Category Archives: Articles

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.

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.

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

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.

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

ApostlesLogo

Saul Sees the Light

Enthusiastically, Saul was tormenting the church.  He had been threatening and murdering Christians in Judea, and decided it was time to expand his area of destruction to the north.  So he went to the high priest and asked for official letters so that he could go to the synagogues of Damascus and arrest anyone he found there—man or woman—who followed Jesus.1

So Paul took a group of men with him, a posse if you will, to help with his operations.  These would have been men like Paul, men who were viciously opposed to Christianity, and men who took pride in destroying the doctrine and followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  These men are all traveling together on the road to Damascus, and it is almost noon,2 when the sun is at its brightest, when all of a sudden…

A light from heaven shined all around him, and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”3

His mission forgotten for the moment, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”  Saul knew that this light was supernatural, for it was much brighter than even the noonday sun.  Therefore, he knew that this was a voice from heaven—a voice that spoke with the authority of God.  But Saul didn’t understand; he was confused—he had lived in all good conscience before God,4 and was dedicating his life to the extermination of a blasphemous religion.  Surely Saul wasn’t persecuting God Himself!  No, he was serving God…wasn’t he?

The voice from heaven replied in Hebrew, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”5

Saul was terrified at what he had just heard, and remained on the ground, trembling in fear.  If Jesus was speaking from heaven, then Saul had been fighting against God—had been murdering people who were righteous and obedient.  If Jesus was speaking from heaven, then Saul deserved the worst possible punishment that Deity could possibly conceive.  But Saul, trembling, said, “Lord, what do you wish for me to do?”  Certainly fearful of the worst, Saul had to have some measure of hope and relief when he heard the words, “Arise, and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”6

His companions—who were speechless and afraid after the incident, seeing the light and hearing a voice7—took Saul, who was unable to see, by the hand and led him into Damascus, where he stayed at the house of a man named Judas.8  We aren’t told what happened to Saul’s companions, but it is hard to believe that they were unaffected by this incident.  It is almost certain that Saul, shaking as they walked, would have told them what the voice said; and they would have had a hard time disbelieving it.

For the next three days, the worried persecutor abandoned all food and drink, fasting and dedicating himself to praying to God, whom he had unknowingly been fighting against.9  There is no doubt that he pleaded with God for forgiveness, for understanding of the Scriptures which he had misunderstood, and for mercy on him, whose entire world had just been turned upside-down, and who now viewed himself, not as the hero of Judaism and destroyer of heresy, but as the worst sinner in history.10  Yet through three days of praying, Saul was still not relieved of his sin nor his guilt.

While he is agonizing over his sins, the Lord appears in a vision to a Christian in Damascus—one of the very people who Paul was coming to brutally arrest and perhaps even kill.  This disciple of Jesus, a man named Ananias, heard Jesus say:

Get up, and travel on11 the avenue12 which is called “Straight,” and at the house of Judas, ask for the one called “Saul of Tarsus,” because behold, he is praying.  And he has seen, in a vision, a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hands on him so that he might see.13

Ananias puts up an argument, showing just how far Saul’s reputation had spread.  Ananias hadn’t just heard one person talk about Saul’s actions.  He said, “Lord, I’ve heard from many about this man, how much evil he’s done against your saints in Jerusalem, and he possesses authority from the ruling priests to tie up all that call on your name here.”14  Saul was greatly feared because of the wide swath of destruction that he had enacted against the church, and it was common knowledge in Damascus that he was on his way there to do the same thing.

But Jesus reiterates the message in such a way that it calms some of Ananias’ fears (though it isn’t a stretch to think that Ananias was still incredibly nervous):

Travel [Ananias], because he is a chosen tool for me, to carry my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how many things he must suffer for the sake of my name.15

So Ananias traveled on Straight Street, found the house, and went inside to where Saul was.  Saul, unable to see who entered into the room, felt hands being put on him, and heard the words “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me so that you might receive your sight, and [that you] might be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Receive your sight.”16 And immediately, it was as though something like scales had fallen from his eyes, and he looked up at Ananias, who was standing in the room by him.17  Then Ananias gave him a message—the most important message that Saul had ever heard, the answer to his prayers: what he needed to do to receive forgiveness.

