James Patrick’s Blog

June 7, 2011

Amos’ Message of Hope and the Council of Jerusalem

Apologies for the infrequency of posts recently.  Study continues unabated, and in due course I will have managed to integrate properly the wealth of things I am learning about the Old Testament, enough to be able to publish them in a coherent way.  This brief post began as an observation I made during tutorials on the book of Amos, with the link to Isaiah 16:5 referred to by James A. Meeks in his recent monograph The Gentile Mission in Old Testament Citations in Acts, which I was reviewing at the time.  I trust it will provide some further clarity on the vision of the prophets.

As I have been teaching through the book of Amos, I’ve had to deal with a number of scholarly assessments which conclude that the message of hope in chapter nine has been tacked on to the end by a later ‘redactor’ of the book.  Such a conclusion assumes that prophets typically just preach messages of judgement against their contemporaries (hope is thought to weaken the impact of such a warning).  Such scholars also often place the beginning of the message of hope at 9:11 with the mention of David’s booth, but it undoubtedly begins earlier.

Verse 7 of chapter 9 clearly parallels verse 12 with their mutual message of God’s personal care for other nations in addition to Israel, and in fact both focus specifically on the idea of the ‘remnant’.  The eyes of the LORD on the sinful kingdom in verse 8 would remind the reader of the oracles against the nations in chapters one and two, each of which is destroyed for their sin, but when God holds back from total destruction in the case of the house of Jacob (9:8), this parallels God’s mercy on other nations too.  For example, just as Israel was brought out of Egypt from the house of slavery and through the midst of judgement, so Aram is described as being brought up from Kir, whither they had been told they would be taken into exile in 1:5.  The Philistines did not just originate in Caphtor [Crete or Asia Minor], but Genesis 10:14 says they were descended from a separate group in the area of Caphtor, the Casluhim, and Jeremiah 47:4 says they are in fact the ‘remnant’ of the coastland of Caphtor.  This would fit with the idea that like Israel was brought out of Egypt, so the Philistines had been brought out of Caphtor as a remnant to be settled in their own land.  Amos 1:8 says that the remnant of the Philistines will perish, but like the further judgement even on the remnant of Judah remaining after exile (Isa. 6:13), so I think this means further judgement on [but not annihilation of] the Philistine remnant, as Zechariah 9:5-7 teaches too.

The idea of a remnant from Gentile nations, epitomised by the remnant of Edom [or ‘Adam’ if pronounced slightly differently, meaning ‘humanity’ as James correctly quotes/paraphrases in Acts 15:17], is actually a theme of many prophets.  Before Amos, Joel had summoned all nations against Jerusalem, where God would enter into judgement with them and destroy their assembled armies as He had recently in the valley of Jehoshaphat (2Chr 20).  Amos then combines this idea of judgement on international armies (and their leaders) with the deliverance of even Gentile nations who suffered under their oppression, an idea that goes right back to Abram (Gen 14) who defeated an international coalition led by the king of Elam and recovered not just the remnant of his own people (Lot) but also the remnant of Sodom.  Abram was told he would rule over and thus become a blessing to all nations, and though his great-grandson Joseph was the first to model this, the promise combined with ruling over the promised land got its first proper fulfilment under David, who defeated and ruled over all surrounding nations with justice, even incorporating foreign nationals in his own army (1Chr 11:38 [cf. 5:10], 39, 41, 46).  The greater Son of David, therefore, would similarly defeat all nations who gathered against Jerusalem, and also the ruler of their international coalition (the alternative Messiah/anti-Christ), and would deliver the remnant of all nations from his hand.

Amos has been prophesying judgement on the entire nation of Israel and Judah (cf. 3:1; 5:5 [Beersheba]; 6:1), with a special focus on the northern kingdom of Israel.  This message of judgement has hardly a glimmer of hope from beginning to end (only 3:12; 5:3, 4-6, 14-15, 24; 7:1-6) so without 9:7-15 his audience would be left with the impression that God is indiscriminate in His judgements – what about the poor and needy, the righteous who have been oppressed by their rulers; will they perish also?  9:9 says that unfortunately they will all alike be taken into exile in the nations, but like grain shaken in a sieve the chaff will be removed but the good grains will remain.  9:10 clarifies that it will be the sinners who will die by the sword, rather than the oppressed.  Then when the exiles return to their land they will live in the rebuilt cities and enjoy the fruit of their vineyards (9:14), which is evidently the vindication of those oppressed by the wicked back in 5:11.

More than just the remnant of Israel, though, God’s interest is in restoring the remnant of all nations (cf. Isa 49:5-7), just as He had brought judgement on all nations as well back in chapters one and two.  In this context, therefore, the rebuilding of the ‘fallen booth of David’ does not seem to correspond naturally to the rebuilding of the temple as such, partly because David did not build the temple for the ark in the first place.  Some suggest that this describes the tent he constructed to house the ark before the temple was built, which was presumably where he ‘sat before the LORD’ in 2Sam 7:18, but again, worship does not seem to be the primary focus of this passage in Amos.  The significance of this ‘fallen booth’ idea can actually be perceived in the way the prophet Isaiah interpreted it just a few decades after Amos.  Isaiah shares many of the interests of Amos, both as regards justice and as regards the nations.  He also goes into detail about the ruler of the international coalition who will oppress all nations, naming this Elamite/Median king ‘Cyrus’ (Isa 13:17; 21:2; 22:6; 41:1-7; 45:1-3; 45:22-46:2; etc.), and it is because of this worldwide oppression that the remnant of nations will turn for help and justice to God’s true anointed saviour, the Son of David.  This is a theme that comes up again and again throughout Isaiah’s oracles against the nations also, as anticipated in Isaiah 2:2-4: messengers come from Philistia to seek refuge in Zion (14:32), the remnant of Aram are like the glory of the sons of Israel (17:3), Ethiopians bring a gift of homage to Zion (18:7; cf. Amos 9:7); Egypt is given a Saviour and Champion to deliver them (19:20-22) and therefore worship the LORD along with Assyria (19:23-25), the inhabitants of Ashdod on the coast recognise that they have no hope for deliverance apart from God (20:6), Edomites call to God’s prophet for news of hope (21:11), the Arabian fugitives are met with bread and water (21:14), and the LORD will restore Tyre after seventy years of desolation so that her profit is brought to Him (23:15-18).  It is in the description of the Moabites, however, that the ‘booth of David’ idea appears: the outcasts of Moab flee to Zion, because there “A throne will even be established in lovingkindness, and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; moreover He will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness.” (16:5)

Just as Moses had met with the LORD in the tent of meeting, the Tabernacle, and there received divine judgements with which to adjudicate for the nation (Ex 18:15-26; 25:22; Lev 1:1; 24:12-13; Num 15:33-35; Deut 1:9-18; 17:8-13), so David too met with the LORD in his tent of meeting, and this would presumably be where he would have received wisdom with which to adjudicate as the ‘supreme court’ of his nation (anticipated in Deut 17:18-20; cf. 2Sam 12:6 [from Ex 22:1]; 14:4-20; 15:2-4).  The responsibility of the Son of David to act as judge for His [and other] nations is clear in Isaiah 9:6-7 and 11:1-10.  David had prayed in Psalm 72 (title can also be read as ‘For Solomon’ – see 72:20) that his son Solomon would continue to judge in righteousness, and indeed Solomon received divine wisdom to do this (1Kgs 3; 10:1-10), metaphorically (and literally) repairing the breach of the city of his father David and building up the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down through David’s sin (1Kgs 3:1; 9:15; 11:27; cf. Ps 51:18-19 and Amos 9:11).  The ‘fallen booth of David’, therefore, refers to the failure of Israel’s kings to make righteous judgements on behalf of the poor and needy, a failure Amos ultimately blamed on Jereboam II (Amos 7:9-11), and its restoration will therefore bring justice once again to the oppressed remnant of Israel, and in fact to those of all other nations also.  Through her King, Israel will ‘possess’ the remnants of all nations, because all nations will acknowledge the authority of Israel’s King, and the nations will call on the name of the LORD as Gentiles, bearing allegiance to His anointed King yet not needing to become Jewish to do so.

