When speaking about the Big Bang Theory, physicist and cosmologist, Alan Guth, described the expanding universe as “the ultimate free lunch.” That idea is very appealing. Nearly everyone likes to get something for free or next to it. For example, how many of us have ever entered free contests to receive a prize, whereby all we have to do is give our names and wait for someone to randomly pick the winner out of jar full of slips of paper, so we can take home our booty? Read the rest of this entry »
Category Archives: Christianity
Personally, I don’t like to refer to believers as Christian before Acts 11:19-30, because until that time there were no Christians per se. We referred to ourselves as followers of the Way (Christ—cp. John 14:6), and up until Antioch most believers were either Jewish or Jewish proselytes No doubt Paul was preaching to both Jews and gentiles in Syria-Cilicia where his hometown of Tarsus was located, but no one was called Christian, until believers from Cyprus and Cyrene preached to gentiles in Antioch. Read the rest of this entry »
As a Sunday school teacher, from time to time someone will come to my class, spend one week with us and then leave, sometimes telling me he wants to check out another class. I thank him for stopping by and considering our class and what we are discussing, and tell him I hope he finds what he is looking for. To be perfectly honest, I have to admit there is a tinge of jealousy on my part, as I watch him walk away. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, and I put the feeling down, recognizing it is only from the flesh, but, still, it is there; and it surfaced, even if I am the only one who noticed. Do we all have such feelings? I don’t know—but I know I do. Read the rest of this entry »
Luke tells us in Acts 12:3 that Herod (Agrippa I) executed James, the son of Zebedee, with a sword. The problem is Luke never tells us why. He simply records the event. So, what prompted Herod to lift up his hand against certain disciples? Can we know? I don’t think it is possible to know with certainty, but I do believe we can come close to the truth by interpreting wisely some of what we find in Luke’s record. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you ever wonder how we got our name Christian? I have several nicknames and I know how I received each one. Some of the reasons are quite funny, while others are a bit embarrassing. Some were used for a short period of time, and others I am known by to this day. Nevertheless, all of them are mine, and I know the reason why and by whom I had been called by each name that was used to identify me. So, since we had begun to be known as followers of the Way or Nazarenes, how is it we finally became known as Christian? Who gave us this name and why, and can we know? Read the rest of this entry »
Paul’s activity after his heavenly vision in Acts 9 seems to suggest an independence from the Apostles as far as authority is concerned. That is, he didn’t need their approval or authorization to preach the Gospel where and when he thought the Lord led. It was about three years after his transformation that he even attempted to see the Apostles (Acts 9:26-28), and even then his visit arose out of the circumstances at hand. That is, he was no longer able to stay in Damascus, so he was then ready to meet with the Twelve. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you ever see something that took you by surprise and you did a “double-take”? You know, you looked once as you were walking and then it hit you, and you stopped, because you had to give it another, more lingering look. I believe this is what John is telling us when the Gospel writer records: “I knew him not…” John repeats this in verse-33. He was astonished that he did not know the Messiah without seeing the Father’s sign that the Holy Spirit would descend and remain upon the One who was to come. Read the rest of this entry »
Most commentaries I’ve read about Paul’s dramatic spiritual transformation on the way to Damascus have him preaching immediately after his spiritual awakening, discussing with the Jews in the synagogues there, showing Jesus was the Messiah. However, this makes no sense whatsoever, because Jerusalem knows absolutely nothing of Paul and his work there. Surely after a period of three years something would have trickled down from Damascus to Jerusalem showing what Paul was doing. Nevertheless, the Scriptures are silent as it pertains to Jerusalem’s knowledge of Paul’s activities. Read the rest of this entry »
It is difficult to find ministries these days that don’t claim to have it all. They preach the word like no one else, help the needy in their community and are first on the scene of every disaster. I’m not trying to make light of anyone’s ministry in Christ, but it seems at times it is difficult for anyone to admit any weakness, or limitation. In reality, they most likely are proficient at one thing and are connected to and financially support other anonymous, but proficient and separate, ministries who take care the needy and still others who are especially ready to help out in disasters. Nevertheless, to listen to some folks, they are a mega-ministry in the hands of the Lord. Perhaps one or two are, but I simply cannot believe everyone on Christian radio and TV is that big and powerful. Read the rest of this entry »
After Paul returned to Damascus from Arabia, he began to preach in the synagogues there. At that time there were thousands of Jews and Jewish proselytes among the Damascenes for Josephus tells us that 10, 000 Jews were slain there during the Jewish revolt [Wars 2.20.2], and this appears to be men only, for in another place he says there were 18,000 slain and there included women and children [Wars 7.8.7], but this does not include Jewish sympathizers or God-fearers who worshiped among the Jews every Sabbath. So, evidently Paul had a great mission field here, near where he first came to know Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »
When I was growing up and was first taught about John the Baptist, I visualized a man in a kind of caveman outfit with wide eyes, unkempt hair and usually screaming out a message of hellfire and brimstone. You know what? This same picture is pretty much painted of him today, as well. But, is it accurate? Can we know from the Scriptures what John was like? Yes, I believe we can know a few things about John; at least enough can be learned to show that this assumption of his being a hell and damnation type preacher is wrong. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you ever wonder how Paul first began to understand the circumcision doctrine that so identified Pauline theology? Well, immediately following his heavenly vision, Paul went into Arabia. More than likely he spent some time in the synagogues in various cities he visited there. Paul already knew the Nabataeans were near relatives to the Jews, descending from Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar, Sarah’s slave. He would have found, if he didn’t know already, Nabataeans were more easily won over as proselytes to Judaism there than in other Gentile countries in the empire. Why was this so? No doubt it was because of the Nabataean’s disposition toward the Jewish practice of circumcision. Being descended from Abraham, circumcision was not rejected, as it was in other Gentile countries. It was already practiced, but not under compulsory conditions as in Judea and Galilee. Nabataeans were more or less indifferent toward the practice.
