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A Thorny Issue

A Thorny Issue

Introduction, Thesis, and Context

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”[1] To what is Paul referring as his “thorn in the flesh?” Was it demonic possession, physical malady, or human opposition? This study will defend the thesis that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was an actual demon.

Is harassment from a literal demon such a ludicrous idea? Matthew 9:32-33, 12:22, 17:18, Mark 5:1-20, 7:26-30, Luke 4:33-36, 22:3, and Acts 16:16-18 indicates otherwise. These are but a few Biblical passages describing demon possession, torment, or harassment. Demon possession sometimes caused physical ailments such as epileptic symptoms, blindness, and muteness. Evangelical theologian Walter A. Elwell states, “Biblical evidence abounds for the existence of evil supernatural beings who are subservient to Satan.”[2] For example, The LORD sent an evil spirit to trouble King Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14-15. In reality did Saul merely have epilepsy? More likely, it was an actual demon sent by the LORD. According to Elwell, the modern view of demonic activity has evolved into “what was termed as demonic activity in Scripture is now considered to include many psychological maladies, that were unknown to the first-century mind.”[3]

Let’s look at the context of 2 Corinthians. Paul spent 18 months in A.D. 55 or 56 ministering to the commercial city of Corinth during his second missionary journey.[4] After leaving Corinth, Paul heard about immorality, false teaching, and divisions in the Corinthian church. Also, they wrote to Paul with questions. Paul left Ephesus and returned to Corinth. It was not a pleasant trip (known as the “painful visit,”[5] 2:1). After righting this wayward ship, Paul then leaves again to resume his missionary journey. Paul wrote what we know today as 2 Corinthians “after receiving the enthusiastic report form Titus that his Corinthian friends had repented of their former hostility toward him (2 Cor. 7:8-11).”[6] His main concern was to defend his apostleship, exhort the Corinthians to resume preparations for the collection for the poor, and to confront his detractors.

Get to the Point

 Word Study and Exegesis

What does the word “thorn” (Greek σκόλοψ[7] “skolops”[8]) mean when Paul uses it? Is it a literal or a metaphorical thorn? As Robert M. Price humorously wrote, “it has been a thorn in the side to exegetes as well.”[9] Skolops has a short definition of “a stake or thorn.”[10] Properly, it can mean “anything with a sharp point, a thorn (sharp splinter); (figuratively) an instrument producing pain, discomfort (acute irritation), something humiliating.”[11] It can also mean, “that on which the head of an enemy can be stuck (stake).”[12] Also of note is the fact that the phrase, “thorn in the flesh” is used only in here in the entire New Testament.[13]

If we look in the Old Testament however, when God told the Israelites about the remaining Canaanites, He said they would be “thorns in their sides” (Num. 33:55). Did God literally give a thorn to the side of each Israelite? Doubtful. Did God mean that the Canaanites would give the Israelites seizures, malaria, or eye problems? Also doubtful. The idea conveyed was “they will give you trouble.” Therefore, it was a figure of speech, not a physical sickness given to them.

Heavenly Vision

In the context of the flow of his argument in 2 Corinthians, let’s look at Paul’s usage of the image of “thorn in the flesh.” Throughout the whole letter, Paul speaks of his troubles and persecutions as (amongst many others) “burdened beyond measure” (1:8), “above his strength” (1:8), and “hard pressed on every angle” (4:8). Paul had just been given a vision of Heaven. One could see how receiving such a great revelation might produce an elitist attitude. Therefore, God gave Paul “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” to remind Paul of his fragile humanity.

Which makes more sense: God zaps Paul with epilepsy to keep him humble (which had never occurred before)? Or God allows an evil spirit to torment Paul (as he did with King Saul)? Granted, both seem out of character for God. Regardless, can modern readers interpret “messenger of Satan” as anything than a messenger of Satan? It is reasonable to assume that “thorn in the flesh” was a figure of speech; God did not give Paul a literal thorn. But was “messenger of Satan” a figure of speech? A personal theory of mine is that just a momentary glimpse of the splendors of Heaven was too much for any man to handle. Therefore, Paul’s human body was permanently affected for the rest of his days (similar to Moses’ glowing face after encountering God).

A Thorn is a Thorn is a Thorn

Possible Options for Paul’s “Thorn”

There are numerous options for understanding Paul’s “thorn.” The ESV Study Bible offers the following explanation:

“The most frequently proposed possibilities are: (1) Paul’s inner psychological struggles (such as grief over his earlier persecution of the church, or sorrow over Israel’s unbelief, or continuing temptations); (2) Paul’s opponents, who continued to persecute him; (3) some kind of physical affliction (possibly poor eyesight, malaria fever, or severe migraines); or (4) some kind of demonic harassment. Most commentators cautiously prefer some form of the third view, since ‘thorn in the flesh’ would seem to suggest a physical condition.”[14]

The ambiguity with which Paul handles this subject prompts multiple explanations. Perhaps Paul left it unspecific because it was personal: it was between God and Paul. Perhaps the Holy Spirit left this issue ambiguous in order for it to be universal to any (generic) trial. Throughout the ages, scholars have tried to crack this nut and offer what was most likely the culprit to Paul’s impairment. Let’s examine a few.

