Friday, June 10, 2011


Leaving Antioch in late 49 AD, Paul and Silas traveled to Tarsus, strengthening the churches along the way in Syria and Cilicia, and then on to Derbe and Lystra. In Lystra, they added Timothy to their team; Timothy appears to have been clearly called to this ministry (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6), and became Paul’s frequent traveling companion, fellow laborer in spreading the gospel, and protégé (Acts 16:1; 1 Timothy 1:2, 4:14). Though naturally diffident in temperament, Timothy would never misrepresent Paul (Philippians 2:19-22). But surprisingly – given Paul’s conclusions on the circumcision issue in Acts and Galatians – though not inconsistently, “because of the Jews” (Acts 16:3), Paul had Timothy circumcised. Timothy, unlike Titus, who was not circumcised, was not a Gentile Christian; and although to the Gentiles he appeared to be a Jewish Christian, he wasn’t authentically Jewish because of his Greek father, who likely refused to allow him the Jewish rite of circumcision that his mother, Eunice, would have appreciated. This must have been a stigma of sorts to the young man, perhaps contributing to his timid nature. Therefore, Paul’s decision to circumcise Timothy in order to legitimize his standing among Jews for the sake of his future ministerial efforts, and perhaps even for the sake of his own confidence in ministry. Bruce also considers it to have been “an object lesson for the Gentile Christians in those places (Asia Minor) of the difference between circumcision as an act of legal obedience, undertaken by people like themselves who were under no such obligation, and circumcision as a practical and religiously neutral expedient adopted in a most exceptional case.” This move, therefore, was completely in line with Paul’s principles, both in becoming all things to all men in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:22), and in the truth that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters (Galatians 5:6; 6:15). Freedom in Christ certainly didn’t demand Timothy’s circumcision, but neither did it prohibit it, especially since it was entirely voluntary and for the sake of improving his ability to minister effectively.

Heading through the Phrygian and Galatic region, where Iconium, and Pisidan Antioch lay, the three missionaries, says Acts 16:6-7, were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia,” and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” to enter the province of Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1). Perhaps an inward sense of inhibition motivated them to head for the Asia Minor port city of Troas. Troas was an important free city in the Roman Empire, and Acts 20:5-12 reveals that there was a church there – Eutychus fell out of the window during Paul’s late night lesson here – though no detail on its formation or founding is given. Luke joined the group in Troas, and in response to a vision Paul had of a man in Macedonia calling him over (Acts 16:8-9), they immediately traversed the somewhat tenuous sea voyage to Neapolis (Acts 16:10-11) in only one day. (Acts 20:6 notes that the reverse trip took 5 days.) Neapolis was the port of Philippi, which was 10 miles inland along the Roman Via Egnatia, the Roman military road that connected the Aegean Sea and Bosporus Strait with the Adriatic Sea (eastern and western Greece).

Macedonia had been divided into four districts in 167 BC, and Philippi, a Roman colony, was in – but not the capital of – the first district. There was no synagogue in this small town, as there apparently weren’t at least ten Jewish males to constitute one (Qumran’s Essenes engaged in this practice). But outside the city, on the banks of the Gangites River, there was an unofficial place of worship where God-fearing Gentiles gathered to recite Jewish prayers. The four missionaries preached the gospel here, and the Lord opened the heart of a woman named Lydia, who heard Paul’s preaching and responded in faith. She was promptly baptized along with her entire household (Acts 16:12-15), and became the hostess not only of the missionaries during the remainder of their stay but also of the church that formed in Philippi (Acts 16:40). Lydia was a wealthy woman from Thyatira (Revelation 1:11; 2:18-24), where there was a Jewish settlement and where she likely became a God-fearer.