It is this principle, therefore, that James was referring to in the Council of Jerusalem; he recognised that Amos’ prophecy not only spoke of Gentiles called by the Lord’s name despite remaining Gentiles (as Simon Peter had reminded the council – Acts 15:7-11, 14) but also spoke of the Son of David judging justly on matters concerning the Gentiles through His people Israel (hence this Jewish council’s authority to pass judgement on what Gentiles must avoid without putting excessive burdens on them to trouble them – 15:19-20).  The reason for this particular judgement was that [the books of] Moses were taught weekly in every synagogue throughout the Roman empire (15:21), and the laws God had laid down for all humanity (prior to the giving of the Law of Moses for Israel uniquely) were therefore already known to all Gentile God-fearers who attended synagogue: abstaining from the pollutions of idols (mankind is the only authorised image and likeness of God – Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2); being faithful to one’s sole spouse (as God established at creation – Gen 2:18-24); and honouring God’s only condition concerning the consumption of meat after the Flood by removing all its blood (Gen 9:2-4).  The Law of Moses would only be recommended for Jewish believers in the land, its original intended audience (cf. Matt. 5:17-20; Acts 21:20-26).  Of course, the other aspect of this rebuilding of the fallen booth of David, the restoration of the Messiah’s authority over all Gentile nations, was working justice for the poor, a key value that both Jewish and Gentile missions of the Early Church shared explicitly (Gal 2:7-10).

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February 7, 2011

‘The Lord has need of it.’

Filed under: Exegesis,Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 12:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Nobody doubts that momentous things are happening across the Muslim world at the moment.  Tunisia, Egypt, and many more nations have been or are being shaken, and one dictator after another is being forced out.  Many are fearful of what this means for the ‘plate tectonics’ of Middle East politics and hence the stability of the rest of the world.

One other factor in this, though, that few have considered, is what God is doing in His Church.  In April 2010, the popular Californian church leader Francis Chan announced to his successful congregation that he would be leaving to pioneer afresh somewhere.  Then just over a week ago, Terry Virgo, leader of the worldwide NewFrontiers family of churches, also announced to his home church in Brighton that he had been feeling stirred like Caleb in Joshua 14 to leave his comfortable situation there (despite his age!) and join a small pioneering church in southwest London.  I have no doubt these are only the tip of the iceberg – significant church leaders across the world are feeling ‘untied’ and called to go out and pioneer once again, leading those who respect their ministry to follow their example and pull up their tent pegs.  It is time to go!

My daily Bible reading today is from Luke 19:33-38, a passage referred to by Terry on his blog as having been of some significance in recognising God’s new call on his life.  This excerpt comes from Jesus’ final journey towards Jerusalem during His first appearance to Israel as their Messiah, nearly 2000 years ago.  He recognised from Scripture that Jerusalem must behold its king arriving not in glory on a warhorse but in humility on a donkey.  Rabbis since His day have similarly noticed that Messiah’s coming to the Jewish people would be on a donkey if they were an entirely wicked generation, but on the clouds of heaven if they were a righteous one (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 98a).  Oh for the day when ‘all Israel will be saved’! (Romans 11:25-32)

In this passage in Luke, the disciples have been sent to find a donkey on which no-one has ever ridden, which is the obvious interpretation of the extra specification in Zechariah 9:9 that the donkey must be a colt (compare also Matthew’s report that both the colt and its mother were brought to Jesus – proof that the colt had not yet been ridden).  Luke records that the ‘lords’ of the colt objected to the disciples untying it, as Jesus had anticipated, and they responded as instructed – “The Lord has need of it.”  It now had a new lord, and its old lords had no authority to resist.

This parallels the same situation, though travelling in the opposite direction, that we find during King David’s departure from Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives in 2 Samuel 16.  At exactly the same place on that mountain where Jesus would later mount his donkey(s), the servant of King Saul’s grandson and heir Mephibosheth brought to David two saddled donkeys “for the king’s household to ride”.  Mephibosheth himself had remained in Jerusalem, and was reported to be anticipating that his ancestral right to the throne of Israel would now be acknowledged by the newly crowned upstart, David’s son Absalom.  Instead, the true king David decreed that all Mephibosheth’s existing possessions were to be stripped from him and given to his servant who had chosen to remain loyal to David.

This is precisely what the Lord and King Jesus is now doing, both in His Church and in the nations.  His return to Jerusalem is imminent, this time in devastating glory, and He is in need of a fitting mount on which to ride on victoriously for truth, meekness and righteousness.  Just before He ascended bodily into heaven, He gave specific instructions to all His followers from that point on, to take the news of His deliverance from sin and death, and soon-coming global kingdom, to every nation on earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-8; cf. Matthew 24:14; Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25-32).  Just weeks later, Peter explicitly called his own generation of Jews to turn to their revealed Messiah Jesus so that they might in turn bless “all the families of the earth” and so prepare for the “times of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:17-26).  The writer to the Hebrews again appealed to the same generation of Jews, who would soon be exiled from their land in AD70, to metaphorically ‘dwell in tents in the land of promise’ (11:9), joyfully accepting the seizure of their property in the land as they had three decades earlier (10:32-39) because it was not yet time to inherit that land promised to them.  The age of ‘Sabbath rest’ for God’s people will only come when God’s work is finished (4:8-11), that work He decreed for humanity in Genesis 1:28, set the stage for in Genesis 10:1-11:9, and provided the solution for in Genesis 12:3.

God’s work is to ensure that every people group on the face of the earth has been presented with the good news of Jesus’ coming reign over all the earth, so that when He does come He will have representatives in every land who can reign with Him on the earth (Revelation 5:9-10).  It is God’s patience that has prevented Him sending His Son back to earth for the last 2,000 years.  Peter made this clear in 2 Peter 3:9, where he writes that the day of the Lord’s return in glory and judgement will not happen until ‘all’ nations have come to repentance, which is also why he urges believers everywhere to ‘look for and hasten the coming of the day of God’.  There is one and only one reason that Jesus has not returned sooner – the last people group has not yet heard about Him.  The sooner we get out and tell them, the sooner He will return, because that is what He promised: “This good news of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

That means that there are people groups in which Jesus has not yet been experienced as lord, on which He has not yet ridden, so to speak.  The time has now come for His triumphal entry, and He has need of every nation.  Yet many nations are bound in service to other ‘lords’, and Jesus is now sending His disciples ahead to untie them and prepare them for His use.  Their present lords will object to their people being ‘untied’, but if like Mephibosheth they hope to hold on to the authority they think they deserve, all that they have will be stripped from them and given to those who acknowledge Jesus as the true King.  Islam has bound many nations and peoples with a tight cord, preventing them from hearing the wonderful news of salvation in Jesus and His soon coming kingdom.  The time is now upon us for this cord to be loosed, for dictators to topple, and for the good news to be spread far and wide.

