Kill the Cat!

RestorationMoments

The following anecdote is taken from Recollections of Men of Faith, by W.C. Rogers (soon to be in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, as well as in print from Cobb Publishing).  This is from the chapter on B.F. Hall.  Enjoy!

One night he (B.F. Hall) was much disturbed in the beginning and during the delivery of his discourse. A white cat had noiselessly, and no doubt innocently, followed someone into the meeting-house, and just as the Doctor entered the pulpit he spied the unfortunate truant. Immediately, and with much ado, he ordered that the cat be thrust out from among the good people who had come together to hear him preach, alleging, with more or less emphasis, that he could not possibly preach if he even knew that a cat was in the house, although it might be hid; that he hated cats and dogs immensely. A dear brother snatched poor pussycat, and, notwithstanding it may have wanted a corner ever so much, he flung it out the door violently, and as a presumptuous intruder.

When the Doctor took his text and began speaking, he seemed to be unhinged — altogether or largely out of kilter. He appeared to be thinking of the cat, fearing that it might make its appearance while he was engaged in preaching. And, sure enough, he heard the fatal mew. Stopping suddenly, snapping his eyes in a peculiar manner, he remarked with indignation, “Brethren, I was afraid of this when I commenced preaching; here is this abominable cat again; the devil has sent it just to ruin my discourse; I cannot, I will not, preach another word until you have killed that infamous thing, or put it in durance (imprisonment) vile.” The cat was again waited upon by someone, and was this time handled so roughly that it returned not again during the evening services. But alas! The Doctor was not able to overcome his embarrassment, or recover himself sufficiently to do himself justice, or speak to the edification of his hearers. It was clear to all that it was an uphill business to speak throughout his entire discourse, and all on account of a cat.

 

Share Button

The Judge Who Objected to Muddy Baptism

RestorationMoments

The following story is recorded in Recollections of Men of Faith, by W.C. Rogers, in the chapter on John. T. Johnson.  This book will soon be available in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, as well as in print from Cobb Publishing.  But we thought this section was well worth sharing, and we hope you do too.  Enjoy!

In company with Elder R.C. Ricketts, a prominent preacher in Kentucky, John T. Johnson visited Little Rock, Ark., for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in its primitive purity and power.

After the meeting had advanced a number of days, and quite a number of persons had become obedient to the faith, an incident occurred of more than ordinary interest, and which I feel ought to be preserved. Judge Johnson, of the city of Little Rock, a brother of the evangelist, a prominent politician, had been attending the meeting nightly with his wife, but neither belonged to any religious body. Like many others, Judge Johnson had never given the subject of Christianity very much thought; perhaps owing to the fact that he was constantly engaged in the affairs of this life, and had no time, as he supposed; it may have been that he knew not what to do, because of the many sad divisions in Christendom. Through courtesy or curiosity, he and his amiable wife had been attending church and listening to the preaching of John T. Johnson and R.C. Ricketts. But sometimes it turns out that those who attend religious services through curiosity become deeply concerned for their souls’ salvation. This was the case with the Judge and his wife at the time of which we are speaking, although, I presume, neither would have acknowledged it.

One morning after breakfast, seated in the parlor with his brother, John T., Elder Ricketts, and his wife, the Judge filed several formidable objections to the course pursued by the preachers in the meeting they were then conducting. Of course he did this, be it understood, in the most polite manner possible; still, with honesty, and desiring, no doubt, that a change be made in the management of the meeting. When offering his advice, the Judge supposed he understood himself perfectly — knew precisely what he would do under given circumstances. But it is difficult to know one’s self. It is certainly not an easy task to divine what the strongest minded persons would do under heavy pressure of circumstances. “The best of men are men at best.” It would be well to remember this in all of our wise forecastings. The preachers had baptized several persons in the Arkansas River, and now the Judge had come to the conclusion that this ought to be stopped. And why? Because the waters were too muddy in which to administer this divine ordinance. “If I should ever be baptized,” he continued, “it will “never occur in the Arkansas River. I will never go down into that muddy stream of water — never. I would prefer to go to a beautiful clear pool of water near the city, should I ever consent to be baptized. Besides, I seriously object to your administering the ordinance of baptism, while the lawyers, doctors, and the reckless ones about the city, are lining the banks of the river, and some are engaged in talking and laughing and making unbecoming remarks. This is certainly not in good taste — is certainly not in harmony with my views of propriety or good order, under such circumstances I could not consent to be baptized. I must have pure, clear water, and only a few friends.”

“Very well,” said Bro. Ricketts, “we will go with you and a few chosen friends to some clear pool and baptize you whenever you are willing to make the good confession — whenever you are prepared to submit to this command of Christ.”

The Judge replied: “Understand me, I am not saying that I ever intend to become a member of the church. I do not know that I will ever join any church. I am only telling you that I do not think it proper to baptize in the Arkansas River, and that I never could, under the circumstances, consent to be, as others have been. Again, should I ever join the church — and I may or may not — I trust to be able to control my feelings a little better than some who have come forward during this meeting and confessed faith in Christ. They have shown great weakness in weeping like children — at least it seems so to me. Should I ever be induced to go forward and confess Christ, I hope I shall have manliness enough about me to do so without shedding a tear.” “Come forward, Judge, in your own way; if you are a believing penitent, and fully prepared to obey the Gospel from the heart, in order to the enjoyment of all the blessings promised, we care not as to the manner,” rejoined Bro. Ricketts. The following remarks were offered by the Judge in closing: “You and my brother may suppose from what I have said that I purpose becoming a member of the church. I confess that I understand the teaching of Christ and the Apostles as I never did before. I see a fitness, beauty, and adaptation in the plan of redemption which has been hid from me heretofore. But I have not at all determined to join the church. I am fully persuaded that it is the duty of all persons to attach themselves to the church of Jesus Christ, but I am not prepared to say I am ready to do so now. I trust you will not look upon what I have said to you as meddling; pursue your own course. Still, I am convinced that there is far too much feeling manifested by those who confess Christ and obey him in your meeting, and that you ought, if in your power, to suppress it.”

