Outstanding Characters Part 2 Copy

J.   Paul

1.   General information

Although Paul was the leading persecutor of Christians in the first years of the new faith, Paul became a Believer in Jesus and the most influential voice – after Jesus himself – in the history of the church. Paul’s conversion placed him on the borderline between two worlds. He had been raised in a strict Jewish home that led him to devote his life to the defense of Mosaic Law against a “sect” that not only questioned that law and worship in the temple but also claimed a crucified Galilean teacher was the Messiah. Paul’s transformation convinced him that indeed the crucified Galilean was the Messiah and Son of God and that the Messiah’s message was not only for Jews but also for Gentiles. The experience could not have been more traumatic or ultimately more joyful for Paul. Although he continued to devote his life to the same God he had always worshiped, Paul came to see God’s will as pointing in another direction.

Paul was born in the Greek city of Tarsus, a prosperous and renowned center of education and philosophy in the region of Cilicia in southern Asia Minor. Paul’s family thus lived in the two worlds of Greek and Jewish culture. As Paul told an assembly of Pharisees and Sadducees, “I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). His parents gave him the Hebrew name of Saul, in honor of King Saul, who was of their tribe of Benjamin. He also bore the Latin name Paulus and was proud to assert that he was both a citizen of the Greek city of Tarsus and a citizen of Rome. Relatively few Jewish families of the Diaspora enjoyed such privileges of citizenship, which often required compromise with pagan culture and having sons educated in Greek culture in the city school, called a gymnasion. Paul’s father apparently had enough wealth to attain citizen status while remaining a strict Pharisee. Life in the Diaspora, and being besieged by Greek political and cultural influences, evidently made him more devoted to his own religion.

Apparently, while Paul was still a youth, the family moved to Jerusalem. Paul was educated there and his only known sibling, a married sister with a son, still lived there many years later. Paul’s Pharisaic roots led him to study with one of the leading teachers of the time, Gamaliel the elder. He was known in tradition as the grandson of the great Hillel, the leading Jewish teacher of the first century B.C. Through this training, Paul said, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14). At the same time, Paul learned the craft of tent making in order to support himself for his study of the law.

A cosmopolitan city, Jerusalem had numerous synagogues where Jews from Greek-speaking regions gathered for study and mutual support. The book of Acts mentions synagogues for Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia (the region around Ephesus). Since he was from Tarsus, Paul most likely made the synagogue of the Cilicians his base, and there he began to dispute with Christians such as Stephen, one of the leaders of the Greek-speaking church in Jerusalem. To Paul such people seemed determined to undermine the law and worship at the holy temple, all in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Though Paul was probably in Jerusalem during the final period of Jesus’ life, he never gives any hint in his writings that he saw or heard of Jesus during his ministry. It was only in later debates with Jesus’ followers that Paul became alarmed at the rapid development of the movement.

Paul (still known as Saul) first appears in the New Testament as a consenting witness at the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen was brought before a council to be charged with speaking “against this holy place and the law” and with arguing that Jesus would “destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:13-14). Stephen confirmed the worst fears of people like Paul by attacking his countrymen for always opposing God, for believing that God could ever dwell in a man-made house like the temple, and for betraying and killing the Messiah. For Paul, these were words of war. Everything that he held dear, the law, the temple, the traditions of his people, seemed at risk if a sect like this was allowed to survive. What is more, the sect was proclaiming as the Messiah a man who had been hung on a cross, whereas the scriptures taught, “a hanged man is accursed by God” (Deut. 21:23). A broken law, a destroyed temple, and an accursed Messiah-to Paul these heresies summarized the dangerous new sect. Thus, as he later wrote, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13).

The first target of Paul’s attacks was evidently the Christians of Jerusalem, who were Jews from the Greek Diaspora, like Stephen and Paul himself. Many, including the evangelist Philip, another of the seven leaders of the Greek-speaking Christians, fled to Samaria, Damascus, Phoenicia, Cyprus, or Antioch of Syria. Paul even used his influence with the High Priest in Jerusalem to reach beyond the city to attack Christians in regions outside Judea, obtaining from him letters to the synagogues at Damascus. Though the High Priest had no legal authority outside Judea, his word could certainly affect how synagogues would cooperate with Paul in his opposition to the new faith.

2.   A transforming vision

About A.D. 35, some five years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul, perhaps about 30 years old, was on his way to Damascus with the letters from the High Priest in hand. God chose that moment to reverse his life. In later years Paul described the event calmly, saying simply that God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:16). In Acts, the event is recounted three times in considerable detail.

Paul was nearing Damascus when a brilliant light from heaven surrounded him. A voice addressed Paul by his Hebrew name; “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Paul might have hoped for such a vision to approve his work for God, but he was dumbfounded when the voice accused him of persecution. He could only ask, “Who are you, Lord?” The next words Paul heard crushed his world and transformed his future. The voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5).

Impossible! Jesus had been crucified-accursed. He could not be the Messiah, much less be speaking to him in a vision from heaven. But Paul was himself experiencing that vision, and he could not deny it. The experience was such that Paul simply knew with profound assurance that this was indeed a heavenly vision (Acts 26:19) from God whom he had been serving but whom he had radically misunderstood. For Paul the impossible had become real.

The dazzling light had blinded Paul, perhaps to teach him the blindness of the violent persecution he had instigated. But with his companions Paul continued to Damascus, where he spent three days praying in that unaccustomed darkness, fasting, cut off from his past, not knowing what the future held. Finally, he was approached by a man named Ananias, a devout Jew who was also an adherent of the new faith. Through Ananias, Paul’s blindness was healed. He was baptized and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit that had emboldened Stephen.