Physical Malady

Did God inoculate Paul with epilepsy? This is the most common and current scholarly explanation. Paul covertly meant that God gave him malaria,[15] leprosy,[16] sexual temptation,[17] or insomnia.[18] It has also been proposed that Paul’s habit of using amanuenses, gives credibility that perhaps his eyesight was afflicted. F.F. Bruce states that any explanation “is no more than a guess.”[19] Bruce also remarked, “by giving his self-esteem a knock-out blow and keeping him constantly dependent on the divine enabling, proved to be a help, not a handicap.”[20] The figurative nature of the translations favors this interpretation. However, Mark A Seifrid in his Pillar NT Commentary on 2 Corinthians downplays the likelihood that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a kind of chronic physical malady and states, “The details are irrelevant. What is significant is his experience of constant suffering. Precisely because he describes his suffering only in metaphor as a “thorn,” his experience has become a comfort to countless Christians through the centuries.”[21] William R. Baker in The College Press NIV Commentary states, “It is generally agreed that Paul’s use of ‘thorn’ is figurative, to refer to some form of continuing or recurring aggravation and perceived hindrance to his gospel mission.”[22]

Human Opposition

Was Paul actually referring to people who were opposing him throughout his ministry as messengers of Satan? Was the “messenger of Satan” actually other people? Jean-Paul Sartre might agree with that statement. For instance, this messenger could refer to Alexander the coppersmith, who did Paul “a great deal of harm (2 Timothy 4:14).” Or, as Bruce speculates, “a continuation of the political circumstances which had made him leave Thessalonica.”[23] Although this option could be imaginable, take into consideration that Paul never used this sort of imagery in reference to human opposition before and therefore seems out of character for Paul to use it only here. Of all the persecution Paul suffered throughout his entire Christian life, for Paul to talk about it in Corinthians as “messengers of Satan” doesn’t fit Paul’s usual literary consistency. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but this is not a very compelling exception. There’s also the hypothesis of combining demonic possession with human opposition. In other words, perhaps demons were influencing human opposition. It would be just like Satan to use demons to deceive and seduce the Corinthians (as he does with us today). Verbrugge interpreted Paul’s thorn as “some sort of physical affliction or possibly of those opposing him (He also notes that “torment/harass” is used figuratively).”[24]

Demonic Possession

Was there literally a demon assigned to harass Paul for the rest of his days? Was the thorn not an “it,” but a “he/she?” The Greek word for “messenger” here is aggelos (ἄγγελος[25]). It is defined as “an angel or messenger”[26] and refers to a created being. Just as God has angels, “Satan also has angels (Matt. 25:41).”[27] Walter A. Elwell mentions:

Satan’s present work is widespread and destructive. God permits his evil activity for the time being. Demons must do Satan’s bidding . . . As far as the saved are concerned, Satan is in continued conflict with them (Eph. 6:11-18), tempts them, and seeks to corrupt and destroy their testimony and even their physical life (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 John 5:16).[28]

Just as demons are subservient to Satan, Satan is subservient to God.[29] Was this an instance of God removing His hedge of protection and allowing a demonic angel limited access?

The word translated “to harass me” is the Greek kolaphizo (κολαφίζω). Mounce translates it as, “torment.”[30] It means, “to buffet or strike with the fist, (literally ‘knuckles’) to make the blow sting and crush. The idea is striking with something sharp and painful, sticking deeply in the flesh so it remains there.”[31] Also note that the verb is in the present tense, “signifying recurrent action, indicating a constantly repeated attack.”[32] The blows would hit as waves would a shore. Well, that doesn’t sound like a physical malady to me. Doesn’t sound like other people either. Sounds like something with fists and knuckles that repeatedly hit Paul. Sound far-fetched? Remember that an angel once “stuck Peter on the side and woke him up (Acts 12:7)” in prison, can a demon do likewise?[33]

Which is More Compelling

Within the context of Paul’s writings, which is more compelling and convincing? Given the evidence and the meaning of the Greek behind the verse, human opposition seems incorrect seeing as “messenger” is singular and personal (“given to me”). Physical malady as a interpretation seems too much like reading into the words an idea that Paul never intended. Vergrugge notes, “that physical ailments are not implied in the OT uses of the word.”[34] I know it’s not very popular to hold a high view of Scripture and its literal interpretation, but Job can attest to demonic attacks… unless of course, you don’t believe there really was a Job! Satan was permitted to afflict Job and in a similar way, was he was also allowed to afflict Paul? True, it is hard to convince anyone that there was a demon that hung around Paul and hit him for the rest of his life, however that is precisely what Paul said. To say that Paul was being metaphorical and that he really meant that he had malaria or that Paul’s enemies decided to step up their persecution after he visited Heaven doesn’t seem a very convincing explanation. As Price noted, “This picture may seem to some readers a bit too outlandish to be plausible, but let the reader keep in mind that he is already dealing with the story of a man who claims to have visited heaven one day! Given a camel of this size, why strain at the mere gnat proposed here?”[35]

The 2 Corinthians/Galatians Relationship

What is the relationship between what Paul says about the “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians and what he says in Galatians 4:13 and Galatians 6:11? If we look at Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:13, he says he first preached the Gospel to the Galatians through a bodily illness. Was this the demon? Was this malaria? Or was this infirmity the result of Paul being stoned almost half to death and left for dead and then having to walk 20 miles away? As A. T. Robertson put it, “Known to the Galatians, this generally refers to a sickness of some kind: eye trouble? (Gal. 4:15); thorn in the flesh? (2 Cor. 12:7); an attack of malaria? (cf. travel in marshlands suggested in Acts 13;14); we do not know.”[36]

In Galatians 6:11 Paul wrote with big letters so one can see that it is his actual handwriting. However, some argue that his large printing was due to an inflammation of the eye because God had given him a thorn in the eye, (as it were) which made it hard for him to see. Or, like John Hancock, who signed the Declaration of Independence with a signature bigger than everyone else’s so that the “fat old King could read it without his spectacles,”[37] did Paul sign comically big so the Galatians would know without a doubt that it was actually Paul?

Let’s also look at 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. Here Paul talks about Satan’s penchant for “masquerading as an angel of light” and how it is not surprising then, “if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.” This gives credence to the potential of human opposition such as Paul’s constant problem group; the Judiazers. “Messengers of Satan” could be misdirecting and corrupting human puppets against Paul.