Bro. Ricketts added that he thought there was no improper excitement in the meeting. There had been no shouting, no clapping of hands, no swooning or fainting. No unjust means had been used to compel persons to become the disciples of Christ. The Gospel had been presented in its fullness, so far as the speakers were enabled to offer it to the people. “This glorious Gospel is God’s power to save those who believe and obey it, and, mark you, there is no power like it in this world. All persons are not alike in their make-up. Some, in renouncing sin, weep bitterly; others show but little feeling. This is owing to the difference in the emotional nature. And there is no need in our attempting to regulate these things; they must take their course. But few persons know themselves.”

The following night the Judge and his wife came to church and sat a little nearer the pulpit than usual, the wife placing herself on the end of the bench and next the aisle; the Judge occupying a place near the center of the house and directly in front of the pulpit. At the conclusion of the discourse, and while the invitation song was being sung, the Judge’s wife stepped forward and gave her hand to Bro. Ricketts. She took her seat on the front bench preparatory to making the good confession. The Judge, seeing this, could bear up no longer; so, stepping right over the benches, forward he came, and, weeping as a child, seated himself beside his wife, the great tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks. Making the good confession with much feeling, he remarked in the hearing of many, “I am now ready to go down into the muddy waters of the Arkansas and be baptized in the presence of the lawyers, doctors, and all who may be inclined to witness my obedience to the faith.” How few know themselves.

 

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Ten)

ApostlesLogo

Paul’s Defense of His Gentile Ministry

While Paul was in Antioch, working with a congregation made up of both Jew and Gentile Christians, some men came from Judea, and began to teach the brethren than unless they were circumcised, in accordance with the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.1  This threatened to destroy not only the congregation in Antioch—which had a great number of Gentile Christians—but also all the work Paul had accomplished in his first missionary journey.  The teaching those men were bringing undermined (1) the Holy Spirit, who sent Paul and Barnabas on the mission; (2) the validity of the prophets—including Paul and Barnabas—in Antioch, who received and delivered the message from the Holy Spirit; (3) the confidence of the congregation in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, since they had sent these men and most likely financed a good part of their journey; (4) the good name of the congregation in Antioch, who had sent Paul and Barnabas as “apostles,” representatives of the church at Antioch; (5) God Himself, who had confirmed the apostolic message by miracles; (6) the salvation of a vast number of people, both in Antioch and across Asia Minor.

With so much at stake, it is no wonder that Paul and Barnabas’ argument and debate with these Jews was “not small.”  Paul no doubt showed from the Old Testament Scriptures that salvation was open to the Gentiles as Gentiles—not as proselytes to Judaism, but still these Judean teachers would not back down.  The disturbance was so great that the church sent Paul and Barnabas, as well as some of the other brethren, to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to get an authoritative answer to the question2—even though Paul knew what the answer would be before they ever left.

As they made their way from Antioch to Jerusalem, financed in their journey by the church at Antioch, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, and Paul declared to the Christians they met about the conversion of the Gentiles—in other words, he was sharing the good news about the salvation of Gentiles in Christ while he was on his way to a big event whose purpose was to determine if these Gentile converts were really saved.  Paul knew what the decision would be, and shared the joy with others before the apostles and elders gave their decision on the matter.  This news which he proudly spread to the churches in Samaria brought great joy—the Samaritan Christians wouldn’t have had the same prejudices against Gentiles as the Jews.3

Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed warmly by the church, the apostles, and the elders.  They shared the good news of how God used them as missionaries, but instead of bringing joy to all the people like it did in Samaria, it got some people upset.  Some of the Christians who were also Pharisees stood up and basically denied that the Gentile converts had ever really be saved, because they hadn’t been circumcised, nor did they follow the Law of Moses.4  This caused the apostles and elders to convene a public hearing on the matter.5

After much discussion (or questioning, ASV) on the matter, in which the Pharisees would have been able to present their case, Paul watched as Peter stood and affirmed that the Gentiles had no obligation to follow the Law of Moses to be saved.  Then Barnabas and Paul6 stood, “declaring the miracles and wonders that God had worked by them among the Gentiles,” re-affirming what Peter had said: that God showed His approval of Gentiles coming into the kingdom without the Law of Moses.7  After James gave the verdict, and a letter was written to send to the Gentile Christians, Paul and Barnabas (along with Judas and Silas) went back to Antioch to share the good news—their salvation was secure, and sealed with apostolic approval.