This is where the changes in the Church come into play.  Jesus is stirring the hearts of His disciples, sending them ahead of Him to untie peoples and nations, to break new ground, like Paul “to preach the gospel not where Christ is already named, so as not to build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'” (Romans 15:20-21).  Whether a leader has been serving for sixteen years or forty-three years, if they are hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches they will be feeling an urge to pioneer once more.  They must model how to do this, because from now on the pace of mission will increase to a rate never before known on the earth, and churches must learn an entirely new dynamic of equipping and sending workers into new harvest fields.  There is no time to lose, and any leader who resists what the Spirit is speaking individually to their own hearts out of a desire to hold on to their own authority will eventually have it stripped from them just like Mephibosheth.  Jesus will not endure any leader who is competing with Him for the hearts of His people.

May God confirm the words of His servants, and may the kingdom of His Son come quickly on this earth.

April 21, 2010

How genealogies reveal the purpose of Chronicles

Genealogies are very important for revealing the purpose of texts in traditional societies, and in Chronicles this is particularly the case as they are drawn mostly from records not preserved elsewhere (unlike many of the narratives), and are therefore more obviously distinctive to Chronicler’s purpose.  Genealogies reveal lines of descent and inheritance of authority over one’s brothers, and the last person in the genealogy is usually the one about whom it is written (for example, Phinehas in Exodus 6 – cf. Numbers 25).  In this post we will look first at the message of the genealogical section, then at the narrative section, and finally draw these together with an explanation of the purpose of the book as a whole.

Genealogies

1Chr 1 introduces the following genealogies by gleaning from Genesis all the relevant passages that show Israel’s inheritance from Adam.  Then 1Chr 2-7 lists the genealogies of the tribes of Israel in order to establish which tribe has rightful authority over the others.  Judah is first (the leader is from him – 5:2) [2:3-4:23].  Simeon is listed next to show that his territory is mostly outside Judah’s now, at least since the time of David [4:24-43].  The two-and-a-half tribes (Reuben, Gad, 1/2 Manasseh) do not have the birthright despite Reuben being firstborn, because they were idolatrous and have been exiled up to the present [ch 5].  Levi is described in two halves, the first [6:1-53] designed to show that the distinction between the Aaronic high priesthood and the three Levitical divisions was actually officially recognised by David himself (note that the line of Zadokite high priests extends no further than the exile [6:15], unlike the line of Davidic heirs [3:17-24]), and the second to establish Levitical claim to certain cities in the land during this resettlement after exile [6:54-81].  Then the remaining tribes are listed (apart from Zebulun and Dan, who had perhaps not returned from exile?) – Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim and Asher [ch 7].  Note that Ephraim’s inheritance of Joseph’s birthright is traced no further than Joshua [7:27], although evidently leaders of the Joseph tribes felt it their duty to live in the capitol even after the Return [9:3], in apparently very small numbers.

1Chr 8  then rehearses the genealogy of Benjamin again, this time mentioning their claim on the leadership of Israel (Ehud [8:6], Saul [8:33]), but also especially their claim over Jerusalem [8:28, 32], the city on the border of Judah and Benjamin.  Apparently Benjamin was insisting too on sharing territorial rights over the capitol along with Judah and Joseph [9:3-9] in the years following the return.  1Chr 9:2-34 considers on the other hand the justification for Levitical rights over Jerusalem, not only of priests but even of Levitical gatekeepers, and to support this, appeal is made to the appointments of Samuel and David [9:22] and the records of Nehemiah [Neh 11:3-19].  1Chr 9:35-44 is then a shortened recapitulation of Saul’s genealogy, as an introduction to the brief summary of his failed reign in chapter 10, apparently to reinforce the Davidic claim to leadership in Jerusalem.

Narratives

After the crowning of David, the first event described is the capture of Jerusalem [11:4-9], followed by an extended list of all the warriors of every tribe in Israel who supported David’s claim to the leadership [11:10-12:40], and who also agreed with David’s plans to re-establish worship of the LORD in Jerusalem [13:1-17:27].  This was done despite opposition from Israel’s enemies [14:8-17; 18:1-20:8] and despite even David’s own fallibility, shown by his sin in taking the census [21:1-22:1].  David himself established the Levitical responsibilities and priestly/Levitical divisions at the same time as establishing secular authorities over the kingdom [26:29-27:34], and he himself was entirely responsible for the plans and resources of the Temple even though Solomon built it [chs 22-29].  The message here is that the true son of David will fulfil all that was in David’s heart for the Temple and for priestly/Levitical worship in Jerusalem.

The account of Solomon brackets his building and dedication of the Temple (including the priests and Levites at their posts [2Chr 5:12-14; 7:1-11; 8:14-15]) with an emphasis on his wisdom [chs 1; 8-9] and the wealth and fame that followed the Temple building.  The warning to Solomon in 2Chr 7:12-22 is effectively a warning to all of Solomon’s heirs that failure to worship the LORD properly at the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually result in exile and the destruction of the Temple.  The following history of the Divided Monarchy [chs 10-36] describes the successes and failures of the various Davidic kings consistently as a direct consequence of their attitude and behaviour towards prescribed worship of the LORD at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It particularly emphasises those times when all the tribes assembled, even from the northern kingdom, to worship at Jerusalem (e.g. Rehoboam [11:13-17], Asa [15:8-15], Hezekiah [chs 29-31], Josiah [chs 34-35]; cf. also Jehoshaphat [17:7-9; 19:4-11; 20:4-28] and Jehoiada / Joash [23:1-24:14]).  Even the sins of Manasseh were forgiven because of his renewed piety and devotion to true worship in Jerusalem [ch 33].

Explanation

Significantly, the beginning genealogy of Judah appears to be focused on defending the Davidic claim (of Elioenai and his seven sons [3:24]) over against others who were claiming authority over Judah and Jerusalem through descent from Perez’s firstborn son Hezron.  We would not have expected there to be a need in post-exilic Yehud [Judah] to defend the claim of the David to authority over Judah, let alone Israel, but the fact that his claim is defended has implications for our interpretation of subsequent narratives.  The Chronicler includes much material not found elsewhere about the links between David and the Temple, and many have suggested that he invented them simply to reinforce the importance of the Temple by appealing to David’s authority.  If in fact David’s claim was also not uncontestable, however, it is more likely that this material was drawn from actual records that would not be disputed; in a sense, the claims of both David and the Temple are being defended, so the historical evidence for their connection is meant to be mutually reinforcing.

