand stretched out to you in gospel grace.”

MacArthur has this analysis:

Isaiah, Jesus, John, and Paul all quote the very same words. What do they say? Look at verse 25: “And when they had agreed not among themselves, they departed.” Boy, that is so tragic. That is the last Biblical abandonment of Israel, after Paul had spoken one word. Here’s what drove them away: “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers.” There’s a note on inspiration, the Holy Spirit speaking through Isaiah.

This is what He said: “Go unto this people, and say, ‘Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is become fat’” – or obtuse – “‘and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’” You’ll notice verse 27 says: “They closed their ears, they closed their eyes, they sealed up their understanding.”

Verse 26 says: “Now they can’t hear, now they can’t understand.” What began as a willful act turned into the sovereignty of God. Israel rejected, willfully blinded themselves, willfully deafened themselves, willfully did not understand, and consequently were tied to that kind of destiny, as God sealed their ears, their eyes, and their minds. Turn for a minute with me to John 12, and I just want to show you the similar passage here, and point some things out to you.

… Now, what began as willful blindness turned into sovereign blindness; frightening. They did not in verse 37; they could not in verse 39. He who will not believe may find some day that he cannot believe.

Paul closed by saying that the Gentiles would hear the Gospel message and, therefore, salvation is theirs (verse 28).

MacArthur explains, still citing John 12:

Verse 30: “The Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness.” Verse 31: ”But Israel has failed.” Now, all of that to show that God turns to the Gentiles, but notice carefully, chapter 11, verse 17: “And if some of the branches be broken off” – now, the branches here are Israel, and the root or the trunk is the blessing of God. “If some of the branches are broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them.”

In other words, the Gentile is the wild olive tree grafted into the trunk of God’s blessing; the Jews are the ones cut off. Verse 18: “Boast not against the branches.” In other words, just because the Gentiles have been grafted in is no cause for us to boast against the Jews. Verse 19: “Thou wilt say then, ‘The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.’” You think you’re better than the Jews? Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. “Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not you.”

You see? Now, be careful that you don’t become overmuch proud, or God may just cut you off. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them who fell, severity; and toward thee, goodness, if you continue in His goodness: otherwise thou shalt also be cut off.” And here he’s talking about the total of the Gentiles. “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in.” Now, notice that? Israel will be re-grafted in if they believe. “For God is able to graft them in again.

“For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree” – you’re not even a normal olive tree, you’re a wild one – “how much more shall these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” Listen, the end of verse 25: “blindness in part has happened to Israel, only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – until the completion of the church. “And so all Israel shall be saved.” Listen, God will graft in Israel again.

And so, we see that He’s not ultimately through with them, because that would be to break His eternal covenants. But for the time being, God has set Israel aside, the kingdom is postponed, and the Gentiles are drawn to Him. Verse 28: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.” Now, this has happened over and over again in the book of Acts: chapter 11, verse 18; chapter 13, verse 46 and 47; chapter 14:27; 15, verses 14 to 18; and chapter 18, verse 6; we see this move to the Gentiles.

Does this ruin God’s plan? No. It didn’t ruin His plan. God will restore Israel. So, we see the inversion, the reversal; and we are the recipients of the blessing of that reversal: Gentiles who believe.

Pray that all unbelievers — not only the Jews — come to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. I often wonder if some atheists have had a sovereign judgement placed on them. I hope not, but the thought of such a judgement is, as MacArthur says, ‘frightening’.

Next week’s post ends this study of Acts and discusses the rest of Paul’s time in Rome.

Next time — Acts 28:30-31

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 omit — 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 28:17-22

Paul in Rome

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

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In last week’s entry, Paul had arrived in Rome at long last, greeted by Christians who met him along the way and journeyed with him into that great city.

Three days after his arrival, Paul sought to speak to the Jews to discuss his case (verse 17).