Immediately, Paul began to proclaim his new faith in Jesus with some of the same vigor he had used before to defend the law. He startled Jews and Christians in Damascus by entering their debates on the opposite side from the one they had expected. When the situation became dangerous, Paul did not return directly to Jerusalem but traveled south into Arabia, then a part of the kingdom of Nabatea, and remained there two or three years, preaching and teaching. By the time he went back to Damascus, he had evidently become the object of such antagonism that King Aretas of Nabatea had the city guarded to prevent Paul’s escape. But aided by Christian friends, Paul “was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands” (II Cor. 11:33).

In about A.D. 38, Paul finally returned to Jerusalem, where many Christians had formerly suffered persecution at his hands. At that time he met only two of the church’s leaders, Peter (whom he calls Cephas) and James, “the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19), who was becoming the major voice of the Jerusalem community. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus who was one of the original members of the Christian community in Jerusalem, vouched for Paul. Paul’s very presence in Jerusalem was such a catalyst for conflict, however, that he soon departed for Tarsus and spent the next several years working in Cilicia and Syria.

3.   A message for Gentiles

Few details are known of Paul’s work in those first 10 to 12 years after his dramatic conversion. It was doubtless a time of much activity but also profound reflection for Paul. He knew that God had called him not simply to repeat the words of others but to delve deeply into the revelation that he himself had received. What did it mean to trust that one who had been crucified was indeed God’s Messiah? What did it mean that the message was for Gentiles not as proselytes to Judaism but as Gentiles? Paul was a highly trained Jew, and his understanding of the law, tradition, Israel’s history, and God’s grace and love had to be completely rethought. The message of the cross, which had once seemed so scandalously foolish, he now saw as the very embodiment of God’s wisdom and power.

During those years, his preaching and reflection crystallized into the powerful theological message that is apparent in the letters Paul later wrote. In practical terms, the problem of the relevance of the Gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews was becoming the thorniest theological dilemma for the early Christian communities. Peter was pushed by a dramatic vision to overcome his strong personal aversion and preached the Gospel to a pious Gentile named Cornelius. His action sparked a sharp controversy within the church in Jerusalem. The entire first generation of Believers was Jewish, and to many of them faith in the Messiah was intimately linked to observance of the Mosaic Law. It seemed impossible to them that a community of Believers in the Messiah would not faithfully keep the law.

It was evidently in Antioch of Syria that the new faith was first actively taught among Gentiles. The Gentiles were then accepted into the community without having to be circumcised or without being required to observe the dietary laws and regulations of purity that distinguishes Judaism. Barnabas came from Jerusalem and strongly approved of these new developments. Needing additional help, he went to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him to Antioch. Together these two functioned as the leading teachers in Antioch for a year. And there, outsiders began to call the disciples “Christians,” meaning “followers of Christ,” to distinguish them from other Jewish groups. Though the ethnic mix of this community made it very different from the Jerusalem church, the Christians in Antioch were careful to maintain close ties with that community by sending aid in times of famine. On one occasion, perhaps about A.D. 46, Barnabas and Paul took the aid to Jerusalem and returned with Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark.

Soon after their return to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas realized that the Spirit was calling them to new areas of work. With fasting and prayer, the two set out for Cyprus, taking John Mark as their assistant on what has traditionally been called the first missionary journey.

With Barnabas’ knowledge of his home island, the company began work in Salamis on the east coast, preaching in synagogues there before traveling west across the island to Paphos. At Paphos they encountered one of the many strange religious characters that could be found in cities throughout the Roman Empire: a Jew named Bar-Jesus who claimed to be a prophet and a magician and who had become a spiritual adviser to the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus. When the magician tried to keep the proconsul from listening to the Christian message, Paul struck Bar-Jesus blind, and Paulus believed, “astounded at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). In Acts, this event marks the point at which Paul becomes the leader of the missionary enterprise and, coincidentally, begins to be called by his Latin name; whereas Luke had earlier written of “Barnabas and Saul,” he now speaks of “Paul and his company” (Acts 13:7, 13).

Next, the group of missionaries crossed over to Asia Minor and traveled inland through the region of Pisidia to another of the towns named Antioch, where Paul preached in the synagogue. “We bring you the good news,” Paul proclaimed, “that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33). Many responded enthusiastically, but others in the synagogue were outraged. The message split the Jewish community and soon stirred up the whole town. But an exuberant Christian community, made up primarily of Gentiles, was formed apart from the synagogue. After a few weeks; however, the opposition to Paul and Barnabas became so intense that they traveled on to other cities; Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, all in the region call Lycaonia.

4.   Hailed as gods

In each of these cities, the missionaries met with a combination of positive response and intense opposition. Pagan crowds in Lystra first thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods for having healed a lame man but later turned on them and stoned Paul till they thought he was dead. The sever injuries from such a stoning might well have weakened Paul’s health permanently, for he mentioned later of his physical frailty. Yet communities of Believers were established in each of these cities, drawing people from both Jewish and pagan backgrounds into their new faith.

After Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps to each city, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). At some point on this trip Paul and Barnabas were joined by Titus, a young Greek convert who later became one of Paul’s most important coworkers. Together they traveled back to Antioch in Syria and reported to the church there how God “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (acts 14:27).

