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

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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)

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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.

Slavery in the Roman Empire

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(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

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 7)

Describing Timothy

Timothy was a faithful Christian, though he may have been vexed with anxiety.  Paul spends a good deal of time encouraging Timothy to stay strong, to keep fighting, to remember why he is a minister of the gospel.  This would seem unnecessary unless Timothy struggled with that sometimes.  Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, telling them that if Timothy arrives, they are to take it easy on him, possibly because—unlike Paul—Timothy did not thrive on confrontation and debate.

If Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear: for he works the work of the Lord, as I also do.  Therefore, let no man despise [belittle] him, but conduct him in peace that he may come to me (1 Corinthians 16:10-11).

In Ephesus, Timothy seemed to struggle with problems with the elders.  This situation apparently was so stressful that he was having stomach ailments (many believe this is describing ulcers) and was frequently sick.

Against an elder do not receive an accusation, except before two or three witnesses.  [But] them that sin, rebuke before all, so that others may fear.  I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that you observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.  Lay hands [or, ordain] suddenly on no man, neither be a partaker of other men’s sins: keep yourself pure.  Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent sicknesses. Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before unto judgment; and some men they follow after.  Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid (1 Timothy 5:19-25).

The popular verse about “drink a little wine for your stomach’s sake” is contained in a discussion of dealing with elders who sinned and those who aren’t qualified trying to become elders.  Timothy was making himself sick worrying about these problems.  It says a lot about Timothy that he was so concerned about the spiritual condition of the church and her leaders that he would be physically sick because of it.

Tradition

A work entitled the Acts of Timothy claims that Paul ordained Timothy as “Bishop” of Ephesus during the reign of Nero, and that Timothy remained there the rest of his life.  In this apocryphal writing, a pagan festival called the Katagogia (the “bringing down”) was taking place in Ephesus, where men with masks on took sticks and clubs “assaulting without restraint free men and respectable women, perpetrating murders of no common sort and shedding endless blood in the best parts of the city, as if they were performing a religious duty.”  Historians are divided on whether this was done in the name of Diana (the chief goddess of Ephesus) or Dionysius (the god of liquor and revelry).  Timothy, according to the story, stood in front of the mob, pleading with them to stop, preaching peace in the name of Jesus, but was clubbed to death in the street.  This was said to have happened in AD 97.

-Bradley Cobb

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 6)

Timothy after Rome

Anyone who has tried to piece together the life and movements of the apostle Paul after Acts 28 will tell you that it is difficult, and relies a lot on hints and a few guesses, since there is no detailed account of what he did after the events recorded in Acts.  Trying to figure out Timothy’s movements carries with it the same problems.  However, there are some things we can know.

Prior to Paul’s release from prison, he was making plans to visit specific people and places.  One of those was Philippi.  To the Philippians, he said:

I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be of good comfort when I know your state.  For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.  For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.  But you know the proof of him, that as a son with the father, he has served with me in the gospel.  Therefore, I hope to send him presently, as soon as I shall see how it will go with me.  Bit I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly (Philippians 2:19-24).

Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi with this letter, but planned on sending Timothy so that he could get a report on how the Christians in that city were doing.  But Paul was waiting until he knew how things were going to go in his upcoming trial before Caesar before sending Timothy, probably because he wanted to be able to send that information as well—they being the main conduits from which support came during his imprisonment.

The book of Hebrews appears to have been written from Rome,*[1] and the writer (Paul)*[2] anxiously awaits the arrival of Timothy so that he can leave and visit the Christians to whom he was writing.  It seems, then, as though Paul sent Timothy off on a mission (perhaps to Philippi in Macedonia), and was waiting on his return so they could go travel together again.

The two friends and fellow-soldiers of the cross went to Asia Minor, stopping at Ephesus, where they were able to reunite with the Christians they loved dearly and hadn’t seen for several years.  While they were there, Paul (and perhaps Timothy as well) probably traveled to Laodicea to visit Philemon,*[3] who he had told to “prepare me a lodging, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be released to you” (Philemon 22).  Returning to Ephesus, Paul saw work that needed to be done in the congregation, but he also felt a very pressing desire to get to Macedonia personally and reunite with the ones who supported him tirelessly and out of their poverty.  Thus, he told Timothy that they must separate.  Timothy remained behind in Ephesus while Paul went on to Macedonia,*[4] but he planned on returning at some point in the future.*[5]

Timothy’s time in Ephesus was not the most pleasant of events.  There were men who were completely unqualified who sought to join the eldership.*[6]  There were false teachers on the rise.*[7]  There were women who wanted to be teachers in the assembly.*[8]  Paul knew about these problems, but he was confident that Timothy would be able to handle them.