Also while in Philippi, Paul exorcised a spirit of divination from a slave girl (Acts 16:16-18), which made her owners angry that they lost the ability to make more money from the slave’s divination and incited them against the Jewish Christian evangelists. They accused them of proselytizing, which was strongly discouraged in Roman colonies though not technically illegal. Paul and Silas were arrested, stripped, beaten with rods, flogged, and imprisoned (Acts 16:19-24). Luke and Timothy were apparently exempted since they weren’t Jewish, an interesting detail which we will examine shortly. That night, Paul and Silas prayed and sung hymns of praise, and an earthquake shook the prison. When the shackles miraculously fell off and the prison doors miraculously opened, Paul and Silas saved the jailer from killing himself out of fear of the consequences (Acts 16:25-40). They preached the gospel to him and his household, baptized them, and received care from him. The next morning, they were released from prison, but they appealed for an apology, since they were Roman citizens, and, after encouraging Lydia and the young church gathered in her home, they were escorted peaceably from the city. It appears that Luke stayed in Philippi (Acts 16:17; 20:5-6; Philippians 4:3), perhaps to guard the young church until Paul returned, as the other three missionaries passed through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia enroute to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1).

Named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister (and daughter of Philip II), Thessalonica was 90 miles down the Via Egnatia from Philippi. Thessalonica was the largest Macedonian city, and a free city, which served as the capital of the second district. Paul visited a Jewish synagogue there for three consecutive Sabbaths to explain why Jesus is the Old Testament prophesied Savior of mankind (Acts 17:2-4). Jason (Jewish Joshua), who may have been one of Paul’s relatives (Romans 16:21), converted to Christianity and became their host; Aristarchus and Secundus joined them in the faith as well. There were also several pagan (1 Thessalonians 1:9) and God-fearing converts, including many wives of city leaders (Acts 17:4).

It must have troubled the city leaders that their wives had become followers of Jesus. It was quite fashionable among the ladies of socially elite families to attend synagogue, but not to get serious with what must have been seen as a cult or scam-artist’s ploy (1 Thessalonians 2:3-12). Certain Jews, envious of the Gospel’s success, took advantage of this citywide unease and incited a riotous mob (Acts 17:4-5), which dragged Jason and some other believers before the local civil magistrates when it couldn’t find Paul, Silas, and Timothy. They were charged with wrongdoing (Acts 17:5-8), but released after posting bond. Now this charge of causing trouble seems to us like no big deal, but the severity is revealed when understood in the context of the widespread unrest in Jewish/Roman relations throughout the Empire. Jewish freedom fighters (terrorists / zealots) were striving to usher in an era for a militant messiah, and Roman leaders wouldn’t easily distinguish this serious threat to peace from Christianity’s Messiah. Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 AD and refused to allow Jews to enter Alexandria out of fear. Christians, still seen as a sect of Judaism by many, were often included in this persecution. Thus, the Thessalonians’ charge against Paul and company was skillfully worded, effectively an accusation of sedition, akin to the words between Pilate and the Jews found in John 19:13-15. Paul would later refer to this episode as Satan hindering him (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Paul had preached quite prophetically in Thessalonica, referring to eschatological events in predictive fashion. This led to even greater suspicion among the civic leadership, as Augustus and Tiberius had forbid political prophecy (in 11 and 16 AD, respectably – yet the Herods of Judea seemed to appreciate it!) with a penalty of death. Of course, Paul wasn’t talking politics, but the wording he used of Jesus, as King and Savior, was more than enough to be seen as threatening to the Empire.

Paul was essentially forced out of Thessalonica, and he went reluctantly, as the young church needed further guidance. He knew they would face persecution, and so, since he couldn’t make a return visit imminently, he wrote the Thessalonians a couple of letters. Scholars note that “apart from one near-apocalyptic paragraph (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), 2 Thessalonians [seems] a pale echo of 1 Thessalonians.” Many suggest that our second letter actually preceded our first, and that the depth of 1 Thessalonians was required when 2 Thessalonians didn’t go deep enough. A hint of this truth is that 2 Thessalonians 1:4 speaks of present persecution, while 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 2:14 speaks of persecution in the past tense. Paul may have written 2 Thessalonians from Athens, which Timothy likely delivered, and 1 Thessalonians from Corinth shortly after Timothy returned with a report on their experiences. Paul would have rejoiced at this report, for the Thessalonians were evangelizing in their persecution, and everyone knew it (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