The Messenger’s Boss

Conclusions

Paul’s thorn in the flesh may never be properly explained. David Abernathy lamented that “we must be content to leave it unexplained.”[38] Verbrugge likely stated that this mystery eternally “remains obscure.”[39] Was it a demon, migraines, or false teachers? Only an elect few know for certain: God, Paul, and the Corinthians. The fact that this issue is still debated and that there is such a numerous variety of hypothesizes, indicates that we may never know. Bruce states that any proposition “can be neither proved or disproved.”[40] Add it to your list of things we’ll have to wait to ask Paul in person.

C. Thomas proposed what we can know: “Although the giver of the thorn is left unnamed, there can be little doubt as to his identity. To understate the case, the vast majority of scholars identify the giver as God.”[41] God allowed—whatever ailment it was—to keep Paul humble. We can know who sent the messenger. God is sovereign and therefore rules over every little thing no matter whether it is seemingly good or seemingly bad. As S. Page pointed out, it is gloriously ironic how “God uses one who, according to 1 Tim. 3:6, was condemned for his pride (Satan) to purge the apostle of pride!”[42] Modern Christians are still in need to be humbled. We always will be. We are impaired with the human condition and the terrible human tendency to exalt ourselves. We may not have a literal thorn in the flesh, a physical suffering, or human opposition (as Paul did), but we still have thorns in the flesh morally speaking. We have numerous shortcomings inherit to our unredeemed humanness. Really, who among us is not in need of humbling?

Speaking of needing humbled, given the evidence and research, I still hold to my initial interpretation that this “messenger of Satan” was a singular personal evil spirit given to Paul to harass him even though every scholar I researched said it was figurative. People much smarter than me have come to the conclusion that it was a physical malady, but people way smarter than me also used to think that the world was flat. Nothing in my lexical analysis points to anything other than a literal interpretation. However, I fully humble myself and concede that I am most likely incorrect. Like I said, Paul will tell me someday what really happened!

Issues for Further Study

There is certainly endless material to read and study regarding this issue. For some scholars it is a pet project. Interesting issues for further study include instances of God transforming apparently bad circumstances into blessed occurrences, Paul’s resilience in the face of constant adversity, and ministering to souls who are obviously being actively attacked by Satan’s messengers.

If it were a physical illness and Paul traveled from major city to major city, why was there never a medical cure? Did he even look for one or did Paul resign himself to chronic pain? In Corinthians 12:8, Paul asked the Lord three times to remove this thorn in the flesh. All three requests were, apparently, denied. How often do we appeal to the Lord for deliverance and are rejected? How often do we see this rejection—negatively—as a loss instead of—positively—as an opportunity to live out 2 Corinthians 12:9, God’s “power is made perfect in weakness?”

No one likes to live in pain, but sometimes it is God’s will to take your mind off of yourself and onto Him. C.S. Lewis stated that God uses suffering and pain to “shatter the illusion that all is well . . . Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.”[43] Lewis also calls pain God’s “megaphone,” through which He shouts at us to get our attention. It is our nature to take pride in our self-reliance. However, this arrogance is our greatest folly. Lewis stated, “Divine punishments are also mercies, and particular good is worked out of particular evil.”[44] The “thorn in the flesh” may have been God’s megaphone to Paul.

Finally, just as with Job, there seems to be (as J.C. Thomas puts it) “a kind of cooperation between God and Satan on this occasion.”[45] Such a statement cues the debate of whether “God allows Satan to take such action or that Satan unknowingly accomplishes God’s will in his work.”[46]


[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2,238.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 331.

[3] Ibid., 333.

[4] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 408.

[5] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Concise ed., ed. James A. Swanson (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2000), 433.

[6] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, 418.

[7] James Strong, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 21st ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 1,141.

[8] William D. Mounce, Interlinear for the Rest of Us: the Reverse Interlinear for New Testament Word Studies, Bilingual ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 551.

[9] Robert M. Price, “Punished in paradise (An exegetical theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament no. 7: 33-40. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015), 35.

[10] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: with Topical Index (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 629.

[11] Ibid., 629.

[12] New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, abridged ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004), 530.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2,238.

[15] F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 163.

[16] Robert M. Price, “Punished in paradise (An exegetical theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament no. 7: 33-40. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015), 35.

[17] David Abernathy, “Paul’s thorn in the flesh: A messenger of Satan?” Neotestamentica 35, no. 1: 69-79. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015), 69.

[18] A.T. Robertson, 433.

[19] F. F. Bruce, 135.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary) Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014).

[22] William R. Baker, 2 Corinthians (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, Inc., 1999), 430.

[23] F. F. Bruce, Paul, 227.

[24] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, abridged ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004), 3,469.

[25] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, 41.

[26] W.E. Vine, 405.

[27] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, 41.

[28] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1,054-5.

[29] Sydney H. T. Page, “Satan: God’s Servant.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 50, no. 3: 449-465. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015), 465.

[30] William D. Mounce, 551.

[31] Joseph Thayer and James Strong, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, Rei ed. (Nashville: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995).

[32] W.E. Vine, 630.

[33] Robert M. Price, “Punished in paradise (An exegetical theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament no. 7: 33-40. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015), 38.

[34] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, 5,022.

[35] Robert M. Price, 37.

[36] A.T. Robertson, 462.

[37] “John Hancock,” The Biography.com website, accessed February 2, 2015, http://www.biography.com/people/john-hancock-9327271.

[38] David Abernathy, 69.

[39] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, 5,022

[40] F. F. Bruce, 163.

[41] J. C. Thomas, “‘An Angel from Satan’: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12.7-10).” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 9, 39-52. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015), 42.

