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The Lives of the Apostles and the Writing of the New Testament II

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Question #1:

Thiessen uses several arguments to support the point that a severe letter from Paul to the Corinthians, written between 1 and 2 Corinthians, has been lost. What is your take on this issue?

Response #1:

Paul's writing is often difficult to understand as even Peter noted under divine inspiration (2Pet.3:15-16). Having studied this a long time my considered view is that there is no such intervening letter and that in fact 2nd Corinthians contains direct responses to 1st Corinthians – as in the order to be gentle with the young man involved in sin (1Cor.5:1ff. responded to at 2Cor.2:2-11). The reasons scholars think that this is not the same person is because of their inability to come to terms with Paul's diction; but the longer you've read him in Greek, the more this seems like a direct response to the previous passage. There is also, of course, the issue of "another painful visit" in 2Cor.2:1, but I don't find that as outside of the normal manner of Paul's phraseology that is so conflicts with what we know of events that we have to posit an intervening letter. By this phrase Paul means "another visit which under the circumstances will be a painful one instead of a pleasant one" rather than "a second painful-visit".

Question #2:

It seems to me that Paul's way of teaching is completely different to that of our Lord's. He seems to desire to establish some sort of rapport with the audience in Acts chapter 17 verse 23 by somehow comparing false religion of Athenians to true worship, now he quotes a non-scriptural source. Jesus was telling the truth very plainly, even if His teaching was difficult, it was always straight to the point. As you said of His teaching, there was no rhetoric, no tools that would make the truth more palatable for those who didn't want to know it. But Paul is different in this respect, even though he does make a point himself that he doesn't want to resort to worldly eloquence at the beginning of both letters to the Corinthians. I just cannot imagine our Lord saying what Paul says here.

Response #2:

Let me preface with this. Audience always makes a difference. I speak with you differently than I would with an unbeliever. Why? Because I want to communicate effectively in both cases for the good of whomever I am speaking with and to the glory of God.

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1st Corinthians 9:22 NIV

Our Lord was sent "to the lost sheep of Israel", and not to the gentiles, but when He did have contact with non-Jews, His approach was slightly different (cf. Matt.15:21-28; Jn.4:7-26; 18:3-34). The truth is the truth, but there are different ways of saying things. Apologetics is different from evangelizing and both are different from teaching believers – and even though many in Israel were in fact unbelievers, they were of the culture of faith and were supposed to be believers: "He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him" (Jn.1:11).

It is possible to say things different ways and still be completely truthful and correct. Each of us have our own gifts, and modifying the manner in which we communicate is appropriate and often needful to connect with the particular audience in question. Changing the truth or giving a false impression is not appropriate. Getting this issue right is not the stuff of spiritual immaturity. In the book of Acts, we have an additional interpretative problem. Acts records, as in this instances you include, what was actually said. If may well be that absolutely everything a Peter or a Paul is reported as saying in Acts is doctrinally correct 100%, but we still have to be careful about a) building doctrine on these speeches, or b) adopting their approach in how to communicate, or c) drawing conclusions about what we should do in emulation or in response without considering the times and circumstances of these speeches. E.g., Peter's speech in Acts chapter two is given at the very inception of the Church to Jews who are not yet believers and while the temple was still standing; adopting his words to ourselves today without regard to these critical factors is a great mistake.

So in sum, it is true that Paul's approach was different on this occasion, but it is also true that the time was different (the Church Age had begun), the circumstances were different (this is Athens, not Jerusalem), and the audience was different (pagan gentiles who had never heard of the Bible, rather than as-yet-not-believing-Jews who nonetheless had a heritage of scripture). What is common to our Lord's teachings in the gospels and to those of Paul in Acts and the epistles is that they are completely consistent in terms of the truth.

Question #3:

Acts 17:28 (NASB):
For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'

Why does Paul make a reference to non-scriptural sources?

Response #3:

His audience had never even heard of the Bible (with a few possible exceptions) but they did consider their poets to be inspired by the gods. The quotation correctly expresses important points of natural revelation, namely, that there is one God, that He is omnipresent, and that He is the origin of all human life. Rather than stating these things and inviting resistance, Paul very astutely gains a hearing for what comes next by putting his audience in a frame of mind to be thinking about in an accepting way some basic principles that every unbeliever knows are true (at least before hardening their hearts against them), doing so as a precursor to leading them to accept the desired conclusion: this one God has provided a means of salvation from the death you all know is coming and rightly fear.

Question #4:

Acts 17:22 (NASB)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects."

Why does Paul start his speech in this way, knowing that Athenians' religiousness was was not based on the truth?

Response #4:

Interestingly, Paul actually uses the word deisidaimon, and while "religious" is not a completely erroneous translation for those who know what religio means in Latin (more "superstition" or "cultic rite" than our English derivative) it is at least somewhat misleading. The Greek word means "fearing divinity" but in a superstitious way (as opposed to "reverence") which engenders ritualistic and cultic behavior (rather than any change of heart). Unbelievers of the ancient world like all human beings knew there is a God; not wanting to deal with Him, they invented ritualistic religion out of superstition to serve as a sort of bulwark against having to deal with (read "be able to ignore") the fear of judgment and death that otherwise is the natural conclusion any human being will reach in viewing the essential realities of life. If we understand that the Athenians thought being superstitious and diligent in cultivating its pagan manifestations was a good thing, while Paul and we understand it is bad in every way, you will have the gist of this very clever way of putting things on Paul's part. Indirectly, Paul brings their attention to the fear in the back of their minds about all things divine, in order to show them that there is indeed a solution – and it's not religion/superstition.

Question #5:

Acts 17:23 (NASB)
"For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."

On what basis does Paul make this point? It seems that he is assuming that this altar could somehow refer to the one true God?

Response #5:

It certainly could refer to any god/God anyone wanted it to refer to since he/He is "unknown". Paul's astuteness continues by pointing out to the audience that even by their own practice the Athenians acknowledged that there were things they didn't understand about heaven/eternity/the supernatural . . . God and salvation – which he will now explain to them.

Question #6:

Acts 22:3 (NASB)
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today."

Why does Paul say that the Jews are zealous for God if their zeal is not really for God? Isn't he again trying to flatter the audience to gain a hearing?

Response #6:

I am a big "fan" of Paul as you know. However, here we see him engaging in rhetoric to save his own life – on account of what was in my view a mistake in going up to Jerusalem against what Acts seems to show definitively was contrary to the commands of the Holy Spirit (see the link: "Paul's Jerusalem Error". Whenever we find ourselves in a position of weakness as a result of our own mistakes, sins and errors, the ensuing trouble always seems to necessitate compromise as problems compound (cf. David going to Gath: 1Sam.21:10-15). This all took place before the Lord told Paul that He would be with him in bringing him through this trial (Acts 23:11). As to the substance of your question, one can be zealous for anything, true or false, good or bad; and even if the object is good, the method of expressing the zeal can be bad. Freedom is good; if I express my zeal for it by killing the innocent with the guilty, that is not good. These individuals were, like Paul before his epiphany, genuinely zealous for God – even though they did not really know Him and were not "known" by Him because they had not accepted His Son our Lord (cf. Gal.4:17).

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (epignosis, i.e., truth understood through faith). For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
Romans 10:1-3 NKJV

Question #7:

Acts 23:1 (NASB)
Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day."