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 15:1.  Several questions arise when considering this event—first and foremost among them How/why did these teachers from Judea get access to the church?  We cannot doubt that they were sincere in their belief, and it is not likely that they attempted to be stealthy about it.  However, this shows the wisdom of not letting someone teach without first knowing them.  This responsibility falls on the elders.  Secondly, these men were teaching that unless one was circumcised after the manner of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.  Yet the covenant involving circumcision pre-dates the Law of Moses, going back to Abraham (Genesis 17:13).  Additionally, Moses wasn’t too good at remembering to circumcise (Exodus 4:24-26).

2 Acts 15:2.  Paul was inspired, as was Barnabas and the other prophets in Antioch.  As such, their answer should have been sufficient to put the matter to rest.  However, Paul’s status as an apostle was not as well-established among the Judean Christians at this point, so it was decided to appeal to a universally-recognized authority among the Christians—the apostles.  It’s interesting that the apostles and elders were mentioned as authoritative in the matter.  It is quite likely that the elders there included many of the 70 men that Jesus sent forth during His earthly ministry.  These were leaders among the first church of Christ (in Jerusalem since Pentecost), and were given great respect by those in Antioch.

3 Acts 15:3.  This final point was brought out by J.W. McGarvey in his original commentary on Acts.

4 Acts 15:4-5.  Some have questioned why it is that this argument was even brought up in the first place.  After all, didn’t they know that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross and fulfilled in Jesus Christ?  Did they not know that God’s New Covenant was in force?  What were the apostles teaching them anyway, if they didn’t know this extremely basic concept?  Part—perhaps even most—of the answer can be found in understanding that the Law of Moses was not just a religious law, but also a civil or national one.  At the death of Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice, the Law of Moses ceased to have any religious power.  But at the same time, it was the law of the land, and so faithful Jewish Christians would be obliged to follow the Law of Moses as the national law, except in instances where it could have violated the law of God.  This is why the Jewish Christians would celebrate the Passover, observe the Sabbath, keep the Jewish dietary laws—because it was the law of the land, which is to be obeyed unless it causes one to violate the law of God.  So Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem, would have never stopped observing the Law of Moses, even after becoming a Christian.  So, since they never stopped observing the Law of Moses, it was very difficult for them to comprehend being right with God without the Law of Moses.

5 Public as far as the church is concerned, at least.  Verse 12 says that there was a “multitude” in attendance, which would have been more than just the apostles and elders.

6 This reverses the order used throughout their missionary journeys, probably showing that Barnabas took the lead in speaking.

7 Acts 15:6-12.

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Nine)

ApostlesLogo

Returning to Antioch

Paul must have been quite the sight as he entered into Derbe.  But people listened to what he and Barnabas taught, and many obeyed the divine commands.  After an apparently persecution-free visit there,1 they returned to the scene of the stoning, Lystra, and met again with the souls who had obeyed the blessed gospel, encouraging them, grounding them in the truth, and warning them that they will have difficult times ahead of them—but that the eternal reward is worth the tribulation here on earth.  How powerful this message must have been when coming from the one who had been viciously attacked and left for dead by an angry mob!  He tells them that even though he was nearly killed, it was worth it for heaven!  Then, from among the gathered disciples, Paul and Barnabas selected and ordained men to serve as elders.2

Departing from Lystra, he returned to Iconium—the same city that he had to flee from in order to avoid being stoned earlier; the same city that was home to some of the very Jews who had chased him to Lystra and actually caused the stoning that left him looking dead.  This shows incredible boldness on the part of Jesus’ own chosen apostle.3  There, he and Barnabas did as they did in Lystra: encouraging the saints to persevere under pressure, and selecting and ordaining godly men to serve as elders.

Doing the same thing in Antioch of Pisidia, they then returned to Perga (where John Mark had left them) and preached the gospel there before going to Attalia and sailing back to Antioch of Syria, from which they had been called by the Holy Spirit in the first place.

Once they returned to Antioch, they gathered the church together and reported all the things that had happened to them.  You can imagine the smiles when Paul shared the joyful news of the obedient believers; the looks of surprise and horror when they described the priest of Zeus and the crowds in Lystra trying to worship mere men; the shock and compassion when Paul’s near-death experience was mentioned.  They were certainly pleased and encouraged by the response to the gospel by the Gentiles, and welcomed these two men back as beloved brothers in Christ.  Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch “a long time” after returning.4

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 It seems most likely that, after believing Paul to be dead, the Jewish persecutors thought the matter over, and went back home.  Paul probably didn’t make his entrance into the city a public event or spectacle, and his departure was probably the same way, giving the persecutors no reason to stay.  Thus, they wouldn’t have heard about Paul’s work in Derbe until much later.

2 Acts 14:21-23.  See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the characteristics that the chosen men had.  There are those who claim that these are simply guidelines, suggestions for those who want to serve as elders; but the Scripture says that an elder must be those things, possess those character traits.  If a man doesn’t meet those qualifications, then he can call himself an elder all he wants—but according to God, he isn’t an elder.  Instead, he is a usurper of the divinely-given office, and will have to give an account to God for his usurpation of authority that doesn’t belong to him.

3 It is possible that the return visits to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia did not involve public preaching, but were instead private, inconspicuous visits.  Paul would not have wanted to push his persecutors into repeating their murderous attempt at Lystra.