The simmering tensions between Jews and Gentiles within the church, however, were coming to a boil. Christian teachers from Judea came to Antioch with a warning for all the Gentile converts: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). These were Christians who, like Paul, had been Pharisees before they came to believe in Jesus and who vigorously challenged Paul’s understanding of the Gospel. In the face of this pressure, in about A.D. 49, Paul and Barnabas took Titus-refusing to allow him to be circumcised-and went to Jerusalem to confront the issue with the leaders of the church. Thus, by taking Titus as an example of the power of the Gospel among Gentiles, Paul kept the issue from becoming too abstract. For Paul and others like him, the very heart of his message – what he calls “the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:5)-was at stake. If the grace of God in Jesus that he had preached was to be only for Jews and for Gentiles who became proselytes to Judaism, then Paul had profoundly misunderstood the Gospel, and indeed, as he expressed it, he “had run in vain” (Gal. 2:2).

The results of this crucial meeting were positive from Paul’s point of view. Two accounts of the event highlight very different aspects, but both report the same basic results. In Acts, written a generation later, Luke describes a general assembly of the Apostles and elders with speeches by Peter and James the brother of Jesus and a report of their work by Barnabas and Paul. From this meeting the church issued a letter that refused to require Gentiles to be circumcised in order to become Christians but required them to avoid meat from animals sacrificed to pagan gods or from which the blood was not properly removed and to shun unchaste behavior. Paul himself describes the meeting in his letter to the Galatians. He and Barnabas met with the so-called pillars of the church in Jerusalem, Peter, James, and John the son of Zebedee. They agreed that just as Peter had been chosen by God to lead the mission to the Jews (at that time the great majority of all Christians), so Paul had been chosen to lead the mission to the Gentiles. According to Paul, the Jerusalem leaders gave him and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship that we should go to the Gentiles and them to the circumcised.” They also asked that the Gentile Christians remember to help the poor, “which very thing,” Paul says, “I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:9-10).

The stand of Paul and Barnabas at the conference in Jerusalem by no means ended all controversy over the volatile issue of Jews and Gentiles, but it tipped the balance. Christianity was to be a universal religion; the church could spread freely in the broad world of the Roman Empire and beyond and would not be limited to the domain of Jews and proselytes. Questions of dietary laws and table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians remained in dispute, leading to sharp differences between Paul and Peter and even between Paul and Barnabas. But Paul never wavered in his conviction that God had called the Gentiles to faith as Gentiles, entirely apart from the distinctive requirements of the law of Moses, and he was confident enough to defend that conviction even in opposition to a pillar of the church like Peter.

Paul’s disagreements with Barnabas led them to continue their ministries separately. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus to preach, while Paul chose Silas (short for Silvanus) and traveled by land to Asia Minor on what is known as the second missionary journey. They passed through Lystra where Timothy, a young man like Titus, who was to become one of Paul’s principle aides, joined them. The three traveled north into the interior cities of Galatia, then west into Phrygia, founding small communities of disciples all along the way. Paul perhaps spent extra time in Galatia “because of a bodily ailment,” which he does not identify. But the joy of the new converts was such that they cared for Paul “as an angel of God” (Gal. 4:13-14).

5.   Beaten, imprisoned, freed

Eventually, Paul and Silas came to Troas (ancient Troy), and sailed from there to Macedonia, taking the Christian message for the first time to Europe. Every city offered its particular challenges, dangers, and opportunities. In Philippi, Lydia was converted under their ministry, a Gentile woman sympathetic to Judaism. Her home became the first center in Philippi of the church; the community there developed a particularly affectionate relationship with Paul. But when Paul and Silas healed a slave girl whose owners touted her as a soothsayer with a spirit of divination, they found themselves dragged before the town magistrates in the forum, stripped, beaten with rods, and locked in stocks in prison. Undaunted, they were singing hymns for the other prisoners at midnight when a terrifying earthquake shook the prison, miraculously throwing open the doors and loosening their fetters. After converting their jailer to the faith, they were set free.

Leaving Philippi, Paul’s company traveled along the main Roman road, the Via Egnatia, to Amphipolis, Apollonia, and finally to Thessalonica, the Roman capital of Macedonia. As was Paul’s practice, the apostle first began to teach in the synagogue, where he would find people who knew the scriptures and what it meant to say, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:3). As the radical meaning of Paul’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah became clear; however, the Jewish community split. From the synagogue Paul drew off a few of the Jews, many “devout Greeks,” and “leading women” (Acts 17:4) who had been attracted to the synagogue. These joined with a number of pagans who, as Paul wrote, “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God” (I Thes. 1:9.) This diverse group formed the new Christian community at Thessalonica.

It is not hard to understand the bitterness of the many Jews who rejected Paul’s teaching and saw their synagogue communities torn asunder by this religious earthquake. In Thessalonica they failed to arrest Paul but brought his host, a Jewish Believer named Jason, before the magistrates, accusing him of harboring “these men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Paul and Silas were often pushed or pulled from town to town both by grateful Believers, who desired to protect those who had brought them new life, and by those who were outraged at the effect they had on the community.

Leaving Macedonia, Paul preached briefly in Athens, where he made a memorable speech concerning the unknown God to Greek philosophers before the council known as the Areopagus. His message elicited little positive response among the literati of Athens; and he soon moved to Corinth, the Roman capital of the region of Achaia.

Paul was becoming ever more aware of how vulnerable were the small communities of Believers that he had founded. The church in Thessalonica had faced strong opposition, and Paul was afraid that in the weeks since he had left it the community might have been overwhelmed. When Paul “could bear it no longer” (I Thes. 3:1), he sent Timothy back north to Thessalonica to learn what had happened. In the glow of relief and gratitude that Paul felt when Timothy returned with good news, Paul began a new enterprise that was to affect the entire history of Christianity. He began to write letters.