Looking at the genealogy of Judah, the focus of the claim to leadership of this tribe is on the first of Judah’s twin sons, Perez, who in fact received the rights of the firstborn because his mother was Tamar, the wife of Judah’s firstborn son Er [Gen 38], and therefore Judah had effectively ‘raised up seed’ for his deceased firstborn [Deut 25:5-10].  The sons of Chelubai/Caleb, Perez’s third son, are traced to various towns and regions of Judah, and the only individuals highlighted are from ancient history (e.g. Hur and Bezalel [2:20], Othniel and Caleb son of Jephunneh [4:13, 15]).  The firstborn son of Perez, Jerahmeel, is traced through a second wife, several sons who had no sons of their own, and worst of all through an Egyptian servant who married into the family – all this seems to be deliberately disproving any claim that Elishama [2:41] might have made to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah.  (This Elishama is probably the same as the ‘royal’ grandfather of Ishmael who murdered Gedaliah at the time of Jeremiah and then fled to Ammon, and whose descendants probably returned from there to Jerusalem after the exile.)  Therefore David’s claim stands, even though he was descended from Perez’s second son Ram, because David’s ancestor Nahshon had been ‘leader of the sons of Judah’ under Moses [2:10].

Evidently the book of Chronicles is contributing to a debate in his time about who had the right to live in Jerusalem, the capitol of the restored community of Israel after the exile, and especially about which tribe and clan could claim the authority over their brothers.  The Davidic claim was obviously under attack from various sides (Elishamites, Benjamites, Ephraimites), most probably because there was no immediate likelihood of a restoration to kingship under Persian rule, and people must have been questioning whether the tribes should revert to traditional tribal inheritance based on the rights of the firstborn instead.  Jerusalem was evidently seen as the capitol, but David’s claim to have conquered it was opposed by the Benjamite claim to have been apportioned it as tribal inheritance by Joshua [Jos 18:28; cf. Jdg 1:5-8, 21; Jos 15:63].  The approach of the Chronicler was therefore to allow for Benjamite claims to live in it, but nevertheless to reinforce the Davidic claim to the throne that had been acknowledged by all the tribes, and therefore the right of Judahites also to live in the capitol.

Furthermore, the Chronicler not only defended the Davidic claim to the leadership of the tribes (if not to the birthright [5:2]), but then also tied this leadership as tightly as possible to the responsibility for leading the tribes in correct worship of the LORD in the Jerusalem temple according to the Law and the regulations of Samuel and David especially.  In fact, the suggestion was made in the accounts of Manasseh and others that if the Davidic leader repented and humbled himself by honouring the LORD’s temple, He would restore them from exile and deliver them from their enemies, and thus establish their kingship over the tribes of Israel.

Thus the purpose of Chronicles is to reinforce temple-focused Davidic messianism.  Working out how many generations had passed between the return from Exile under Zerubbabel and the Davidic claimant at the time this book was written (Elioenai [1Chr 3:19-24]) gives us a probable date of around 400BC, a generation or so after the last of Nehemiah’s reforms [cf. Neh 13:6-7].

March 22, 2010

Permanent Apostasy? (Winds of Doctrine #12)

When a person who has accepted God’s testimony about His Son as the source of eternal life then turns back to his own wisdom, either for understanding other Christian doctrines or for his ‘secular’ intellectual pursuits, he will inevitably ‘fall away’ from the ‘faith’-based wisdom of God and allow his thinking to be shaped by the deception of the father of lies.  This is the source of heresy and ‘doctrines of demons’, and it is only by humbly submitting to the word of truth that someone can escape the trap of the devil and the immoral lifestyle that will follow.  Paul’s approach to heresy or immorality in church leaders was to excommunicate them from the fellowship of believers, in order that they might come to their senses out in the pigsty of life without grace, and repent.  However, for church members living in sin or believing lies, he recognised that by remaining part of their local congregation they were choosing to submit themselves to their leaders, and were therefore in the best place to come to accept also the truth that they were being taught.  In both cases, however, those who ‘fall away’ can potentially be brought back to repentance.

John’s first epistle, written some years later with the benefit of being able to observe the ongoing unrepentance of those Paul and Timothy had excommunicated, deals with the question of those who had permanently left the church (contrast 1 Cor 5:1-5 & 2Cor 2:5-11):  ‘They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.’ (1John 2:19)  As long as the teaching of a church is truly biblical, those who reject its message and leave the church for good are demonstrating that they did not truly belong in the first place.  This is difficult to accept, though, when it is those who have participated thoroughly in the life of the local church, apparently understood the biblical truth, and personally experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, who then fall away.  The writer to the Hebrews considers this scenario in chapter 6, and concludes that for such a person there would be no possibility of repentance because this was the equivalent of the unbelief of Jesus’ opponents who wilfully attributed His anointing to Satan and were therefore condemned as having committed an unforgivable sin (Matt 12).  Jude would describe such fake believers as ‘hidden reefs in your love feasts’ (Jude 1:12-13).  However, the writer to the Hebrews immediately reassures his listeners that he is convinced of better things for them, because God could not be unjust and forget the genuine love they had borne towards Him.  It is a genuine warning to those considering ‘falling away’, and yet he has confidence that God’s grace that established the church will also preserve it, as Paul regularly affirmed (1Cor 1:7‑9; Php 1:6; 2Tim 1:12).

We must treat the warnings in the book of Hebrews in a similar way to Paul’s stern instruction to ‘Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognise this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?’ (2Cor 13:5).  Those who would fail the test, or those turning back to the sacrificial system, would be those who did not actually have the life of Jesus in them.  There will likewise be members of churches today who, when challenged to consider carefully if they have ever truly received Jesus as Lord, will discover that they have never actually trusted in His grace.  The warnings must not be quickly dismissed or explained away as ‘hypothetical’; they are meant to provoke soul-searching on the part of those who read them, driving one back to a complete dependency and trust in God’s ability to save, both at conversion and throughout one’s life.  Anxiety is not evidence of trust, but rather of concern that one’s own efforts will not be enough.  That is completely true, but instead of anxiety we must turn our eyes onto Jesus again and trust Him alone for His all-sufficient grace (cf. Php 4:6‑7).  As Jesus Himself assured us in John 6:37‑40, the task appointed to Him by His Father is to welcome any who are given to Him, and then to make sure that they are not lost but rather raised to life on the last day.  He is the Good Shepherd, the one who goes after the lost sheep and brings them home, and if the Father has graciously enabled us to receive the good news of grace by faith, Jesus is fully able to preserve us and bring us back to repentance and faith.

Apostasy in Light of Faith and Grace (Winds of Doctrine #11)

In the last eight posts we have seen how the Early Church that had demonstrated Jesus to be the Messiah in the 30’s AD, welcomed Gentiles in the 40’s, and reaffirmed God’s plans for the Jews in the 50’s, had to endure mighty winds of heresy and persecution in the 60’s, and then recover their ‘first love’ for each other again in the 70’s.  The 60’s had brought a widespread apostasy, or ‘falling away’, in the church, which some at the time may have interpreted as the prophesied final apostasy that would sweep through the Church before the Great Tribulation and the return of Jesus (cf. 2Thes 2:1‑12).  Clearly Paul, Peter and John all recognised that a greater one was still to come (cf. 2Tim 3:1‑9; 4:1‑4; 2Pet 3:1‑18; 1John 2:18‑19, 28; 4:1‑3), whether or not they expected the final one within decades rather than millennia.  It is vital that we consider the nature of that first great apostasy, though, that we might be prepared for the final one that will soon be upon us.