Wherever he went during his ministry, he sought his fellow Jews first. Not only were the Jews God’s chosen people, but Paul also wanted to set out to explain why Jesus is the Messiah.

Before delving into these verses further, it is worth looking into the history of Jews in Rome around this time in history. Nero was emperor when Paul was in Judea and in Rome. Before Nero, Claudius ruled.

Claudius had banned all Jews from Rome, but now that Nero had succeeded him, they returned.

Matthew Henry says they probably were not allowed synagogues yet, even though there were religious congregations of sorts with rabbis (emphases mine):

It was not long since, by an edict of Claudius, all the Jews were banished from Rome, and kept out till his death; but, in the five years since then, many Jews had come thither, for the advantage of trade, though it does not appear that they were allowed any synagogue there or place of public worship; but these chief of the Jews were those of best figure among them, the most distinguished men of that religion, who had the best estates and interests. Paul called them together, being desirous to stand right in their opinion, and that there might be a good understanding between him and them.

John MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that there were synagogues at the time of Paul’s stay:

He introduces himself, first of all, to the Jews. “And it came to pass, that after three days” – you’ll notice he doesn’t ever let any grass grow under his feet – “Paul called the chief of the Jews together.” Now, that is not one person; that is many of them. All of the important leaders of the synagogues, and historians have told us there’s anywhere from 12 down to 7 synagogues operating in Rome at this time in history. Each of those synagogues would have some chief men.

MacArthur also says that there were laymen who were wealthy and influential among the Jewish communities. Paul addressed them as ‘brethren’, and in older translations, ‘men and brethren’:

There were also wealthy trade merchants and other people who were of an official character in the city of Rome who were Jewish, who would have been in on this. So, “Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, ‘Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.’” And here is Paul’s pattern, as always; we see that whenever he has gone to a city previously, to whom did he go first? To the Jews.

Paul began by stating that he had never done anything against the Jews. Yet, the Jews in Jerusalem had him taken prisoner by the Romans.

Paul went on to say that the Romans found him guilty of no crime, therefore, no punishment — including the death penalty (verse 18). Now Paul was a Roman citizen, but when the Romans took him prisoner, the Jews had accused Paul of being an infiltrator from Egypt, one who had stirred up riots in Jerusalem. This, of course, was false, but took time for the Romans to establish and for Paul to set straight himself directly to the Jews afterwards.

Paul then said that the Jews objected to the Romans’ intention of setting Paul free and, because of that, he wanted to appeal to Caesar (verse 19). Once again, he said he had no complaint against the Jewish people, or ‘nation’.

Henry says:

It is true Paul did not impose the customs of the fathers upon the Gentiles: they were never intended for them. But it is as true that he never opposed them in the Jews, but did himself, when he was among them, conform to them. He never quarrelled with them for practising according to the usages of their own religion, but only for their enmity to the Gentiles, Galatians 2:12. Paul had the testimony of his conscience for him that he had done his duty to the Jews.

MacArthur rightly points out that if the Romans had freed Paul in Judea, the Jews would have retaliated violently. A Roman governor did not want disorder in the territory he governed, because he could be recalled.

MacArthur provides this analysis:

… even though he was innocent all the way down the line, here he is a prisoner in Rome. It is not because he is guilty that he is a prisoner; it is because the Romans were being blackmailed by the Jews. In other words, if the Romans did not keep him in prison, if they did not prosecute him, the Jews would lead an insurrection against Rome in Judea, and that would be very bad. So, the Roman governor succumbed to the pressure of the Jewish leaders, and kept Paul a prisoner.

Now, verse 18 takes us a little further into his introduction, as he talks to the elders of the Jews, the chief ones. Talking about the Romans, “Who, when they had examined me” – the Romans examined him; repeatedly they examined him, Felix, Festus and Agrippa – “Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.” He establishes right at the very beginning that in the eyes of Roman government, he is innocent. What he is saying is, “This is a Jewish problem. The Jewish people have sent me here, but in the eyes of the Roman law, as I faced it there, I am innocent.”