[42] Sydney H. T. Page, 464.

[43] C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain,” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 609.

[44] C.S. Lewis, “Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life,” (New York: Harcourt, 1955), 77.

[45] J. C. Thomas, 52.

[46] Ibid., 44.


Bibliography 

Abernathy, D. “Paul’s thorn in the flesh: A messenger of Satan?” Neotestamentica 35, no. 1 (2001): 69-79. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015). Bibles, Crossway The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Baker, William R. 2 Corinthians. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, Inc., 1999.

Bibles, Crossway The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Biography. “John Hancock.” Accessed February 25, 2015. http://www.biography.com/people/john-hancock-9327271

Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Kruse, Colin. 2 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Ivp Numbered)). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.

­­­Lewis, C.S. “The Problem of Pain,” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

———. Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt, 1955.

Mounce, William D. Interlinear for the Rest of Us: the Reverse Interlinear for New Testament Word Studies. Bilingual ed. publication place: Zondervan, 2013.

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Abridged ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004.

Page, S. H. T. “Satan: God’s Servant.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 50, no. 3 (2007): 449-465. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015).Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.

Price, Robert M. “Punished in paradise (An exegetical theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament no. 7 (April 1, 1980): 33-40. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015).

Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Concise ed. Edited by James A. Swanson. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2000.

Seifrid, Mark A. The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Strong, James. The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 21st ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Thayer, Joseph, and James Strong. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers. Rei ed. Nashville: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.

Thomas, J. C. “‘An Angel from Satan’: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12.7-10).” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 9, (1996): 39-52. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015).

Vine, W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: with Topical Index. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.


Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

Turning Robot Frankenstein Back Into a Rabbit

Turning Robot Frankenstein Back Into a Rabbit

The value of textual criticism in the process of exegesis in ministry context

Ever play “Paper Telephone?” If not, you are really missing out! For real: Google it. If you have, then you know how much fun it can be and also how ridiculous the ending can be! In “Paper Telephone” you write down a saying on a piece of paper and then pass it on to the next person. That person draws what you wrote then hands it to the next person. Then that person writes what they think the previous person drew and then hands it to the next person… and so on, and so on. Once the paper has made it all the way around the circle, you stop and read what the final message says. As you can imagine, it is usually not very close to the original message… unless you have some great artist friends! I have seen “Rabbit” turn into “Robot Frankenstein!”

Now, imagine that same concept with thousands of writers over 2,000 years and in different languages. Ok, not exactly as bad as “Paper Telephone” but you get the idea! Can you see the importance of textual criticism when it comes to Biblical exegesis? We need to make sure that what we are reading and teaching is as close as possible to the original message!

As Blomberg jokes, textual criticism sounds a lot “like students complaining about their reading assignments.”[1] It sounds like a pretty boring task, doesn’t it? If you asked anyone to help you with some Biblical textual criticism, you might find yourself alone! However, as Blomberg also points out, “The arduous yet rewarding work of painting the larger pictures of historical and literary contexts paves the way for the exegete’s next task of determining the original meaning of a biblical passage.”[2]

For instance, the majority of Bible students falsely think that the various translations are “different translations of the same Greek words,” but in actuality, they are the “variations among the many Greek manuscripts we have of the New Testament.”[3] That may seem like an insignificant detail, but it has big ramifications considering that we have “over 5,600 Greek manuscripts”[4] and “no two manuscripts of the Greek New Testament are identical.”[5]

It is vitally important for any serious Biblical student to know why there are different translations and what the differences are between all those translations. It is also vitally important to understand when a lexical analysis would be beneficial and how to perform one. In short, a little understanding of textual criticism goes along way.

“Reading the Bible can seem like listening to one side of a phone conversation or reading an e-mail addressed to someone else.”[6] It’s true that sometimes we may feel like “eavesdroppers.”[7] However, modern readers need to remind themselves of the time, culture, and place of the original writers and recipients. “The natural human tendency to interpret all things according to one’s own location, culture, and worldview poses a threat to good biblical interpretation.”[8]

Textual criticism is valuable in a ministry context by rounding our your overall knowledge of any given Scripture. It also gives you the confidence that what you are teaching is as close as possible to the original message. Granted, many of your hard-found results may never be spoken from the pulpit… directly. But, the fruits of your labor have the possibility to season your entire message. We can rest assured that we don’t have any Robot Frankensteins.


[1] Craig Blomberg and Jennifer Foutz Markley, A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010), 1.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] William Mounce, Greek for the Rest of UsUsing Greek Tools without Mastering Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 251.

[4] Ibid., 257.

[5] Ibid., 253.

[6] Craig Blomberg and Jennifer Foutz Markley, 63.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.


Bibliography

Blomberg, Craig, and Jennifer Foutz Markley. A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010.

Mounce, William. Greek for the Rest of UsUsing Greek Tools without Mastering Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.


 Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NGRK 505 Greek Language Tools

 

Grace-tians

Grace-tians

The occasion, purpose, and opponents of Galatians

 The occasion and purpose for the writing of Galatians was for Paul to correct false teaching that had crept in while Paul was away, to defend his legitimacy as an apostle, and to encourage his flock to cling to the loving Gospel of Grace rather than the cold rules of the law. Paul’s opponents were Jews that followed Paul around undermining his ministry and causing factions. Paul called these false teachers, “Judaizers.”[1] They were Jews that “reacted strongly against Paul’s preaching (Acts 13:50; 14:2, 19)”[2] and would enter in after he left an area and teach new converts that they must follow the law as well.