Paul issued further instruction on sexual purity, something the Greeks struggled to learn and apply (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Likewise, Paul had to urge them to work, as their brief discussions while he was with them on the topic of eschatology had disinclined them to daily labor. If 2 Thessalonians indeed preceded 1 Thessalonians, then the mention that “‘the day of the Lord’ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) would not come until certain events had taken place might have stimulated [their] concern about…those…died before it came. On the other hand, if 1 Thessalonians was written first, it might have unintentionally provided ammunition for those who argued that, with the coming day so imminent, there was no point in planning or working in the short interval before it came” (cf. Luke 17:22-27; Mark 13:5-37).

As a brief contextual aside, in 40 AD, it appeared that Caesar Gaius may have been the antichrist, or the man of lawlessness, in the minds of the young Christians, but especially “the abomination of desolation” (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14) to the Jews. Taking his divinity very seriously, he planned to set up his statue in the Jewish Temple. Should everyone “flee to the mountains,” as Jesus commanded, or “resist the outrageous decree to the death” (Bruce quoting Philo and Josephus)? Though Gaius did not follow through with his threat directed at the Jews, the crisis had lasting impact and readied both Jews and Jewish Christians for the end times.

Still today many wonder if Nero, or Titus at Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, fulfilled this apocalyptic imagery, or whether it still remains to be fulfilled. Thus Paul’s writing seems enigmatic to us, though it probably didn’t seem so to the Thessalonians. Nevertheless, Bruce concludes, “The near-apocalyptic imagery of this (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) and other passages in Paul’s Thessalonian correspondence is not characteristic of the main body of his writing. In his later letters he deals from time to time with the same topics…but…in other terms (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 8). Since the Thessalonian letters are among the earliest…this may suggest that he came increasingly to feel that apocalyptic imagery was not the most adequate vehicle for expressing the Christian hope.”

Paul, Silas, and Timothy left Thessalonica during the night for safety. Paul might have, if freely chosen, stayed on the Via Egnatia heading west with hopes of visiting Rome (Romans 1:13; 15:22), but they were escorted south to Berea, which Cicero described as “an out-of-the-way town.” Paul preached in the synagogue, where the Bereans, unlike those in Thessalonica, verified what was preached by studying the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:11-12), and many converted to Christianity, including Sopater, or Sosipater (Acts 20:4; called Paul’s relative, perhaps indicating that he was Jewish, in Romans 16:21). Even Greek men and a large number of prominent Greek women were converted (Acts 17:12). Unfortunately, Jews from Thessalonica arrived in the city seeking to cause more trouble for Paul (Acts 17:13). It was plain that he would have to leave Macedonia, and the Bereans escorted him, not to neighboring Thessaly, which would still be unsafe for Paul, but all the way to Achaia, to the great historical city of Athens. When the escorts returned to Berea, they instructed Silas and Timothy, who had stayed in Berea (Acts 17:14-15), on where to find Paul, who remained alone in Athens for a time (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

No city in the Roman Empire could match Athens for the qualities Greek-speaking people most admired. When Rome took possession of Athens in 146 BC, the city was allowed to remain self-governing, a free city in the Roman Empire. Waiting for the arrival of his companions, Paul must have toured the city, knowing its great history. Troubled by how pervasive the worship of false gods were among the Athenians (Acts 17:16), Paul began to preach the gospel, and his preaching earned an invitation to speak before the areopagus, “the most venerable of Athenian institutions,” which at one time functioned as a senate, though in Paul’s day merely held prestige as an authority on moral and religious matters. This would have taken place at the agora (Mars Hill), at the foot of the acropolis, where men would gather to discuss and debate the moral, philosophical, and political issues of the day.

Paul’s speech before the areopagus (Acts 17:22-31) has been scrutinized perhaps more than any other of his monologues. Motifs of this speech are found elsewhere, but this is a full and well-adapted effort, given the intellectual climate of the audience. Bruce explains, Paul “begins with God the creator of all, continues with God the sustainer of all, and concludes with God the judge of all,” much as the orientation of Scripture itself. Paul found a point of contact with the altar to the unknown god, traditionally set up by Epimenedes, a Cretan scholar, whom Paul quotes in his speech. Interpreting this altar as a confession of ignorance, Paul had come to dispel that ignorance.