Through all that series of examinations – in chapter 24 with Felix, in chapter 25 with Festus, and in chapter 26 with Agrippa – he was innocent. Why was he not freed? Verse 19: “But when the Jews spoke against it” – or against me – “I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar.” In other words, he says, “Even though I was innocent, the Jews kept the pressure on me. So much so that my only escape was to appeal to Caesar and have this thing transferred to Rome, with the hope that I might get a fair trial.”

They recognized, you’ll remember, that he wasn’t going to get any justice in Judea because of the Jewish pressure, and so he did what every Roman citizen had the right to do: he appealed his case to Rome. And he was then transported to Rome, where his case was to be heard; and he felt, perhaps, that justice could be attained there. Now, having said all of this might be kind of a bad thing, because he really lays the onus on the Jews, and he may be just sort of X-ing himself out of any ministry.

So, in order to kind of neutralize what he’s just said, he adds the bottom half of verse 19. “Not that I had anything to accuse my nation of.” Now, notice, this is really a very important thing. He hastens to show that his defense is only that. It is only a defense. It is not offensive against the Jews. He’s saying, “I’m not condemning the Jews. I’m not attacking the Jews. I’m only defending myself. I have nothing against them. I’m not attacking back,” is what he’s saying.

He was no traitor to the natural cause of Judaism; he was a Jew in nationality, and he was a Jew in interest, certainly he was a Jew in his special love for them. You’ll notice that he says, “I have nothing to accuse my nation of.” What he’s saying is, “I am the accused, not the accuser. I have no bitterness toward Israel. I draw no accusation against them. I only defend myself.” And you remember back on all five of the defenses that we have heard of Paul, Paul has leveled no accusations against them. He has merely defended himself.

In verse 20, Luke, the author of Acts, cites Paul, giving us a mention of chains. The ‘hope of Israel’ to which Paul refers as the cause of said chains is Christ Jesus — the Messiah — and the resurrection of the dead, with the life of the world to come.

So why did the Jews not want to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Henry answers the question perfectly, which is why we must not get caught up in today’s social justice warrior (SJW) Christianity — a huge theological error:

Because he preached that the resurrection of the dead would come. This also was the hope of Israel; so he had called it, Acts 23:6,24:15,26:6,7. “They would have you still expect a Messiah that would free you from the Roman yoke, and make you great and prosperous upon earth, and it is this that occupies their thoughts; and they are angry at me for directing their expectations to the great things of another world, and persuading them to embrace a Messiah who will secure those to them, and not external power and grandeur. I am for bringing you to the spiritual and eternal blessedness upon which our fathers by faith had their eye, and this is what they hate me for,–because I would take you off from that which is the cheat of Israel, and will be its shame and ruin, the notion of a temporal Messiah, and lead you to that which is the true and real hope of Israel, and the genuine sense of all the promises made to the fathers, a spiritual kingdom of holiness and love set up in the hearts of men, to be the pledge of, and preparative for, the joyful resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

They responded that they had no written or oral remarks from Judean Jews about Paul (verse 21).

That sounds amazing, but MacArthur gives us two possible reasons why.

Here is the first:

You say, “How could this possibly be?” Remember this: Paul’s ship was probably the last ship, right? to come from Judea to Rome. Why? Because it left really later than it should have left. And by the time it got through all of the terrible storms, and was smashed on Malta, and everything, there wouldn’t have been any other ships but that one, very likely. Why?

Because when Paul was finally going to be sent to Rome, it was only a matter of days before he grabbed the first ship and was on his way. So, Paul would have been on the first ship to Rome from that area. There couldn’t have been anybody getting there any sooner. And of course, then when they had to spend the winter, he probably picked up the closest ship, and would have been there, again, before any messenger could have come; that’s very possible. 

Now the second:

But in addition to that, I think it’s important to remember, too, that the Jews were probably not real anxious to pursue the case to Rome, because they didn’t have a case, right?