Paul must have reflected upon this while he was in Arabia. Certainly in the 2 to 2 ½ years he spent there, he had time to familiarize himself with the local customs. Meeting Nabataean proselytes and speaking to Jewish brethren there, circumcision would have been discussed and its ease of acceptance among the Gentiles living there as opposed to the Jew’s western neighbors throughout the Roman Empire. What would Paul have thought about this? Here were people who sporadically practiced the act of circumcision—the sign of righteousness—but were they righteous? By Jewish standards, of course they weren’t. For the Nabataeans, circumcision had lost all its significance. Many had the “sign” of righteousness in their bodies, but that is as far as it had gone. If circumcision was merely an outward sign, meant to indicate a spiritual reality, would the physical act be necessary at all? Thus with further reflection, Paul would remember that Abraham was **declared** righteous before the act of circumcision was performed (Romans 4:9-10)! No doubt it was not a giant leap in understanding for Paul, the rabbi, to see Abraham could then be seen as the father of those who believe—Jews or Gentiles, circumcised or not—because the act of circumcision was merely the “sign” of a deeper spiritual reality.
Paul must have grappled with understanding things like circumcision while he was in Arabia, because from the very beginning of his Gospel—it is there; not so, for the other apostles. Paul had to formulate a foundation for what he would preach to the Gentiles to whom he was sent by the Lord, which we see in Paul’s heavenly vision. Paul may have had some memory of Jesus in Jerusalem and even some idea of the Jesus traditions through disciples he interrogated, but all this was second hand. He had to formulate a clarified foundation for his own mission to the Jews and Gentile sympathizers. This is where his scholarship training at the feet of Gamaliel came into play. It would be only natural for Paul, the rabbi, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to question the practice of circumcision as a godly command, while he was yet in Arabia. There he dwelled among those who often practiced the sign of righteousness without it having any spiritual significance in their lives.
Paul’s Gospel is rooted here. His visit to Nabataea was not so much a mission to the Gentiles as it was a mission for the Gentiles. Paul’s visit to Arabia was in reality a mission to Gentiles, yes, but for himself. And, because of what Jesus taught him through the Gentiles there, he could later conclude he was a debtor to them (Romans 1:14).
In Romans, one of Paul’s final letters, we would find him still preaching the very things he considered in these three years between his heavenly vision and his first visit to Jerusalem. His theology wasn’t gradually understood. It was known, accepted and preached by him from the time he first preached it in Damascus and had to run for his life. It is taught from his first letter to the Galatians to his final letter while in prison at Rome. This was “his” Gospel which he learned of the Lord while visiting Arabia immediately after his heavenly vision.
Have you ever wondered what God is like? We see him portrayed exactly as he is in the face and life of Jesus (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the exact representation on earth of what God is in heaven. You see, no one had ever seen God (John 1:18), so no one knew what he was like. If Jesus is God through whom all things were created, and he came into this world, lived among us, but we never recognized who he actually is, then it is pretty safe to conclude that no one really knows God without knowing Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »
“Who are the children of Abraham?” It seems this was a question under discussion in the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8), as well as that of Jesus (John 8:39), but although there are implications in the Gospel narratives, Paul defines the doctrine more vividly than what is found in the Gospel accounts. For Paul, Abraham’s children are those who “believe God” just as Abraham believed God. They are not necessarily, in the spiritual sense, those who are physically descended from Abraham, although his physical descendants must ultimately be dealt with. The question is, however, where did Paul get this idea, since he was never one of John’s or Jesus’ disciples. Read the rest of this entry »