The nature of these opponents’ doctrine was based in “legalism.”[3] Legalism is defined as “the excessive adherence to law or formula, or dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.”[4] The Judiazers put more faith in their rule following than they did in the Grace of Jesus. They were saying that in order for Gentiles Christians to be saved, they had to also obey Mosaic laws and customs and be forced to practice circumcision.[5] Basically, the Judaizers were teaching that salvation was not based on faith in Jesus Christ alone, but also to adherence to Jewish law. In Paul’s view it was law versus the Gospel of Grace.

Paul takes the church all the way back to Genesis as he reminds them “even Abraham was justified by faith (3:6-9).”[6] He reminds them that Abraham was not under the law—in fact, the law did not yet exist—and he was still in right standing with God. He reminds them of the two covenants represented by the Abraham’s sons. One was born to a slave woman, Hagar and one was born to a free woman, Sarah. By submitting to the law, they were regressing to sonship under Hagar and therefore, slavery![7]

They also attacked Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle “in order to undermine his authority to proclaim the Gospel.”[8] Therefore, Paul had no other option but to defend his apostleship and his message. Paul’s response was swift and direct. We can tell that Paul was anxious to set things straight by the fact that he wrote, “without pausing for the customary thanksgiving”[9] so typical in Pauline letters. It’s as if Paul doesn’t have time to waste: He gets right to the business at hand in defending his reputation, proclaiming his message as truth, and protecting his flock.

Although most of the problems in the Galatian church stemmed from legalists, Paul also addressed the problem of some newly converted Christians’ tendency to “press freedom beyond its limit. (5:13-18)”[10] Carson and Moo call it, “Libertinism.”[11] It is human nature to abuse any gift given, and some of these Christians were abusing the new freedoms in Christ. However, if the Judaizers’ solution to this problem was a return to the law, then “it betrayed an inability to grasp how the law properly functioned across the sweep of redemptive history.”[12] In short, if the law was sufficient, then why would God send His Son to die a gruesome death on the Cross?

Note also, in Paul’s response that there is a sense of tenderness as he addresses this congregation. He writes to them as “a father for his own children (4:19)”[13] Another note of tenderness and genuine love is the fact that “Paul took the pen of his scribe to flesh out the ending in his own handwriting (6:11).”[14] Paul writes in large letters to show that it was actually his writing and not some forgery (a problem that long plagued the early church).


[1] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “North-South Galatian Theories,” accessed February 2, 2015, https:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2An5D3K90_4.

[2] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 364.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paul J. Achtemeier, The Harpercollins Bible Dictionary (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1996), 96.

[5] Lea and Black, 364.

[6] Ibid., 457.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 366.

[9] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 456.

[10] Lea and Black, 374.

[11] Carson and Moo, 467.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lea and Black, 373.

[14] Ibid., 375.


Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1996.

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “North-South Galatian Theories,” TheDocinabox, January 12, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2An5D3K90_4.


 

Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

Joyous Jail Bird

Joyous Jail Bird

The occasion, purpose, recipients, and opponents of Philippians

Philippians is easily Paul’s most joyful letter… even though he’s writing from behind bars. How joyful? Well, the Greek noun  χαρά [chara, “joy”] occurs five times, and the verb χαίρειν [chairein, “to rejoice”] occurs nine times in this short letter; only Luke with twelve has more occurrences of the verb—that Christians are a rejoicing people must be pretty important, huh? (Carson, 512)

Paul is joyful for many reasons: He’s writing to a church he knows. It’s the first church he ever founded (Acts 16:6-40). And its a church whom he loves dearly (1:7-8). Paul is writing to let them know that he is OK (even though imprisoned). He is also writing to say thanks for a gift and that Epaphroditus (a native Philippian sent to assist Paul) is doing fine after a near-fatal illness and should be commended for a job well done. However, this is much more than an extended, “Thank You” letter! Just as any true friend would, Paul points out some problem areas for the members of Philippi. It is a scary thing to be as bold as to correct someone you love, but not saying anything at all (although safer) doesn’t demonstrate pure Christian love.

The chief theme is encouragement. “Paul wants to encourage the Philippians to live out their lives as citizens of a heavenly colony, as evidenced by a growing commitment to service to God and to one another.”[1] However, encouragement is just the beginning. Paul is concerned that the Philippians continue to make progress in their faith as well.[2] He then shows what spiritual progress looks like and offers himself as a model (while also commending Timothy and Epaphroditus). Yet, he is quick to point out that the supreme example of living the Christian life is Jesus. By following Christ’s example they have hope that God will vindicate them and thus they can rejoice (1:18, 3:1, 4:4).[3]

There is not enough evidence to prove where Philippians was written. Although it is speculated that Paul wrote this letter from Caesarea or Ephesus, Black leans towards Rome as “the traditional location for the provenance of the captivity epistles.”[4] Paul spent two years imprisoned in Rome, which is “a sufficient length of time for Paul to have authored all four epistles.”[5] Paul’s traveling companions are mentioned in the letters, Luke’s presence in Rome is evident by the “we” passages in Acts 28. Luke is also named in Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:14 as being with Paul while he wrote the captivity epistles.[6] Even though Rome can’t be fully proven, there is more evidence for it as the location than any other location.

Who were Paul’s opponents? I think an easier question would be: who was not an opponent of Paul in Philippians? Paul has trouble with the Jews (even though when he first arrived at Philippi there weren’t enough Jews to constitute a proper synagogue),[7] the Judaizers, and early Gnosticism. He was fighting trouble from within and without. To sum it up: Paul’s fight was of more than one kind.[8] There were false teachers and legalists. Paul really had his work cut out for him! Even so, Paul remains upbeat and strenuously promotes unity. Paul even includes a hymn (2:6-11). Whether this hymn was written by Paul or was popular at the time is unknown. But the fact that this is the only time Paul encourages through poetry is noteworthy.