And they were probably somewhat satisfied just to have him out of Judea, and so, they didn’t bother to send anybody with any word about it. And the attitude of these Jews is very diplomatic. They deny any knowledge of his case. No one had come and told them these things, and they were saying, “We’re open to hear what it is that you have to say.” The leaders of the Sanhedrin, as I say, probably didn’t bother to come. They had been such miserable failures in front of the provincial rulers, they weren’t about to come across as a total flop in front of Caesar.

And, incidentally, I think that an interesting thing to note is that the Roman government looked very, very harshly on somebody who prosecuted a case without strong evidence. And it would have been a very difficult thing to prosecute Paul, who was a Roman citizen, in the city of Rome, especially when they didn’t even have a case. And then, to add to that, a favorable information from Festus and Felix; there was no way they were going to come to Rome. There was no way they were going to make a stand against this man.

But, then, they wanted to know more about Christianity — ‘this sect’ — because it came in for so much criticism (verse 22).

Both Henry and MacArthur see the Roman Jews’ views as being suspect.

Henry tells us that they were both right and wrong:

“We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest–ha phroneis what thy opinions or sentiments are, what are those things which thou art so wise about, and hast such a relish of and such a zeal for; for, though we know little else of Christianity, we know it is a sect every where spoken against.” Those who said this scornful spiteful word of the Christian religion were Jews, the chief of the Jews at Rome, who boasted of their knowledge (Romans 2:17), and yet this was all they knew concerning the Christian religion, that it was a sect every where spoken against. They put it into an ill name, and then ran it down. (1.) They looked upon it to be a sect, and this was false. True Christianity establishes that which is of common concern to all mankind, and is not built upon such narrow opinions and private interests as sects commonly owe their original to. It aims at no worldly benefit or advantage as sects do; but all its gains are spiritual and eternal. And, besides, it has a direct tendency to the uniting of the children of men, and not the dividing of them, and setting them at variance, as sects have. (2.) They said it was every where spoken against, and this was too true. All that they conversed with spoke against it, and therefore they concluded every body did: most indeed did. It is, and always has been, the lot of Christ’s holy religion to be every where spoken against.

MacArthur sets us up for next week’s passage:

So, they say – “We haven’t heard anything of you, and we’re interested in what you have to say about this sect, that we hear everywhere spoken against. It has a bad reputation among us Jews.” And I think they moderated that; I think they could have said, “which we despise and hate,” because they knew all about Christianity, believe that, folks. The church had already been established in Rome. They were playing a little diplomacy here.

All right, that leads us to the third section in our paragraph, or really two paragraphs, and that is the invitation. Having seen their openness and interest, Paul then proceeds to give them a message and an invitation. He establishes a time for a great meeting, a day to make his presentation. All the Jewish leaders gather to hear him speak. And I think it’s kind of the fulfillment of Romans 1, where he said in verse 14, “I am debtor to the Greeks, and the Barbarians; to the wise, and to the unwise.

This is a more complex set of verses than it first appears. The story unfolds further next week.

Next time — Acts 28:23-27

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 omit — 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 28:11-16

Paul Arrives at Rome

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods[a] as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers[b] and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

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Last week’s post discussed the healing miracles that Paul performed for the people on Malta through the divine power that God had granted him.

With winter over (verse 11), it was time to resume the journey to Rome.

Luke gives us a bit of information about the ship (verse 11). It was from Alexandria, the breadbasket of Egypt at the time, an important source of grain for Rome. The ship also had a figurehead of Castor and Pollux, gods which were widely worshipped in Greece and Rome. These are the twins for the astrological sign Gemini, but in the ancient world, they represented much more.

Wikipedia explains (emphases in the original):

Castor[a] and Pollux[b] (or in Greek, Polydeuces[c]) were twin half-brothers in Greek and Roman mythology, known together as the Dioscuri.[d]

Their mother was Leda, but they had different fathers; Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Pollux was the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Though accounts of their birth are varied, they are sometimes said to have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.

In Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini[e] (literally “twins”) or Castores,[f] as well as the Tyndaridae[g] or Tyndarids.[h] When Castor was killed, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo’s fire. They were also associated with horsemanship, in keeping with their origin as the Indo-European horse twins.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia tells us (emphases mine):

The twins were considered the protectors of the home and hospitality, oaths, friendship, and sporting activities. Castor was held to be a skilled horse-tamer while Pollux possessed great boxing skills. Both were thought to protect warriors in battle and sailors at sea, especially those in life-threatening situations, and they would often appear in person at such times. At sea they were thought to appear in the form of St. Elmo’s fire.

In Italy the cult of the twins went back to the mid-6th century BCE. For the Romans the twins were the offspring of Jupiter and Leda; both were particularly associated with cavalry and Castor was adopted by the Roman knights (equites) for their patron. In addition, the twin brothers were represented in the constellation Gemini. Other associations were the dokana symbol (two vertical wooden posts connected by two horizontal beams), pairs of amphorae, snakes, and bossed shields.

Matthew Henry says that a Bible scholar, Dr Lightfoot, reckoned that Luke included the detail to indicate that the centurion Julius and his crew might have believed they would have better sailing conditions with these deities notionally watching over them:

Dr. Lightfoot thinks that Luke mentions this circumstance to intimate the men’s superstition, that they hoped they should have better sailing under this badge than they had had before.

They first landed on Sicily, which is fairly close to Malta geographically. They anchored at Syracuse, where they stayed for three days (verse 12). Syracuse had long been the most important port in Sicily, although, after the 7th century, Palermo overtook it in importance.

John MacArthur is quite sure that Paul wasted no time in Syracuse and began preaching the Good News:

Tradition says that Paul founded a church there too. Now I don’t know whether that’s true but it sounds like him. I mean I’ve got 3 days here I might as well start a church. Amazing, I’m telling you. There’s no way to calculate the man’s spirit. And, incidentally, Sicily is an island about 80 or 90 miles away from Malta and a 3-day layover there.

From there, the wind caused them problems, so they tacked then docked at Rhegium (verse 13), which is known as Reggio di Calabria today. It is at the toe of Italy’s ‘boot’ — the region of Calabria — not far from Sicily.

A more favourable southerly wind blew in and they were able to dock at Puteoli (verse 13), which is now called Pozzuoli. It, too, was an important port and more protected than the coastline near Rome. Its name comes from the volcanic sulphur which comprises its terrain.

Bible Map explains:

The region in which the town was situated is of volcanic formation, the name Puteoli being due to the odor of the sulphureous springs or to the wells of a volcanic nature which abound in the vicinity. The volcanic dust, called pozzolana today, was mixed with lime to form a cement of the greatest durability, which was weatherproofing against the influence of seawater.

Its sheltered location made it a resort for Roman nobility:

The region about Puteoli together with Baiae became the favorite resort of the Roman nobility, and the foundations of many ancient villas are still visible, although partly covered by the sea.

Luke states that he, Paul and their friends found Christians there with whom they stayed before journeying on to Rome (verse 14). Recall that the centurion Julius was favourably disposed towards Paul and no doubt allowed him this liberty. It could be that Julius himself had business to do and/or friends to visit in this city.

MacArthur describes the small Christian community in Puteoli:

There was a large Jewish community in Puteoli. It was a trade center like Corinth or Ephesus or Antioch and it would be occupied by Jews who were there for the trade business. And they found some Christians there and they had a terrific time for 7 days with a Christian. Some think the church at Puteoli and at Rome could have been founded as early as 50 to 60 A.D. so that’s very possible. It wasn’t a church that Paul founded. They were already there, and it must have been a blessed fellowship – an exciting time as they shared together. And Paul, finally, he was just 145 miles from Rome and here was a group of Christians. It must have thrilled his heart.

