I have read many commentaries of Stephen’s death and of Paul’s persecuting believers of the Way, that conclude first the witnesses lied saying Stephen cursed the Temple and the Law, and secondly that Paul tried to cause believers to curse Jesus. These things are not true, at least not in the sense that we understand cursing today. Jesus was crucified under the charge of blasphemy. I have two blogs on this: (1) Jesus Before the Sanhedrin and (2) Jesus Before Pilate, and they show beyond doubt that the Scriptures conclude Jesus was crucified under the charge of blasphemy, despite the plaque that Pilate had nailed above Jesus’ head. Read the rest of this entry »
Tag Archives: Saint Paul
Most folks think of the Apostolic Age as a period between Pentecost, cir. 31 CE, and the death of the last of the original twelve Apostles. To some degree this is true, but as far as the New Testament is concerned, the centrality of apostolic authority is a dwindling one and ended much earlier—at least as far as the Jerusalem church was concerned. Read the rest of this entry »
At first when Paul tells us that men from James arrived in Antioch and drew Peter and Barnabas away from the table fellowship of Jewish and Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11-13), one thinks that James actually sent these men, but it is something he specifically denied in Acts 15. I think we should probably understand the phrase as being equal to “…men from the Jerusalem church.” James seems to have been the acknowledged leader of the Jerusalem community of believers by this time, which was after the expulsion of the Apostles under the Agrippa persecution of the early 40s CE (Acts 12). Read the rest of this entry »
Often, when reading about the events that Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians I am told that Paul’s confrontation in Antioch with Peter occurred after the Jerusalem council. The reasoning behind this is that Paul addresses Peter’s own words that salvation rests not in works but in faith alone. Notice: Read the rest of this entry »
In an earlier blog I had suggested that Paul’s move to Tarsus had a prophetic implication. It is suggested in a book I have read: “Paul: Between Damascus and Antioch” by Martin Hengle and Anna Maria Schwemer, that Paul deliberately placed himself in the position to fulfill prophecy which he saw in Genesis in Noah’s prayer: “God enlarge Japhet, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27). Read the rest of this entry »
Jesus told the apostles that they would be his witnesses to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), but he never told them how this would be done—only that they would be witnesses to all. Yet, years after his crucifixion and resurrection the apostles are still in Jerusalem. Why? Oh, tradition has it that they were each assigned regions of the world and went out to evangelize the world, but the Scriptures imply, at least for a large part of the first fifteen or so years of church history, the apostles remained at Jerusalem. Didn’t they take the Lord’s word seriously? Read the rest of this entry »
The eighth chapter of Acts begins with the persecution of the Church immediately following the death of Stephen in the fall of 34 CE. At this point in time, however, it would be wrong to assume the Church is an entity in itself in the same manner that it had become in the 2nd century CE. Rather all Messianic Jews were considered a part of Judaism, a faith made up of all Jews, whether or not one believed in Jesus as the Messiah. It is precisely because Stephen and the group of Messianic believers who settled in Jerusalem from the Diaspora were Jews that the leaders in Jerusalem had the authority to pursue them and bring them to Jerusalem for trial. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul tells us that between the time of his life-changing vision of Jesus in chapter nine of Acts (36 AD) and the council at Jerusalem was fourteen years (50 AD). In Galatians he says he did not immediately go to Jerusalem after he saw Jesus, but did go three years later. However, he did not go to Jerusalem again to discuss theology until fourteen years after his vision of Jesus (Galatians 2:1). So, by the time Paul met with Peter and James the first time, it was three years after his vision (39 AD), and between this time and when he and Barnabas left for Galatia on Paul’s supposed first missionary journey in 47 AD, there are about eight silent years. Technically, since not much is known of Paul’s first three years as a Messianic Jew, we could include his first three years and say there are virtually eleven silent years. However, for the purpose of this blog, I am concerned with the eight. Read the rest of this entry »
When Paul attempted to reconnect with old friends in the Grecian synagogues at Jerusalem, it ended with his having to flee for his life. The brethren in Jerusalem took him as far as Caesarea, where Paul sailed to Tarsus. As one reads the account, it all seems to just naturally flow into the idea that Paul went home to reconnect with family and childhood friends, and thereby more or less nurse his wounded self-esteem. Up to this point Paul had probably preached in Arabia, Damascus and Jerusalem. The result was Aretas’ ethnarch sought to arrest him, the Jews in Damascus sought to kill him, and his old friends at Jerusalem turned against him and also sought his life. What was he doing wrong? Read the rest of this entry »
Paul told the Galatians that he had stayed with Peter at Jerusalem for fifteen days (Galatians 1:18), immediately following his escape from Damascus, and the three years since his dramatic life-changing experience with Jesus. Someone in Galatia was claiming Paul’s Gospel was learned from the original 12 Apostles and therefore should be subservient to what they taught the Jews. On the other hand, Paul’s point was he was specifically called by Christ and, seeing that he spent three years in Arabia and Damascus before he sought a meeting with Peter, how could the two weeks he spent with him be construed to mean he was dependent upon him or any of the original Twelve for his Gospel? If we can agree with this conclusion, we may then ask, what was discussed between these two men? I think we can be assured it wasn’t the weather. 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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
“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 »