After commencing, as noted, with creation, Paul points out what higher paganism knew to be true, that divinity cannot be contained or housed by mankind (Euripedes). Likewise, as Plato noted and as Paul pronounced, divinity has no need of humanity (Psalm 50:9-12; Acts 17:25). Paul’s biblical insight continues with something to say about mankind. All men come from God through Adam, the common ancestor of all men, a fact which most pagans – especially in Athens – would have denied, seeing a scale of evolution-like descent, from elite intellectuals to typical Greeks to barbarians. Furthermore, says Paul, God is sovereign over each man’s life and even his placement, not arbitrarily, but so that each man would seek God. Rather than say, “God created man in His image,” Paul chose a quote by Epimenedes and another by Aratus. His concern was not to liken the Biblical God to Zeus for the Athenians’ transition, but, as Bruce notes, “to impress on his hearers the responsibility of all men, as God’s creatures into whom He has breathed the breathe of life, to give Him the honor which is His due.”

Finally, Paul issues a call to repentance, focusing on God’s merciful forbearance and Christ’s resurrection, before announcing the impending judgment. While some have criticized Paul for not being more direct with his word choice, such as in Romans 1:18-32 where he was speaking to believers, but he knew his audience; Bruce says, “The thought of being ‘in Christ’ by grace would have been meaningless to pagans.” Nevertheless, Paul “does not cease to be fundamentally biblical in his approach to the Greeks, even when his biblical emphasis might seem to diminish his chances of success.” Bruce goes on, “If Paul had spoken of the immortality of the soul, he would have commanded the assent of most of his hearers except the Epicureans, but the idea of resurrection was absurd… Outright ridicule and polite dismissal were the main responses to Paul’s exposition of the knowledge of God. [Only] one member of the court of the Areopagus is said to have believed his message – Dionysius.” There were a number of other hearers who followed Paul, perhaps in the infancy of belief and in hopes of learning more, and there was also a woman named Damaris, about whom nothing else is known. Bruce concludes, “We hear of no church in Athens in the apostolic age, and when Paul speaks of the ‘firstfruits of Achaia,’ it is to a family in Corinth that he refers (1 Corinthians 16:15).”

In late summer 50 AD, perhaps dejected by his Athenian experience – violence is easier to take than polite amusement – and anxious about the condition of the Macedonians, Paul came to Corinth “in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (Acts 17:33; 18:1; 1 Corinthians 2:3). There was little reason to expect success in Corinth, given its reputation, which we’ll consider in a moment, but Paul spent 18 months there and founded a vigorous, though volatile, Christian church. Acts 18:9-10 records an important vision Paul had shortly after arriving in Corinth, in which the Lord said to him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” Paul’s time in Corinth was not his plan, but it was the Lord’s plan, and it served, as Bruce notes, “to deepen his human sympathy and to promote his pastoral maturity.”

Corinth was a pre-Greek city known for its commercialism, luxury, and sexual laxity. A fifth century BC Greek verb translated “to play the Corinthian,” literally meant to practice well the art of fornication. Idolatry was also practiced in abundance (1 Corinthians 8:5), with shrines to Aphrodite, Ares, Melicertes (the primary deity of Tyre), Poseidon, and Apollo. The Corinth of old had been completely destroyed in 146 BC and rebuilt in 44 BC as a Roman colony, the capital of Achaia. Its citizens were Romans (Italians), but there were plenty of Greek and Jewish inhabitants as well. Upon arrival, it appears that Paul found employment with Aquila and Priscilla, wealthy tent makers and Jewish Christians from Rome. They probably were forced from Rome under Claudius’ edict to expel Jews (and Jewish Christians) in 49 AD. (There is no doubt that the Jewish clamor, which earned their harsh treatment, was in part due to the Christian movement.) Paul was certainly grateful to them for their friendship, and perhaps even their employment and financial / ministerial support. But he was more appreciative for their service to the Gentile churches (Romans 16:4). And interestingly, where others probably referred to the wife casually, as Priscilla, Paul nearly always spoke of her formally, as Prisca, perhaps honoring her as the more impressive personality of the couple.