Paul most likely returned to see Timothy in Ephesus before leaving for more mission work, some believe westward to Spain.  After some time, Paul made it back to Troas, but was arrested and taken back to Rome.  Timothy has remained in Ephesus during this time, working with the congregation there, but then he receives a letter (2 Timothy) which causes him much concern.  The Roman Empire has declared Christianity to be their enemy, and an Empire-wide persecution has begun.  Paul, being perhaps the most well-known of the Christians, would have been one of their primary targets.  Timothy reads the letter, which urges him to remain strong, to prepare people to continue to propagate the message of the gospel, and to endure hardships like a good soldier.*[9]  Paul is telling Timothy that they may never see each other again on this side of death.*[10]  So Timothy hurriedly gathers what things he needs and travels north to Troas to gather Paul’s books, parchments, and cloak,*[11] and travels to Rome with John Mark (who had apparently come to Ephesus), probably by ship.

Whether he made it to Rome in time to see Paul prior to his execution, we have no way of knowing.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The writer, who has traditionally been identified as Paul, tells his readers “they of Italy salute you” (Hebrews 12:24).

[2] *It is the belief of this author that Paul is the writer of the book of Hebrews.  However, as this work is not focused on that book, nor is the point here being made one of major significance, the evidence for such a conclusion does not need to be presented here.

[3] *Most scholars place Philemon in Colossae, but this author believes the evidence points to the nearby city of Laodicea.  See the introduction and appendix of The Prodigal Slave: A Study of the Letter to Philemon by this author for more details.

[4] *1 Timothy 1:3.

[5] *1 Timothy 4:13.

[6] *1 Timothy 5:21-22, 24-25.

[7] *1 Timothy 4:1-5.

[8] *1 Timothy 2:9-15.

[9] *2 Timothy 2.

[10] *2 Timothy 4:6-8.

[11] *2 Timothy 4:9, 13

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 5)

Timothy during Paul’s Imprisonment

Timothy accompanied Paul and the others into Jerusalem, where they met with James, the brother of Jesus, as well as the elders of Jerusalem.  They presented the funds, as well as gave a report of the great work God was doing among the Gentiles.  This brought up a touchy subject in Jerusalem.  There were thousands of Jewish Christians in the city, and they’d all heard reports that Paul was teaching Jews not to circumcise their children anymore, and that they should forsake all the customs passed down from Moses.*[1]  All Paul would have had to do is point to Timothy to disprove those rumors.  Timothy was a Jew who had not been circumcised, yet Paul made it a point to circumcise him.

Some Jews from Asia had seen Paul in the temple, and began to make these same accusations, but added that he brought a Gentile into the temple, because they falsely assumed that Trophimus had accompanied him there.  Paul was forcibly removed from the temple by a mob, and the doors were shut behind him.  The mob began to beat Paul, and would have succeeded in killing him, had not the Roman soldiers arrived on the scene.  It does not appear that Timothy was with Paul during this uproar, but no doubt he heard about it shortly thereafter.*[2]

Timothy was no doubt anxious the next day when the chief captain, Claudius Lysias, called together the high priest and the Sanhedrin to hear Paul’s testimony.  The proceedings quickly turned ugly, and Claudius removed Paul, “lest [he] should have been pulled in pieces by them.”*[3]  It is quite possible that Timothy visited Paul while he was being held as a prisoner in Jerusalem, and brought him much-needed comfort.*[4]  Timothy most likely joined Paul as he was taken to Caesarea and was probably present during his trial before Felix.*[5]  Timothy was given freedom by Felix to visit Paul as often as he wanted, and this he no doubt did as Paul was there for two years.  It is believed by some that Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and to Philemon were all written during this two-year period.*[6]  If this is the case, then Timothy’s constant presence with Paul is confirmed, for he is mentioned as co-writer in three of those letters.*[7]