It is possible that the reference to libertarianism “”their god is their stomach” and perfectionism point some critics to a pre-gnostic teaching.[9] Paul warned against the legalism of the Judaizers, who emphasized circumcision and fleshly ordinances (3:1-3).[10] Paul responded to each of his critics by trying to gain clarity regarding the opponents he was confronting. Paul called for the maturity of the letter’s recipients and called for them to do as he did: admitting you are not perfect, forgetting past mistakes, and pressing towards the goal (3:12-16). Paul warned against troublemakers and appealed for unity, prayer, and high-mindedness (4:1-9). Paul saw disunity as a kind of sin.[11] Finally, he urged the Philippians to have noble, pure, and praise-worthy thoughts.

One last thought on the purpose of the letter:

Could it have been that Paul was just checking in? Is there anything wrong with that? Just checking in because you are aware that someone might be worried about you? Of course not. We all do that! Also, the members at Philippi may have now questioned Paul’s credibility. Imagine today if something similar happened to any one of us: We started going to a church and then the guy who planted it moves on to plant another one. Then, shortly later, we hear that he has been arrested and is in jail! What would we think? Had we been duped? Was this guy a con-artist? Obviously he is a criminal or he wouldn’t be in jail, right? Well, I think some (if not all) of those thoughts would come to mind in even the most devout Christian. So, Paul is letting them know that he is fine and that he is ministering now even in captivity. In fact, Paul is now able to reach people he could never access specifically because of his time in jail. All appointments are God-ordained, even the ones we may not understand or think are appropriate.

Philippians is an easy church with which to identify: they have problems too. What church doesn’t? Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves thinking that other churches do not have problems to sort out. Nothing could be further from the truth. Churches are made of people and people are fallible. If a church planted by Paul has trouble, then you can expect any church to have trouble. But that is why we look to the Lord for guidance, wisdom, discernment, and love!


[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2,275.

[2]Ibid., 2,276.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 435.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 219.

[8] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 511.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 447.

[11] Ibid., 448.


Bibliography

Bibles, Crossway The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.


Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

A Letter With No Address

A Letter With No Address

The Occasion, Purpose, Recipients, and Opponents of Ephesians

Although the Bible we hold today says “The letter of Paul to the Ephesians,” the phrase “in Ephesus” (1:1) is omitted in some of the most early and significant manuscripts. Without a definite address, this has prompted speculation that Ephesians “was originally meant as a circular letter.”[1] There is nothing against the view that “one letter was sent to a number of churches.”[2] Some have suggested that Ephesians was “sent perhaps to churches throughout Asia and Ephesus kept a copy of this letter without an address. . . as time passed, readers outside of Ephesus might have assumed that Ephesus had initially received the letter.”[3]

If we wanted to write a mass letter to several churches today, we would just leave out the address, then make copies, and plug in the different names. However, we live in an easy time of carbon paper and photocopiers. Paul’s technology was significantly slower. Each copy would have to be painstakingly handmade.[4] Therefore, the circular letter hypothesis has difficulties. Carson and Moo conceded that we might never know for sure who the letter was originally intended, but the traditional view of the church of Ephesus is probably best.[5]

There was no specific occasion or problem that inspired the letter to the Ephesians though Paul does mention that he desired for them to know how he was faring in confinement.[6] Paul is writing during his two-year “captivity”[7] in Rome toward the end of his life (which would mean a date in the early 60s.[8] He’s letting a church that he started and that he loves know that he is ok.

The purpose for the writing, however, can be ascertained: its words to a church Paul sees as needing further instructions on some important aspects of faith.[9] Actually, due to the letter’s impersonal nature, “public speech” seems a more appropriate label than “letter.”[10]

Paul gives this speech/letter an overall hint of the “cosmic redemptive work of God in Christ”[11] to counter the fact that Ephesus had a reputation as a “center for the learning and practice of magical arts,”[12] In fact, the phrase, “Ephesian writings” carried with it the connotation of spells, sorcery, and other such enchantment hocus-pocus. It is then no surprise that Paul leans heavily on phrases such as, “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (1:21, 2:2, and 3:10) and to the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (6:12).[13] He is defending the One True Faith in a language they understand.

Seeing as Paul intimately knows these people it may seem strange that Paul remains so impersonal throughout his letter. However the following principle appears to apply to the Pauline writings: “the better Paul knew a church, the fewer personal greetings he included, and the less he knew a church, the greater number of personal greetings he added.”[14] In Romans 16, Paul uses several personal greetings, even though he didn’t know any of them. But, Ephesians “contains no personal greetings at all because Paul did not wish to single out individuals in a congregation he knew so well.”[15] Given today’s temperamental and easily offended church attendees, one can appreciate Paul’s diplomatic handling of such situations.

There are no apparent opponents of Paul in these areas that we can tell from the letter. We can only imagine that he had his usual trouble with the Judaizers. I suppose we can also say the general atmosphere of Ephesus and its fixation on the occult could be seen as an opponent in itself. We could also view the “possible tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians” as an opponent although an interior one.[16]

 Looking at this last possibility, Paul strenuously promoted unity and responded by enlightening his readers of the “mystery (1:9, 3:14-15, 6:19)” now explained. This mystery was “a deep and hidden truth that none of us could have worked out but has now been revealed by God.”[17] And that mystery is the inclusions of Gentiles (5:8-10). Paul is calling for universal Christian unity: Wives or husbands, children or parent, slave or master, and Jew or Gentile all are constructed into one humanity (2:11-22) and one membership.[18] “This kind of love leads Paul to speak of ‘a profound mystery—but I am talking about “Christ and the church’ (5:32).”[19]

 

            One last thought on the purpose of the letter:

Could it have been that Paul was just checking in? Is there anything wrong with that? Just checking in because you are aware that someone might be worried about you? Of course not. We all do that! Also, the members at Ephesus may have now questioned Paul’s credibility. Imagine today if something similar happened to any one of us: We started going to a church and then the guy who planted it moves on to plant another one. Then, shortly later, we hear that he has been arrested and is in jail! What would we think? Had we been duped? Was this guy a con-artist? Obviously he is a criminal or he wouldn’t be in jail, right? Well, I think some (if not all) of those thoughts would come to mind in even the most devout Christian. So, Paul is letting them know that he is fine and that he is ministering now even in captivity. In fact, Paul is now able to reach people he could never access specifically because of his time in jail. All appointments are God-ordained, even the ones we may not understand or think are appropriate.