How can Paul, well aware of the sinfulness of every human and his own shortcomings which included the persecution of the church, say that he has lived his life "with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day"?

Response #7:

See previous question; viewing this remark with charity we can say that Paul had, from the perspective of the Pharisees he was addressing, indeed done so. Not only was he the best possible Pharisee, but also after being saved his conduct was as close to being observably without reproach than probably anyone else around. This is not a theological comment (see preliminary remarks), but one with which the people he was addressing would not be able to quibble according to the facts. If I say "he/she is a good Christian", one might lodge the same objection, but what I would mean by that statement is that he/she, while imperfect, is giving a good witness of the life and running a good race. That was certainly true of Paul, and was, from a legalistic point of view, true of him too before he was saved. Laying claim to this is important for retaining the good will of the audience to bring about the desired result – not being executed. Whether this was right to do or not is, I suppose, an open question. We are told by our Lord in the gospels that once the Tribulation begins, should we be haled before some kangaroo court, we don't have to worry about such things and should not give forethought to how we might answer such a tribunal because the Spirit will provide us the words when it comes to that. Now if we find ourselves in court for some other reason before the Tribulation (or something analogous), we would, I think, be justified in presenting our case in the most positive possible way and in consideration of the audience we are trying to convince. But why are we in court in the first place (or something analogous)? Maybe it is not through any fault of our own, or maybe, like Paul, not being perfect, we have erred in some way and the trial (or something analogous) is a consequence. And there are mixed situations of course – life is one big mixed situation for the most part. Paul, in my reading of scripture, should not have gone up to Jerusalem, but on the other hand he did nothing illegal or immoral in doing so, nothing worthy of being the target of assassination or having to go on trial for his life! None of us is perfect. Finding ourselves in situation X, we do our best. Paul, in my view, is not stretching the truth here if one takes into consideration how those who hear his words will receive them (just as if I called you a "good Christian" – even though "no one is good except God": Matt.19:17).

Question #8:

Acts 23:3-5 (NASB)
Then Paul said to him, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?" 4 But the bystanders said, "Do you revile God's high priest?" 5 And Paul said, "I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.'"

I cannot understand Paul's behaviour here. First, he says that he has lived his life "with a perfectly good conscience", a statement which I really don't know how to take. Then, having been struck, he replies boldly and upon being told who is in front of him, immediately takes back what he said and provides scriptural justification for the rebuke he just received.

Response #8:

Again, his judges will possibly consider the fact that it was the high priest who gave the order a mitigation (to what degree is probably individual) of any violation of which Paul had complained. Apologizing once he was informed of the individual's identity allows him to have it both ways: he has lodged his objection but also been humble in the face of constituted authority (failing to apologize would have alienated many in the audience no doubt).

Question #9:

It is also hard for me to see how he would have been completely unaware of who was in front of him - did he now come to know Ananias when he was still persecuting the church as a Pharisee? And even if that really was the case, then surely he could have worked out through the circumstances he is in that someone of high position is in front of him? Overall, I don't know whether just to take this as an uncontrolled outburst on his part, which is why he takes back his rash words?

NIV SB: Acts 23:5 I did not realize that he was the high priest. Explained in different ways:(1) Paul had poor eyesight (suggested by such passages as Gal 4:15; 6:11 [see note there]) and failed to see that the one who presided was the high priest. (2) He failed to discern that the one who presided was the high priest because on some occasions others had sat in his place. (3) He was using pure irony: A true high priest would not give such an order. (4) He refused to acknowledge that Ananias was the high priest under these circumstances.

Response #9:

There have been plenty of reasons adduced to explain this (to note your list); poor eyesight, for example, might also be possible (Paul apparently had eye problems: Gal.4:13-15). But there are other possibilities. Did Paul ever actually meet Ananias before? I have never met the president. I've seen him on TV so would probably recognize him – but Paul didn't have a TV set. Also, the high priesthood at this time was essentially a secular office – like the presidency in this country. The ruling families handed it around like a prize jewel – like the presidency in this country. So it may be that Paul had no expectation that Ananias was currently the high priest, having been out of the country for several years at least.

Question #10:

Acts 23:6 (NASB)
But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!"

Why does Paul call himself a Pharisee? He was by then a proclaimer of the gospel for a while.

Response #10:

This really was his background; Paul is still a Jew (obviously), and we have seen in other discussions that the transition from "all Israel" to "all Church" was a process; this is a time of transition. After all, Paul is only in this fix because he went up to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles and to bring alms to the nation state of Israel, then to the temple to engage in a ceremony connecting with making a vow: all of which things are now defunct by the will of God.

Question #11:

Acts 24:15 (NASB)
"having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked."

Why does Paul say "a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves" if clearly they neither understand this hope nor live according to it?

Response #11:

They are wrong in their expectations, but they still have the expectation. The expectation of resurrection is noble and good, and was even legitimate no doubt for some of them . . . before the coming of the Messiah. One can cherish a hope without realizing that it can't come true (for whatever reason). Of course, it was meant for all of them, since salvation is "first for the Jews" (Rom.1:16; 2:10), and Christ died for all of them, but ultimately it comes down in every individual case to a heart willing to accept the Gift of gifts.

Question #12:

Acts 26:7 (NASB)
"the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews."

Why does Paul say that the Jews "earnestly serve God night and day" if they were doing the exact opposite, persecuting those who were living according to the truth?

Response #12:

Historically this is true since many in Israel were saved before the coming of "this generation" which hardened its heart against the Messiah. However, the answers to these questions are all along the same lines: from the audience's point of view these things are true, and Paul makes use of their viewpoint (however wrong) to make his own point. Is there some compromise here? Possibly. As mentioned above, when we get ourselves into a fix of any sort, compromise is inevitable. So best to stay out of fixes in the first place, if possible. But it needs to be pointed out that Paul always seems to manage to get to the point of the resurrection – eternal life in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Question #13:

I've been having hard time with Paul's epistles also. What I find hard to understand is that he places such a great emphasis on not offending weak believers (1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14), so as to ensure that they are not presented with stumbling blocks. But in his writing it often seems he consistently does the exact opposite - instead of phrasing things in a way that makes the truth comprehensible, his writings often require interpretational effort to make them fit with the rest of the scripture. I understand your point about parts of the scripture being difficult on purpose and that this also refers to our Lord's parables - the difficulty separates those who want the truth from those who don't care about it, but for example in 1 Corinthians 9:9 it seems he could have just written "God doesn't only mean oxen here, does He?" or something similar, instead of writing that He doesn't care about them, whereas we know that He gave this command exactly because He does care, otherwise He wouldn't have given it.

So the way Paul writes seems to violate the principle he stands for so strongly with regard to not offending the weak - on the one hand we cannot cause the weak believers to stumble with what we eat, on the other there is no issue in expecting everyone who reads his letters to put sometimes pretty hard effort to make things work. I understand that there is a need for teaching and for teachers to explain the scriptures, but it is also the case that every believer needs to read the Bible and not everyone has been granted with the intellectual prowess to successfully unravel these difficulties, so I find it hard to imagine that in the Corinthian congregation all willing believers could read his epistles and be clear about all his points.