Paul’s first letter, to the Thessalonians in about AD 51, represents the earliest writing in the New Testament. The letter was a genuine outpouring of affection for the Christians in Thessalonica. It is colored with memories of the struggles they had faced combined with instruction in their new faith and exhortations to grow spiritually, love each other, live quietly, and “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances’ (I Thes. 5:16-18). It was not a private letter but a public document to be “read to all the brethren” (I Thes. 5:27). In the years that followed Paul’s letters became an effective tool for dealing with the needs of his far-flung congregations; the documents substituted for the presence of the apostle himself in an era when travel was slow and often dangerous.

Meanwhile, Corinth had proved to be a place of both conflict and profitable work for Paul. He preached in the synagogue and won over Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, as well as Titius Justus, a devout Gentile who lent Paul his house next door to the synagogue for his teaching. Many other Gentiles were also converted to Christianity. Paul was aided in his work not only by Silas and Timothy but also by Aquila and his wife, Priscilla (Prisca). These were Jewish Christians who had been forced to leave Rome and who shared with Paul the craft of tent making. Though the Jews once tried to have Paul condemned as a criminal before the Roman proconsul Gallio, the official refused to hear a dispute “about words and names and your own law” (Acts 18:15).

6.   Rich with spiritual gifts

The community Paul founded at Corinth was a diverse assortment of Jews and Gentiles, mostly from the lower classes, but with a few who had some personal wealth. They responded to the message of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit with particular enthusiasm. Both Jews and Gentiles had broken with their own religious traditions and communities to become part of the new fellowship, and they delighted in experiences of spiritual fulfillment, wisdom, freedom, and intimacy with God. The tendency of the Corinthian Christians was always to push their individual spiritual experiences to the furthest extent. They felt like kings, sated with a wealth of spiritual gifts. In spite of strong opposition, Paul was able to remain with them a year and a half, longer than he had stayed at any place since leaving Antioch.

When he left Corinth, Paul took Priscilla and Aquila with him to Ephesus and soon booked passage alone to Caesarea. From there he went on to Jerusalem. After stopping at the temple and calling on the Christian community, Paul headed north to revisit the churches in Antioch and the regions of Galatia and Phrygia before returning to Ephesus, where he rejoined Priscilla and Aquila. But part of what Paul found on his third missionary journey deeply disturbed him.

Among the largely Gentile churches of Galatia, other Jewish Christian missionaries had followed in his own footsteps and had tried with some success to convince these Gentile Christians that they must be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. Paul wrote an urgent letter to all the churches of the region warning against such revisions of the Gospel: “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” “For freedom Christ has set us free,” he urged them; “stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Those who depend on obedience to the law for salvation “are severed from Christ,” he warned, and “have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 1:8; 5:1,4).

In Ephesus, the Roman capital of the province of Asia, Paul began a more than two-year period of work, using the city as a base from which he sent his co-workers out into the surrounding regions to establish churches. Paul himself taught daily in a hired lecture room called “the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9), and the church thrived. But all was not well elsewhere.

Paul received reports of growing problems in the church at Corinth, and a letter from the Christian community there poses a series of questions about such topics as spiritual gifts, the resurrection of the dead and eating food that had been offered to idols. The Corinthians were still very enthusiastic in their faith, but their delight in their individual spiritual experiences was straining the fabric of mutual love that held the congregation together. They were competing with each other in displaying such gifts as speaking in tongues; they were dividing up in their allegiance to various teachers; they were showing such indifference to taboos surrounding food sacrificed to idols that the faith of some Christians was being destroyed.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, calling on them to refocus their faith not on their spiritual accomplishments but on the self-giving love shown in Christ on the cross, the true “power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:24). The highest spiritual gift, one that would last beyond this world, he told them, is simple love. They must put love for each other and the good of the whole community above personal desires. Without that love, no amount of faith or religious insight would be of any value, (I Cor. 13:1). By keeping the cross of Christ and the love that it expressed as their central vision, the Corinthians could handle all the diverse questions troubling them.

In Ephesus the impact of Paul’s preaching, as always, won converts and roused opposition. Paul told the Corinthians how he “fought with beasts at Ephesus” (I Cor. 15:32) – perhaps a metaphor for strong opposition. It may have been while he was imprisoned there that he wrote to the church at Philippi to encourage the congregation and thank its members for sending one of their own, Epaphroditus, to help him in his work. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he urges them, “again I will say, Rejoice.” “I have learned, he confided, “in whatever state I am to be content … I can do all things through the anointing which strengthens me” (Phil. 4:4, 11, 13).

Paul’s “anxiety for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28), however, could never be fully relieved. He had to deal with rival missionaries in both Corinth and Philippi, men who tried to turn the new Christians away from the Gospel. With sharp irony Paul termed these men “superlative Apostles” (II Cor. 11:5) because of the extravagant claims they made for their own spiritual power. For a time it appeared that the church at Corinth would renounce its association with Paul and abandon the true Gospel. But by using Titus as an emissary, Paul finally reestablished his close relationship with the Corinthians.

The situation at Ephesus finally exploded. Devotees of Ephesus’s famous goddess, the many-breasted Artemis, felt the impact of Paul’s work on their religion and their livelihood. Led by a silversmith named Demetrius, they rioted against Paul, shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28) As the object of this uproar, Paul-who had wanted to revisit the churches-decided that it was best to leave Ephesus, and he traveled around the Aegean coast to Macedonia and ultimately returned to Corinth.

7.   Summarization of Paul’s preaching

Through many difficulties and struggles and in the face of harsh persecution, Paul felt that he had finally brought the churches around the Aegean and in the interior of Asia Minor to a level of maturity and stability that they could maintain on their own. He believed it was time to move on. When he arrived in Corinth for a final three month visit, he had decided to travel west to Spain, a region as yet untouched by the message of Jesus.

Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome, requesting its members’ hospitality and aid as he traveled through the imperial city on his way to Spain. Paul used his letter to a distant church-his longest and most important-as an opportunity to lay out in summary fashion the foundations of the Gospel he preached.

The Gospel, he asserted, “is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). In response to the violence and corruption that enslave humanity, God had sent His Son to break the enslaving power of sin through his redemptive death on the cross. Though humanity is weak and unworthy, Paul announced, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). No human being can break the power of sin and stand righteous before God, but God in his grace chooses to pronounce over the guilty person who trusts in Jesus the verdict of innocent. What is more, as the Believer is “baptized into Christ Jesus” and experiences “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” the power of sin and death is broken, and God makes the Believer his own child. “When we cry Abba Father” Paul said, “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The power of this vision gave Paul the basis for profound peace, joy, and confidence in God: “If God is for us, who is against us?” Nothing, Paul concluded, “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:3; 8:2, 15-16, 31, 39).

Before leaving for Spain, Paul decided to make a final visit to Jerusalem to deliver to the church there gifts for the poor that he had gathered from all the churches he had founded-thereby fulfilling his promise to Peter, James, and John. He bade farewell to the churches around the Aegean, expecting “that they should see his face no more” (Acts 20:38).

He traveled with considerable trepidation toward Jerusalem, where he was welcomed by James and the elders. But unfortunately his notoriety among other Jews had preceded him. When he entered the temple, Jews from the region of Ephesus accused him of desecrating the temple by bringing Greeks inside, and they started a riot. The tribune Claudius Lysias sent Roman soldiers from the garrison that over-looked the temple court to intervene, saving Paul from being beaten to death but also putting him under arrest. From that moment on, Paul was never again free, so far as Acts recounts and all his plans were foiled.

The dislike and hatred for Paul, who had become a Christian and devoted himself to the Gentiles was so great that Lysias had to send his prisoner to Caesarea, seat of the governor, for protection. The governor, Felix, was acquainted with Christianity and evidently discounted all the charges against Paul but nevertheless held him in custody in Caesarea for two years.

In about AD 59, Felix was replaced by a new governor, Festus, who suggested that Paul be returned to Jerusalem, but Paul refused to go and appealed for a hearing before the emperor in Rome-his right as a Roman citizen. When the well-educated but dissolute Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice visited Caesarea, Paul recounted his story and his faith at length before them. Agrippa was amazed at Paul’s audacity in trying to convert him, but all recognized that Paul did not deserve to be imprisoned. Because of his appeal; however, they agreed that he must be sent to Rome.

8.   His final destination

Soon Paul was put aboard ship with several companions in the care of a kindly centurion named Julius, who was transporting several prisoners to Rome. The voyage started late in the year, nearing the time when the Mediterranean becomes too tempestuous for ship travel. At first the trip went well. But as the ship left Crete it was caught in a major storm; for 14 days it was driven by the wind until it broke apart on a shoal (shallow area of water, possibly a sandbar or reef) off the island of Malta. Miraculously, all on board escaped with their lives.

When spring of AD 60 arrived, Paul was transported on to Rome. He and his companions were welcomed by leaders of the church, and Paul also met with leaders of the Jewish community. Though he received some positive response from them, the lines between Christians and Jews were already drawn in Rome. The book of Acts concludes with a description of Paul living in Rome for two years under a loose house arrest, but able to preach and teach freely to all who came to him.

Paul’s co-workers, including John Mark and Luke “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), helped him continue his missionary work even under arrest. It was evidently during this period that he wrote letters to the churches in Colossae and Ephesus as well as a short letter to a Christian in Colossae name Philemon about his slave Onesimus, who had become one of Paul’s co-workers. He sent these letters back to Asia Minor by Tychicus and Onesimus.

By this time, Paul had evidently given up on his plans to go to Spain. He wrote to Philemon to “prepare a guest room for me” (Phil. 22) because he hoped to visit Colossae soon. Without the aid of Acts, it is difficult to reconstruct the course of Paul’s last years. Many scholars argue that the so-called pastoral letters (I and II Timothy and Titus) were not written by Paul himself but by one of his followers, because their Greek style is so different from that of Paul’s other letters. In that case, Paul may well have been executed in or about AD 62 or later, perhaps during Nero’s persecution of Christians after the fire that destroyed Rome in 64. If the pastoral letters were written by Paul, however, they show that the apostle was released from house arrest in Rome and traveled back to the Aegean area, visiting Crete, Ephesus, Miletus, Troas, Macedonia, Corinth, and Nicopolis in Epirus. Eventually, he was arrested again and taken to Rome for trial. Though apparently alone at this time, he defended himself successfully and was released.

Soon, however, Paul was rearrested and accused of a capital offense, perhaps simply the charge of being a Christian leader. When he wrote II Timothy, Paul was awaiting trial but did not expect a successful result. His co-workers were scattered far and wide; only Luke remained with him. But Paul was undaunted. “I am already on the point of being sacrificed,” he wrote to Timothy; “the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:6-7).

According to tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome, though we have no exact record of it. He was probably less than 60 years old. Though he was a highly controversial figure throughout his life, Paul was recognized as a genuine hero of the faith in the generation after his death, when the Acts of the Apostles was written. Throughout Christianity, Paul’s powerful formulation of the Gospel, emphasizing salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, and his focus on love as the central value of Christian life, has served the church’s greatest theologians well.

K. Peter

Peter was known for his leadership; Peter is listed first in the four listings of the twelve Apostles in the New Testament.