[1] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 488.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 437.

[4] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, 488.

[5] Ibid., 490.

[6] Crossway Bibles, The Esv Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2,258.

[7] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, 431.

[8] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, 486.

[9] Ibid., 482.

[10] Ibid., 490.

[11] Crossway Bibles, The Esv Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2,258.

[12] F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 291.

[13] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, 492.

[14] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, 438.

[15] Ibid., 438.

[16] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, 490-491.

[17] Ibid., 495.

[18] Ibid., 479.

[19] Ibid., 496.


Bibliography

 Bibles, Crossway The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.


 

Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

A Rich Roman Pharisee

A Rich Roman Pharisee

The Background of Paul

Here is a description of Paul’s exclusively unique background. Simply put, he was raised a rich Roman Pharisee. He was born in the prosperous Roman capital city of Tarsus. Paul called it “no ordinary (‘mean’ [KJV]) city” (Acts 21:39) in the sense that it was enlightened and cultured. In fact, Tarsus was famous for its higher learning schools. Believe it or not, Tarsus even rivaled Athens or Alexandria in its pursuit of philosophy and the liberal arts.[1] Bruce says today we would call Tarsus “a university city.”[2]

More importantly, Paul was a citizen of Rome. With that citizenship came all kinds of sought-after privileges. As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to “a fair public trial, exemption from certain ignominious forms of punishment, and protection against summary execution.”[3] He most likely inherited this privilege from his well-to-do family.[4] Its assumed Paul’s past relatives “had rendered some outstanding service to the Roman cause (presumably tent making).[5]

Paul was most proud of his Jewish heritage. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1) and called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:6). A devout Jew from his orthodox upbringing, Paul—by his own account—was a Pharisee (Acts 22:3). He was educated at the feet of the top Pharisee of the time, Gamaliel.[6]

It is difficult to determine a chronology of Paul’s life because of the nature of his writings: Paul wrote letters for specific issues.[7] He wasn’t giving history lessons or an itinerary journal. Paul’s letters were intended to correct, lead, or encourage people, situations, and whole churches. On the rare occasion he does give a time indicator, it is random and unclear (such as, “a year and a half,” or “some time later”).[8] This is why the book of Acts is important in the procedure of determining a timetable of Paul’s life. Luke was with Paul most of the time and by matching up the Pauline letters with his missionary trips, a rough time line can be constructed. However, some argue that the “Pauline letters provide the primary data for reconstructing a life of Paul and that Acts, because its historical accuracy is questionable, should be used only in those places where its accuracy can be validated or where it corroborates data attained from a study of the letters.”[9]

The most important evidence that can be used in determining a chronology of Paul’s life is the Gallio Inscription during his Second Missionary Journey.[10] Paul appeared before Gallio in Corinth likely in the summer of A.D. 51 and probably stayed there eighteen months, which allows us to estimate his second journey from A.D. 50-52.[11]

This is a brief overview of Paul’s life and missionary activities. In 35, Paul was converted. In 45 or 46, he visited Jerusalem. Paul had his first Missionary Journey from 47-48. He met with the Apostolic Council in 49. His second and third Missionary Journeys were from 50-52 and 53-57, respectively. From 57-59, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea. He voyaged back to Rome in 60 and was held captive there until his release in 76. Paul then ministered in the East until his martyrdom in 76 or 68.


[1] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 355.

[2] F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 35.

[3] Ibid., 39.

[4] Carson, 355.

[5] Bruce, 37.

[6] Ibid., 43.

[7] Carson, 360.

[8] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 349.

[9] Carson, 360.

[10] Lea, 350.

[11] Ibid.


Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.


Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

From Saul to Paul

From Saul to Paul

An Overview of Paul’s Conversion Experience

Let me start out by pointing out that according to today’s scholars, the term “conversion” is a modern concept. Paul would not know what being “converted” even means. Paul did not convert from Judaism to Christianity; he was already a devout Jew.[1] This “revelation” of Christ to Paul is more aptly described as “a ‘call’ experience and not a ‘conversion’ experience at all.” [2]

In Acts 9:1-19, Luke is the narrator. He tells us that Saul was traveling to Damascus armed with letters to the synagogues allowing him to arrest any belonging to the Way. As he was traveling, a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice asking him why he was persecuting the Lord. The speaker reveals Himself to be Jesus. Jesus instructs Saul to go to the city. Saul got up but was now blind. He stayed in Damascus three days while he fasted. Annias was instructed by the Lord to go to Saul and heal his blindness. Saul regains his sight, is baptized, and regains his strength. This experience convinced Paul that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.[3]

In Acts 22:3-16, Paul himself, is the narrator as he addresses the crowd before being taken away. The events of Paul’s conversion are practically the same. Paul specifies this time that it was noon when he encountered the Lord. The healing by Ananias is slightly different. The mention of scales falling off of the eyes is not mentioned as is in the 9:1-19 account. This passage has more dialogue whereas the previous has more action.

In Acts 26:8-9, Paul is on trial before Fetus, King Agrippa II. His defense involves listing all the times he persecuted early Christians. He thought to himself that he had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He thought he was doing the right thing for any faithful Jew in his position!