Eating a piece of meat, which is not even wrong in objective terms, but as a result of weak believer's misplaced conviction is enough for him to say that it "ruins", but writing epistles in such a way as to require months or years of hard work to break down what is meant and present exegesis in a manner that is often quite complicated is not an issue. Anacoluthons, inexact comparisons, complicated syntax, parallels which don't really seem like parallels, sudden jumps from one subject to another with hardly a link between them, apparent contradictions with the rest of the scripture (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:36 versus Matthew 5:22) - I have to say, it's been tough. It's one thing if an Old Testament prophecy is difficult to understand, but another if the exegesis leaves one with more questions than answers and I have to say this is how I often feel when I read Paul's writings.

Response #13:

In my view there is a big difference between things that are trivial and things that are of extreme importance. We should be accommodating to a fault when it comes to the trivial; we should be implacably resolute where the truth itself is concerned. I would skip eating meat if doing so would actually undermine the faith of the person I was having a meal with; but I would never be bullied into saying that doing so has any spiritual importance. As to the difficultly of Paul's letters, I would say a few things: a) The Spirit has seen fit to use the words the way Paul wrote them; He could easily have led Paul to say things in a different way; since the Spirit has done what He has done, we need to accept that this is the right way God always intended, even if we may have "why" questions; b) Paul talked much and wrote little. What we have in his epistles is a very small fraction of what he taught verbally to the churches to whom he wrote. If we had had the benefit of thousands of hours of his oral teaching, the epistles would unquestionably be easier to understand even at first glance; c) having read these over and over again in Greek for many years, they have become more accessible to me personally with time; while I would not want to say that I understand them now with absolute and total precision (I'm always learning things), I do feel that they present no major problems of interpretation which cannot be solved with moderate work. Mind you, it has indeed taken decades to get here. I think that was always God's plan for me personally. I also think what you remark about keeping the truth from swine and revealing it to those who demonstrate by their diligence that they really want it is also a factor. Concentrate teaching always has to be mixed with something more pliable to be palatable; such is the case with Paul's prose, but in a way that is idiosyncratic to him: i.e., it's not that easy to get totally on his "wave length". He wrote in what he believed to be a very straightforward way but to people who had heard him, knew what and how he taught, and who could later ask him questions if there were points of confusion. We are in a different situation today, obviously (not to mention that none of us speaks Classical Greek as a native language), but it all works together for good for those who persevere. As I also like to point out, teaching is difficult; repetition is key; and the fact that we have the same truths expressed in a variety of ways in the Bible by a variety of human writers is definitely a very good thing – because it gives us more perspectives on each important truth and makes the whole easier to understand (for those who truly do persevere in studying, learning, applying and, for those so gifted, in teaching).

Happy as always to see you persevering so wonderfully well, my dear friend!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #14:

What does this verse mean?

"Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!" (II Corinthians 12:16)

Response #14:

This is a response to the apparent "spin" of the Judaizers and other false apostles who came to Corinth in order to mulct the church there. When someone would bring up the fact that Paul never took any money from them they would apparently retort words to the effect, "Aha! And why do you think he never took donations? He does that in order to trick you all the more effectively! And see, it's working because you think that is a proof of his purity when it is really only a trick!" This spin along the lines of the Pharisees who accused Christ of casting out demons by the power of Satan. It also shows the power of rhetoric on the simple minded. Both our Lord and Paul had to make a response in spite of the prima facie silliness because it is a clever turning of the truth upside down.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #15:

Hi Bob,

Who is Paul talking about here?

Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man. In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.
2nd Corinthians 8:16-24 NIV


Response #15:

It's an open question with no clear way to resolve it definitively. Paul sings this man's praises, but gives no information specific enough to hazard an identification. Many names have been proposed (Barnabas, Silas, Mark, Luke, Trophimus, etc.), and many others could be: the chronology of the period is difficult enough to reconstruct for Paul and the epistles, let alone other individuals regarding whose whereabouts and activities we know much less. For me, this is a glorious passage because it reminds us that there are in the history of the Church many truly important Christians who are completely unknown to "church history". These individuals are important in God's eyes, the only Person who counts (obviously). So while reading works on church history produces impressions about who was important and who wasn't, this passage reminds us that there have always been important things – in my view the most important things – going on off of the radar screen, so that many who are "important" in the eyes of historians will actually be in for little if any reward, while many unnamed individuals like our "brother" here are actually doing important things for the Church of Jesus Christ.

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Matthew 19:30 NIV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior.

Bob L.

Question #16:

"And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (namely, Nero). 2 Tim 4:17

Thomas Watson says that Paul is referring here to being delivered from Nero's persecutions.

Response #16:

I don't think so. The reference is clearly to Paul being delivered from a sentence of capital punishment, but I doubt that this deliverance happened under Nero. It might have done, but even if that were the case, it would not have been as a part of any general persecutions: the Neronian persecutions are usually put later in his reign, not at the very beginning. Nero didn't start getting into hot water with all concerned until after years of abusive rule, resulting in a need for scapegoats as in following the great fire. N.b., the great fire is usually put in 64 A.D.; but in my reconstruction of things, it is not likely that Paul lived much past the beginning of Nero's reign (which began in 54 A.D.). Also, it is difficult to imagine why Nero would spare a "ring-leader" of the likes of Paul if that had been the situation.

There are a lot of unknowns here since scripture itself doesn't give the specifics (and no contemporary writers were much concerned about the Christians – even if they had any idea that they were different from the Jews). The association you mention is the sort of thing one finds in "biblical scholarship" where "seems like it could be" easily becomes "that's the way it is" without any particular source or argument to back it up.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17:

Today I learned that I am in good company in my desire to conduct an evangelizing ministry overseas: Paul writes at the end of Romans that he desires to go to Spain (Romans 15:28), but we know from the fact that he spent the rest of his life living in a small house outside of Rome that he probably never did make it to Spain (John Piper is my source on this . . . any comments?)

Response #17:

There were two Roman captivities. Some have supported this by referencing the much different conditions under which Paul suffered in the second one as opposed to the (relatively) comfortable situation described at the end of Acts.

. . . for which [gospel] I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.
2nd Timothy 2:9 NIV

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
2nd Timothy 4:13

However, Paul often uses the word desmos, "chain", probably metaphorically, to describe his situation even when we have to do with epistles which were clearly written during the earlier captivity (Phil.1:7; 1:13-14; 1:17; Col.4:18).

A stronger argument for two captivities it seems to me has to do with the location of Trophimus. Consider these two passages:

[Paul] was accompanied [to Jerusalem] by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.
Act 20:4 NIV

They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.
Act 21:29 NIV

And compare them with this one:

Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.
2nd Timothy 4:20-21 NIV

Now during the voyage to Rome, Paul and company never got to Miletus for Trophimus to have been "left there". Trophimus, according to the first two passages, had gone on the journey to Jerusalem with Paul and had made it there, but whether or not he had been on board for the voyage to Rome, there was no stop over in Miletus. Indeed, Acts 27:6-8 in the Greek doesn't even admit of a landfall in Asia Minor at all, rightly understood (n.b., this is also how Kirsop Lake in Foakes-Jackson in loc. takes the words "[we] had difficulty arriving off Cnidus", namely, as having difficulty even getting close to the coast, let alone making landfall).