1.   The New Testament uses three names for Peter

The Gospel writers frequently put both Peter’s old and new names together and call him Simon Peter (Matthew 16:16; Luke 5:8). This is the most common way Peter is referred to in the Gospel of John.

a.   Simon

When Peter first appears in Mark 1:16 and John 1:40, 41, he is called Simon. Simon was Peter’s given name. Matthew calls him “Simon who was called Peter” (Matthew 4:18; 10:2). Peter is called Simon on domestic occasions. Mark and Luke speak of Simon’s house and Simon’s wife’s mother (Mark 1:29,30; Luke 4:38). Luke speaks of Simon’s fishing partners and boat (Luke 5:3,10). In the intimate moments Peter had with Jesus, he is referred to as Simon. Jesus called him ‘Simon’ to launch his boat into the deep (Luke 5:4). There are many other references to Simon in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Jesus gave Simon his new name (Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14). John records the fullest account of the renaming of Simon (John 1:42). Jesus called Simon, ‘Cephas’. Cephas and Peter are different forms of the same name.

Simon was the son of Jona. Jona means a dove and Cephas or Peter means a rock. It is interesting to note that Jesus was telling Peter that no longer would he be a fluttering, timorous dove, but that He would make Peter a rock. Jesus put all His hope and purposes for Peter’s future in his name.

b.   Simeon

The New Testament calls Peter, Simeon, twice. James calls Peter, Simeon in Acts 15:14. In II Peter 1:1, he called himself Simeon. Simeon is the original Hebrew form of Simon. At the Jerusalem Church, Peter was called Simeon. This was natural that they would use his Hebrew name.

c.   Peter, Cephas

It has been stated previously that Peter and Cephas are the same name. Peter is Greek and Cephas is Aramaic for a rock.

In the ancient world everyone spoke their native language and Greek. The result being that most people had two names, one which was Greek and known in the business world. Their native language name, therefore, was used in private and to his/her friends.

Following are two examples:

Aramaic Greek

Thomas Didymus

Tabitha Dorcas

Paul speaks of Peter as Cephas (I Corinthians 1:12; 3:33; 9:5; 15:5; and Galatians 2:9). Peter was the Apostle to the Jews, therefore, Paul naturally calls Peter by his Jewish name, Cephas (Galatians 2:9).

2.   Personal facts

Peter was a fisherman, and it was from the boats and the nets that Jesus called him. He was a married man and lived in Capernaum. It was here, at Capernaum, that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

Peter was a Galilean. Josephus, a Galilean Governor says that “Galileans were fond of innovations, delighted in stirring up discontent or resistance. They were ready to follow a leader and to begin an insurrection.” He says that they were notorious for quick tempers, given to quarreling, impulsive, emotional, easily roused by an appeal to adventure, loyal to the end. Peter was a typical Galilean.

Within the twelve Apostles emerged an inner circle of three who were especially close to Jesus, Peter, James, and John. They were with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, in the garden of Gethsemane, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

Peter stands out as the spokesman of the twelve Apostles. He was not afraid to ask questions, inquiring of the true answers. He was not ashamed to stand up for what he believed. Remember he became indignant at the guard in Gethsemane and cut off his ear!

3.   Six “greats” in Peter’s life

a.   The great discovery:

John 6:66-69; “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and art sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

b.   The great promise:

Matthew 16:18; “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

c.   The great rebuke:

Matthew 16:22-23 and Mark 8:32-33; Peter protested that Jesus’ foretold death must never be; and Jesus’ answered him saying “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

d.   The great denial:

Mark 14:66-73; Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:54-62; and John 18:15-27 all tell the story of Peter’s denial. Let us not judge him, remember that the other twelve had fled and were not around.

e.   The great commission:

John 21:15-17, Peter was given the commission to be the shepherd of the flock of Christ.

f.    The great realization:

Acts 15:7-11, Peter was instrumental in opening the door of the church to the Gentiles. It was through Peter’s action in the case of Cornelius that the church experienced the great realization that “God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” Acts 11:18.

4.   Strengths and weaknesses.

It is with sharp irony that Mark and Matthew reveal that Peter did not realize the meaning of Jesus’ words. When Jesus began to tell them that he must suffer and be killed, ideas that did not fit with the disciples’ concept of the Messiah, Peter promptly rebuked Jesus. Jesus realized that Peter was expressing the misconception of all the disciples. He therefore turned on Peter in the strongest possible terms, with a rebuke most Christian followers could not handle. The Gospels do not undermine his importance by showing his weaknesses. Rather, he becomes an example of the struggle of faith and understanding that every disciple faces.

Peter was part of the select group of three disciples (along with James and John) that Jesus took along with him at times of special revelation. When Peter saw the transfiguration, he, like many Christians, stuck his foot in his mouth with, “Master, it is good for us to be here”, and promptly wanted to stay the rest of his life there. On the last night before Jesus crucifixion, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him apart from the others to pray. The most compelling and heartrending of Jesus’ revelations of his unique relationship with God would have been revealed. However, like the others, Peter was overwhelmed with sleep.

Though Jesus saw this combination of strength and weakness in Peter, he never wavered in his affirmation of him. Even to the end of Jesus natural life, Peter had problems with the lessons Jesus offered. Peter had set himself for the dangers Jesus had predicted. He was devoted to his teacher and was sure that he would endure death with him. However, when Jesus began to take up the work of a slave, Peter would not accept his master’s foot-washing. But as soon as Peter understood, he wanted not only his feet, but his head and hands also washed. Later that evening, Jesus announced the defection of all. Just as Peter had known that the Messiah could not suffer, so now he knew that this was impossible also.