The chief difference between the three reports of Paul’s conversion are about the people with Paul; one account says that Paul’s companions heard a voice but did not see the Lord (Acts 9:7) and one said that Paul’s companions saw the light but did not hear a voice (Acts 22:9).

It has been suggested that since there are discrepancies, that perhaps these accounts have been fabricated. These accounts are so similar I can’t see why there would even be a question of authenticity. When telling and re-telling a personal event, one doesn’t recite verbatim the same exact script over and over. Instead, one is inclined to tailor the story to its respective audience. Evidence for my view is that the accounts are structurally identical. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Nothing has been embellished. There is unity and harmony in all three accounts of Paul’s conversion.

F.F. Bruce, in “Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free,” remarks on the importance of Paul’s experience on the Damascus road: “No single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul.”[4] Paul’s story of his conversion can be used as a model for Christians today on many levels. First of all, no one is so far gone as to not be able to return to the loving Arms of the Father. Paul persecuted Christians heavily and with zeal. Also, there is humility to his story. He could have left out the unglamorous parts and painted himself in a more flattering light. Instead, Paul celebrated that if he could be saved, anyone could! He turned that zeal for darkness into a zeal for light. He became a new person, fitted with a new name and all! We, too, are born again and new creatures. That is something Christians of which any generation can relate and strive.

Lastly, we can plainly see that Paul had a personal encounter with the Risen Christ. Paul had direct revelation. As my Pastor (Dr. Rev. David Cyphers) told me, “We all want that Damascus Road experience!” But God may be in the small gentle whisper rather than the roaring wind (1 Kings 19:12). Modern Christians may not be literally blinded on the way to work by the Lord, but there are still personal encounters and direct revelation. The Lord makes Himself known to His children! Ultimately, Paul’s conversion is a story about God’s patient love for His children… even the most notoriously rebellious ones.


[1] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “The Jewish Setting of Early Christianity,” accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FCIrVQAPZM.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 359.

[3] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “The Christology of Paul,” accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FfvIyIZcw.

[4] F F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, pbk. ed. (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 75.


 Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. pbk. ed. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “The Christology of Paul,” TheDocinabox, January 4, 2013.       Accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FfvIyIZcw.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “The Jewish Setting of Early Christianity,” TheDocinabox, July 21, 2012. Accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FCIrVQAPZM.


Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

Who wrote Acts?

Who wrote Acts?

A Defense for Lukan Authorship of Acts

Who wrote Acts? Did you ever wonder? Because it doesn’t say. What’s the difference—Does it even matter? Well, yeah – I’d say it kind of matters. So, here’s a 1,950 year old spoiler alert: Luke most likely wrote Acts. Not only that, but he wrote Acts as a follow-up to the longest of the canonical Gospels; The Gospel of Luke. But, how did scholars arrive at this conclusion? How do we know? Here are some factors that we can use to determine the authorship of Acts. Will the real author please stand up?

Evidence to support Lukan authorship comes in two forms, external evidence and internal evidence.[1] The external evidence is what scholars have said about the document’s author and the internal evidence are what clues we can get from the document itself.

As far as the external evidence goes, at the top of the list is the testimony of the early Church Fathers. They fully supported Lukan authorship. This testimony is both early and unchallenged. Moving on, The Muratorian Canon (AD 180) affirms Lukan authorship, as does Irenaeus in his work, “Against Heresies” (ca. AD 180). Also the Anti-Marcionite Prologues, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian in “Against Marcion” all in the late 2nd Century unanimously support Lukan authorship.

When we come to the internal evidence the case is a little harder to establish, but still pretty clear. First of all, if you look at the formal literary introduction of the prologues of Luke and Acts, both mention that the recipient as “Theophilus” (which means, “Friend of God” [whether this was an actual person or a generic term for any Christian reader is debatable]). The author also mentions his “first book” in Acts, which would indicate that Acts was a second book (or what we might call today, a sequel). The sophisticated writing styles of Luke and Acts are extraordinarily similar: Hellenistic Greek used, vocabulary, common themes, and literary devices (such as the travel narrative). Both authors have knowledge of Roman law, nautical terms, and Greek society… which points to Luke.

 The “We” Passages of Acts

If Luke wasn’t there then how did he write about it? Here is where it gets interesting. First and foremost let’s not belittle the Holy Spirit’s work in all of this. “All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16).” However that process looks, the Holy Spirit was absolutely vital to the writing of Acts. Amen! Secondly, this privileged information that Luke mentions in Acts can be explained by the “We” Passages.

In Acts 23:25-30, 25:14-22, and 26:30-32, the author switches from the regular third person narrative (he, she, they) to a first person plural (we). This denotes someone who was actually there as an eyewitness. Some believe this portion to be copied from “an itinerary or diary that he himself wrote.”[2] This is intriguing for several reasons. The author obviously recognizes himself as a traveling “companion of Paul.”[3] We learn in Col 4:14 that Luke was one such traveling companion. Secondly, since the author uses “we,” he would not use his name in these instances and anyone mentioned in these passages cannot be the author. Thirdly, since this person is mentioned with Paul in chapter 27-28 as going with Paul to Rome, it is reasonable to assume that the author was with Paul as he was imprisoned.[4] While Paul was in prison he wrote many letters and mentions people by name that were there too. Luke is on that list. So if we take the names of the people mentioned in the “we” passages and subtract them from the people listed in the prison epistles, the only person is—Luke.


[1] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “Lukan Authorship of Acts,” accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FfvIyIZcw.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 292.

[3] Ibid., 296.

[4] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003), 283.


Bibliography

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and             Message, 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “Lukan Authorship of Acts,” TheDocinabox, January 3, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FfvIyIZcw.


Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

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