Another strong argument, at least in my view, has to do with Paul's writings. There seems to me, at least, to be enough of a similarity between the so-called prison epistles (i.e., Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon) as a "group A" and also between the pastorals plus Hebrews as a "group B", as well as enough of a difference between "group A" and "group B" to suggest strongly that the two groups were written at different times. And since there are no other epistles which fall in between what must have been a significant time, I am of the two captivities school of thought. The point just described could be explained by one very lengthy captivity (up to five years long) with circumstances changing toward the end and Paul writing a great deal when he saw that it was the end. But this doesn't explain what he was doing in the meantime if my putative chronology is even close. Simply put, there is nothing to explain the change of circumstances and tone unless there is at least a significant gap of time between the two groups, and if that gap does not represent a release, it is not clear why Paul did not continue to write in the meantime (since, being in captivity, that would be his only real way to minister). Positing two captivities is thus the best solution to fit the admittedly scanty evidence.

If Paul was released in between time, we don't know where he went. He might have gone to Spain after all. If so, the application would be that if we have honorable plans, they don't always work out the way we envision, and more particularly not always when we envision:

Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.
1st Thessalonians 2:18 NKJV (cf. Rom.15:22)

As long as we are walking with the Lord, we can be sure that He will work with all of our honorable desires and keep us out of trouble. Don't forget that the reason Paul was imprisoned the first time was because he pursued his honorable desire to be the one to present the donation to the church at Jerusalem personally in spite of the fact that this was clearly dangerous and unnecessary – and in spite of several warnings from the Lord not to do so (see the link: "Paul's Jerusalem Error").

So be patient, trust the Lord, and prepare for ministry in a godly way.

Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4 NKJV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #18:

Hope you're well!

I am interested in 2Corinthians chapter 4:7-12.

Thank you!

In Our Dear Lord and Saviour who keeps us all in His care

Response #18:

As to 2nd Corinthians 4:7-12, in this passage Paul is expressing the verity of his difficult service in ministering to the Church and to the Corinthians in particular. Paul had certain unnamed health problems (as in the "thorn in the flesh" in chapter twelve of this same book; cf. Gal.4:13-15), and had experienced much suffering for the Lord (1Cor.4:8-13; 2Cor.4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:16-33; Phil.3:7-11; et passim in Acts and the Pauline Epistles). In this passage in chapter four of Second Corinthians, he gives his readers an overall sense of the contrast between the suffering servant Paul, a type of Christ who suffered for us even beyond our imagining, and the benefit received by the congregation ministered to. Paul does this not to make the Corinthians feel guilty, but in a godly way inspired by the Spirit to help them appreciate Christ's love for them as manifest by the ministry they are receiving from the greatest of His apostles. Paul does this, moreover, as a preface to his teaching of the resurrection early in the next chapter and his expression of hope and confidence in eternal reward later in this chapter in order to help the Corinthians (and us) see that no matter what we too have to suffer in this life, the resurrection and the reward that attends thereto will put all present difficulties into the shade. What we have to cope with now doesn't last; what we will enjoy then will last forever, as Paul says by way of conclusion.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2nd Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV

And one last point. Paul was a very humble person. No doubt it troubled him on some level to include in his epistles this and his other "catalogs of suffering" (cited above). But it is a mark of true humility that Paul didn't let that scruple keep him writing what he believed would be to the best advantage spiritually of those to whom he ministered. That is "all in" ministry at its most intense, namely, when we really no longer care what people think about us or our motives, good or bad – and only what the Lord thinks.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #19:

What do you think of this interpretation of Paul's thorn in the flesh?


Therefore, by "weakness," he refers to the difficult and embarrassing situations that he frequently faces. These events often make him look defeated, and take from him all traces of dignity, perhaps in sharp contrast to the impressive showmanship of the false apostles and false teachers. While the false apostles dined at the best restaurants with wealthy businessmen, Paul was trapped in a filthy prison cell next to robbers and murderers, and treated as if he was one of them. While the false teachers were networking with leaders of the church establishment, Paul was shipwrecked, drifting on the open sea. Then, when he got the chance to visit some of his spiritual children, they had turned against him. They looked down on him because he was not refined enough, not eloquent enough, not entertaining enough. It is disappointing that our text has been so often used for the purpose of assuring people that God regularly refuses to heal the sick. Sick? Are you joking? Paul received thirty-nine lashes five times (11:24). They did not use cotton towels to whip people. It is amazing that he still had a back to be whipped the other four times. He was beaten with rods three times (11:25). Instead of having to stay in bed for the rest of his life with a broken spine and crushed legs "for the glory of God," he is still walking around – more than those who have never been whipped or beaten – and preaching the gospel. Sick? With an eye disease you say? This is hilarious. This is foot-stomping, wall-punching funny. He was stoned (11:25). The Jews did not fool around. When they stoned someone, they stoned to kill. They knew how to do it. They were good at it. Stephen was killed this way (Acts 7:54-60). They were not throwing cupcakes at him. They were throwing rocks, as hard as they could, seething with anger and intending to kill – on his head, on his face, and all over his body. They did it until they were satisfied that he was dead (Acts 14:19). Then "he got up and went back into the city" (v. 20). The disciples did not pull him up or carry him back. He got up. He went back into the city. Forgive him if he had to limp for a few days! And now that you are down with the flu, you think you are just like him! Sick? This is like saying that a spiritual man was feeling "under the weather," even wobbling all over the place, so it is fine if we are sick too, when the truth is that the man was recovering from having his head cut off a few days before.

Response #19:

I'm not sure what the theory lurking in this confused discourse is supposed to be. Paul had the gift of healing, but there is no example anywhere in the Bible of anyone ever healing themselves. Also, this gift apparently was one that did not endure all the way to the end of Paul's life (2Tim.4:20b). Paul endured more than anyone else I know of apart from Job, and Paul's suffering was spread out over the entire course of his ministry (1Cor.4:8-13; 2Cor.4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:16-33; 12:5-10; Gal.4:13-15; Phil.3:7-11). I would not want to diminish it in any way. Paul certainly doesn't when he talks about these things. He shared the sufferings of Christ. That was his badge of honor.

Question #20:

Hi Bob,

"There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. "We find nothing wrong with this man," they said. "What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?"" (Acts 23:9)

It sounds like the Pharisees were willing to entertain the idea that Paul really was sent from God.


Response #20:

I think rather, especially based upon the fact that in all the sequels they were leading the charge to have him destroyed, this was a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend (for the moment)"; I think Luke brings it out quite clearly in his narrative that these Pharisees were using Paul as a wedge against their materialistic Sadducean adversaries without, at the same time, being at all inclined to accept the truth of what Paul would have said in the gospel – he never had the chance to address it on this occasion beyond mentioning its hope: the resurrection.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #21:

Hi Bob,

From Bede's Journal:

"The reasons given for this Gospel being written late and not by the Apostle are hardly convincing. First, we are told that John's theology is incompatible with the synoptics because he makes no mention of the Kingdom of God and other central themes. This assumes that the synoptics are closer to Jesus than John, even though the scholars usually claim that none of these Gospels are eyewitnesses either. It is odd that this difference in theology has not been of much concern to Christians over the centuries. I fully accept that John and the synoptics have a different emphasis but to claim that they are incompatible is to try and box in Jesus himself. Secondly, we are told that John is too anti-Semitic to have been the pillar of the Jerusalem church mentioned by Paul at Galatians 2:9. But Matthew is also clearly Jewish and just as against the leaders of his own people as John. Anyway, John gives us Nicodemus as a good Pharisee and Joseph of Arimathea as a good Sadducee so obviously does not think these classes all bad. We have already seen why John has something against the Jews as his brother, to whom he was very close, was killed by the Jewish King Herod Agrippa I. It is worth noting that, unlike certain other Herods, Agrippa ruled with the approval of the Jewish hierarchy and that they could therefore be implicated in the death of James."