4 All of these events can be found described in Acts 14:21-28.

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eight)

ApostlesLogo

The Conflicts in Iconium and Lystra

In Iconium, Paul preached in the synagogue, and a “great multitude” of Jews and Greeks obeyed the gospel.1  The Jews who refused to believe riled up the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, but these two men continued for a long time to speak boldly, and silenced some of the opposition by their bold preaching and accompanying miracles.  However, the Jews wouldn’t stop, and eventually convinced some of the Gentiles to join with them in a mob for the purpose of assaulting and stoning God’s missionaries.  Paul and Barnabas discovered their intent and fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they commenced preaching again.2

While preaching in Lystra, Paul stared intently at a man who was listening to the sermon.  This man was sitting (most likely on the ground), because he was physically incapable of standing.  In fact, he was crippled from birth, and had never walked.  This man, listening, believed what Paul was preaching, and Paul could see that the man had faith to be saved.3  So Paul spoke very loudly, assuring that all the people could hear what he said, “Stand up on your feet!”  And not only did the man stand, but he also amazed the crowd by jumping and walking.4

This brought out a reaction that even Paul and Barnabas couldn’t have foreseen—the people started shouting that “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!”5  Barnabas, apparently the stronger figure, they called Zeus;6 while Paul, the main speaker, they called Hermes.7  The priest of the temple of Zeus was so excited (and perhaps quite concerned about offending the gods) that he brought oxen to sacrifice, and garlands to decorate them with.8  The people all joined in with the desire and cry to sacrifice to these mighty gods who had come to bless them with their presence.

Upset and anxious to stop them—for only the God of heaven is worthy of worship—Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing, running through the chanting crowd, shouting:

“Why are you doing these things?  We are humans, the same as you, and we are telling you to turn from these empty things, and to the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and everything that is in them; who in times past permitted all nations to walk in their own ways.  However, He did not leave Himself without testimony, in that He did Good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”9

Even with these earnest pleadings, these denials of godhood, they just barely were able to keep the people from sacrificing to them.  The crowd must have been confused by their actions, but some were willing to listen, and several obeyed the gospel.10

While Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra,11 the Jews who had tried to kill Paul in Iconium and Antioch arrived and stirred up the people—quite possibly on the heels of the two missionaries finally calming them down from their fervor to sacrifice.  These Jews persuaded the people—almost certainly accusing God’s messengers of rejecting Zeus and Hermes—and stirred them into such a frenzy that they began to pelt Paul with rocks and stones, knocking him to the ground and continuing the assault until he lay motionless.  Believing he was dead, they dragged his bruised and bloodied body outside the city and left him there.  But while the believers stood sadly around his beaten form, their hearts leapt with joy when they saw movement—Paul moved!  He was alive!  He got up from the ground, and walked back into the city.  But the next day, he and Barnabas left and traveled to Derbe.12

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 14:1.  As noted earlier in this chapter, the biblical writers often use the word “believe” to describe the entire process of salvation.  The reason for this is that true faith (the noun form of the word “believe”) is always accompanied with obedience, as proven abundantly by Hebrews 11.

2 Acts 14:1-7.  Paul was only stoned once, according to his own account, and that didn’t happen until he was in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 11:25).

3 Acts 14:8-9.  The word translated “healed” (or some synonym) in almost every translation is the Greek word sozo, which is usually translated “saved”—93 of the 120 times it appears, in fact.  It seems incredible that when Paul is preaching the gospel, the man’s reaction and faith has nothing to do with being cleansed from sins, but only on being healed of his physical infirmity.  If the faith that came from hearing Paul’s sermon was faith in miraculous healing ability, then Paul preached quite a different gospel here than in other places.  If this word were translated “saved,” like it is so many other times in the New Testament, then there would be no confusion.  H.T. Anderson, in his 1865 translation of the New Testament, and his 1918 translation of the Sinaitic Manuscript, did just that.

4 Acts 14:10.

5 Acts 14:11.  This was a common theme in ancient literature.  See the works of Homer, for example.  Much of the legends surrounding the pantheon of gods include one of the gods coming to earth as a human and consorting with a human, bringing about demigods.  Given that these legends and myths were heavily promoted, especially by the priests of the pagan temples where worship to these “gods” was conducted, it shouldn’t really that surprising that the people would have this reaction.  Since they believed in a plethora of gods, and their literature had said that gods frequently came to earth and walked around as humans, it was logical for them to conclude that the miracle-working men must be gods.

6 Acts 14:12.  The KJV says “Jupiter,” but the Greek is Zeus.  The Romans basically assimilated the legends of the gods into their culture and gave them new names.  What in Greek was Zeus, the Romans called “Jupiter.”

7 Acts 14:12.  KJV says “Mercury,” but the Greek is Hermes.  Hermes was the messenger god, the god of speech and eloquence.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies on this passage for more details.

8 Acts 14:13.  It was common for oxen to be sacrificed to Zeus during this time, and the garlands were used to decorate them during the sacrifices.  See Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse.

9 Acts 14:14-17.

10 Acts 14:18.  The text doesn’t describe anyone being converted, though the healed man (14:8-10) certainly would have obeyed the gospel, and there were others, because when Paul is stoned and left for dead, “the disciples” stood around him (14:20).  Whether these people obeyed the gospel prior to the healing and the sacrificial attempts, or between that event and the arrival of the Jews, is not made clear.

11 The inspired text does not tell us how long there is between the sacrificial fiasco and the arrival of Jewish perpetrators.  It could have taken place the same day, or it could have been several weeks later.  The way the text reads, it is quite possible that these Jews arrived while the sacrificial attempts were taking place, and stirred up the people, accusing Paul and Barnabas of denying the power of the great Zeus and Hermes.