The God of our fathers has chosen you so that you should know His will, and see the Righteous One, and should hear the voice of His mouth.  Because you shall be His witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.  And now, why are you waiting?  Get up and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.18

Then Saul arose, no doubt overjoyed by the message of forgiveness that was given to him by Ananias, and he obeyed the gospel.19

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 9:1-2.

2 Acts 22:6.

3 Acts 9:4.

4 Acts 23:1

5 Acts 9:5, 26:14-15.  The goads are sharp, pointed sticks (sometimes metal) that are used to push goats or oxen in a certain direction.  There are different views as to what Jesus means by the “goads.”  Some say it is speaking of Saul’s conscience, which would make him a liar in Acts 23:1, where he says that he had lived in all good conscience before God.  Some have suggested that perhaps he was fighting against Gamaliel’s advice in Acts 5.  Others have suggested, based on Romans 16:7, that Paul was fighting against family.  While these may have some level of validity, it seems more likely that the “goads” that Saul was kicking against are the Law and the Prophets—the inspired Scriptures which pointed the way to Christ.  Some translations omit “it is hard for you to kick against the goads” in 9:5, but the words are present in 26:14 in those same versions.

6 Acts 9:6.

7 Acts 9:7-8, 22:9-11.  The men heard the sound of the voice, but they did not comprehend the words spoken.  There is little doubt that Saul relayed to them what was said.

8 Acts 9:11.

9 Acts 9:9-11.

10 1 Timothy 1:12-16

11 The KJV says “go into,” but both words are not as accurately translated as they could be.  The word “go” is actually a word that means “travel,” “transfer,” or “journey (somewhere).”  It is used again in verse 15.  The word “into” (KJV) is the word epi which means “on” or “upon.”

12 The word translated “avenue” (“street” in most translations) is only used here in the New Testament, and refers to a very busy avenue, crowded with people, and lined on either side with buildings.

13 Acts 9:11-12.  The KJV says “that he might receive his sight.”  However, the Greek is literally “look up,” and is in the active voice, not the passive as the KJV and most other modern translations render it.  By implication, the idea is regaining one’s sight, but since it is spoken in the active voice—as something done by Saul, it is best rendered as we have it (and so agrees Hugo McCord’s translation), “he might see.”  Verse 17 shows that it was Jesus speaking to Ananias.

14 Acts 9:13-14. “Tie up” (“bind” in many translations) can refer to being bound in chains, or tied with ropes.  One can imagine Saul’s posse traveling towards Damascus with ropes or chains in their hands.

15 Acts 9:15-16.  The word “tool” (“vessel,” KJV) is translated as “instrument” in the ESV.  The Greek word was often used to describe the sails and tackle equipment on a fishing boat.

16 Acts 9:17; 22:13.

17 Acts 9:18; 22:13.

18 Acts 22:14-16.  On the translation “Righteous One,” see MLV, ESV, ASV.

19 Acts 9:18.

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

ApostlesLogo

To those who have asked or wondered, yes, I realize that there was still more of the life of Peter to cover.  I ended up teaching those sections without notes, and so I’m behind on that.  It will get done at some point.  🙂

Saul the Persecutor

Saul first appears on the biblical stage, by name, as an enemy of the cross.  It is possible that, living in Jerusalem, Saul was among the groups of Pharisees who saw, questioned, and aggravated Jesus during His earthly ministry.1  But the first time we see his name is in connection with the death of Stephen.  It is possible that, being from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, that Saul is one of the men who was arguing with Stephen in Acts 6.

Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and them of Cilicia, and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.  And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.  Then they suborned men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law.  Because we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.2

After Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, the Jews were outraged.