Is this historically accurate?


Response #21:

According to Mark 15:43, Joseph was a noted member of the council, aka the Sanhedrin. How he became one is not stated. Also, it is unclear what precisely the qualifications for entry / membership in that assembly were during this period. Bede seems to assume that it was made up entirely of Sadducees, the theologically "liberal" and most politically active division of the Jewish leadership of that time. However, we find this in Acts:

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.
Acts 5:34

Given that Luke 23:51 says that "he himself (i.e., Joseph of Arimathea) was waiting for the kingdom of God", it would seem more likely that he was a traditionalist believer, a Pharisee (?), who had come to saving faith. Scripture doesn't say one way or the other (he may have been neither), but the Sadducee identification seems unlikely and is not possible to prove.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #22:

Hi Bob,

Is Luke a Gentile Convert or a Hellenistic Jew?

Response #22:

We don't know anything more about Luke than what is found in scripture, and that is very little – so little, in fact, that the question you pose is a reasonable one. My own analysis indicates to me that Luke, as an inspired writer of Holy scripture, was Jewish (if not, he would be the only one who was not in the entire canon). Many people want to see Colossians 4:11 as proof that Luke, who is not mentioned in this group of five men about whom Paul says, "These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me" (NIV), was a gentile. The problem with this is that the demonstrative pronoun "these" here very clearly in the Greek begins a new sentence or at least a new main clause (so that it looks forward rather than backward), one that is divided from what precedes by asyndeton (a striking grammatical feature designed to attract attention); in other words: "THESE are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who were for me a paregoria." Since most take the last word as meaning "comfort", there is a desire to make this seemingly odd statement seem less jarring by limiting the group of co-workers to "those from the circumcision" in the previous phrase. But that is not what the Greek actually says. Moreover, paregoria is likely being used here by Paul in its legal sense of providing a character witness: "these are the only ones who stuck up for me at my trial"; meaning that many putative Christians abandoned him for fear of risking their own necks; thus these five come in for special distinction for being willing to testify in his behalf. That doesn't mean that others in Paul's circle were not willing to stick up for him too; they may not have been invited to do so (even in modern jurisprudence the number of witnesses who are allowed to appear is sometimes limited, and we have no idea of the details of this particular trial). We find a similar situation in comparing 2nd Timothy 4:11 with 4:16, for in the first passage we find that Luke is "with" Paul, whereas in the second we read that "no one came to my defense (at trial)", and Colossians 4:11 is describing a similar situation.  There are other things that might be said, but I hope the above is clear enough to show the one thing that needs to be shown in regard to your question, namely, that this verse is not a proof text as to Luke's genealogy. Here are some other things I have written about this:


Luke left out an indication of His Jewishness

As to being Hellenistic, I'm not sure what that means, precisely. I believe Luke was Jewish; he definitely spoke Greek well, but so did the other writers of the gospels and epistles. I don't believe it's possible to discern from his Greek anything in particular about where he came from, be it Palestine or Antioch or some other place. Paul, after all, was from Tarsus, and it is likely that Luke was related to him (see the links), a fact that would also help to explain why we should understand Luke's name being left out here by Paul in this context as pleonastic; i.e., "present company excluded".

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #23:

We know in Acts 6:1-7 from the complaining of Jews more "assimilated" into Greek culture that they weren't getting their needs met and that already a rift had begun between more "Palestinian" Jews and more Hellenistic Jews.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Acts 6:1 NIV

Response #23:

The NIV text note is wrong ("That is, Jews who had adopted the Greek language and culture"). This Greek word, Hellenistes, refers to Jewish proselytes – that is, Jews who were not ethnically Jewish but who were gentile converts to Judaism. I know that is not what most of the dictionaries et al. say about it, but it's hard for me to see how to take this passage any other way:

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Acts 11:19-20 NKJV

While it is possible that in e.g., Cyprus, there were colonies of Hebrew (or Aramaic) speaking Jews along with Greek speaking Jews, everything I know about the period suggest that this is highly unlikely. So by "Hellenists" in the passage above must be meant "gentile converts to Judaism" (Q.E.D.).

As to "more vs. less" assimilated to Greek culture Jews vs. "living according to the Law" Jews, that is also a dicey distinction to make inasmuch as the "Hellenists" who are mentioned as being in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1; 9:29); were ostensibly there because they were not Greek-assimilated, and were apparently even more zealous for the Law than the "Judeans" themselves (e.g., Acts 9:29).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #24:

Hi Bob,

I am not surprised at the hatred Simon the sorcerer receives, given that he was a sorcerer who thought he could buy (!) the Holy Spirit, but if one ignores the extra-biblical tradition that accumulated around him, it appears that he sincerely repented and even asked Peter to intercede from him.

I don't think he was a false convert or an unbeliever.


Response #24:

That seems right to me too. What this incident shows is that even in the days of Acts, even with the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit (which is still miraculous today but unseen, not being accompanied by "sign gifts), people were still people even after being saved and receiving the Spirit's baptism. This should come as no surprise since we see the same thing happening today, namely, people being converted to Christianity, genuinely saved and filled with gratitude and thanksgiving to the Lord, but in a little while plagued by sin and setbacks. We all still have a sin nature after being saved, and the only way toward a glorious and sanctified existence while still in this world is spiritual growth. And it's not a perfect process since we are of necessity engaging in it imperfectly and with less than complete consistency. Simon's response to Peter does indicate to me that he fears God and accepts the truth (and so was legitimately saved); otherwise, why would he ask Peter to pray for him?

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #25:

Happy Spring Professor! I had a question about Timothy and his life. My Bible Study this spring is 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. My lesson is about Timothy, his mom Eunice and grandmother Lois. It mentions nothing about his father, it appears he must of died in his childhood. Would the teachings he received from them been taught in the synagogue or at home; because they were women? How far back would of the teachings might of come from since they did not have the Bible like we do?

Thank you

Response #25:

Good to hear from you. Happy spring to you too! Hope all is going well.

As to your question, whatever we might have to say about Timothy in these respects would necessarily be speculation, so please keep that in mind as I answer – we only know for certain what scripture contains. Paul met Timothy during the course of the first missionary journey (Acts 16:1 ff.). Although the chronology is not definite, this would have been sometime in the mid 40's A.D. And while you are correct that the New Testament was just in its incipient phase of being written, the gospel of Matthew may have then been available – whether or not it would have made its way by that time to where Timothy and his family lived in Asia Minor, however, is unknown. But they did, as part of the Jewish community, have access to the Old Testament – and many were saved through those holy scriptures before the coming of John the Messiah's herald. And many had heard about Jesus through John's ministry (which was famous throughout the Jewish diaspora; cf. Acts 19:3). Paul encountered believers in Ephesus who, while they had not heard about the Spirit's baptism, did know about John's water baptism (Acts 19:1-7; cf. also Apollos who, "taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John", Acts 18:25). Before the coming of Christ, true believers trusted God for salvation, and for the giving of a Substitute for their sins (exemplified in animal sacrifice). They didn't know the details (as we do); they only saw things through shadows, but, as in the case of Abraham (Rom.4:5-24), they did have true faith. That is what Paul commends to Timothy, namely, holding fast to the saving faith of his mother and grandmother:

When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.
2nd Timothy 1:5 KJV

The question about Timothy's father is an open one. We know from scripture that he was Greek, not Jewish. There may have been a separation over the issue of faith; we just don't know. We do know, however, that mother and grandmother believed in God and in God's salvation – which would become manifest in Jesus Christ (who is now the only object of faith for salvation). And we know that they handed down this faith to Timothy. Knowledge and learning are one thing; we don't know what they communicated to him in terms of scripture or how much he or they learned from the synagogue. But we do know that, unlike many others who "knew much" to no avail (cf. 1Cor.8:1), they actually believed.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your whole family."
Acts 16:31

Yours in Him who is our Savior and reason for living, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Bob L.