In several weeks of synagogue preaching in Corinth, Paul won many converts, including the synagogue leader, Crispus, and a God-fearing synagogue neighbor, Gaius Titius Justus (Acts 18:7-8; 1 Corinthians 1:15; Romans 16:23), who became Paul’s host, once the Jews expelled him from the synagogue, and even the host of the Corinthian congregation. Stephanus and his family are also mentioned as Paul’s first converts, whom he himself baptized. Once Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, likely with a gift of financial support for Paul from the Macedonian Christians, Paul was able to stop the tent-making and engage in full time ministry work. Since the Corinthians cherished “wisdom,” he counter-culturally resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Ironically, that resolution drew pagan attention, and many of them became followers of Christ, including Erastus (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23; 2 Timothy 4:20), who served as the city treasurer for a time. Speculation allows us to consider that he may have eventually become the curator of public works, for archaeologists have discovered an inscription, dating to 75 AD, bearing his name and declaring that he used his own money to pave a portion of the streets of Corinth.

The Jews eventually raised another tumult against Paul, bringing him before Gallio, the newly appointed (in July 51 AD) Roman proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12-16). Gallio’s refusal to hear the matter, thinking Paul’s Christianity to be merely an internal conflict over the doctrines of Judaism, a matter which was outside his jurisdiction, set a precedent that enabled Christianity to spread under the protection of Judaism, which was a lawful religion under Roman law, for another decade or so. (If it had been determined that Christianity did not fall under Judaism, Paul could have been convicted as a propagator of an illegal religion, punishable by death.) Sosthenes, the synagogue leader who presumably took the place of Crispus and brought the charge against Paul to Gallio, bore a beating in Paul’s place, and Gallio literally “pretended not to notice.” Perhaps this beating brought him to turn to Christ and follow Paul, as he, if indeed this is the same man as tradition suggests, is mentioned even as co-author of the first Corinthian correspondence in 1 Corinthians 1:1.

Remaining in Corinth a short while longer after the incitement (Acts 18:18), Paul eventually traveled with Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19; approximately 52 AD). Paul preached in a synagogue briefly, gaining significant interest from the Jews and God-fearers there, but then left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus while he went to Caesarea and on to Jerusalem (Acts 18:19-22) in order to celebrate one of the three primary Jewish feasts – Passover (Unleavened Bread), the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), or Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks). It has been suggested that this trip to Jerusalem was for Paul a fulfillment of some sort of Nazarite vow he took in response to the vision he had ensuring his protection and blessing in Corinth (Acts 18:21). He made his way to Antioch, officially ending his second mission trip (Acts 18:22).

Meanwhile, a Jewish Christian named Apollos showed up in Ephesus eloquently preaching the gospel in the synagogues. Priscilla and Aquila heard him gladly, but took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26). “Learned” and “well versed in the Scriptures,” Apollos had come from Alexandria, where he had likely studied under the Jewish scholar and philosopher, Philo, who died in 50 AD. The fact that Apollos was already a Christian when he came to Ephesus, yet unfamiliar with Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit, suggests that Christianity had made its way to Alexandria from a non-Apostolic source. Bruce says, “Alexandrian Christianity…was for some generations regarded as defective by the standards of Jerusalem (in the apostolic age) and Rome (in post-apostolic times).” (But Alexandria did go on to produce a number of prominent church fathers, such as Clement, Origen, Athanasius, and Cyril.)