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.  But [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, “Behold!  I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God!”  Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him together, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. … And Saul was pleased with his death.3

After hearing the sermon, Saul accompanied the mob (and was perhaps involved in it) that threw Stephen out of the city.  According to Deuteronomy 17:7, the witnesses against someone had to be the first ones to stone him.  So it was these witnesses who removed their outer garments and left them in the care and supervision of Saul.  This event seemed to awaken a bloodlust in Saul, an indignation against anyone who would dare promote the name of Jesus, for we see soon afterwards:

As for Saul, he was devastating the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women away, and committed them to prison.4

Years later, Saul spoke about his actions against the church:

I truly thought within myself that I ought to do many things antagonistic to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  I did these things in Jerusalem, and I shut up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priests.  And when they were murdered, I voted against them.  And I punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme.  And being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even into foreign cities, in which I also went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests.5

He also said that, “beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.”6

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Since Saul was a “young man” when Stephen was killed, he would have been even younger (and thus not in any sense a leader) when Jesus was on the earth, some 3-7 years earlier.  Therefore, if Saul was among the groups of Pharisees, it would be no surprise that he isn’t mentioned at all.  Additionally, only two Pharisees are mentioned by name in the gospel accounts: Simon (Luke 7) and Nicodemus (John 3); and both of them are mentioned because they were involved in a one-on-one discussion with Jesus.  All that to say, the fact that Saul is not named in the gospel accounts does not prove he wasn’t there.

2 Acts 6:9-14.

3 Acts 7:54-58; 8:1.  The word “consenting” (KJV) literally means “was pleased with.”  It gave Saul pleasure to see Stephen get stoned.

4 Acts 8:3.  See Modern Literal Version.

5 Acts 26:9-12.

6 Galatians 1:13, KJV.

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

ApostlesLogo

Before we get into this post, let me first say that I love my wife!  If you read the post from last Friday, you’ll remember that my SD card with quite a bit of un-backed-up work was lost.  After hours of searching and cleaning, she found it.  If not for her tireless and impressive work (did I mention that it was the garage she was cleaning and searching?), today’s post wouldn’t be here.  Now, on to today’s post–the latest part of our series on the apostles!

The last apostle chosen by Jesus Christ, Saul of Tarsus (better known as Paul) is arguably the best-known of the group, due to his prominence in the book of Acts and the many letters which he wrote which are contained in the New Testament.1  He is the only official apostle who was not from the Promised Land (which by the time of the first century was divided into Judea, Samaria, and Galilee), and is also the only one that we know for sure was a Roman citizen.

The Youth of Saul

Saul was born in the city of Tarsus, which was not a small city at all.2  In fact, Tarsus was a combination of two cities—one built on both sides of a river, and the other one built into the hills and fortified with walls.  The actual land mass that was considered to be Tarsus was perhaps 400 square miles, and the population is estimated to have been close to a million people.3  It was a center of learning, which some ancient historians say excelled the learning of Athens in Greece and Alexandria in Egypt.4  Because of their support of Rome, Tarsus was declared a “free city,” meaning that they could select their own rulers, live by their own laws, and not have to pay taxes to Rome (which might explain why the population was so large).5

Though he was born in Tarsus, Saul was brought up in Jerusalem, learning at the feet of a well-respected Jewish rabbi, Gamaliel.6  Gamaliel, a Pharisee, served as the head of the Sanhedrin during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius Caesar,7 and the Jewish Mishna says that when he died, “the reverence for Divine Law ceased, and the observance of purity and piety became extinct.”8  Thus, we are safe in concluding that Saul, whose father was a Pharisee, 9 was raised with a very high regard for the inspiration of the Scriptures, with respect for the Law of Moses, and with strict adherence to morality.  Add to that the fact that he was from Tarsus, a city known for its learning, and that fitted Saul perfectly to be used by God.

One other item, which comes into play later in his life, is that Saul was born a Roman citizen.  The city of Tarsus was a “free city,” but the inhabitants were not granted Roman citizenship.  Paul’s citizenship had to have come through his father—though how his father gained Roman citizenship is not known.10

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Paul wrote at least 13 letters of the New Testament.  The letter to the Hebrews has historically been attributed to him as well, bringing the total to 14.