Paul, in order to guarantee that he wasn’t turned over to the Jews, whom he knew would try to kill him, appealed to Caesar.  This was the right of every Roman citizen, and required going to Rome and awaiting a convenient time for the emperor to hear his case.  Luke does not record who, other than himself, joined Paul on this treacherous sea voyage,*[8] but it would be surprising if Timothy was not among his companions.*[9]  If this is indeed the case, then Timothy would have experienced the Euroclydon, the “tempestuous wind” that attacked their ship for fourteen days, and was so bad that the professional sailors tried to abandon the ship, leaving Paul, Timothy, Luke, and the other 200+ to die in the storm.  He would have come aboard the land at Malta, seen Paul get bitten by a viper, yet suffer no ill effects.  He would have seen Paul heal many of the inhabitants of the island, and helped the apostle in preaching to them for the three months they were there.*[10]

The prevailing view among Bible scholars, past and present, is that Paul wrote his “prison epistles” while in Rome under house arrest.*[11]  The greeting at the beginning of Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians all include Timothy, showing he was there with Paul during his imprisonment.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *It is important to note that James calls them “customs,” and not “commands.”  By this point, the Law of Moses had no binding effect on anyone, having been superseded by the law of Christ.  The customs would have included observing the Sabbath, circumcision, feast days, fasting, vows, meat restrictions, etc.

[2] *Luke tells us that Paul went to the temple with the four men who had a vow on them.  This would appear to exclude anyone else from being with Paul at that point.

[3] *Acts 23:1-10.

[4] *Paul’s nephew was able to come see him (Acts 23:16-22), so it is not a stretch to think that others were permitted to as well.

[5] *At the conclusion of Paul’s trial before Felix, the ruler stated that Paul’s acquaintances and ministers (assistants) were to be permitted to come and go to meet with him.  This implies that Felix had knowledge of Paul’s traveling companions.

[6] *The majority of Bible scholars place the writing of these letters a few years later while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, as recorded in Acts 28.

[7] *The only exception being Ephesians.

[8] *Note the use of “we” throughout chapters 27-28.

[9] *This is especially true if we assume—as do the majority of Bible scholars—that Paul’s “prison epistles” were written from Rome, which include Timothy in their greetings.  Some might suggest that Timothy was sent on missionary journeys to some of the congregations that they had visited before, informing them of Paul’s current situation, and that is also a logical guess as well, considering that Paul would need financial support while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial.

[10] *These events are recorded in Acts 27-28.  The specific time on Malta is given in 28:11.

[11] *This living arrangement is shown by Luke in Acts 28:16, 30-31.

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 4)

Journey to Jerusalem

Sometime thereafter, Paul joined them in Macedonia, and Timothy is listed as a co-author of the second letter to the church in Corinth.*[1]  After traveling with Paul throughout Macedonia, Timothy finally made it back to Corinth, where they stayed about three months,*[2] and during which time, he was mentioned to the church in Rome by Paul.*[3]  Timothy had planned to accompany Paul on a sea journey to Syria (probably returning to Antioch).*[4]  However, since there were Jews waiting to kill Paul, the apostle decided to travel by way of Macedonia instead, apparently sending Timothy and several others ahead to wait for him at Troas.*[5]

Timothy was present in Troas on the Lord’s Day when Eutychus fell asleep in an open window on the third story of the building where the church was meeting.  This young man slid down and fell out the window to his death, but Paul healed him.*[6]  Timothy then rode with Luke and some others in a boat to Assos, meeting up with Paul who had decided to go there on foot,*[7] and they continued their journey to Miletus.  It was in Miletus that Paul waited, calling the elders of Ephesus to come meet him there.*[8]  These are some of the same men that Timothy would have interacted with during his initial time in that city with Paul, as well as during his time preaching there full-time some years later.*[9]

The young preacher accompanied Paul and the others as they made his way back east, sailing past Cyprus (where Barnabas and John Mark had last been seen), and finally arriving in Syria at Tyre.  In this city, they stayed for a week, meeting with the disciples who lived there.  Timothy must have been impressed by the love and care of the Christians in Tyre.  The entire congregation—men, women, and children—walked Paul, Timothy, Luke, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus out of the city and to their boat.  Then they all knelt together on the shore and prayed to God.  These Christians did not head back home until Paul and his company had all boarded the ship.*[10]

