Monday, January 24, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
Paul’s theology can best be described as being Christocentric. Paul’s view was that salvation was found “in Christ” and the church is the body of Christ. This likely stems from his conversion experience on the Damascus road when Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting Him? Of course, Paul had been persecuting Christians and was taken aback when asked this question. Paul realized that by persecuting Christians, he was also persecuting Jesus Himself! Paul realized that Christians are the living extension of Jesus.
Paul’s discussion of the work of Christ was mainly functional. The main point of in Paul’s message is that the work of Christ is the focal point of God’s plan of redemption. By fulfilling the legal demands of the law, Christ eliminated the curse of the law.
To be “in Christ” is to be a part of the body of Christ with Christ as the body’s head. Such language is not surprising given the use of similar concepts by the Stoics. For the Stoics, the universe could be thought of as a “body” with a large diversity of parts yet all working together in harmony. Such imagery would have been readily understood by Paul’s audience.
That said, it was not the Stoics that taught Paul to think of the church in such terms. Again, we must return to Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus road. As stated previously, it was there that Paul came to understand that his persecution of the church was also persecuting Jesus Himself!
Any discussion of Paul’s theology must begin with his claim that his gospel came by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12). This obviously refers to Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road (Gal. 1:16). Paul makes clear that his gospel did not come through a human being. Carson and Moo rightly point out that Paul’s gospel was a supernatural one and we must never forget this fact. While the content of Paul’s gospel was from direct revelation from Jesus, the form Paul’s gospel took reflects a historical knowledge of the gospel events.
Paul also drew much from the law. Paul viewed the law in itself as holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). Paul viewed the law as the standard of righteousness of a holy God. Along the same lines, Paul owes much to the Old Testament which he knew so well. Of course, Paul always views the OT through the lens of Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophets. This is interesting as one must assume that Paul’s Jewish upbringing must have played a large role in the development of his thoughts.
The question of Paul’s authority is a good one. Many claimed that Paul was not a proper apostle since he was not one of the original twelve nor had he been accredited by the original apostles in Jerusalem. Paul’s response to this in Galatians is both strong and simple; he doesn’t need authorization from Jerusalem or anywhere else since he had himself had met the risen Christ on the Damascus road (1:10-2:21). In fact, Paul saw no difference, other than the lapse in time, between the risen Lord’s appearance to him and the other apostles. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with Paul’s assessment!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
It is apparent that Paul realized that he both “received” the Gospel through revelation and through the tradition imparted to him from his time with Peter. While this may seem like a contradiction, this is hardly the case. At the heart of Paul’s gospel is his own conversion experience. Obviously, we cannot know exactly what Christ said to Paul during that encounter on the Damascus road but we are certain that Christ revealed Himself to Paul. The simple act of revealing Himself to Paul is a dramatic revelation! Paul later travelled to Arabia where it is possible that he received additional revelation from Christ Himself.
Undoubtedly, Paul already knew a great deal about the teachings of Jesus. In my mind, it is difficult to believe that Paul, being such an adherent to the Law, would not have taken a keen interest in the way Christians were interpreting the Law since they believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law being the Messiah. To Saul the Pharisee, this is blasphemy plain and simple. Paul’s assumptions were not only challenged, but also shown to be false, as he realized that what was happening was, in his own words, ‘a revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 1:12). The one whom Paul had so despised, and whose followers he was bent on punishing, was standing before him, thereby revealing his identity as Messiah, and inviting Paul to believe in him.
That said, there is still the matter of knowledge that Jesus had imparted to His disciples during His earthly ministry. While it is likely that Paul was aware of some, even many, of those teachings, the details were almost certainly missing. In his epistle to the Galatians (1:18-24), Paul tells of his 15 day stay with Peter and meeting with James. In fact, Paul clearly states that Peter and James are the only apostles with whom he met. During his stay, it is almost inconceivable that Peter did not share with Paul many of the details of his time with our Lord prior to His ascension.