2 Acts 21:39.

3 Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, “Tarsus.”  The plain that encompassed two rival cities (one of which was Tarsus) was 800 square miles, and by the time of Christ, Tarsus had the preeminence.  Thus the estimate of 400 square miles might actually be low.

4 Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, “Tarsus.”  The tutor of Augustus Caesar was from Tarsus, as were several famous poets.  But Saul of Tarsus is the most famous of them all.

5 Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, “Tarsus.”

6 Acts 22:3.  Gamaliel’s influence with the religious leaders in Jerusalem is evident in Acts 5:33-40.

7 Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, “Gamaliel.”

8 Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, “Gamaliel.”

9 Acts 23:6.  Some have suggested that this is a reference to his teacher, Gamaliel, instead of his physical father.  Had Paul been referring to Gamaliel (who by this point in time would have been dead, for he died in AD 52), he would have mentioned him by name—he still being held in high esteem by the Pharisees.

10 It could be that his father was wealthy (which is plausible, since he could afford to send his son to private school in Jerusalem) and purchased his citizenship (see Acts 22:28).  It might also be, as suggested in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (“Paul,” 3. Roman Citizenship), that Paul’s father or grandfather had done service to Rome, and had citizenship given to them as thanks for their service.

An Unexpected Delay (and some Unsolicited Advice)

It happened.  I knew it would.  And it’s my fault.

I’ve been asked when my book on Revelation will be released.  After all, I had said several weeks ago that I expected it to be ready by around October 10th.  And those of you who can read a calendar know that date has already come and gone.

Oh, I’ve got some good excuses for why it isn’t ready yet.  Really, I do.  Two weeks of being gone from home with a laptop that wouldn’t recognize the SD card I’d stored the book on–meaning I couldn’t get any work done on it during that time.  A Restoration Movement Seminar in Texas (and my three lectures for it).  Spending time visiting members here.  Sermon preparation.  Class preparation.

Then came today.

We left the house this morning to go visit some members, when I discovered that my SD card wasn’t in the pocket that I had put it in.  And we haven’t found it yet.  My family and I have scoured the vehicle, the garage, the house, and everywhere else I can possibly think of.  I’m rather concerned…

Right about now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Why are you so upset?  Surely you have a backup copy, right?”  Well… I do… from August 12th.  So, it’s not completely lost.  But the backup I have only has 81 pages done.  The version on the missing SD card has 175 pages done.  Needless to say, this is a significant setback.

And just for the sake of humiliating myself further, I am also going to admit that the SD card was also the place where I was storing my book on the Apostles (thankfully, I have a backup copy of it from a month ago here somewhere), as well as the text of all three lectures I gave on the Restoration Movement last Saturday (no backups, and I gave my printed notes away).  So I’ve lost at least 50 hours of work that will have to be re-done–all because I didn’t keep up with backing up my files.

I hope this explains the delay in publishing my Revelation book.

Now for the unsolicited advice

We have all heard people say “make sure to back up your files.”  And I agree, it is a good idea.  But you need to do it regularly.  As in, when you get done working on a project, or updating it, or copying pictures to your computer, or whatever–make sure to back them up.

I kept letting it slip; kept saying, “I’ll do it later.  I’m too busy to do that right now.”  And now I am reaping what I sowed through my negligence.

If you think backing up your computer files is important, remember this: It is nowhere near as important as making sure you are right with God.

Christians know they should pray to God; know they should confess their sins to Him; know they should repent–but they put it off, and put it off, and eventually forget what they needed to confess in the first place.

Do it regularly.  Don’t let it slip, because you don’t know what might happen.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Slavery in the Roman Empire

PhilemonCover

(The following is from the introduction to Philemon in “The Prodigal Slave: A Study of the Letter to Philemon” by Bradley S. Cobb)

Philemon owned at least one slave, a man named Onesimus.  It was because of this slave that the book which bears Philemon’s name was written.   This slave had run away and somehow found himself with the apostle Paul.  After a period of time, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with this letter.  But why would a man of God send someone back to a life of slavery?