They made the journey to Rome on foot at that point. MacArthur says they would have travelled via the famous Appian Way:

The end of verse 14, “And so we came to Rome.” “So we came to Rome.” At last! Now they would have had to go from Puteoli on the very famous Appian Highway. The Appian Way. Name[d] for Claudius Appia who was the commissioning builder in 312. It led to Rome and so off they go on the Appian Way.

At this point, Paul had already written his letter to the Romans. He had never seen them before, but he would now. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for him. His lengthy letter helped those Christians better organise their growing community, structurally and doctrinally.

So, grateful members of the church in this great city travelled to nearby cities along the Appian Way to greet Paul. It is possible that the believers of Puteoli sent word that the Apostle was there. That he was a prisoner of Rome was no matter to them. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and ‘took courage’ (verse 15).

Henry explains:

They had heard much of his fame, what use God had made of him, and what eminent service he had done to the kingdom of Christ in the world, and to what multitudes of souls he had been a spiritual father. They had heard of his sufferings, and how God had owned him in them, and therefore they not only longed to see him, but thought themselves obliged to show him all possible respect, as a glorious advocate for the cause of Christ. He had some time ago written a long epistle to them, and a most excellent one, the epistle to the Romans, in which he had not only expressed his great kindness for them, but had given them a great many useful instructions, in return for which they show him this respect. They went to meet him, that they might bring him in state, as ambassadors and judges make their public entry, though he was a prisoner. Some of them went as far as Appii-forum, which was fifty-one miles from Rome; others to a place called the Three Taverns, which was twenty-eight miles (some reckon it thirty-three miles) from Rome. They are to be commended for it, that they were so far from being ashamed of him, or afraid of owning him, because he was a prisoner, that for that very reason they counted him worthy of double honour, and were the more careful to show him respect.

MacArthur gives us this insight:

Paul saw thanked god and what? Took courage. Was encouraged. Oh, he was thrilled at this reception. It had been three years since he wrote the Roman letter. Three years since he said I want to come to you on minister to you and impart a spiritual gift and mutually be comforted by you. Three years had gone by and they remembered him and they were eager for him.

Mercifully, Julius must have given Paul permission to stay by himself in Rome with only one soldier to guard him (verse 16).

MacArthur says that it was horrible for Paul to have been chained to his guard the entire time:

He was chained all the time to a Roman soldier. Verse 20 tells us about that, and verse 30. He had his own house and his own private guard was chained to him. But whenever I think about him being chained to the guard I always think about the guard being chained to him and I think that’s probably worse – never being able to get away from that guy would really be tough.

However, Henry posits a more optimistic view, and based on Julius’s lenient treatment of Paul from the beginning, I rather side with Henry’s perspective:

He is a prisoner, but not a close prisoner, not in the common jail: Paul was suffered to dwell by himself, in some convenient private lodgings which his friends there provided for him, and a soldier was appointed to be his guard, who, we hope, was civil to him, and let him take all the liberty that could be allowed to a prisoner, for he must be very ill-natured indeed that could be so to such a courteous obliging man as Paul. Paul, being suffered to dwell by himself, could the better enjoy himself, and his friends, and his God, than if he had been lodged with the other prisoners. Note, This may encourage God’s prisoners, that he can give them favour in the eyes of those that carry them captive (Psalms 106:46), as Joseph in the eyes of his keeper (Genesis 39:21), and Jehoiachin in the eyes of the king of Babylon, 2 Kings 25:27,28. When God does not deliver his people presently out of bondage, yet, if he either make it easy to them or them easy under it, they have reason to be thankful.

Indeed, the remainder of Acts 28 gives witness to the fact that Paul was able to preach and teach ‘with all boldness and without hindrance’ (verse 31).

Next time — Acts 28:17-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jews and Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augustus allowed the Jews to practise their faith freely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrestus

The name Chrestus is connected with Claudius’s edict.