No one will ever know the turmoil within Peter as that night wore on. He was startled awake as the mob came to arrest Jesus. He lashed out at the High Priest’s slave with a sword. He panicked and fled as Jesus was taken into custody. Finally he got up the courage to go where the mock trial was going on, only to deny Jesus as He had said he would. It only took a little maid to set him to flight. As the cock crowed the second time, Peter remembered the saying of Jesus and went out and wept bitterly. Yet when Jesus arose, He told Mary to “go tell Peter and the disciples”, thus showing his unfailing trust in Peter.

As Peter was burned by the fire of his own weakness and cowardice; as he was held fast by the scorching vision of Jesus death; so he was restored to love and service by the mystery of Jesus resurrection.

5.   Religious revolution- the call of Peter.

Peter was an unlikely candidate to lead a religious revolution, but at the moment Jesus called him as a disciple, the life of Peter the fisherman changed dramatically and irrevocably. He became not only the most prominent of Jesus’ disciples, but also the leader and principal spokesman of a fledgling Christian church.

Little is known of Peter’s life before he met Jesus. His name was Simeon bar Jona, Aramaic for “son of Jonah”. He was born in Bethsaida-Julias on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee. The town, whose name means “house of the fisherman,” lay just east of the Jordan River and was thus outside the province of Galilee proper and under the rule of Herod Philip, a son and one of the successors of the notorious Herod the Great. Philip had built the Jewish village Bethsaida into a wealthy town with a mixed population of Greeks and Jews, adding Julias to its name in honor of the Emperor Augustus’s daughter. Peter and his brother Andrew, who had been given a Greek name, grew up in a fishing family that no doubt traded with both Jews and Greeks. Peter most probably spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent as well as some Greek. Although he probably received a basic synagogue education, it is unlikely that Peter was given a scholar’s advanced training in the Torah.

By the time he met Jesus; Peter had married and moved a few miles west to the Galilean town of Capernaum. There, he and Andrew went into partnership with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Even before they encountered Jesus, Peter and Andrew were filled with messianic expectations for they had traveled down the Jordan valley to hear the prophet John the Baptist as he preached God’s coming judgment and the call for all to repent.

The crucial moment when Peter began to follow Jesus is described in three different ways in the New Testament. According to John, Andrew brought Peter to Jesus and Jesus immediately renamed him Cephas (John 1:42). The Aramaic name Cephas means rock just as the Greek name Petros does.

The call of Peter was by the sea, when Jesus simply said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” Matt. 4:19. It is the writings of Luke that provides the most dramatic account of Peter’s call. Jesus was teaching by the lake alongside boats where men were washing nets after a night of luckless fishing. Stepping into Peter’s boat, Jesus asked him to put out a little from shore, and there he sat and taught. When he finished, Jesus told Peter and his co-workers to go into deep water and let down their nets. Peter protested, and then partially obeyed. The net he let down was an old rotten net. The good nets had been washed and were drying on shore. He had no faith that he would catch anything, since he had fished all night and caught nothing, Luke 5. The net pulled violently with the weight of a huge catch. Peter instantly perceived that he was not simply having good fortune in fishing. Rather, he was in the presence of a power he could not understand in the person of Jesus.

Peter’s response was one of unworthiness and fear, but Jesus did not depart. It was precisely such a person, a man who knew his own weakness and sinfulness but could recognize and acknowledge the presence of God’s power that Jesus wanted. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said tenderly, “for from henceforth you will be catching men,” Luke 5:10.

Peter was the first among the twelve. Peter regularly acted as their spokesman, but often spoke impetuously, without understanding what he was saying. Jesus seems to have made Peter’s house his home and center for his teaching.

The Gospels often present Peter as a paradigm of both vigorous faith and human uncertainty and doubt. There is for example, the story of Jesus walking through the darkness on the wind-tossed waters of the Sea of Galilee toward his disciples, who were rowing their boat against the wind. As soon as Jesus reassured them, Peter wanted to go to him, to whom Jesus replied to, “Come”. Peter leaped overboard and began to walk toward him, doing the impossible with ease. Yet, when Peter’s focus was diverted by the boisterous wind and waves, he began to sink and cried out to Jesus. Jesus lifted him up, and as so often he had to, chided him with “O’ man of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter’s uncertain faith epitomized the struggle of the disciples to understand the great mystery of Jesus’ coping in a turbulent world.

L. Philip

Philip was an evangelist who helped resolve a major controversy. An altercation began to transpire as murmurings of Greek-speaking Christians were voiced due to the Hebrews neglect of the widows. The widows were not receiving a fair share of food, set aside for the needy. The Apostles chose seven leaders to handle this ministry of helps.

Philip was one of the seven chosen to help. With the help of these seven men the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, (Acts 6:7). But the growth halted temporarily with the stoning of Stephen. Philip, along with other converts left Jerusalem “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching” (Acts 8:4).

Episodes from Philip’s ministry reveal how the persecution resulted not in the weakening of the Gospel but in its expansion. Philip first went to Samaria, where the sick were healed and unclean spirits cast out in the name of Jesus.

As Philip travels south from Samaria he encounters an Ethiopian official to witness to. Apparently the Ethiopian was a student of prophecy. The Ethiopian official described as a eunuch, asked about a passage in Isaiah. This scripture concerned a figure who was suffering injustice and humiliation. Philip applied the prophecy to the life and death of Jesus. The Ethiopian eunuch asked to be baptized. Immediately following the baptizing, Philip was translated to Azotus.

Philip journeyed though Ashdad, an ancient Philistine city. As he passed through all the towns, he preached the Gospel to everyone until he came to Caesarea, (Acts 8:40).