Question #26:

Hi Robert.

Why in the gospel of John does it point out a number of times "the Apostle Jesus loved"? Didn't and does he not love "All" of them? Does God truly have His favorites?


Response #26:

This is a very interesting phrase indeed. Of course our Lord loved all the disciples and He loves all of us perfectly. God is love. Our Lord was/is also now a human being too, of course, and this passage shows that in His human personality He had preferences just like we all do. The Greek verb for love used in the NT most often is agapao while elsewhere in Greek it's usually phileo; the two are synonyms for most purposes (even in the gospel of John as Jn.21:15-17 shows), but they do have slightly different emphases. Agape is properly familiarity rather than passionate or emotional love. Our Lord, in His humanity, was most comfortable with John and probably enjoyed his company the most of the twelve. We may be sure, however, that this never resulted in any unfairness or substantive favoritism; it was just a fact (analogous to really good parents who have many children and treat them with deliberate fairness even if they like one or two a little bit more than the others).

This shows us a tremendous amount about our Lord and the incarnation. Jesus is true God in His deity, but in the incarnation He also became a true human being – true in every way, only without sin. This tells me in no uncertain terms how blessed eternity will be, both because of how wonderful it will be to know our Lord personally at last, and also because even after we are resurrected and free at last from sin we will still be "us" in every important way – only better in every way.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior who loved us so much He paid the price for each and every one of our sins on Calvary's cross.

Bob L.

Question #27:

You wrote: There may be doubt on the part of some scholars about the precise meaning of the word, but according to all linguistic convention it [i.e., the verb "number-down" in Acts 1:26] should have a negative connotation - something that only makes sense if we see Luke here as being careful not to endorse the election of Matthias. This is also evident at Acts 2:14, where Luke mentions "the eleven" instead "the twelve" - not until the calling of Paul, the genuine twelfth apostle, was the full complement again reached.

I'm not clear about this point - since the verse says "with the eleven", could it not be "Peter with the eleven", meaning twelve in total? So Matthias would just be reckoned in that eleven, apart from Peter?

Response #27:

I find the departure from the normal numbering significant. Luke could easily have said "the twelve" but does not. The fact that Matthias was "[down] numbered with the eleven" shows a sort of inclusion – by these human beings – without at the same time committing to any theory that Matthias was now actually a "capital 'A' apostle" in God's estimation. He was not. Please see the following links:

Matthias and the Numbering of the Twelve Apostles

The Apostles, the Jerusalem Council, and Legalism then and now

The "apostle" Matthias

Question #28:

Hi Bob,

I was arguing today on Reddit regarding whether Paul was the successor to Judas, and my disputant said that, in accordance with church teaching, that Matthias was the successor to Judas. However, I pointed out that after this selection occurs, Luke refers to the apostles as "the eleven" in Acts 2:14, just as you state in Peter Series #2:

"This is also evident at Acts 2:14, where Luke mentions "the eleven" instead "the twelve" – not until the calling of Paul, the genuine twelfth apostle, was the full complement again reached."

However, he rejoins by noticing that I am counting wrong.

"But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.'" Acts 2:14

He says that Peter + the eleven = twelve. He also notes that in Acts 6 the twelve are referred to as "the twelve" before the calling of Paul:

"And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.'" (Acts 6:2)

Any comments? If his objections hold, does that mean that you should revise your Peter #2 series?


Response #28:

First, it's fair to ask the question: if this was "the proper procedure", why isn't the Church still doing this? Why aren't we still electing apostles – by lottery? Why aren't we told of a replacement for James – or the others after they die or are martyred? I assume that the pope is counted by the R.C. church as one – but where are the others? When is the election? Also, why, if this were proper, aren't other elections held when other apostles die in Acts (notably James the brother of John: Acts 12:2)? This silence is deafening . . . for those who want to make Matthias an apostle in God's eyes. On the other hand, while Peter and company chose Matthias by casting lots, Jesus Christ chose Paul personally on the road to Damascus – just as He personally chose all of the others.

Paul is the twelfth apostle. I can assure you that Matthias does not have his name on one of the foundations of New Jerusalem in lieu of Paul (Rev.21:14). Great believer that Matthias might have been, I can assure you that he was no Paul – who could be? Paul was called by Jesus Christ personally – just as the first twelve were. Matthias? Christ had nothing to do with it. It was a selection of a slate of candidates by human beings followed by a lottery – which is an invalid method for New Testament believers. Luke's language, as I have pointed out before, also confirms the mistake by use of the unique verb in Acts 1:26 (sygkatapsephisthe). After the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we hear nothing more of such prima facie questionable activities (or of Matthias) again; nor do we hear of James being replaced after he was murdered. Why not another lottery? Unless the first one was a mistake.

As to the objections, I am well aware of them and have addressed them where these issues come up at the site, so short-hand will have to do here:

1) "With the eleven": the objection makes perfect sense . . . in English. However it is a noted Greek idiom to use the total number of people and yet still mention one or more of the number by name with explaining that they are part of that given number and not to be subtracted from it. In English we would need to clarify with some such phrase as "among which eleven was Peter" – but this is perfectly good Greek to express that the total was only eleven with Peter included.

2) John 20:24 says "Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came" (NKJV). Are we to get from this that Judas, though dead and an unbeliever traitor, was still an apostle? Or that John is anticipating Matthias' appointment? Of course not. "The twelve" is a technical term for the board even if the board is not complete. In Acts 6:2 Luke uses "the twelve" because that is the name of the college and the act being described is an official act. I'm not sure we can deduce from this verse that, for example, all twelve actually did the summoning (only that they mutually decided on it) or that all twelve were actually there – because this is a title not a numerical count of the quorum. In terms of whether or not Matthias was still being allowed to participate, scripture doesn't say. Luke accurately records what happened here without commenting of the particulars. So even if twelve men were present and one of them was Matthias it wouldn't mean that the Bible is affirming through Luke's use of the word "twelve" that Matthias was indeed an apostle – only that "the board" took this action. Indeed, this being the case, why does Luke say in Acts chapter one "he was numbered down (n.b., sygkatapsephisthe) with the eleven apostles" – as opposed to "he became one of the twelve" (or similar)? It seems to me that, in addition to using a verb of disapproval, Luke is going out of his way here to say that, really, this fellow was not an apostle, even though the eleven remaining voted him in.

Some of these are subtle points which I don't expect any unbeliever to be receptive to, but all believers should understand that Paul is number twelve. Being an Apostle is something only Jesus Christ can commission – and beyond all argument He did not commission Matthias.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #29:

Hi Bob,

I have been pondering the election of Paul as God's 12th chosen apostle. I have recently gone over your take on the matter in Peter's Epistle's #2 (since it was the subject of my group's study two weeks ago), and I have read several of the email responses concerning the matter.