1 Timothy 4:1 makes it clear that “in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons”.  Hebrews warns believers not to “fall in the wilderness” through disobedience like the generation of Moses (Heb 3:7‑17; 4:11; 6:4‑8; cf. 1Cor 10:1-12).  Whereas Paul is referring to specific fallen individuals in his congregation, whom he has ‘handed over to Satan’ for discipline, the writer to the Hebrews is offering a more general warning from Scripture, confident that his hearers will turn back from the brink and inherit the promises after all (Heb 6:9‑12; 10:23‑39; 12:12‑13).  The reality is that there are in every generation individuals who in practice ‘fall away’ from the Christian beliefs and lifestyle they once had.  Most of those who read this will know several such people, and the issue therefore becomes one in which we have intense personal interest.  Others might be genuinely afraid that they themselves might ‘fall away’ at some future point, and the doctrine of ‘perseverance of the saints’ (“Once saved, always saved”) can sometimes be applied too quickly to dismiss people’s real concerns.  Probably the single most fundamental key to this whole topic is a correct understanding of ‘faith’, a word we looked at in detail above.

Faith in God’s Grace

‘Faith’, or ‘trust’, is the only appropriate response to the ‘grace’ of God, and these two terms sum up absolutely every element of the Christian teaching.  They are the truth that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion ever taught, because they teach that as humans we have nothing to contribute to our relationship with God, and can only trust Him to bring about in our lives what is pleasing to Him.  Jesus is the fullest expression both of the grace of God towards humanity and the world, and of the faith in God which God considers to be true ‘righteousness’.  We receive ‘salvation’ and enter into God’s family when we share the ‘faith’ of God’s unique Son Jesus, and this has two elements according to Romans 10:3‑13.  The first element is the conviction that God alone can raise the dead to bodily life, which Jesus went to the cross believing, and therefore that God did indeed raise Jesus to permanent bodily life.  The second element is the willingness to surrender one’s life completely to the direction of this God like Jesus did, which Jesus describes as ‘take up your cross and follow me’.  The writer to the Hebrews says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him’ (11:6).  There are many who have heard about Jesus, admired Him, and even dedicated their lives to imitating His good works, but none of this matters at all if they have not understood that the only way of pleasing God and receiving eternal life is to accept that Jesus has done everything required, and to put one’s life entirely in His hands.  Even this decision itself is a work of grace in the believer’s life.  As Luke points out in Acts 13:48, ‘as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed’.

If a person has truly understood that they can do nothing of any value without God’s gracious giving, they will be in the right place to receive His Holy Spirit, who gives us everything we need for life and godliness, empowering us to do what God has called us to do.  This is the beginning of a life of trust, or ‘faith’, in which time and again the believer comes back to God asking for grace to accomplish what he or she has been given to do.  If at any point we turn back to our own wisdom and strength, we have ‘turned away’ or ‘fallen away’ from faith, or from ‘the [life of] faith’.  ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin.’ (Rom 14:23)  Paul expresses exactly the same concept in Galatians 5:4, when he tells those trying to be righteous by keeping laws that they have ‘fallen from grace’.

Faith is just as necessary for one’s beliefs as it is for one’s life, because we are unable to arrive at the truth through our own wisdom or ‘rational’ thought processes.  God has deliberately planned it this way, so that those who come to Him are forced to accept what He says without the benefit of their own five senses.  If we were able to reason our way to the ‘meaning of life’, we would have no need for grace, and we could boast in our own wisdom.  As it is, God has chosen to save people through the apparent ‘foolishness’ of what is preached, the message of a crucified Saviour (1Cor 1:17–2:5).  Of course, that is not to say that God leaves us in the darkness just for the sake of it, or that He has not revealed elements of the truth about the world around us to those who do not trust Him.  Rather, God reveals more and more to those who keep coming to Him for wisdom, and He graciously enables others who do not trust Him personally to nevertheless recognise the divine order and beauty with which He created the world.

Ephesus According to 1 John (Winds of Doctrine #10)

As explained in two posts above, Ephesus had gone through a very turbulent time in the mid-60’s AD, with Paul and Timothy expelling elders from the church who were teaching heresy or living immorally or both, followed by a period of intense persecution when Paul himself was taken from them and executed.  Paul’s primary instruction to the church in his second letter to Timothy had been to cleanse themselves from wickedness and become sanctified for good works (2Tim 2:19‑21); a repentance that was even more of a priority than doctrinal correction, which could only follow repentance (2Tim 2:24‑26).  Partly from fear of a repeat situation, therefore (1John 4:17‑18), the Ephesian church had become very strict against sin, to the point of equating it with heresy (1John 3:10; 5:16‑17), and making it a justification for excluding immature Christian brethren from fellowship (1John 2:19; 3:23; 4:20–5:1) or denying them the benefit of material support from the church (1John 3:16‑18).  It is likely that the primary issue of sin in the church was the issue of ongoing participation in the idolatrous secular culture of Ephesus by recent converts (1John 5:21), whether just in terms of appreciating the aesthetics and achievements of that culture (1John 2:15‑17), or perhaps the issue of dining in idol temples with colleagues at official work functions (cf. 1Cor 8:10; 10:19‑22; contrast 10:25).  It is quite possible that the false teachers had been teaching that ‘righteousness’ is just a matter of the heart, and not a matter of outward actions (1John 3:7‑10).

John has a difficult job on his hands, therefore.  He has to be very clear in his instruction to the ‘little children’, the immature believers who were still engaging in sin, that they must not continue to sin.  But on the other hand, he has to appeal to the ‘young men’ who had stood firm under persecution and held to the truth (1John 2:13-14), and help them to see that they too could not claim to be without sin, and in fact by failing to love their weak brethren they too were committing a sin, as wicked as the sin of Cain (3:10‑18).  The ‘fathers’ of the church would certainly remember the ‘old commandment which you have had from the beginning’ (1:7; 2:13-14, 24; 3:11).   John has to affirm their rejection of the heretical teaching of those who had left the church (2:18‑26), while also urging them to continue to receive teachers from outside, like himself, who did speak truth (4:1‑6, 14‑15; 5:5‑13, 20).  As a result, his letter, which is more of an extended essay than a letter as such, moves back and forth between appeals to the little children to keep themselves from sin and idolatry, and appeals to the more mature members of the church to love and pray for their immature brethren like Jesus did (2:5‑6) rather than ‘hating’ them by excluding them (5:14‑17).