12 Acts 14:19-20.

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Seven)

ApostlesLogo

The Conflict in Antioch of Pisidia

Upon their arrival in Antioch of Pisidia, a free Roman city, they entered the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath, and they sat down for the reading of the Law and the Prophets.  The rulers of the synagogue (that is, the ones in charge of the Sabbath gatherings)1 sent [literally, apostled] someone to go to Paul and Barnabas and tell them, “Men, brethren, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, speak.”

Paul rose from his seat, motioned with his hand for their attention, and said to them: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.”  He then proceeded to give them a brief recap of their history as a nation, going back to the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the period of the judges, the monarchy under Saul, and then he stopped for a moment to deal with David.

“He [God] raised up David for them, to be their king; about whom He bore witness and said, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, to be a man after my own heart, who shall do all my desire.’  Of this man’s seed, God has, according to His promise, raised for Israel a Savior, Jesus.”2

After reminding them that John the Baptist preached baptism of repentance, and foretold of one greater than he, Paul described the perversion of justice that resulted in the murder of Jesus.  Then he adds the words, “But God raised Him from the dead,”3 and then showed how it was prophesied in the Old Testament.  He concludes this stirring sermon to the Jews with the words:

Therefore, [let] it be known to you, men, brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.  And through Him, all that believe are justified from all the things from which you couldn’t be justified under the Law of Moses.  Therefore, beware, lest that which is spoken of in the prophets come upon you: “Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish!  For I do a work in your days, a work that you shall not ever believe, even though a man declares it to you.”4

Leaving the synagogue, several people (Jew and Gentile both) followed Paul and Barnabas, wanting to hear more.5  Paul took the opportunity to persuade them, and it is likely that some obeyed the gospel soon thereafter.6

The next Sabbath day, most of the city turned out to hear this message from God.  However, the Jews saw that the people were listening to these visitors, and their jealousy stopped their minds from listening to the truth presented.7  Instead, they began to contradict Paul’s message, and speaking evil of him—and by doing so, they were blaspheming God.8

Paul’s bold response to their action was to express a truth that would have made them hate him even more:

It was necessary that the word of God was spoken to you first.  But seeing that you have cast it away from you, and condemned yourselves as unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.  Because this is what the Lord commanded us: “I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”9

The Gentiles were ecstatic about this message, and many of them obeyed the gospel, and the result was that God’s message was preached throughout the whole area.  However, the Jews were incredibly upset, and caused a persecution against Paul and Barnabas by influencing the prominent men and women in the city.  As a result, the two missionaries were thrown out of the city.  Outside the city limits, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust of their feet at them, and traveled to Iconium.10  But they could be glad that there were now Christians living in the city of Antioch.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Thayer gives the definition of archisunagogos as “Ruler of the synagogue. It was his duty to select the readers or teachers in the synagogue, to examine the discourses of the public speakers, and to see that all things were done with decency and in accordance with ancestral usage.”

2 Acts 13:22-23.

3 Acts 13:30.

4 Acts 13:38-41.

5 Acts 13:42-43.  There are some textual variants in verse 42 which clouds the exact chronology of events.  The KJV says the Jews left the synagogue, leaving the missionaries and the Gentiles in the building.  The ASV says the missionaries left the synagogue first and talked with others outside after the synagogue meeting ended.  Either way, they still talked to Jews and Gentiles.

6 The text does not describe the reaction of the ones who were being “persuaded” by Paul, but he would have been in the city, studying with people throughout the next week.  It would be strange indeed if not a single one of the “many” who followed them obeyed the gospel.

7 The Jews were apparently quite influential in this city.  When the city was established under the Seleucid kings, its settlers were comprised of Phrygians, Greeks, and Jews (see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Antioch of Pisidia”).  Thus, they had a long history in this Antioch.  The existence of many “religious proselytes” (Gentiles who converted to Judaism) in Acts 13:43, and the possible mention of Gentiles in the synagogue (verse 42, KJV), shows that they held a place of prominence in the city, religiously speaking.  So it is no surprise that when someone comes in, convincing the people that the Law of Moses was fulfilled/removed, and draws huge crowds, the Jews would be upset.  Robertson, commenting on verse 45, says “Nothing is specifically stated here about the rabbis, but they were beyond doubt the instigators of, and the ringleaders in, the opposition as in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5). No such crowds … came to the synagogue when they were the speakers.”

8 Acts 13:45.  Luke says they were “blaspheming,” though it is incredibly unlikely that they were intentionally blaspheming (speaking evil against) God.  Thus, the blaspheming must be against Paul—but the effect was that they were also (unknowingly) blaspheming against God.

9 Acts 13:46-47.

10 Acts 13:48-52.  The word “expelled” (verse 50, KJV) is ekballo, which means to throw out.  Whether this means the mob of people literally tossed them outside the city, or just forced them to leave, the result is the same: they were removed from the city.