However, I have also been viewing some of Pastor Omo's Bible Training videos and have found them very helpful as well. The thing is, he stands directly on the opposite side of the issue as you with respect to Paul/Matthias (see this video in particular). In particular, he makes several points that I had not considered before.

1) The phrase "the twelve" is used in Acts 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 15:5. How does one explain this if Paul is the twelfth apostle, since he had not yet been called?

2) The phrasing of certain other passages makes it difficult to interpret ποστολος as simply meaning "messenger" or "one sent". The part of the video where Pastor Omo starts talking about this is 33:45. Some of these are easy to explain (e.g., Galatians 1:19 and 2:9 that he mentioned – 1:19 does not necessary imply that James was an apostle, and 2:9 could just as easily be referring to James the apostle instead of James Jesus' half-brother). Some of the later ones, however, I could not immediately see how to deal with.

It is, of course, not my place to try and interfere with what he teaches or to encourage you to do so. Our teaching is between us and God. However, I was curious as to whether you even knew about this or whether you had discussed it with him, since I know you have known each other for quite some time (longer than I've been alive I believe). Everything else of his I have viewed has line up with your teaching 100%, and I was almost a little surprised to find something that didn't.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Yours in Christ,

Response #29:

On the objections, the same problem actually applies to Matthias: it is important to note that the term "the twelve" when used in 1st Corinthians 15:5 could not include Matthias as an apostle at that time, because this resurrection appearance of our Lord referred to in that verse occurred before Matthias' election – on which event his whole claim to "apostleship" stands. So we see that the term "the twelve" was a technical designation as for example in Athens where "the eleven" refers to a college of magistrates responsible for the administration of the law (and does so even if for some reason there is a vacancy on the board). The fact that the term is used at Acts 6:2 also does not, therefore, mean that Matthias was a legitimate replacement. It was important to phrase things this way to distinguish the "apostles of the Lamb" or apostles with a capital "A" from other apostles, of which there clearly were many (Epaphrodites, for example: Phil.2:25; cf. also Rom.16:7). Paul is called / calls himself an apostle many more times than anyone else in scripture and describes himself when he does so in terms that cannot be reasonable diminished so as to exclude him from the college of the twelve. He says when writes epistles – part of the Word of God – that he is an "apostle of Jesus Christ" in precisely the same phraseology Peter uses (1Pet.1:1; 2Pet.1:1). And, after all, we don't imagine Matthias name is on the gates of the New Jerusalem instead of Paul's, do we?

On the second paragraph, I certainly don't base any of my teaching on this matter on the etymology of the word, nor do I see how the arguments mentioned have any bearing on any the reasoning I have advanced wherever I have treated this subject.


The "apostle" Matthias

Apostles and Evangelism

Matthias and the Numbering of the Twelve Apostles.

The Deaths of the 12 Disciples / Apostles of Christ.

Are there apostles in the Church today?

As to disagreements, don't worry about it. Pastor Curt and I are not going to break fellowship over this point, I'm very sure. In the history of the Church, there probably haven't been two Bible teachers who agreed on absolutely everything. I'm not even sure it would be a healthy sign.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #30:

Hi Bob,

Let me start with the second question first. I hadn't read carefully enough, and was for some odd reason thinking that you were of the opinion that the twelve were all apostles period. So the question was, in effect, asking "if the twelve are the only apostles, then what of these other people called apostles, not just messengers, elsewhere in scripture?" You address this in one of the links you gave:

4. Other "apostles": Finally, it is true that some others beyond the twelve are called apostles in scripture from time to time. But once again, the key here is who is doing the "sending". Paul says that he sent certain individuals on his behalf (e.g., 2Cor.12:17; 2Tim.4:12), and we also know that some of the churches "sent out" empowered emissaries as well (e.g., Phil.2:25). In the former case, the "apostle" would operate under Paul's authority directly, and, in the latter, under that of the local church. Since the twelve are no longer with us, the only form of "apostleship" currently in operation in the Church today is that of individuals who are "sent out" on specific "missions" (the Latin equivalent of the Greek apostle is missio from which we get "missionary" et al.). I suppose we could call them "apostles", but "missionaries" works perfectly well, and is very much less misleading, absent a very long discussion (such as this one!).

So this is very much a case of me being blind. The odd thing is that I recall reading that response. I must have just looked at the top part and never got to the bottom where this bit comes from. Sorry!

As to the the first part, this makes much sense, especially given my new understanding of "apostle" as above. If there were "non-capital-A" apostles, then there would need to be some way to distinguish between them and the Apostles of the Lamb. What you seem to be saying is that the phrase "the twelve" is used as such in scripture – as a title referencing the group rather than being concerned about numerical consistency. There is no problem if "the twelve" refers to "Peter and the other 10" before the calling of Paul because the title is getting at their position not their number. Am I reading you correctly?

I have two other questions:

1) Is Acts 2:14 saying that "Peter stood up with the [rest of the] Eleven" (Luke being careful to not include Matthias), or is it saying that "Peter stood up with the [other] Eleven"? Per the discussion of the phrase "the twelve" above, the answer will not be theologically significant; I am just curious as to what Luke is actually saying here.

2) When "apostles" are being discussed as a spiritual gift in scripture, as in Ephesians 4:11, are we talking "capital-A apostles" or "all apostles, regardless of the case of the first letter" (i.e., the twelve only, or the twelve plus the other "apostles" mentioned in scripture as in Phil 2:25, Rom 16:7, etc.)?

Yours in Christ,

Response #30:

Yes, I think you read me loud and clear. As to your other two questions:

1) I read Acts 2:14 to mean that there were at that point eleven not twelve. This is in keeping with Greek usage where one individual is singled out from the group but the description of the group is not changed: "Xenophon and the generals" rather than as we would say to make it clear that Xenophon is also a general (even though it ought to be clear enough anyway) "Xenophon and the other generals". So I take this to mean "Peter and the [other] eleven". As I say, it's clear enough in Greek to my mind; but I suppose English speakers who are het up about this would only be satisfied that it means this if the passage said something like "Peter and the eleven of which eleven he was of course a member but I use eleven here because that's how many were left at this point".

2) On Ephesians 4:11, this would be the gift of apostleship (only twelve given). The small "a" is not a gift but an office. To be a small "a" apostle no doubt required, in addition to the requisite dedication and growth, some other gifts such as evangelism, administration, wisdom, prophecy, etc. But only the twelve teach and lead the Church through the difficult, initial transition period.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #31:

Hi Bob,

While you actually answered my question perfectly clearly, what I had meant concerning "Peter stood up with the [other] Eleven" was that "Peter stood up with eleven other men, making 12." "Peter stood up with the [rest of the] Eleven" was the way in which I was saying "Peter, one of the eleven, stood up with ten other men, making eleven." So obviously, what you are saying is true is the latter. I just thought I'd tell you in case you post this at some point and someone else gets terribly confused. (I was the one who had asked the question this way and it took me at least 4 read-throughs to get my head around it...).