Central to Paul’s gospel through revelation was his conversion experience on the Damascus road. In my opinion, only a meeting with the risen Lord would have been enough for Paul to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Christ. This encounter with the risen Savior was a very personal experience that Paul could tell others about in great detail. Personal experiences can be very powerful, especially when sharing one’s faith with others. I can only imagine how powerful that testimony was during the many sermons Paul must have preached during his ministry!
Concerning tradition that was likely shared with Paul during his 15 day stay with Peter is that Christ dies for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that Christ was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared after His resurrection. In each instance, Paul uses the term “that” probably indicating that these were details that we already part of the Christian tradition that Peter shared with him.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Paul believed that careful observance of the Law was critically important as a faithful response to God’s love. It is Paul’s loyalty to the Law that gave him such a difficult time with the entire notion that Jesus was the Messiah. ‘Anyone who is hanged on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). Since Jesus had been crucified on a cross, then by definition he could not have been the Messiah. This is why Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road was so important. In his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul discovered that he had been wrong. In fact, in keeping the Law so closely, Paul was actually in direct opposition to God.
Paul clearly taught that Christ was the end of the Law though I also believe that Paul came to believe that Christ was also the goal of the Law. In Galatians 3:23-25, Paul teaches us that the Law was like a custodian and a tutor to lead us to Jesus. Tutors and custodians are temporary and I believe that is how Paul came to view the Law.
Paul’s views have been interpreted differently over the centuries. The traditional Lutheran doctrine of a three-fold use of the Law as (i) a means of preservation, (ii) as a summons to repentance, and (iii) as guidance for the church. Paul addresses government in Romans 13:1-7 and agrees that the Law is a call to repentance since the Law has revealed man’s sinful nature to begin with. The Reformed tradition derived from Geneva says that while a man in Christ is not under the Law as a means of salvation, he remains under it as a rule of life. According to Paul, this is simply not true unless one considers the law of love which is much different from following a code but rather is an outward expression of an inward power, that of Christ in the believer.
 Ibid, 193-198. F.F. Bruce gives an extended treatment of Paul’s comparison of his own life and adherence to the Law to that of the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden that greatly enhances understanding of Paul’s view of himself under the Law.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Ephesians is among Paul’s letters referred to as the Prison Epistles. It is generally assumed that Paul wrote these epistles during his imprisonment in Rome though there is some evidence to support the suggestion that Paul may have also been imprisoned in Ephesus and wrote one or two of the Prison Epistles during that period. If that is the case, then the dating of the early 60’s is drawn into question though I believe that possibility impacts the dating of Philippians much more than Ephesians.
Determining the purpose for this epistle is difficult. The letter is solemn with a very serious tone though does not appear to have been written to address the specific needs of a church like many of Paul’s other letters. It is clear that Ephesians was meant to provide instruction to Paul’s readers though Carson and Moo point out that there is no unanimity in understanding the letter’s aim.
Ephesians does appear to be directed towards Gentile believers though it does not appear to have been written to address a crisis or other urgent need. It has been suggested that Ephesians may have been a circular letter intended to be delivered to a number of churches in Asia Minor. Many of the surviving manuscripts omit the words “at Ephesus” in 1:1. Also in support of the idea that Ephesians may have been an encyclical is the impersonal nature of the letter. Since Paul worked in Ephesus for about three years, and since his normal practice was to mention his many friends in the churches to which he wrote, a strong case can be made for the theory that Ephesians was a circular letter.
Lea and Black point out that an equally convincing case can be made for an original Ephesian destination since the words “in Ephesus” are early and widespread. They also point out that the three most widely read Pauline letters – Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians – all appear to have had their place destinations tampered with.
Unlike other Pauline writing, there is no false teaching being confronted nor does it appear that Paul is confronting opposition. It would seem that Ephesians is simply a general statement of Christian truth concerning the church, Christian unity, and the Christian walk.
 Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 438. The authors go on to mention that the better Paul knew his audience, the more impersonal his letters appeared to have been. For example, while Ephesians is very impersonal even though Paul knew the congregation so well while Romans has many personal references even though Paul never visited the church there.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Saturday, January 08, 2011
Both 1 & 2 Thessalonians were written by Paul and also include Timothy and Silas. Timothy was a young man Paul led to Christ and we know that Silas was Paul’s primary associate on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40). Perhaps Silas served as Paul’s amanuensis. Paul had a number of reasons for writing these epistles: clearing up any misconceptions about his motives in light of his rather hasty departure from Thessalonica (1 Thess. Chapters 1-3); remind the Thessalonians of some key ethical elements of their new faith (1 Thess. 4:1-12); comfort the Thessalonians over the death of some fellow Christians (1 Thess. 4:13-18); the healthy use of spiritual gifts (1 Thess. 5:19-22); expressing his concern for the persecution of the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 1:1-12); the return of Christ (2 Thess. 2:1-12).
The subject of Paul’s opponents in Thessalonica is the topic of much debate. On the one hand, many believe that Paul is combating definite opponents, typically thought to be Jews, spiritual enthusiasts, or Gnostics. On the other side of the argument is Abraham Malherbe who contends that Paul was simply using an antithetical style to portray his motives as being pure. I tend to believe that Paul did have actual opponents. It was Paul’s practice to begin his ministry in a new city in the local synagogues until persecution began. In Thessalonica, persecution certainly did begin and Paul was forced to quietly leave much sooner than he would have liked while others go bail for Paul and the other missionaries.
The charge against Paul in Thessalonica was nothing short of proclaiming a rival emperor, Jesus. This combined with the short time Paul was with the Thessalonians could have also lead to some claiming that Paul was no more than a charlatan who had tricked the new believers. Paul confronts this directs and boldly! Having been in Thessalonica only a short time, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Paul certainly taught the new Christians a great deal of basic Bible doctrine. As we study these two letters, we see that almost every major doctrine of the Christian faith is mentioned. 
 Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. (Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985), S. 2:690
 Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 544
 Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 380.
 Ibid, 384.
 Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 544.
 Ibid, 545.
 Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. (Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 227.
 Ibid, 225.
Wiersbe, Warren W.: The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, Ill. : Victor Books, 1996, c1989), S. 1 Th 1:1
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
From Acts 13-14 we have learned that Paul and Barnabas evangelized the southern part of Galatia during their first missionary journey. Their practice was to first go to the synagogues and preach to Jews and God-fearing gentiles. Shortly after their arrival in each city, Jews raised opposition to Paul and Barnabas causing them to turn to the gentiles and make converts among them. Based on Paul’s previous persecution of Christians, it is not surprising to me that after Paul and Barnabas would move on, other Jewish Christians would come on the scene with a different message. These false teachers, called Judaizers, The problem Paul encountered with these Judaizers was with their teaching that those who embrace Christian salvation must also submit to Jewish law, known as “legalism”.
Paul’s purpose in writing Galatians was to express his anger and astonishment that not only were the new Galatian believers in the process of turning away (deserting, metatithesthe, as in a military desertion) from the truth but because it was happening so quickly after his last visit to them, or so soon after the false teachers began their work. The departure was not simply from a system of theology but from God Himself, the One who had called them by the grace of Christ (the dominant theme of the epistle).  To add emphasis to his argument, Paul states in verses 8 & 9 that if anyone, man or even an angel from heaven, would preach a different gospel than Paul preached to them then let them be cursed!
These Judaizers, who sought to lead the new Galatian believers astray, undermined Paul’s authority by attacking Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle. The large influx of Gentiles into the church really made the theological issues Paul was addressing in this epistle very important. Many of the Jewish Christians continued to observe the dietary requirements of the law and attend synagogue. The Judaizers wanted to require Gentile Christians to follow the law in addition to their salvation by faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ. Apparently, the Judaizers simply saw Christianity as some sort of modified Judaism. It is possible that the Judaizers were pressing the Gentile Christians to at a minimum accept those parts of the law that differentiated Jews from other people.