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Six)

ApostlesLogo

Paul’s First Missionary Journey

The Conflict with Elymas

Leaving Antioch, they went to Seleucia, a seaport town just southwest of Antioch, where they boarded a ship heading to Cyprus.  They landed on the eastern edge of the island of Cyprus, and worked their way westward across the island, preaching in the synagogues along the way.1

Once they got to Paphos, a city on the western coast of the island, their preaching attracted the attention of the proconsul of the island,2 whose name was Sergio Paul.3  He called Saul and Barnabas to meet him, because he wanted to hear the word of God.  However, there was another man who was with Sergio Paul, and who apparently held some measure of influence with him (or at least thought he did).  This man, Elymas, called himself Bar-Jesus (which means “son of Jesus”), but was a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet.4  When they began to preach the word to Sergio Paul, Elymas spoke against them—attempting to negate their message and imply that they were the false prophets, because he did not want the proconsul to obey the gospel.5

Saul (who from this point onward is known as “Paul”) stared him down,6 and by inspiration, called down a curse on him:

O [you are] full of all subtlety and mischief.  You son of the devil!  You enemy of all righteousness!  Will you never cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?  And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is on you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.7

The first recorded miracle of Paul, a former opponent of Christianity who was blinded by God, was blinding another opponent of Christianity.  Immediately after Paul spoke those words, Elymas became blind, and walked around searching for someone to guide him.  This miracle had the desired effect: showing who the true spokesperson for God actually was.  After seeing the miracle, Sergio Paul believed, and was struck with amazement at the teaching about Jesus.  There can be no doubt that the proconsul obeyed the gospel.8

When they left Cyprus, they sailed northwest to Perga, a seaport city in Pamphylia.  It was while there that John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (most likely by sea).  We aren’t told why Mark left them, but it left Paul with a not-too-high regard for his trustworthiness.  Most likely, Paul preached in the city of Perga9 before they traveled to Antioch of Pisidia10 (not to be confused with Antioch of Syria, where Paul and Barnabas had worked together as prophets).

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 13:4-5.  It is possible that there were multiple synagogues in Salamis, the first city that they came to, but it is also certain that they would have preached as often as possible as they traveled through the island.

2 Luke was the target of many skeptics and atheists for this statement, because Cyprus didn’t have a proconsul; at least, that’s what they thought.  Archaeological discoveries have since shown that Augustus Caesar changed their governmental setup, and inscriptions from AD 51-52 have been unearthed which mention the proconsul of Cyprus named Paulus.  See Vincent’s Word Studies on Acts 13:7 for more information.

3 Acts 13:7.  The Greek in this verse is Σεργίῳ Παύλῳ, that is, Sergio Paulo.  Without exception, every translation renders it “Sergius Paulus,” even though the second word is translated “Paul” the other 154 times it appears in the Bible.

4 Acts 13:6-8.  Elymas fought against the truth of Jesus Christ as taught by Barnabas and Saul, yet called himself “son of Jesus,” which he may have done in an attempt to gather followers after himself, as though he was the heir to Jesus’ mantle.  He was a Jew, and his rejection of the truth leads us to conclude that he would have embraced the Law of Moses—which also condemns him because of his involvement in sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10), and his being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20).  See also Malachi 3:10.

5 Acts 13:8.

6 Acts 13:9.  The phrase “set his eyes” (KJV) on him is atenisas, from which we get the word “attention.”

7 Acts 13:9-11.  Paul calls him the “son of the devil” as a contrast to the name Elymas wore, “son of Jesus.”

8 Acts 13:12.  Often, the New Testament writers use the word “believe” to encompass the entire process of obedience to the gospel (Romans 1:16, for example).  Luke would not have recorded the incident in this way if the proconsul had refused to be baptized.  It is possible that the book of Acts was written as part of Paul’s defense before Caesar.  If this is the case, then maybe Luke didn’t specifically mention the baptism in order to not put any unnecessary persecution on Sergio Paul for joining the Christians.

9 The Scriptures do not give us every detail of Paul’s missionary journeys.  It seems very unlikely that he would be in a city for any length of time and not attempt to spread the gospel there.

10 This description by Luke has been the cause of some confusion, as this city was the capitol of southern Galatia, and in the region of Phrygia.  Souter, in James Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (“Antioch”), says that the official title of the city was “Antioch near Pisidia,” and attempts to explain the difficulty.

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Five)

ApostlesLogo

Saul in Antioch

After a period of time had passed,1 the word had spread in many of the churches that Peter had baptized some Gentiles into Christ.  Then the first recorded integrated congregation, Antioch, began to grow with an influx of Gentiles obeying the gospel.2  When word of this reached Jerusalem, the church sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what was happening.  When he arrived and saw the great work that was being done, he was glad and encouraged the brethren there.  But he also saw this as an opportunity to bring Saul in.  Barnabas must have remembered that Jesus had foretold Saul would “carry my name before the Gentiles.”3  So he left Antioch and went to Tarsus to find him.

What Saul did while in Tarsus, we are not told.  It is almost certain that Paul taught or preached while he was there.  Possibly he tried to convert his family to Jesus Christ.  Regardless of what happened, Saul was certainly glad to see his friend Barnabas and hear the news about the Gentiles being brought into the kingdom of Christ.  That meant that he was going to be put to use in the service of the Lord.

Saul accompanied Barnabas back to Antioch, and they remained there for a full year, working with the congregation, teaching many people, and also fulfilling prophecy.  The Old Testament Scriptures say:

The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name.4

The Lord Jehovah shall…call His servants by another name.5

So when Barnabas and Saul came to Antioch, after the Gentiles had seen the righteousness of Christ, they called the disciples this new name (by inspiration): Christians.6

During that year in Antioch, some prophets (including Agabus, who will figure into Paul’s life years later) came from Jerusalem, foretelling that there would be a horrible famine throughout all of Palestine.7  The Christians in Antioch, being good-hearted towards their brethren, gathered up what they could, and sent it to Judea in the care of Barnabas and Saul—two men who had proven themselves to be trustworthy and reliable to the church there.8

Arriving in Jerusalem, Saul and Barnabas delivered the gift to the church there (most likely to James and the elders), and having fulfilled their mission, they went back to Antioch, taking Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, with them.9  That choice, to bring John Mark with them, would end up causing some very hard feelings years later.