Timothy’s next stop was in Caesarea, where he got to meet Philip, the man who taught the gospel to the eunuch of Ethiopia.*[11]  Philip welcomed the traveling missionaries into his house for “many days,” being overjoyed no doubt at the aid which the churches of Macedonia and Achaia had sent for the poor saints in Jerusalem.  It was while staying in Caesarea that Timothy saw a prophet named Agabus grab Paul’s belt and tie himself up with it, prophesying that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem and turned over to the Romans as a prisoner.*[12]  Timothy began to beg and plead with Paul not to go,*[13] but the apostle stood firm, telling him and the others who also pleaded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready, not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”*[14]  Finally, Timothy and the rest of Paul’s company ceased their pleading, instead saying “The will of the Lord be done,” and they traveled to Jerusalem in the company of one of the early disciples, Mnason,*[15] with whom they would stay in Jerusalem.*[16]

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *2 Corinthians 1:1

[2] *Acts 20:2-3.  Corinth is the primary city of Greece, and Paul had promised the Corinthians that he would come to see them in person after traveling through Macedonia (1 Corinthians 16:5, 2 Corinthians 9:4).

[3] *Romans 16:21.  Paul wrote that he was staying at the house of Gaius (Romans 16:23), who was one of the few people in Corinth that Paul himself baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14).  Paul also mentions “Erastus, the chamberlain of the city” (Romans 16:23), and a first-century inscription in Corinth exists which says “Erastus, the commissioner of public works, laid this pavement at his own expense.” (see introduction to Romans in “The Open Bible: Expanded Edition,” 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers).

[4] *Acts 20:3.

[5] *Acts 20:4-5.

[6] *Acts 20:6-12.

[7] *Acts 20:13-14.

[8] *Acts 20:17.

[9] *See 1 Timothy 1:3.

[10] *Acts 21:3-6.

[11] *Acts 21:8.  As a side note, it is quite possible that Luke was able to talk to Philip at this time, gathering the information that he would later include when writing the book of Acts.

[12] *Acts 21:10-11.

[13] *Acts 21:12.

[14] *Acts 21:13.

[15] *Mnason may well have been one of the converts on the day of Pentecost.

[16] *Acts 21:14-16

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 3)

Solo Journeys of Timothy

Timothy and Silas left Berea, and together they journeyed to Athens.  No doubt these two fellow-soldiers of the cross talked about their experiences over the past months while on their journey, and wondered what things God had in store for them once they arrived in Athens.

Upon their arrival,*[1] Paul was worried.  He remembered the Christians in Thessalonica who had been scared by a mob of angry Jews and their band of thugs, and was concerned that the persecution of godless men and Jews who refused to obey the gospel might cause them to leave the faith.  So he spoke with Timothy and told the young man that he was being sent on a mission to “establish” and “comfort” the congregation in the midst of their trials.  So Timothy went on a solo journey, returning to Thessalonica (in Macedonia) to check on them.  When he arrived, he was overjoyed with what he found.  The Christians there, even though they’d only received three weeks’ teaching from Paul and Silas, were staying faithful and showing love one for another.*[2]  Soon after arriving and seeing their spiritual condition, Timothy brought the happy news to Paul, who had moved on from Athens to Corinth by this point.*[3]  It was upon receiving this uplifting news that Paul wrote the first letter to the Thessalonian Christians.

Timothy apparently remained in Corinth for at least a few months, for his name is included as a co-writer of the second letter to the Thessalonians, which most believe was sent between 3-6 months after the first letter.  What happened next with Timothy is not spelled out for us in the Scripture.  It seems most likely that Timothy stayed with Paul as he traveled from Corinth to Ephesus for a very short stay, and then went to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish feasts*[4] before returning to Antioch to give a report to the church there.*[5]  Afterwards, having spent some time in Antioch, he would have then journeyed with Paul back through Galatia and Phrygia (in Asia Minor), “strengthening all the disciples”*[6]  before arriving with Paul in Ephesus, which is where he shows up next in the biblical narrative.

Paul remained in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31), and it was during that time that he sent Timothy on a journey that would eventually take him to Corinth*[7] to give the Christians there a refresher course in Paul teaching.*[8]  There is reason to suspect that Timothy was not able to make his planned visit to Corinth (or perhaps that Paul sent Titus instead),*[9] and returned to Paul in Ephesus instead.*[10]  Some time after his arrival back in Asia Minor, Timothy was sent on another mission, this time to Macedonia with a man named Erastus (Acts 19:22).  This mission to Macedonia quite possibly included traveling to the various congregations, raising support for the poor saints in Jerusalem.*[11]

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *Some are of the belief that Silas and Timothy went to Athens, but that by that point Paul had already moved on to Corinth, and so they would have had to search him out there.  1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, however, makes it clear that Timothy and Silas met up with Paul in the city of Athens.  Acts 18:5, which records their arrival to meet Paul in Corinth, must have come after Timothy (and apparently Silas) was sent out to check on other congregations.