When Apollos left Ephesus for Corinth, he had a letter of commendation from Aquila and Priscila, which was addressed not to the synagogue but to the disciples, or the church. Nevertheless, it appears he went to the synagogue, where he “was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:27-28). The Corinthians cherished Apollos and his eloquence, and this would later cause division within the congregation, as some preferred him to Paul while others remained loyal to Paul. Though Paul may have been rightly concerned over who built on his foundations, he had no anxiety about the work of Apollos and considered him valuable in every way (1 Corinthians 3:3-6,22; 4:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13). Apollos remained in Corinth for quite some time, even as Paul was making his way from Antioch to Ephesus as the beginning of what we call his third missionary trip.

In fact it was when Paul was in Ephesus that he heard of Apollos’ ministry. Representatives from Chloe’s Corinthian household, which presumably hosted a church congregation there, came to Ephesus with news for Paul from Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11). In addition to mentioning Apollos, they also mentioned that some of the Corinthians preferred Peter’s ministry to Paul’s. This, of course, implies that Peter had also been in Corinth working with the church there. Once scholar tracks Peter as venturing from Jerusalem to Rome after Emperor Claudius died (and the ban on Jews in Rome was lifted) on October 13, 54 AD, stopping in Corinth for a time, or simply preaching the gospel while en route. Another scholar maintains that Peter’s ministry expanded to the Gentile regions after Paul rebuked him in Antioch years (or months) earlier.

Though Paul wasn’t threatened by Apollos in Corinth, the same probably cannot be said about his feelings regarding Peter, based on the possibility that Peter’s authority – unlike that of Apollos – could be deemed by any audience as being higher than his own. Some suggest that Peter never came to Rome, only that other Jewish Christians – perhaps even those labeled Judaizers – came in Peter’s name, urging audiences to observe certain food laws or participate in various traditional rites and/or festivals. Still there were others in Corinth, according to Chloe’s representatives send to Paul in Ephesus, that separated into a faction claiming only to follow Christ, not Peter, Paul, or Apollos. This kind of division drove Paul crazy, as he can’t imagine (because it isn’t possible for) a divided Christ! “I follow Christ” should not have been a slogan for a particular denomination, but it seemed to Paul that this is exactly what it had become. These factions, along with the discovery of subtle differences between Gentile and Jewish application of the language of the gospel, forced Paul to labor with the Corinthians for years, engaging in multiple correspondences explaining gospel application more clearly.

Paul battled legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other throughout his ministry. But in no place did he do it more clearly, all the while fighting to keep his audience’s loyalty, threatened both from within and without the church body, than with the Corinthians. For Paul, the message of Christianity was very much about liberty, and he was often accused of antinomianism because of his emphasis on grace. But self-imposed restrictions on liberty for the sake of gratitude and charity are the essential application of Paul’s gospel, and these must be made voluntarily, lest freedom and grace be threatened or even negated by legalism. Bruce says, “Paul goes as far as he can with his converts in either the ascetic (legalistic) or the libertarian (antinomian) direction, until he reaches a point where he calls a halt, and profoundly qualifies his foregoing concession… It was not Paul’s way to impose a rule but to help his converts to judge such issues for themselves in the light of basic Christian principles. One of the most important of these principles was to consider the consciences of weaker brethren so as to assist them gently to a better and more enlightened appreciation of what their faith involved. Otherwise a Christian’s freedom was not to be impaired by external restrictions.”

After Timothy delivered 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, which included Paul’s travel plan of a lengthy winter visit to Corinth after Pentecost in Ephesus and briefly seeing the Macedonians, Paul changed his plans. He had decided to briefly visit Corinth twice, en route to and returning from Macedonia. Then he would go to Jerusalem with a gift of financial support, accompanied by an entourage of Gentile ministry supporters. But the trouble in Corinth, relayed to him by Timothy, forced another change of plans – this one painful. Paul quickly visited Corinth from Ephesus, and he returned saddened by his experience. He wrote a severe letter, which Titus delivered and which we lack (though some say 2 Corinthians 10-13 is part of that severe letter). He regretted writing it, out of fear that it would make things worse. He waited in depression and in some sort of extreme danger in Ephesus, and then he went to Troas hoping to find Titus. When certain that Titus wouldn’t sail to Troas, because of the winter weather, Paul headed for Macedonia (2 Corinthians 7:5), hoping to find him there. When he found Titus and learned of the Corinthians’ repentant and reconciled condition, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians and had Titus deliver it, saying that he would soon come and rejoice with them – hopefully, assuming they continued in Christ under Paul’s tutelage and not by failing prey to other so-called authorities. Bruce concludes, “There never came a time during Paul’s life, so far as can be known, when he could feel that the cause of gospel liberty had finally triumphed at Corinth. ‘Paul, who learned at Corinth what it is to be weak in Christ, shows there perhaps more clearly than elsewhere his full stature of Christian intelligence, firmness, and magnanimity’ (Barrett).”