Some time after returning to Antioch, Saul and Barnabas, along with some other prophets, were ministering to the Lord,10 and fasting, when the Holy Spirit spoke to them: “Separate for me Barnabas and Saul now, for the work to which I have called them.”11  The other prophets laid their hands on them, showing that they were commissioning them as emissaries of the church at Antioch.12

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Estimates vary from a few months to a few years.

2 Acts 9:19-21.

3 Acts 9:15.

4 Isaiah 62:2.

5 Isaiah 65:15b.

6 Acts 11:26.  Most translations say “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”  However, the word “called” is not in the passive voice, as it is rendered in most translations, but in the active voice.  That is, “they” (Barnabas and Saul) are the ones who actively gave the name.  The Greek word used is always something delivered by God.  It is translated “admonished by God” (Hebrews 8:5); “warned by God” (Matthew 2:12, Acts 10:22, Hebrews 11:7).  The MLV translates it here in Acts 11:26, “divinely-called.”

7 The KJV translates it as “the whole world,” but Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, uses the word to refer exclusively to the Promised Land.  This makes much more sense than “the whole world,” since the Christians in Antioch decided to send relief specifically and exclusively to the Christians in Judea.  Had it been “the whole world,” they would have needed to take care of themselves as well.

8 Acts 11:27-30.

9 Acts 12:25.

10 Acts 13:2.  The word translated “ministering” is from leitourgeo, which is where the word “liturgy” originated.  Some have taken this to mean that these prophets were officiating over a liturgical worship service in Antioch (where everything is structured, done the same way, said in the same way, etc.).  However, the word’s main meaning is serving at one’s own cost, such as someone who took it upon himself to pay expenses to run or improve the city.  The secondary meaning is simply religious service.  The second meaning is certainly in view.  See notes on this passage in this author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

11 Acts 13:1-2.  Most translations leave out the word “now,” which comes from the Greek de.  It means “now,” or “at once.”  The Holy Spirit told them it was time to get to work without delay.  The word “called” is the same one used in Acts 2:39, and means called for a specific purpose, work, or ministry.

12 Acts 13:3.  Later, they return to Antioch, “from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled” (Acts 14:26, KJV).  Robertson argues, based on Philippians 4:15, that the church in Antioch did not support the missionary effort monetarily, but the grammar of that verse doesn’t fit.

Share Button

Well, Church, Say Your Prayers…

Tempers have flared, accusations have flown, name-calling has been rampant, rumors and lies have been flying around like crazy.  And unfortunately, this doesn’t just describe the people in the world–it includes some people in the church.

But now the election is over.  The votes have been cast, and Donald Trump has taken the electoral college.  But a lot of people are not very happy with it.  That includes some Christians.

What we do know for certain is that God’s word stands true, and His commands still apply to us today, just as much as they did when Nero was the emperor of Rome.  And God says that we are to pray.

Therefore, I exhort that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men: for Kings and all that are in authority; so that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Whether you like the outcome of the election or not, pray for our next President.  That doesn’t mean you have you are in agreement with him on certain policies or behavior (or anything, for that matter), but you pray nonetheless.

This is “good and acceptable” before God.  I hope you understand that to not pray for the next President is therefore not good and acceptable before God–it is bad and unacceptable before God.

Please stop and take a moment to seriously consider what God asks of us in that passage, and then say a prayer for our future president, and also for our current one.

It’s the right thing to do.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Share Button

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Four)

ApostlesLogo

Saul’s Early Christian Experiences

After obeying the gospel, having his sins washed away, and ridding himself of the guilt over what he had done to the church, Saul of Tarsus began to meet with the disciples in Damascus.  One can only imagine what the reaction was among those Christians when they first heard about Saul’s conversion.  Many of them were probably like those in Jerusalem, who didn’t believe he was really converted.  However, it is almost guaranteed that Ananias spoke up on his behalf, explaining his own part in Saul’s conversion to the truth.

Somewhere around this time (the Bible isn’t clear on exactly when it took place), Saul traveled to Arabia, before returning to Damascus.1  How long he was there, what happened while he was there, or even exactly where there is—all of these are questions to which we are simply not given the answer.2  Some have suggested that it was in Arabia that Saul was baptized with the Holy Spirit, receiving his apostolic orders and the ability to pass on miraculous abilities.3

During his time in Damascus, Saul started preaching in the synagogues, gathering the evidence from the Scriptures and putting it all together, showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.4  By doing this, he stirred up the Jews, causing them great confusion and aggravation (something he was going to experience for the rest of his life); and he also amazed all those who heard him because of his complete change of heart.  “Isn’t this he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and came here for the same purpose, that he might bring them tied up to the ruling priests?”5

The Christians were being encouraged, and it is probable that several of the Jews obeyed the gospel during those days.  But after “many days” passed (most likely three years since his conversion), the Jews decided they’d had enough and plotted together to kill him.  They watched the city gates day and night, waiting for the opportunity to grab him and kill him6—they didn’t take kindly to traitors, especially because his change was a condemnation of their own practices.