Some years later, Philip apparently settled in Caesarea, Acts 21:8-9. This accounts for Philip providing housing for Paul and Luke during their visit to Caesarea. Luke also mentions “Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”

M. Silas

Scholars agree that the Silvanus named by Paul and Peter in their letters is the same person Luke refers to as Silas, in Acts of the Apostles. Silas was a Greek name; Silvanus was the Latin form more familiar in Greek and Roman cities. Like Paul, Silas is identified in Acts as claiming the privileges of Roman citizenship.

Silas was a leading member of the Jerusalem church and participated in Paul’s and Peter’s ministries.

The church elders at Jerusalem chose Silas and Judas Barabas “leading men among the brethren” (Acts 15:22) to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. These four men were to present a letter concerning the necessity of requiring converts to observe Jewish practices specifically, circumcision. This letter introduced Silas as one of “who risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Its’ message told the new Christians to abstain from eating ritually unclean meat and remain unadulterated. This was well received by the Christians in Antioch for they “rejoiced at the exhortation” (Acts 15:26,31).

Timothy joined Paul and Silas in Lystra, preaching in Phrygia, Galatia, Neapolis, and Philippi. It is here at Philippi that these evangelists stayed in the home of Lydia. This is where Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. An earthquake shook the foundations of the prison, opening the prison doors. However, Paul and Silas refused to escape. To the jailer’s delight no one had escaped. He took Paul and Silas into his house and cleaned their wounds. That same night he and his house were baptized.

Next, Silas accompanied Paul and Timothy to Thessalonica, where Paul preached in the synagogue. Many were converted, provoking an uprising. The three missionaries escaped by night to Berea, the news reaching the Thessalonicans. They became outraged, and sought to destroy the missionaries. Paul fled, leaving Silas and Timothy in charge of the mission.

At a later date, the three were reunited at Corinth. Silas and Timothy brought financial support for Paul. This resulted in Paul devoting himself, full time to the church.

Both letters to the Thessalonians were penned while Paul was at Corinth. Both of these letters open with greetings from Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.

N. Stephen

The name Stephen is Greek, evidently he was one of the many Greek speaking Jews from the Diaspora (Dispersement) who are described in Acts as “Hellenists” to distinguish them from the Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews, who are called “Hebrews” (Acts 6:1). Attitudes and religious beliefs varied greatly between the Hellenistic Jews and the Aramaic speaking Jews of Palestine. Jews from both the Hebrews and Hellenists joined the disciples of Jesus. Evidently Stephen was one of the early converts among the Hellenists. He may even have known Jesus and have been among the 120 disciples who were present at Pentecost. He is introduced in Acts as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).

The catalyst that brought Stephen forward as a leader of the Jerusalem church was the first substantial conflict among Christians recorded in Acts. From the beginning, the rapidly growing church cared for its poor, including widows and orphans, through a daily distribution of food and other goods. In some manner not described in Acts, the split between Diaspora Jews and Palestinian Jews led to Hellenist widows being neglected in the distribution.

When the Hellenists began to complain about this situation, the twelve, who were all Hebrews from Galilee, saw the need to face the situation squarely. Through an assembly of the church, seven men were chosen, “men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:2-3), who were to make sure the distribution was fair to all. All seven had distinctly Greek names, which probably indicates that the church chose to put seven leaders of the Hellenists in charge of the matter so that there could be no doubt about fairness. These leaders came to be called simply “the seven” (Acts 21:8), corresponding to the twelve. Today they are popularly referred to as the first deacons of the church, though Acts does not refer to them as such. The work of only two of them, Stephen and the evangelist, Philip, is described in Acts, revealing that they were primarily active in preaching and teaching.

Stephen was immediately embroiled in a debate concerning the new faith with Jews from the Greek-speaking synagogues of Jerusalem. He was one of the first to see that Jesus’ message could be a direct challenge to many of the most distinctive characteristics of Judaism that separated it from Gentile culture. The debates are not recorded in Acts, but the impact of Stephen’s arguments can be seen in the charges that were eventually made against him. Stephen evidently argued that the Gospel of Jesus removed the need for the temple and all the sacrifices and other rites commanded by Mosaic Law. To his opponents who, like Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, were zealous for the law, Stephen seemed to “speak blasphemous words against Moses and God” (Acts 6:11). His power as a preacher and debater led Stephen’s opponents to try silencing him.

The Jews brought Stephen before a judicial council on the charge of speaking “words against this holy place and the law” and of saying that “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us: (Acts 6:13-14). Stephen’s opponents saw the very existence of their faith endangered.

Stephen was given an opportunity to answer the charges, but he made no attempt to satisfy his opponents or to defend himself by convincing the council that their charges were untrue. Rather, he used the occasion to make a forceful attack on his opponents. Following an ancient scriptural tradition, he reviewed the history of his people, high-lighting their repeated rebellions against Moses and other prophets sent by God. He challenged the very idea that God should have a fixed temple built for him.

Stephen finally used the phraseology of the scriptures to mount a blistering denunciation of his hearers: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?” (Acts 7:51-52). This ancient attitude, now realized in the present, Stephen charged, had led to the betrayal and murder of “the Righteous One” (Acts 7:52), whose coming the prophets had foretold.

The speech turned the judicial council into an enraged mob, while Stephen, realizing what was about to happen, saw a vision of heaven with “the Son of man [Jesus] standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). The throng rushed at Stephen, took him outside Jerusalem, and stoned him to death. Just as Jesus had prayed “Father, forgive them” and “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:34, 46), so Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

The death of Stephen marked the beginning of an onslaught of persecution directed primarily against Hellenist Believers. It was led by Saul, who was a consenting witness to Stephen’s execution. With supreme irony, a few years later, God called that same Saul to become an apostle of the new faith and bring the work of Stephen to fulfillment.