As for the specific form of doctrinal heresy that John and the Ephesian church were facing, it is clear from the first paragraph of 1 John that it has to do with the identity of Jesus as both having been with the Father from the beginning and yet also having been a real tangible man (1John 1:1‑3).  The false teachers who had left the Ephesian church were those who denied that Jesus was the Messiah (2:22; 5:1), that Jesus is ‘Messiah come in the flesh’ (4:2), and that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ (4:15; 5:5).  When John defines the ‘false-Messiah’ [i.e. ‘anti-christ’] teaching as the denial that Jesus is the Messiah, he is probably not referring to Jews outside the church who did not believe Jesus was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (though that would also apply).  Rather, he is focusing on heresy within the church that redefines what sort of ‘Messiah’ Jesus actually is, which is just as much an ‘anti-christ’ teaching.  John clarifies further in 1 John 2:22‑23 that what he means by those who deny Jesus’ Messiah-ship is the denial of Jesus as Son and therefore of God as Father, something that the writer to the Hebrews emphasises also in his first two chapters about Jesus being superior to the angels.  The theme of Jesus’ divine sonship appears throughout 1 John (1:3, 7; 2:22‑24; 3:8, 23; 4:10, 14‑15; 5:1, 4‑5, 9‑13, 18, 20), but John deliberately mixes this with a concentration on Jesus’ very real humanity, whether that is His tangibility (1:1‑3) or His flesh (4:2), or His very real blood (1:7; 5:6‑8).  The ‘water’ refers to Jesus’ baptism at which God testified that Jesus is His Son (5:6, 9‑11), but this does not contradict the testimony of the ‘blood’ of Jesus poured out at death showing that Jesus is also human (5:6, 8), nor are either of these contradicted by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers (4:13‑15; 5:6, 10), as the false teachers had evidently been claiming (2:20‑27; 3:24‑4:6).  The Spirit of Truth confirms to us both Jesus’ divine sonship shown at His baptism, and Jesus’ real humanity shown at His death.  The claims of the false teachers, that Jesus was one of the powerful angelic mediators spoken about in popular Jewish religious literature of the day, were inadequate both in their denial of Jesus’ superior divine sonship and unique mediatorial role (cf. 2:1) and in their denial of Jesus’ genuine humanity, and were thus presenting a ‘false Messiah’, an ‘anti-christ’.

Context of 1-3 John (Winds of Doctrine #9)

Tradition records that Paul was executed in Rome by Nero, just as he anticipated in his second letter to Timothy, and we can assume that Timothy did travel to Rome to see Paul, leaving Tychicus with Prisca and Aquila in Ephesus to teach the church.  Timothy would have raised up new elders to replace those who had left, ‘faithful men able to teach others’ (1Tim 3:1‑7; 2Tim 2:2).  A church that had been through such an upheaval, though, might be expected to be particularly alert to both false teaching and immorality, being experienced in enduring persecution and persevering with a siege-like mentality (Rev 2:1‑7).  In 1 Timothy 2:7, Paul seems to be contrasting his own true call as a herald and apostle with the ‘lying’ of others who called themselves apostles.  After his death, then, the Ephesian church would have been very wary of receiving anyone else who called himself an ‘apostle’ (Rev 2:2), and would therefore have found it almost impossible to accept genuine apostolic oversight from anyone apart from a co-worker of Paul.  We do not know whether Tychicus stayed for long in Ephesus, or whether Timothy or Titus were able to return to support Prisca and Aquila.

It is into just this situation that the three epistles of John seem to have been written.  According to tradition, John son of Zebedee ended up in Ephesus at some point after Paul’s death and Timothy’s departure, apparently working hard to re-establish this church in their ‘first love’ that they had lost through the experience of apostasy in the mid-60’s AD (cf. Rev 2:4).  Who better than the ‘beloved disciple’ to teach this large and influential church about love and unity?  The book of Revelation begins with letters to the seven churches, which in one sense function as John’s divine ‘letter of commendation’ to the churches in Asia Minor.  The false teachers addressed in these letters are also Jewish (Rev 2:9; 3:9), known as the ‘Nicolaitans’ (Rev 2:6, 15), and the book anticipates a time of renewed persecution coming on the whole world (Rev 1:9; 2:10, 13; 3:10; 6:9‑11; 7:14; 12:11).  The description of the nation of Israel being taken into exile in ‘the wilderness’ (Rev 12:1‑2, 5‑6, 13‑16) probably describes the consequences of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, although the description of the nations trampling the temple in Jerusalem for three-and-a-half years (Rev 11:2‑3, 8 ) may suggest that the book was written very shortly after that destruction.  There is still the very clear understanding that the gospel must be preached to every nation before Jesus’ return (Rev 1:7; 7:9‑10; 10:7; 14:6), but this is seen as imminent (cf. John 21:20‑23).

If Revelation was written in the early 70’s AD, shortly after John was released from imprisonment on Patmos (Rev 1:9), this would explain why the letters to the seven Asian churches do not give the impression that John was very familiar to them.  2 John, which is put after 1 John presumably because of its brevity, makes most sense if it was actually the first letter he sent to the church in Ephesus after writing Revelation.  He writes as ‘the elder’, which makes sense in light of the Ephesians’ wariness of the title ‘apostle’ (Rev 2:2), and is writing from another congregation known to those in Ephesus (2John 1:1, 13), though he doesn’t appear to have a personal connection with his recipients.  He has evidently heard of the faithfulness of some in the congregation who have resisted false teaching (1:4), and he mentions the love that both he and all the churches have for them (1:1), and urges them to remain on their guard against false teachers (1:7‑11).  However, his main reason for writing is to urge them to love each other (1:5‑6), which was the primary accusation against them in Revelation 2:4‑5, and is the only specific detail that John seems to know about the Ephesians apart from their survival through heresy (1:4; cf. Rev 2:2-3, 6).  It is understandable why John would feel it important to try to establish a personal connection with this bruised church after Jesus’ stern warning to them, and so rather than writing a long letter, he tells the church that he has many things to write to them but he would rather come soon and speak with them face to face (2John 1:12).  Unlike the book of Revelation, which he wrote out himself and which therefore is fairly poor Hebraic Greek, he would have used the help of an amanuensis, or professional scribe, to help him craft a letter in good (but simple) Greek for the educated church of Ephesus.

John’s brief introduction letter to the Ephesian church would have been delivered by one of his co-workers to Ephesus, but on his co-worker’s return he would have been made aware of the many problems in the church in much more detail.  It seems that some in Ephesus who had heard John’s brief letter were questioning what right John had to be writing to them, not even knowing them.  As a result, he composed a much more thorough elaboration of his original message to them (e.g. 1John 2:7‑8), which was also a defence of his own authority to give them instruction (1John 1:1‑4), and an explanation of why he was writing to them (1John 2:12‑14, 21, 26‑27; 5:13).  By the time he wrote his third letter perhaps a couple of years later, this time to the elder Gaius (presumably one of the elders of the Ephesian church), he was personally known to many in the church (3John 1:15), and could refer to them as ‘my children’ (3John 1:4).  Presumably he had therefore managed to travel to Ephesus himself in order to meet the church and reinforce the message of love he was writing about (2John 1:12), before returning to his ‘home’ congregation.  Unlike earlier letters, however, 3 John was not written to the whole church of Ephesus but rather to one of its elders, Gaius.  The reason for this is apparently that when John had written another letter to the church (one that has not been preserved), those who returned from delivering it reported to him that although Gaius had received them warmly, the lead elder of Ephesus, Diotrephes, had refused to allow John’s letter to be read out to the gathered church.  As a result, John sent a short letter to Gaius, delivered by Demetrius, in which he is basically warning Diotrephes that he will be returning shortly and will sort him out.  Apparently this did indeed happen, because tradition records that John ended up moving to Ephesus permanently, and lived there to the end of his life around the turn of the second century.