For the sake of completeness, I want to understand one more thing:

In Acts 1 when Peter decides that they need to replace Judas without first consulting God, there are 120 other people present. I've seen it argued that these 120 were praying with the apostles in v. 24 (i.e., they are part of the "they" in this verse). Whether they were or not, however, it is clear that "they" (whoever they were) were at least trying to let God make the final decision. So why didn't God stop them?

I understand that the disciples had effectively made a decision a priori and then told God to pick between the two people that they themselves chose (a parallel in our day perhaps being, "God, if this coin lands on heads I'll marry this person, or if tails, that person" without either one, though perhaps not terrible people, being whom we are supposed to marry). But could God not have made it clear that the choice of the replacement was not up to them but to Jesus?

Furthermore, even though this is absolutely true and happened as recorded, what lesson are we to draw from this passage in scripture? Luke certainly left some things out of Acts (e.g., some of Paul's travels), so why would this bit be included? There has to be a reason, but I just can't think of one – it seems as if the most it does is cause controversy over who the 12th apostle was with not much else gained from it.

In Him,

Response #31:

No problem my friend. It's never pointless to approach scriptural issues more than once and from more than one vantage point. The more we do so, the better we know the Bible – and the more likely we are to knock the rough edges off of our understanding of any matter.

As to "why didn't God?", I think if you would read through the Old Testament with that point of view you would probably find examples on practically every page where we might ask "why didn't God?". In fact, I think probably every believer (at least everyone my age) might be tempted to ask "why didn't God?" in thinking about past mistakes. But maybe not. Because when we analyze our own mistakes, we realize very well after the fact, if we are being objective about it, that what we did was wrong, even if we rationalized the decision at the time. Why didn't we win the lottery even though we said, "O Lord, if I flip heads, may it be that I should put birthday numbers on my ticket, but if tails then 'quick-pick' "? After the fact a believer of any spiritual maturity whatsoever would realize that he/she shouldn't have been playing the lottery in the first place; even if money was needed, not THAT much money was needed. Likewise in Acts chapter one, possibly it was felt that there ought to be a full complement of apostles, but was that need really pressing? Couldn't it have waited a few days? Where did the motivation for picking Matthias come from in the first place? Jesus didn't tell them to do it. The Spirit didn't tell them to do it. Peter decided to do it – before he had received the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit would be given within a few weeks, after all, and that great gift would make many things much more clear right away.

In a very little while John's brother James would be executed, and there was no replacement appointed by the Jerusalem church and the other apostles; in fact, though we don't know all the details, most of the other remaining apostles soon scattered to perform the various missions the Lord had for them, and most were apparently martyred – without being replaced. But in Acts 1:21-22 Peter says "it is necessary" for one of their number to be elected to apostleship (cf. Acts 1:25). Where did Peter get this idea? I think anyone with a brief for Matthias needs to answer that question first to receive a hearing.

Great believer that he was, it's not as if this was the first time Peter came up with a bad idea. He told the Lord "heaven forbid" that He should be put to death – and the Lord addressed him as "Satan" as a result. He told the Lord along with Moses and Elijah to hold on until he had built them booths, and the Father told him, essentially, to can it: "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" (Matt.17:5 NASB). One could go on (cutting off Malchus' ear also comes to mind, e.g.).

The Lord had told the disciples/apostles just prior to this election "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4 NKJV; cf Acts 1:8). Clearly, this promise of the Spirit had not yet come. They were supposed to wait for the baptism of the Spirit before doing anything, but Peter did not wait. This premature election was clearly (from the context) his own idea. Did he receive an order from the Lord to do this? The scripture doesn't say so, and the context, what happens later, and Peter's prior history all argue that he was merely doing what Peter was often doing: acting without thinking – but when he received the Spirit, his track record got much better. That is certainly the case for all of us blessed to have His indwelling. Yes, God could have spoken to the assembled company and explained what a bad idea this was, but since it was not an authoritative act, that hardly seems necessary.

Why then does the Spirit have Luke include it? We do learn a lot from this episode (and when something is in scripture, even if we don't understand why, at least we do realize that there is a purpose and that we ought to strive to find it). For one thing, herein we see the great difference between Peter before the Spirit and Peter after – two different people almost. We also see that before the giving of the Spirit none of the other ten or the assembled 120 had the courage or spiritual smarts even to voice an objection to or ask a question about this questionable procedure. And we see the great difference between the rule of the Law (casting lots for a physical assignment of offices) and the rule of the Spirit (divine appointment and bestowal of gifts supernaturally). Finally, we see that these believers were people just like us. They were not perfect, even when their hearts were more or less in the right place. They made mistakes too (even after Pentecost); that is very important in evaluating everything else that happens historically in the Church as recorded in scripture and particularly in the book of Acts – and certainly for any institutionalized "church" thereafter: seeing the apostles in error ought to make clear that the notion of any absolutely inerrant church official is an outright absurdity.

God often allows us to do what we want to do if we are intent on doing it, even when it is a very bad idea. The Spirit's ministry to us (and also to these men even before His indwelling of them) is a very subtle one; He works through the truth and never takes away our free will. We have to listen carefully, attentively, humbly and obediently to be helped. If we are waiting for the heavens to part to tell us not to do something which is objectively stupid or sinful, we are going to be waiting until kingdom come – or until our donkey speaks to us.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #32:

Hi Bob,

That helped a lot. Thanks!

I keep thinking of related questions in between responses when I think things over ... so here's another one for you.

In Galatians 1, there is some ambiguity as to whether Paul is calling James, Jesus' brother, an apostle. If he were being called an apostle of course, he would be a "little a" apostle – the office not the gift. But I'm still curious if even this is implied.

1) Are the apostles mentioned in verse 17 the twelve specifically?

2) In verse 19 we have the Greek phrase ei me connecting "I saw none of the other apostles" with "James, the Lord's brother." In English translations (at least NIV) it is ambiguous as to whether James is the only other apostle Paul saw (ei me = except) or whether Paul only saw James, who was not an apostle (ei me = but only), after Peter. That is:

James as an apostle: "I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother."

James not as an apostle: "I saw none of the other apostles, but only James, the Lord's brother."

Which interpretation does the Greek favor more?

Yours in Jesus,

Response #32:

You're very welcome. On the Galatians question, it's important to remember that Paul is writing to the Galatians who have been assailed by Judaizers, people wanting them to follow the Law in order to be saved. That is the theme of the book, namely, Paul's refutation of this false gospel (Gal.1:6-9). Part of that refutation is an apologetic comparison of credentials. It's clear from this section you ask about that Paul's adversaries were claiming that they had special dispensation from the authorities in Jerusalem whereas Paul (they would have said) was not correctly reflecting the Jerusalem church's teachings. To defuse that, Paul relates his experiences with that church. He makes it clear that it's not as if there is an operational college of apostles there; he met Peter, but didn't see any other apostles. While it is possible to read the Greek either way, the fact that Paul says first that he did not see any other apostles means that the exception is not adding an apostle but a person of great significance. We see in Acts that James, even though he was not one of the twelve, nevertheless took over the leadership role in Jerusalem (so much for Peter as first pope). So on balance, in my opinion it is easier to understand the point and explain the language as I do above than to argue that Paul's wording makes James an apostle too. Translate: "I didn't see any other of the apostles there – except (ei me) I did see James, the Lord's brother (i.e., a person of significance but not an apostle). Paul's phraseology may cause some problems for the correct interpretation (nothing new about that), but it is inconceivable to me that he would have said it this way if James were an apostle.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

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