James Patrick’s Blog

March 22, 2010

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.

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Background of 2 Timothy (Winds of Doctrine #8)

Filed under: Exegesis,History,Theology — alabastertheology @ 5:35 pm
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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)

Filed under: Exegesis,History — alabastertheology @ 5:27 pm
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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).

Date and Background of 1 Timothy (Winds of Doctrine #3)

Filed under: Exegesis,History — alabastertheology @ 4:49 pm
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At the time Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy he was not in prison, and while on his way to Macedonia he had asked Timothy to go ahead of him to Ephesus and instruct the teachers of the churches (1Tim 1:3-4).  We do not seem to have any record of this event in Acts, because the situation in Acts 19–20 does not fit this time.  At the end of Paul’s second, extended stay in Ephesus (Acts 19), he had sent Timothy from Ephesus ahead of him to Macedonia rather than vice versa (Acts 19:22; 20:1-4).  After a few months in Macedonia and then Greece, Paul returned northwards through Macedonia and chose to travel by sea from Philippi in order to reach Jerusalem in time to present the Collection from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem elders at Pentecost (Acts 20:16; Rom 15:25-31).  Paul [and Luke] met up with Timothy and others at Troas, where Eutychus was raised from the dead (Acts 20:12), and Paul joined the others on their ship a bit further down the coast at Assos (20:13‑14).  Paul didn’t want to take the time to visit Ephesus, so he instead summoned the Ephesian elders to him at Miletus (20:16‑38).  Paul was already somewhat aware of the danger he faced in Jerusalem, and prophesied that he would never again see the face of these elders (20:22-23, 25, 38).  It appears that as yet the Ephesian church had not encountered false teachers, though Paul knew that they would surely come, even from among the church leaders themselves (20:28‑31).  Soon after arriving in Jerusalem, Paul was indeed imprisoned, and after several years ended up in Rome.

Very early tradition testifies that Paul was released from that first imprisonment, and possibly after travelling to Spain as he had intended (Rom 15:24, 28) he returned to the eastern Mediterranean, planting churches in Crete where he had not properly visited before as far as we know (Tit 1:5; cf. Acts 27:7-15).  After this that he decided to travel north, visiting churches he had planted on previous missionary journeys throughout Greece, Macedonia and Asia Minor.  1 Timothy 1:3 says that it was on his way to Macedonia (perhaps somewhere in Greece) that he urged Timothy to ‘remain’ at Ephesus, so it seems Paul had decided to first visit the Macedonian churches again before coming around to the churches in Asia Minor (1Tim 1:3).  Timothy was apparently with him at this point, and so Paul asked Timothy to go straight over to Ephesus ahead of him and ‘remain’ there until he arrived.  It appears he had heard of their problems with false teachers, including even some of the elders themselves who had fallen away from true doctrine and upright living, but it was more urgent that he himself visit Macedonia first.  Timothy duly went over to Ephesus, but when Paul found his visits to the Macedonian churches taking longer than planned, he wanted to make sure Timothy didn’t feel unsupported or decide to leave, hence the first letter to Timothy.  Paul himself planned to arrive in Ephesus before long (3:14‑15; 4:13), having perhaps forgotten his prophecy to the Ephesian elders at Miletus several years earlier.

In his letter, Paul mentions that he has already heard enough about the false teachers Hymenaeus and Alexander to have officially excluded them from his churches in Ephesus (1Tim 1:20; cf. 1Cor 5:1‑5), but he warned Timothy not to receive accusations against other elders too quickly (5:19‑21).  It was evident, therefore, that new elders (and deacons) would need to be appointed in place of those who had fallen (3:1‑13; 5:22).  There were issues with the church having to support more widows than it could apparently afford to, hence Paul’s instructions to remove from the list any widows who could be supported by their own family, as well as any below the age of sixty (even if they had made a vow of celibacy!) who should get married and be productive rather than busybodies (5:3‑16).  There were also issues with disrespect for authority, whether that was the men who seem to have been stirring up dissension against city officials (2:1-8), or their wives who were being ostentatious with jewellery and presuming to exercise spiritual authority over their husbands (2:9-15), or slaves who were dishonouring their masters (6:1‑2).  However, the most significant problem in the church was the false teachers, whom Timothy had been specifically sent to instruct in sound doctrine, and in the next post we turn to look at false teaching in the Early Church.

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