Background of 2 Timothy (Winds of Doctrine #8)

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By the time of writing his second letter to Timothy, it might have appeared that Paul’s authority over the church in Ephesus had been weakened through church leaders in the province abandoning him to his fate, even if they had not also abandoned his gospel (2Tim 1:15).  Their fear of suffering was probably quite justified, as Nero had started an intense persecution against Christians in AD64 and before his own death in AD68 had executed both Peter and Paul in Rome along with many other believers.  Paul’s denunciation of the heresy of Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander had apparently added to his suffering at the hands of the authorities (2Tim 2:8‑9, 17‑18; 4:14‑15), yet he stood firm in his fearless proclamation to strengthen those whose faith had been shaken by both heresy and persecution (2Tim 2:10, 18; 4:17).  Unlike other leaders, Timothy had been unashamed to be known as Paul’s co-worker, and having survived opposition in Ephesus, Paul was now urging him to go one step further and share in his suffering by joining him in Rome (2Tim 1:8, 12, 15‑16).  Had heresy still been a threat to the church, Paul would not have risked calling for Timothy, but clearly the foundation Paul had laid in the Ephesian church had managed to weather the storm of false teaching (2Tim 2:19).  This church itself was the precious treasure Paul had entrusted to Jesus to preserve blameless until His coming (2Tim 1:12; cf. 1Thes 2:19‑20; 3:13; 1Cor 1:7‑9; Php 1:6), and also entrusted to Timothy (2Tim 1:14), and his trust had not been disappointed (2Tim 2:19).

Even so, the clean-up operation was not over.  The false teachers had been routed, but remaining disputes within the church over words and speculations had to be corrected by Timothy without resorting to the quarrelling approach of the false teachers (2Tim 2:14, 16, 23‑24).  They were still in the area (cf. 1John 2:19; 4:5-6; 2John 1:10-11), and permitting ‘worldly, empty chatter’ might encourage their teaching to spread like gangrene, requiring further amputation (2Tim 2:17).  Just as in his first letter (1Tim 5:20, 24‑25), Paul views immoral living as evidence of doctrinal error, which is why leaders with such problems had to be removed from authority.  Church members, though, who remained in the congregation despite moral failure and doctrinal issues, were instead called upon to repent and so be cleansed and restored like polluted but precious vessels (2Tim 2:19‑22), which was ultimately Paul’s intention in excommunication also (1Tim 1:20; 1Cor 5:5; 2Cor 2:5‑11).  Timothy was told that loving admonition would hopefully bring church members who still opposed him to repentance and thence to knowledge of the truth (2Tim 2:25‑26).

At this point, Paul turns from the situation addressed in 1 Timothy, which was now on the mend, and warns Timothy that this would not be the last battle he or the church would have to face.  Paul was soon to ‘depart’, having ‘fought the good fight’, but corruption and apostasy would again be seen in the Church before Jesus’ return.  No specific heresy is identified prophetically, beyond ‘evil men and imposters… deceiving and being deceived’.  Instead, Paul focuses on the moral destitution and powerlessness that would clearly reveal the unbelief and folly of those deceiving the immature with clever words and apparent learning (2Tim 3:1‑7).  This is a well-established method of uncovering heresy, going all the way back to Moses who had in this way shamed the Egyptian magicians who opposed him (2Tim 3:7‑9).  There is no point seeking out heresy, however.  Churchgoers will often turn away from sound doctrine, preferring myths and finding teachers who will ‘tickle their ears’ (2Tim 3:13; 4:3‑4).  The only thing that can adequately equip the church leader for his task is what Paul ‘solemnly charges’ Timothy to do – knowing, obeying and preaching the inspired Scripture (2Tim 3:10‑12; 3:14–4:2; cf. 1:13; 2:1‑3).

Reconstruction of Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey (Winds of Doctrine #7)

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After perhaps having visiting Spain (mentioned above), Paul travelled to Crete and planted churches in many of its cities.  He then left Titus behind to appoint elders in the churches (Tit 1:5), and headed north.  It was probably as Paul travelled through Greece that his co-worker Erastus chose to remain in his home town of Corinth (2Tim 4:20), and it may have been from here also that Paul had sent Timothy to Ephesus (1Tim 1:3).  It appears that Paul’s letter to Titus was written from somewhere in Greece, on the way northward towards Nicopolis (Tit 3:12) which was about three hundred kilometres north-west of Athens.  Paul wrote to Titus of his plan to send his faithful messenger co-worker Tychicus (cf. Acts 20:4; Eph 6:21‑22; Col 4:7‑8; 2Tim 4:12) to Titus in Crete, at which point Titus was to leave Crete and travel north to spend the winter with Paul in Nicopolis (Tit 3:12).  The first letter to Timothy was quite possibly written soon after the letter to Titus, and delivered to Timothy in Ephesus by the hand of Tychicus who was on his way to Crete to pick up Titus.  Titus evidently did as Paul had requested, and then after the winter travelled from Nicopolis even further up the west coast of Greece to Dalmatia, or modern-day Croatia (2Tim 4:10; cf. ‘Illyricum’ of Rom 15:19).  Paul may well have got to Macedonia after the winter as he had planned (1Tim 1:3), but he probably did not make it south as far as Ephesus while still a free man.

Having presumably passed through Macedonia and past the Hellespont, Paul journeyed down the coast of Asia Minor as far as Troas (cf. Acts 16:8‑12), where he stayed with someone called Carpus (2Tim 4:13).  The only other city of Asia Minor that we know Paul visited was Miletus (2Tim 4:20), but as this is south of Ephesus, and ‘Alexander’ is mentioned apparently in the context of Paul’s first appearance in court (2Tim 4:14‑16), Paul is likely to have been brought first as a prisoner to court in Ephesus, the provincial capitol.  If ‘Alexander the coppersmith’ is the same as the spokesman put forward by the Jewish community in the Ephesian metalworkers riot (Acts 19:33‑34) and who later became a member and (false) teacher of the Ephesian church (1Tim 1:20), his excommunication by Paul (1Tim 1:20; cf. 2Tim 2:17) may have led him to volunteer as an eloquent witness for the prosecution against Paul at court.  Assuming that Paul did appear in court in Ephesus, therefore, he was probably arrested either on arrival in Ephesus, or even earlier on his way down the coast.  In Ephesus he may well have been denied visitors in prison apart from the co-workers who were with him at his arrest, and would therefore have been unable to meet with the elders of the church there (cf. Acts 20:25, 38).  Paul did not need to explain to Timothy in his second letter how his arrest and subsequent transport to Rome had happened, perhaps because Timothy had actually managed to see him before his departure from Ephesus, though not able to be at the trial (2Tim 1:4, 18; 4:16).  Paul did feel the need to warn Timothy about what Alexander had said during the trial, though, so that he would be on his guard against him (2Tim 4:15).  It appears that as a consequence of this second arrest of Paul, most of the church leaders in the province of Asia turned away from Paul (2Tim 1:15; 4:16‑17), as did even some of his co-workers it seems (2Tim 4:10), probably to avoid being arrested themselves (2Tim 1:8, 12, 16; 2:3, 9‑13; 3:12; 4:10).