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

MacArthur gives us more information about Chrestus:

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

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

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

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

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

Origins of the church in Rome

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

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

about whom, he writes the following:

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

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

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

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

Peter — and Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lonely Pilgrim cites the first of Peter’s letters:

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

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

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

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

Peter and Paul together in Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

I’ll leave the final word to Dr MaGee:

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

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

Last year I finally got around to writing about the history of Valentine’s Day.

Since then, a bit more information has come in!

Let the story continue …

The French site l’Internaute has quite the summary of everything we always wanted to know about February 14, and is the source for the next few sections below.

Lupercalia

In ancient Rome Lupercalia was held every year on February 15. It was a year-end celebration of Faunus Lupercus, the god of fertility, shepherds and their flocks. It was also a rite of purification prior to the New Year, which fell on March 1.

The festival had three ceremonies. The first involved the pagan priests sacrificing a goat in the grotto of Lupercal, the wolf who nourished Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome.

The remains of the goat were then used in the ritual which followed. The priests daubed young members of noble families with the goat’s blood which was a purification rite, representing a symbolic cleansing of the shepherds.

No doubt other animals were sacrificed, because the priests kept the blood and the skins for a race through the streets of Rome. They daubed themselves in blood, as they had done to the young noblemen. The skins served as a covering and switches. The priests and noblemen wore some of the skin and carried switches with which to whip people as they ran down the streets. Women were particularly eager for this, because it was said that a whipping was said to give a happy pregnancy and painless childbirth. (This is not the only pagan tradition in Europe where men used to whip women in late winter or early Spring. Central Europe has Dyngus Day, which takes place on Easter Monday and may extend to Easter Tuesday, when women get their own back on the men. No doubt there were more.)

Lupercalia culminated in a great banquet, where men chose their dining partners. This sometimes led to marriage.

It is also worth remembering that the story of Cupid and Psyche was part of Roman mythology.

Pope Gelasius I

Even once most Romans had converted to Christianity, Lupercalia continued to be celebrated.

In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I wanted to put a stop to the festivities. He wrote a letter to Senator Andromachus in which he listed his objections to the pagan revelry. Gelasius criticised the immoral behaviour displayed and pointed out that the pagan worship and rituals did nothing against the disease epidemics which plagued the city 20 years before.

However, Andromachus was fond of Lupercalia and refused to forbid the celebrations.

Gelasius had no choice but to urge Christians to turn the day into one of true love. He chose February 14 to commemorate St Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. However, Wikipedia says that Gelasius initiated Candlemas — February 2 — and encouraged devotion to Mary, recalling her purity. Incidentally, February comes from februare, meaning ‘to purify’.

Middle Ages

February 14 was not widely celebrated in Europe until the Middle Ages.

No doubt the notion of chivalry which was popular at that time gave rise to gentleness and honour on the part of men towards women.

Some pagan elements remained, even though the Continent was Christian by this time. A ‘love lottery’ took place in several European countries. Young people drew names of a partner of the opposite sex and wore that person’s name on their sleeves for the following week. On the first Sunday of Lent, the Bonfire Festival took place. A ‘knight’ — a Valentine (see my post for an explanation) — from the February 14 draw was appointed to head the festival. He was accompanied by a young woman. They led a procession around their town or village. The people carried small torches to burn weeds and smoke out garden pests, such as moles, in order to ensure a good crop during the summer months. The festivities concluded with a bonfire.

It was also during this era that young women paid attention to the birds they saw during this time. Some species were said to indicate what sort of men they would marry. A robin indicated a sailor. A sparrow designated a man of modest means who would keep her happy. A goldfinch was said to presage marriage to a wealthy man.

The cross as ‘x’ — and a kiss

The ‘x’ has been used by Christians since the earliest days of the Church.

Initially, an ‘x’ at the bottom of a message indicated a thousand kisses.