However, Saul was aware of their plot, and after discussing it with the other Christians in the city, it was decided that they would take him at night, put him in a basket, and lower him down the wall of the city so he could escape.  From there, he traveled south, back to the city where he had been hailed as a hero by the Jews, and feared by a struggling and decimated Christian population—Jerusalem.7

Once Saul arrived, he located some of the Christians (having persecuted them heavily, he would have had a good idea where many of them lived or met), and tried to join them.  Saul’s history in the city, his reputation as a murderer of Christians, was still fresh in their minds, and they rejected his attempts, believing that Saul was lying about having been converted.  It’s not a stretch to imagine them running, hiding, locking their doors, having private meetings with other Christians who were all afraid that Saul had come back home.

However, Barnabas learned about Saul’s conversion (whether he simply believed Saul or it was revealed to him by inspiration, we are not told),8 and took it upon himself to bridge the gap that separated Saul from the Jerusalem Christians.  He took Saul to the apostles9 and declared to them how Jesus had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and had spoken to him.  He certainly would have told them about his baptism.  Then he added how Saul had boldly preached the name of Jesus in the synagogues at Damascus.  Barnabas’ words held a great influence, and the apostles and Christians in Jerusalem forgave Saul for his persecution, and welcomed him as a faithful brother in Jesus Christ.10

As a member of the church in Jerusalem, Saul was very active in publicly proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ.  He even debated against the Hellenistic Jews,11 frustrating them so much that they tried to kill him.12  Like in Damascus, when the brethren discovered what was happening, they sent Saul away for his safety, as well as their own.  They took him to Caesarea, on the western coast of Judea, and sent him (most likely by ship) to his hometown of Tarsus.13

With Saul gone, the fires of controversy mellowed, and the churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had rest, and the church grew.14

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Galatians 1:17

2 In Galatians 1:17-18, Paul mentions “after three years,” but that phrase comes after he mentioned the return to Damascus—and that time period might encompass the entire time since his conversion.  So the only thing it tells us about the length of his Arabian stay is that it must have been less than three years—and most likely it wasn’t a long stay at all, since Luke didn’t see fit to even mention it, even in passing.  Regarding where this Arabia was, we shall quote from Vincent’s Word Studies on Galatians 1:17: “It is entirely impossible to decide what Paul means by this term, since the word was so loosely used and so variously applied. Many think the Sinaitic peninsula is meant (Stanley, Farrar, Matheson, Lightfoot). Others, the district of Auranitis near Damascus (Lipsius, Conybeare and Howson, Lewin, McGiffert). Others again the district of Arabia Petraea.”

3 It is never said in the Scriptures that Saul/Paul ever received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  However, there must have been some point in time where he received the miraculous abilities direct from heaven, for only an apostle could pass on the miraculous gifts (which Paul could do, see Acts 19:1-7), and Paul declared that his apostleship did not come from man, but from God (Galatians 1:1).  Since Luke doesn’t reveal it to us (Saul/Paul is first recorded to have done a miracle in chapter 13), we are left to guess.

4 Acts 9:20-22.  The word “proving” (KJV, verse 22) literally means “to put together.”  Thus, Saul was presenting the evidence and showing how it all fit together to prove that Jesus is that Christ they had been waiting for.

5 Acts 9:21.

6 Acts 9:23-24.

7 Acts 9:24-26a.

8 Barnabas was a prophet (Acts 13:1), so receiving the message directly from God wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

9 At this point, there are some difficulties.  According to Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 1:17-19, when he went to Jerusalem, he met with Peter, but saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother (see chapter on him for more details on his status as an “apostle”).  Yet Luke says that Barnabas took him before “the apostles.”  Vincent suggests that this visit was just before Peter and James, seeking to harmonize the two passages.  It is possible that the Jerusalem visit of Galatians 1:17-21 is a different one from Acts 9, though both chapters record him traveling to Cilicia afterwards, which seems to indicate that they are the same event (Acts 9:30, Galatians 1:21).  Ultimately, Vincent’s suggestion, though not thoroughly satisfactory, seems to be the most likely explanation.

10 Acts 9:26-28.

11 Acts 9:29.  The ASV has “Grecian Jews,” which is a more explanatory translation.  The word “Hellenist” describes Jews who spoke Greek, and were not fluent in Hebrew/Aramaic—if they spoke it at all.  These Jews did not reside in the Promised Land (Judea, Samaria, Galilee), but in other areas of the Roman Empire.  See also Acts 6:1.

12 Acts 9:29.  There was a class/racial divide among the Hellenistic Jews and the Jews from Judea.  The Hellenists in general viewed themselves as more educated than their Judean counterparts.  Meanwhile, the Judean Jews viewed themselves as more faithful to God because they could still speak Hebrew/Aramaic.  Saul is placed in an interesting position, because he was not born in Judea, but was fluent in both Greek and Hebrew.  His education (and likely inspiration as well) made him too great of a challenge for the “educated” Hellenists.  Thus, these factors all worked together to make them want him gone.

13 Acts 9:30.

14 Acts 9:31.  It is interesting that Luke records Saul’s departure as one of the things that brought peace and growth to the churches in that area.  While Saul had the best of intentions, and was forcibly proving his case, his tactics may have been closing people’s minds to the truth instead of opening them.  Let us at least consider that as a possibility and think about the way we come across to others.

Share Button