Paul was ‘rescued’ from ‘evil deeds’ at the time of his first defence (4:17‑18), quite possibly in a similar way to his rescue in Jerusalem (Acts 23:12‑35), and perhaps through the services of Onesiphorus, whose wealth and therefore influence may be being indicated by his ability to travel widely (1Tim 1:16‑18).  He was apparently accompanied by his co-worker Trophimus on his transport as a prisoner by ship from Ephesus down the coast on the way back to Rome, but sadly he had to leave Trophimus in Miletus because of illness (2Tim 4:20).  He probably met Prisca and Aquila in Rome on his arrival there (cf. Rom 16:3‑5), although if he did, he may have soon requested that they return to Ephesus with Onesiphorus in order to strengthen the severely weakened church there (2Tim 1:16‑17; 4:19).  Some time after this visit of Onesiphorus, Paul (again) sent Tychicus to Ephesus with the second letter to Timothy, apparently simply to ask Timothy to travel as soon as possible to Rome in order to see Paul before his imminent execution (2Tim 1:4, 8; 4:6‑9, 21).  Tychicus would stay in Ephesus to take Timothy’s place (2Tim 4:12), and Timothy was asked to travel via Troas to pick up some personal items, as well as picking up Mark from somewhere en route (2Tim 4:11, 13).

Paul’s Opponents in 1 Timothy and Titus (Winds of Doctrine #6)

In light of this wider context of ‘winds of doctrine’ in the 60’s AD, we can turn to 1 Timothy and consider the particular problems that were facing the church in Ephesus, just three or four years after Paul had written the letter of Ephesians to them.  As mentioned above, the church had problems with disrespect of authority (1Tim 1:9; 2:1‑15; 4:12; 6:1‑2; cf. 2Pet 2:10‑11; Jude 1:8‑10), perhaps particularly against the emperor (1:17; 2:2; 4:10; 6:13‑16), and also with having too many widows to support (5:3‑16).  However, their primary problem was that some of their elders and teachers had to be removed from office for false teaching and ungodly living, explaining why Timothy had to appoint new elders and deacons in Paul’s absence (3:1‑15; 5:17‑22).  Paul actually says a lot about the particular problems with these leaders:

To start with, it appears that they were Jewish (cf. ‘Alexander’ in 1:20 with Acts 19:33‑34) – they were particularly interested in ‘myths and endless genealogies’ and ‘worldly fables’, wanting to be teachers of the Mosaic Law, forbidding marriage (probably between Jews and non-Jews) and abstaining from certain foods (1:3‑7; 4:3, 7).  Their way of establishing doctrine was through ‘speculation’, ‘fruitless discussion’, ‘worldly empty chatter’, ‘the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”’, ‘controversial questions and disputes about words’ (1:4, 6; 6:4, 20), all of which were characteristic of Jewish religious education.  Evidently they based their teaching on the Law, but in a way Paul described as ‘unlawful’ (1:7‑10), that is, failing to recognise its primary purpose to convict Israel of sin.  Judaism of the first century AD had a wide variety of popular religious writings, generally referred to as ‘apocalyptic’ or ‘pseudepigrapha’, for which ‘myths’, ‘fables’, ‘speculation’ and ‘endless genealogies’ would all be appropriate designations.  One of the most popular was the book of 1 Enoch, which Jude quotes in 1:14‑15 to convict his opponents who valued it, much as Paul quoted the Stoic poet Aratus and the Cretan poet Epimenides to the Athenians (Acts 17:28; also Tit 1:12).

The false teachers in Ephesus are also accused of maintaining their controversy-based teaching methods out of conceit (at being teachers?), and treating religion, or godliness, as a way of making money (1Tim 6:3‑5; cf. 1Pet 5:2).  This may connect with the greed of those condemned by Peter and Jude as ‘rushing headlong into the error of Balaam’ (2Pet 2:14‑15; Jude 1:11), apparently referring to those who like Balaam were prepared to speculate and teach on any popular subject of the day in order to accumulate wealth.  This was perhaps the first century equivalent of the ‘prosperity gospel’ in our day.  The letter of James to the Jewish believers throughout the Roman empire has a similar message about greed.  He calls on believers to endure the present persecution (Jas 1:2‑4, 12‑13; 5:7‑11), picked up and expanded upon in Peter’s first epistle (cf. 1Pet 1:6‑8; 4:2, 7‑8; 5:8‑9), but has to rebuke his hearers for worldly wisdom (Jas 1:19‑26; 3:1–4:1) which is evidently associated with riches and bringing disunity into the church (1:9‑11; 1:27–2:17; 4:1–5:6).  Some of the false teachers Paul attacks in Ephesus had also already fallen into the immorality of lifestyle condemned by Peter and Jude (1Tim 1:9‑10, 19; 4:2; 5:19‑20), although Paul reminded Timothy that the false doctrine of others would sooner or later manifest itself in sinful deeds (5:24‑25).

However, the primary problem, for which Hymenaeus and Alexander had been excluded from fellowship, was deliberate ‘blasphemy’ (1:20).  Blasphemy is slander or disrespectful speech about God, and in this case it is most likely that this refers to their teachings about Jesus, because Paul himself admits he too was formerly a blasphemer (1:13).  It is worth considering what Paul says about Jesus, therefore, to see whether we can discern behind his statements what the false teachers were saying.  In 2:5, Paul clearly states the central doctrine of Judaism – “there is one God” (cf. Deut 6:4; John 10:30‑33) – but then with the same breath states the equivalent about Jesus – “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.  Judaism of the first century AD gave a prominent mediatory role to angels (cf. Acts 7:38, 53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:1‑4), but in this verse Paul not only reaffirms Jesus’ full humanity, but his exaltation comparable to God Himself, such that denial of Jesus’ unique status as mediator is equally blasphemy.  Paul later quotes a well-known early Christian creed about both the humanity and the exaltation of Jesus (3:16), just as he had done in the letter to the Philippians a few years earlier (Php 2:6‑11).  The false doctrine being taught was contrary to the sound words about [or ‘of’] the Lord Jesus Christ, and it would also lead its hearers away from godliness (6:3).  We will find below that John’s first epistle to the Ephesians, probably just a few years after Paul was arrested and taken back to Rome, would have to deal with the consequences of both the doctrinal and moral failure of false teachers on those who remained in the church after their departure.

The Situation in Crete (Titus)

The letter Paul wrote to Titus also appears to have been written around the same time as his first letter to Timothy, because here also he has not yet been arrested for the second time.  The ‘wind of doctrine’ Titus has to address in his teaching is almost exactly the same as Timothy is encountering in Ephesus.  Here it is explicit that the false teachers are mostly Jewish (1:10), characteristically rebellious (1:10; 2:5, 9, 15; 3:1‑3) and greedy for money (1:11), particularly interested in Jewish myths and commandments of the Law (1:14), and advocating doctrine that defiles the mind and leads to a defiled moral conscience as well (1:15‑16; 2:12‑14; 3:3, 8).  Their methods of education involve ‘empty talk’, ‘foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law’, and controversy-based teaching methods (1:10; 3:9, 10‑11).  The ‘testimony’ of God that was manifested ‘at the proper times’ in both Jesus’ first coming and His sure return in glory (1Tim 2:6; 6:14‑15; cf. 1:1), is once again central to Paul’s letter to Titus (1:2‑3; 2:11‑13; 3:4‑7), probably consciously in opposition to the ‘mocking’ teaching of those times that Peter and Jude speak against (2Pet 3:1‑13; Jude 1:14‑18, 21).

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