What Paul understood all too well was that to accept any single part of the law was to submit oneself to the entire law. In so doing, the Galatians would have been taking up a yoke they did not need to bear being in Christ. I do not believe the Galatians understood how the law functioned to provide for the revelation of sin and prepare the way for the Messiah. With the exception possibly of the God-fearing Gentiles, it is difficult to believe that the vast majority had anything more than an elementary /knowledge of the law. Certainly, though, Paul did and knew where the path the Judaizers paved would take his new converts.
Paul responded to personal attacks and apostasy forcefully and without his usual niceties when writing to other churches he helped to establish. Paul’s love for his converts and the boldness with which he directly confronts his detractors and their false teaching is certainly a model many churches in our own time should learn from.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
According to Acts 18, Paul first preached the Gospel in Corinth during his second missionary journey. Corinth was an ancient Greek city that had been rebuilt as a Roman colony in 46 B.C. Corinth had a unique location, at the narrowest point in the mainland of Greece, and therefore provided easy access to the Aegean Sea on the east and the Adriatic Sea on the west. Though the Romans had opened up extensive seagoing trade routes and navigational methods were well advanced, ancient sailors still preferred to travel close to the coastline whenever they could, and Corinth took advantage of this to establish itself as one of the foremost centres of trade and transportation. Though there were plans to build a canal from the Aegean Sea to the Adriatic, even in New Testament times, it was many centuries later before the project was carried through. At the time when Paul visited the city, it had two separate harbours on each of its coasts—Lechaeum and Cenchreae—and between the two was an intricate construction like a conveyor belt, along which vast numbers of slaves would haul ships from one harbour to another. Corinth became an important transit point at which ships could pass from the Aegean to the Adriatic, without navigating the dangerous southern tip of Greece. Because of its strategic position, roughly midway between the eastern end of the Mediterranean and Italy, there was always a constant stream of traffic. Paul clearly recognized the strategic importance of Corinth, remaining there for the next 18 months working as a tentmaker and living with Aquila and his wife Priscilla who has recently moved to Corinth from Rome. During this time, Paul began his ministry in the synagogues as was his custom. So fruitful was Paul’s time in Corinth that even Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire family came to faith in Jesus Christ.
After Paul’s 18 month stay in Corinth, he returned to Antioch (Acts 18:23) and then began his third missionary journey. After successfully ministering in Ephesus for some time, Paul had planned to visit Corinth while en route to Macedonia and then again on the way back intending to sail from Corinth to Judea. It was during Paul’s time in Ephesus that 1 Corinthians was written. After receiving negative reports on the goings on in Corinth, Paul set out immediately to Corinth. This visit, called the “painful visit” to use Paul’s own words, was a disaster. Paul departed Corinth unexpectedly leading to charges of Paul being fickle. Paul may have departed to allow time for the wounds between himself and the Corinthians to heal though he was not about to let the situation slide. Paul sent another letter, one of two believed to have been sent to the Corinthians now lost, carried by Titus that demanded the punishment of the ringleader causing the problems between Paul and the Corinthians. This letter was well received by the Corinthians leading to the writing of 2 Corinthians.
Paul addressed the charges of being timid and inconsistent in 2 Corinthians. Some still rebellious elements of the Corinthian church accused Paul of being timid in person and expressing boldness in the safety of a letter. Paul assured the Corinthians that he would be equally bold in person if need be. In addition, Paul’s opponents in Corinth boasted of their accomplishments claiming credit for the work Paul had started. Paul refused to commend himself for the work our Lord accomplished through him. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that he had not accepted financial support from them that he had not been a financial burden on them. This was used by Paul’s opponents to claim that Paul did not love them. Paul’s defense was simple: his refusal to accept funds from the Corinthians prevented his opponents from boasting that they worked on the same basis as Paul. After delivering what is called the “fool’s speech” defending his apostolic credentials, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he has no interest in their material possessions and insisted that on his third visit, he would speak with the power of Christ sparing no offender from his rebuke.