The purpose, then, of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence was to convey these truths, most of which he undertook while in Ephesus, where we now turn our attention. Paul’s third trip, which lasted from 53-58 AD and was more of a lifestyle than a mere voyage, began with him setting out from Antioch, taking the land route through the Asia Minor regions of Galatia and Phrygia in order to strengthen all the disciples (Acts 18:23), just as he had done on his second trip. He eventually arrived in Ephesus and remained there for nearly three years (Acts 19:1-20). Javan in Genesis 10:4 represents the early Greeks, who settled western Asia Minor, which was controlled by Cyrus of Persia in 546 BC. These people groups regained independence while Xerxes was king (480-479 BC), but became vassals again by 387 BC. Alexander liberated them from Persian dependence in 334 BC, and they enjoyed civic autonomy under the Roman Empire.

Though Pergamum was the capital of the region, Ephesus was the largest, most prosperous, and most illustrious settlement, seated at the mouth of a river and claiming home to the goddess Artemis, who was worshipped even before the reign and influence of Greece. Legend says the many-breasted image of Artemis fell from the sky (Acts 19:35), proving its divine origin. Her temple, four times larger than the Parthenon, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and worship of Artemis had spread from Ephesus throughout Asia and to the entire world (Acts 19:27). The Temple no longer exists, but its foundations were excavated in 1869 in a swamp some 3 miles outside the city, which was a seaport in Biblical times. Today, it lays seven miles inland.

During his nearly three years in Ephesus, Paul directed the evangelization of Asia. He and his colleagues, such as Epaphras, were so effective that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). The region’s Christian heritage was maintained until 1923, when the Greeks and Turks swapped populations. While Luke does not seem to have been with Paul in Ephesus, and while Paul doesn’t record details of his ministry there in his letters, others, such as Aristarchus, must have given details to Luke, as several colorful episodes are recorded in Acts 19. It appears that the Christians in Ephesus, prior to Paul’s arrival, knew nothing of the Holy Spirit, and, like Apollos, knew only the baptism of John. Therefore, we see the only clear re-baptism in the Bible in Ephesus. (Even the re-baptism of Apollos in inferred, though not necessarily implied, and the disciples of Jesus do not appear to have undergone an additional water baptism; but the Ephesians do.)

Paul was welcomed in the synagogue for three months before being forced out, and it doesn’t seem that the synagogue leaders evicted Paul. Rather, unspecified “stubborn” unbelievers seem to have sent Paul away, “speaking evil of the Way before the congregation” (Acts 19:8). It appears that Paul left with other believers and began meeting in the hall of Tyrannus, about whom nothing is known. Paul had access to the hall from 11 AM – 4 PM daily, and he taught and held public debates during this time, proving both the stamina of Paul and his audience in the heat of the day. Paul may have made tents in the mornings and evenings of these early days in Ephesus (Acts 20:34). Interestingly, Ephesus was known as a city of magical arts. Shakespeare even alludes to this in his Comedy of Errors. Therefore, it is no surprise that Paul was seen as a magician of sorts because of his miracles of healing done in the name of Jesus. Others also attempted to use “in the name of Jesus” as a magical formula. It didn’t work for the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13), as the power was not the formula but the faith; it was not magic, but miracle. Many magicians in Ephesus, by the preaching of Paul, saw the evil of their ways, turned to faith in Christ, and burned their valuable magic scrolls. The Ephesian ministry was so successful that the idol makers for Artemis became concerned that their selling business was in jeopardy. So Demetrius, one of the sellers (and perhaps cult leaders), started a riot that captured Gaius and Aristarchus, but failed to locate Paul. The Jews were uneasy about the proceedings, as they didn’t approve of Paul’s message, but neither did they worship Artemis. Alexander, an Ephesian Jew, tried unsuccessfully to calm the riot, but the city secretary quited the crowd and told them to prosecute Paul if there was a violation. Rioting would not help matters, but taking the matter to court might solve it.