[2] *This trip is recorded in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6.

[3] *Acts 18:5 shows Silas and Timothy meeting up with Paul in Corinth, apparently after they had been sent to visit other congregations in place of Paul (who was a lightning rod for the unbelieving Jews).  See 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6 for at least part of this evidence.  Timothy went to Thessalonica, and it is guessed by many that Silas went to Philippi.

[4] *Acts 18:21.  Johnson (People’s New Testament with Notes) says “There are reasons for believing the feast to be Pentecost.”  Most modern versions leave out Paul’s explanation of why he couldn’t stay in Ephesus, due to some faulty ancient manuscripts which they have mistakenly elevated to “most accurate” status.  The visit to Jerusalem and to the church in that city is mentioned in Acts 18:22—Paul went to Caesarea, and from there “went up” to some city [Jerusalem] to salute the church there, and then “went down” to Antioch.

[5] *These events are recorded in Acts 18:18-22.

[6] *Acts 19:23.

[7] *If Paul had sent him directly to Corinth, then it would have been with this letter in his hand.  However, at the end of the letter, he says “if Timothy come…” which implies that by the time the Corinthians receive this correspondence, Timothy still wouldn’t have been there yet.  Thus, Timothy’s mission must have included other stops on the way.

[8] *1 Corinthians 4:17

[9] *See 2 Corinthians 2:13, 7:6, 13-14, 8:6, 16, 12:18 for evidence of Titus’ mission to Corinth.

[10] *Paul seemed to take this into consideration before sending the letter to the Corinthians.  Even though he told them that he had sent Timothy to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17), he also told them that it wasn’t a certainty (1 Corinthians 16:10), saying “If Timothy comes…”

[11] *See 2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 2)

The Missionary Timothy

Timothy joined up with Paul and Silas, initially traveling to the cities near Lystra and Iconium, but soon thereafter they made their way west across Asia Minor, including Phrygia, Galatia, Mysia, and Troas.  It was while in Troas that Timothy met a doctor named Luke.*[1]  This physician became a trusted friend of Paul, and certainly of Timothy as well.  Timothy, Luke, Silas, and Paul were all in this city one evening when Paul had a vision that they should travel to Europe (specifically Macedonia) to preach the gospel.*[2]

During this missionary trip, Timothy was not the primary speaker—it’s possible that he didn’t do much preaching at all while in the company of Paul and Silas—but he was visible as part of Paul’s company, preachers working for Jesus Christ.  This is seen in the many times Paul would send Timothy back to different congregations to check on them or to serve in his place for a time.*[3]

After arriving in Philippi (in Macedonia), Timothy met a devout woman named Lydia who because the first recorded convert in Europe.  It is in her house that Timothy stayed for a number of days, along with Paul, Silas, and Luke.*[4]  It was while they were in this city that a possessed slave-girl began to follow them, proclaiming that “These men are the servants of the most high God, which show to us the way of salvation!”*[5]  Paul cast the demon out of her, which upset her owners greatly because they had used her as a source of income.  The owners grabbed Paul and Silas and drug them before the magistrates before having them beaten and thrown in prison.  Timothy and Luke were either deemed to be not as important by these men, or they were able to run and escape.*[6]  Timothy stayed in Lydia’s house that evening, and the next day he left with Paul and Silas towards Thessalonica.*[7]

In Thessalonica, Timothy had the opportunity to see Paul in action at the local synagogue, reasoning from the Scriptures that Timothy knew so well.*[8] The response was encouraging at first, with several Jews obeying the gospel and a “great multitude” of Gentiles doing so as well.   But there was a group of Jews in the city who greatly resented the teaching of these missionaries and gathered a mob to find them.  Jason, most likely a recent convert, had welcomed the traveling trio into his house, and it is to his home that the mob went.  Where Timothy was at the time they reached the house isn’t stated.  It’s possible he was among the brethren that were taken from Jason’s house and placed before the rulers of the city,* [9] but was released after posting bail,*[10] allowing him to flee the city by night with Paul and Silas to Berea.*[11]

In Berea, Timothy got to witness a much different response.  There in the synagogue of Berea, the Jewish congregation was open-minded to what Paul and Silas preached, checking everything by their copies of the Old Testament Scriptures to verify what they were being taught.*[12]  Unfortunately, some of the Jews who had caused such trouble for Paul in Thessalonica heard he was preaching in Berea and came to stir up the people.  Paul was sent quickly to the sea, on his way to Athens, but Timothy and Silas chose to stay behind to help the congregation.*[13]  After perhaps two to three weeks, they received word from Paul, telling them to get to Athens as quickly as possible to meet up with him.*[14]  So they went.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *Note the change in pronouns from “they” to “we” and “us” from Acts 16:6-10.