Because of the culture in which we live today, we have ideas about slavery that did not exist in the first century.  In the United States, slavery is generally viewed as inherently sinful.  The idea that one man can own another is repulsive to the vast majority of Americans.  However, the Bible never once condemns slavery.  The book of Philemon, along with Colossians (see 4:1), makes it clear that slavery is not sinful in and of itself.

By some estimates, there may have been as many as 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire during the first century.  This is even more shocking when you note that the whole of the Roman Empire numbered 120 million!  Regardless of the specific number, it is quite sufficient to say that slavery was a common practice throughout the Empire.  However, not all people became slaves in the same way.

  1. Some became slaves because they were part of a conquered people. When armies conquered new areas, many were taken as slaves.  Sometimes it was considered a sign of prestige if you had a Greek slave, especially if that slave was an educator for your children.  Others, such as the Gauls and Barbarians, were prized because of their strength.  These became slaves for life.
  2. Some were born to parents who were slaves, thus becoming property of the master.
  3. A large section of the slave population became slaves because they owed more money than they could pay back. There were no bankruptcy courts back then.  If you amassed a debt and could not pay it back, your possessions would be sold.  If that still did not cover what you owed, your family would be sold or you would sell yourself into slavery.  If you did not owe a tremendous amount of money, you may only have to be a slave for a relatively short time until that debt to the man was paid off.  Other times, you may owe one man the money, and someone else will pay it off, buying you in the process.
  4. The Plebes (the poorest class of people) would often sell themselves into slavery so that they would not starve to death.  In effect, becoming a slave was actually a step up for them, guaranteeing them food, clothing, and shelter.  Possibly, these were the ones who were given the most menial tasks, because they did not have any skills like some of the other slaves.

Slaves literally became the property of their owners.  Think about owning a car.  If the car stops working well, you might decide to try to fix it, and if that does not work you might sell it or even have it crushed.  If a slave was not working as well as the master wanted, the master could try to correct him (possibly by talking with him, or by punishing him).  If that did not work, he might sell him to someone else, continue to beat him, or maybe even kill him.  If a slave was disobedient to his master or talked back, the master had full legal right to sell the slave’s wife and children as punishment.

It is also important to note that not all slaves were treated the same way.  Just as there is everywhere else, good and bad people exist.  There were forgiving masters, but there were also vicious masters.  Some slaves were treated kindly, others were beaten mercilessly.  Many masters would simply view the slave as an employee, like one might view a butler or a maid.  Others made the slaves the object of all of their anger and hatred.  After the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln had abolished slavery in the US, there were some slaves who did not wish to leave their master’s house.  They stayed on because they had been treated well by their owners.

In the first century, slaves had the same rights as widows and orphans: none.  This is the life that Paul was sending Onesimus back into.  Would you be willing to go back?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Some brethren in need

This is not what I had planned on posting today, but this is a lot more important than anything I had to say.

Saturday, Caelyn Adams, 16 years old, was knocking on doors, inviting people to attend a gospel meeting, when a drunk driver ran into her and killed her.  Her father, Nick Adams, is the preacher for the Middle Fayetteville church of Christ in Fayetteville, GA.

A brief news item about the incident can be found here.

I first met Nick and his family a few years ago at Roundhouse.  He is a dedicated man of God, and a good encourager.

Keith Cozort, a fellow preacher and long-time friend of mine, is organizing a collection of funds to help this family in their time of need.  Money can be sent by mail or via Paypal.

To send help to this family, you can mail a check (made out to Nick Adams or Keith Cozort) to:

Keith Cozort
314 E. Harker St.
Mountain Grove, MO 65711

Or if you use Paypal, you can send money to Keith.Cozort@sbcglobal.net

Please remember this family in your prayers.  They need it.

-Bradley S. Cobb