Paul faced many dangers in Ephesus, such as fighting wild beasts (1 Corinthians 15:32) and a near certain-death experience (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). Despite “many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9), there were many opportunities. His enemies were Jews (Acts 20:19; 21:27) and pagan Gentiles (2 Timothy 4:14). But Priscila and Aquila risked their lives for him (Romans 16:4), perhaps as he faced imprisonment in Ephesus with Andronicas and Junias (Romans 16:7; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Nevertheless, the fruitful time had a major impact on Paul’s inner life. Some scholars call this portion of Paul’s ministry (and especially his near-death experience) “a sort of second conversion.” Though others say “it is probably impossible to draw a sharp line between Paul’s attitude to life before the crisis and his attitude after it.”

If any noteworthy shift can be found, it may be in “his thinking about the life to come.” There were wide-ranging opinions in Jewish thought on the subject from 200 BC – 100 AD. For example, this was a primary point of disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:6; 24:15). Whatever Paul may have thought as a Jew (Daniel 12:2; Proverbs 10:7), his opinion undoubtedly changed as a Christian. He began to consider Christ’s second coming (parousia; Isaiah 27:13; Daniel 7:13). Immortality of the soul was a given, but it seems Paul thought at first that he and most of his contemporaries would see the return of Christ (as depicted in Thessalonians, one of Paul’s earliest works). Later, Paul may have realized that he would not live to see it. Nonetheless, he could not consider immortality apart from a body. For the Greeks, man was an embodied soul, but for the Jews, man was an animated body. To be living without a body, for Paul, was nonsense (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). There would be no time, at least from the perspective of self, between death and eternity. Even death cannot separate us from God (Romans 8:32-39)!

As Paul’s Ephesian ministry came to an end, he longed to see Rome. But Rome, for Paul, was a stepping stone, not his ultimate goal. He longed for Spain (Romans 15:23), and he even said that he “no longer has any room for work in these regions.” Paul mentions having taken the gospel as far as Illyricum, which was the province north of Greece on the Adriatic Sea. Though he mentions it several places (Romans 15, Titus 3:12, 2 Timothy 4:10), we know nothing of any trip he might have made there. Acts 20:1-3 provides time for Paul to have gone from Ephesus to Macedonia and beyond before coming back down to Achaia for three months. But we’re just not sure when he went there, or when he went with Titus to Crete for that matter. But why Spain? Paul yearned to go where the gospel was not. It is likely that the Mediterranean coast had been reached with the gospel by this time, except for Spain, the western border of the Roman Empire. Spain would have truly been a new frontier, as it was Latin-speaking.
So leaving Ephesus, with the dual goal of evangelism and collecting a financial gift for Jerusalem, Paul visited Macedonia and Achaia for three months (Acts 20:1-3), and maybe Illyricum and/or Crete, before heading for Jerusalem. Jerusalem was important to Paul; unfortunately, Paul was not as important to Jerusalem. Perhaps he hoped the gift he would bring would change their opinion of his ministry. And as noted earlier, Paul saw this gift as a voluntary expression of gratitude, but the recipients may have deemed it a necessary tribute to them from Gentiles. But Paul wasn’t planning to show up in Jerusalem with a bag of money; he was bringing a delegation! Gentiles from many of the churches Paul had founded were accompanying him to Jerusalem, for this was his offering more so than money. Paul was undoubtedly pondering the relation between his Gentile ministry and God’s plan for Israel, which led him to include a lengthy section on this topic in his letter to the Romans, written before making his way to Jerusalem.

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