[2] *Acts 16:6-10.

[3] *Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-6), Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17), Macedonia (Acts 19:22), Philippi (Philippians 2:19), and left in Ephesus to guide the congregation there (1 Timothy 1:3).

[4] *Acts 16:14-15.

[5] *Acts 16:16-17.

[6] *No explanation is given in Scriptures.  It is probable that since Paul and Silas were the ‘leaders” of the group, the men simply grabbed them.  Some have suggested that Timothy might have been spared because of his young age, though that still doesn’t account for how Luke escaped.  It must be remembered that they were probably preaching to a sizable group at this point, and the owners of the slave-girl wouldn’t be too interested in trying to capture a group that outnumbered them by several times.

[7] *Luke evidently stayed behind in Philippi (notice that Luke uses “they” to describe the company that left, Acts 16:40, 17:1).

[8] *Acts 17:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:15.

[9] *It is also possible that he was safely elsewhere during this time.

[10] *Acts 17:9.  The word “security” (KJV) is often used of money to pay off a debt or bond.

[11] *Lange disagrees, saying “Timotheus, who is not mentioned in Acts 17:10 (compare 17:14), probably remained at Thessalonica, and, at a somewhat later period, repaired to Berea” (notes on Acts 17:9).

[12] *Acts 17:11.  Paul and Silas were prophets, and could easily have performed miracles while they were in Berea to confirm their message, but these Jews were “people of the book” who would not be swayed unless they could see it in the Scriptures for themselves.

[13] *Acts 17:13-14.  The fact that Silas and Timothy stayed behind, even for a month (long enough for Paul to be taken to Athens and for someone to return with a message), shows that (1) Timothy and Silas loved the congregation in Berea, and (2) that they weren’t in any serious danger in Berea.  It appears that the Jews from Thessalonica were mostly interested in Paul, and once he left, they lost interest.  It is also plausible that their attempts to intimidate the new converts failed because they had been convinced through the word of God that what Paul taught was the truth.  Thus, though the people were “stirred up,” it doesn’t appear to have lasted long.

[14] *The journey from Berea to Athens is approximately 200 miles—one way.  By sea, it is only a few days’ journey.  By land, it is around 10 days (when you take into account the Sabbath Day restrictions that Paul likely observed).  Some commentators argue that the phrase “as it were to the sea” means that it was an act of trickery, and that they were trying to throw the Jewish persecutors off their trail, then traveling by land.  McGarvey takes the position that when they left, they didn’t know exactly where they were going to take Paul, which is why he had to send word for Timothy and Silas to come to Athens (as opposed to somewhere else).

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 1)

From our upcoming book, “Who Were the Apostles?” we present to you a biography of the life of a young preacher named Timothy.  This biography will be presented in seven sections.

The Selection of Timothy

The very first thing said in the Bible about Timothy was that he was a disciple from the Derbe/Lystra area.  That is, he was a Christian when Paul arrived there with Silas on his second missionary journey.  It is generally assumed that Timothy was converted by Paul, because the apostle calls him “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).*[1]  If this is indeed the case, Timothy must have been converted some years earlier during the first missionary journey, either around the time when Barnabas and Paul were thought to be Greek gods,*[2] during their visit to Derbe,*[3] or their return visit to Lystra.*[4] Regardless of when it took place, Timothy owed his spiritual mindset to his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice, who made certain that he was familiar with the Scriptures from the time he was a child.*[5]  It was from this knowledge of the Scriptures that he was “thoroughly furnished into all good works.”*[6]

This young man,*[7] before Paul’s arrival on the second journey, had already become well-known among the brethren in his hometown of Lystra,*[8] but also in Iconium, some 30-40 miles away.  According to McGarvey, this is a strong implication that Timothy had already begun preaching the gospel in local congregations:

…he was well spoken of by the brethren.  The fact that he was thus attested not only at … Lystra, close about his home, but also at the distant city of Iconium, renders it probable that he was already a young preacher, and that the imposition of hands by the elders of the church, which is mentioned later [1 Timothy 4:14], had already taken place.*[9]

Even though Barnabas was no longer with Paul, his effect was still being felt.  The apostle Paul looked at Timothy as someone who would be useful in spreading the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike—just like Barnabas viewed Paul (Acts 11:20-26).  Timothy was already well-known and well-respected by the local brethren, but Paul decided he needed another co-worker, and Timothy was the man he chose.  This wasn’t a slight to Silas, any more than the addition of Luke less than ten verses later was a slight to Timothy.  Paul was always looking for Christians who could be of help in spreading the gospel and encouraging new congregations.

Timothy was much like the church: he was half-Jew, half-Gentile.  His mother was a Jew, but his father was a Greek.  That obviously wasn’t an issue with the brethren in Lystra and Iconium (with whom he was well-respected), but it was an issue with many of the non-Christian Jews who knew that his father was a Gentile (Acts 16:3).  So, in order to eliminate a possible point of contention with the Jews they wanted to convert, Paul circumcised Timothy.*[10]

It is interesting that immediately after Paul circumcised Timothy, we’re told that they went around to the cities delivering the decrees from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem—the letter that said Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised to be right with God.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The validity of this translation is not as certain as many have assumed.  Paul does not use the word “my,” nor is there anything in the text to show possession.  The New King James Version renders it more literally: “a true son in the faith.”  It is possible that Paul is simply calling Timothy “a true [or genuine] son [of God] in the faith.”  2 Timothy 1:2 says “my beloved son,” but just like with 1 Timothy 1:2, there is nothing in the Greek to demand the word “my” be added.  It literally says, “To Timothy, a beloved son” (see the NKJV).  However, Timothy is called (in Greek) “my son” by Paul (2 Timothy 2:1) and his relationship with Paul is described as “a son with the father” (Philippians 2:22).

[2] *Acts 14:6-18.  Some have suggested that when Paul was stoned and left for dead, he was brought to Timothy’s house, causing a deep impact on the younger man and a desire to help Paul in any way he could.  No evidence was given for that suggestion, and so it remains in the arena of supposition.

[3] *This preaching visit in Derbe (Acts 14:20-21a) seems to be the least likely of the three suggestions for the time of Timothy’s conversion.  Though Paul and Silas met up with Timothy in “Derbe and Lystra,” the young disciple was well-reported by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium—no mention of his being known in Derbe.

[4] *Acts 14:21b-23

[5] *2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15, Acts 16:1.

[6] *2 Timothy 3:15-17.

[7] *There is no consensus on what his actual age was.  The estimates range from late teens to early 40s.  The word translated “youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) speaks of the earliest years of accountability in the other places where it appears in the New Testament.  It is said that men were considered “youths” or “young men” until around age 40 [some say closer to 30].  Paul says “let no man despise your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) around AD 60-63.  The events in Acts 16 took place closer to AD 48-50.  Using the information at hand, knowing that at least a decade after Timothy joined Paul (more likely closer to 15 years), he was still called a “youth,” it leads us to the conclusion that Timothy was most likely in his late teens or early twenties when we first meet him in Acts 16.  Barton W. Johnson, in his The People’s New Testament with Notes, suggests that he was twenty years old.  The apocryphal Acts of Timothy claims that he was killed around AD 97 at the age of 80, which—were it true—would mean he was born in AD 17, and was 31 when Paul met him, and in his mid-40s when Paul called him a “youth.”  While this is possible, it doesn’t agree with the general usage of the word in Greek, nor elsewhere in the New Testament.

[8] *Given that Timothy was well-known in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2), and that Luke records that Timothy was a disciple that was in the area of “Derbe and Lystra” (Acts 16:1), the most logical conclusion is that Timothy was from Lystra.

[9] *J.W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, Vol. 2, p. 79.

[10] *This was done, not as a matter of doctrine, but as a matter of expediency.  As a half-Jew, he would have been tolerated in the synagogue as a spectator, but because he was also an uncircumcised half-Gentile, he would not have had the opportunity to speak there.  The non-Christian Jews in the area would have looked down on him as no better than a Samaritan (half-breed).  Later on, Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, who was a full-blooded Gentile, because that would have been trying to bind the Law of Moses on a Gentile.