The ‘x’ recalled the cross on which St Andrew, the apostle, died. He, like St Peter, did not consider himself worthy to die the same way our Lord did. Also like Peter, Andrew died as a martyr. He had gone to preach in what is now the Balkans and was crucified in Patras in the Peloponnese. During his lifetime, he had travelled all the way to what, today, is Kiev. Therefore, it is not surprising that after his death a great devotion arose to him.

The custom of the illiterate signing their names with an ‘x’ began in the Middle Ages. Those who did so had to then kiss that cross as a sign that they were telling the truth in court or another situation involving the law. Remember, the printing press was still to come, so Bibles were rare.

From this and from the earliest days of the Church, the ‘x’ came to symbolise a kiss.

Shakespeare

Last year’s post looked at Valentine’s customs through the Renaissance.

The source for the following material comes from The Telegraph’s 2010 article, ‘History of Valentine’s Day’.

By the early 17th century, February 14 was widely celebrated as a day of love. Shakespeare made a reference to it:

in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”

Mid-18th century

In England, men began writing love notes on St Valentine’s Day. In 1797, a book, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, appeared. It advised on which phrases, rhymes and words to use in these messages, which were precursors to the Valentine’s Day card.

When sending messages by post became affordable, the possibility of sending Valentines anonymously became standard — and still is today in the UK.

19th century

By the beginning of the 19th century, sending Valentines was so popular that English factories began to mass-produce them.

In the United States, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, began making and selling Valentine’s Day cards in 1847. She was able to use a new innovation — paper lace — to adorn her cards.

20th century

Valentine’s Day became commercialised with Hallmark Cards’ Valentines in 1913. February 14 is one of the company’s big card-selling occasions.

Then there was the St Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929.

By the 1980s, a whole industry emerged around Valentine’s Day. What used to be an occasion for a card and flowers or chocolates went upmarket when diamonds were marketed as the most desirable gift a woman could receive on February 14. Jewellery has since remained a popular gift.

21st century

In 2009, American retail figures showed that people spent an estimated $14.7 billion (£9.2 billion) on Valentine’s Day cards and gifts.

In 2010 — nearly a century after Hallmark’s Valentines appeared — 1 billion cards were sent around the world.

Enjoy your Sunday and best wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day!

On the day before his feast day on June 29, the Telegraph (UK) reports that archaeologists believe they have found the oldest image of St Paul.  Interestingly, this discovery comes at the conclusion of the Year of St Paul.

They found the image in the Catacomb of St Thekla (Thecla), a young virgin and martyr who was strongly influenced by St Paul’s teachings on chastity.  Her tomb is near the Basilica of St Paul, said to have been built on his burial site.  It is not unusual to see ancient frescos showing the two of them together, particularly in Syria and Turkey.  A manuscript called The Acts of Paul and Thekla, written in the 2nd century AD, is well known in the Eastern (Orthodox) Church.  Versions have existed in Coptic, Greek, Latin and Ethiopic.  Catholics celebrate Thekla’s feast day on September 23, and the Orthodox Church celebrate it the following day.

The Telegraph article states in part:

Barbara Mazzei, the director of the work at the Catacomb, said: ‘We had been working in the Catacomb for some time and it is full of frescoes.

‘However the pictures are all covered with limestone which was covering up much of the artwork and so to remove it and clean it up we had to use fine lasers.

‘The result was exceptional because from underneath all the dirt and grime we saw for the first time in 1600 years the face of Saint Paul in a very good condition.

‘It was easy to see that it was Saint Paul because the style matched the iconography that we know existed at around the 4th Century – that is the thin face and the dark beard.

‘It is a sensational discovery and is of tremendous significance. This is then first time that a single image of Saint Paul in such good condition has been found and it is the oldest one known of.

‘Traditionally in Christian images of St Paul he is always alongside St Peter but in this icon he was on his own and what is also significant is the fact that St Paul’s Basilica is just a few minutes walk away.’

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