James Patrick’s Blog

March 22, 2010

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).

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).

Winds of Doctrine in the Early Church (#1 of 12)

A friend recently mentioned to me his uncertainty about the significance of “fall away from the faith” in 1 Timothy 4:1 for the Christian doctrine of salvation, particularly in light of verses such as Ephesians 2:8 – “by grace you have been saved through faith”.  Is it possible to walk away from one’s salvation?

In response to this, I decided not to jump straight in with the standard verses used to defend the sovereignty of God in salvation, but rather first to consider the meanings of ‘faith’ in 1 and 2 Timothy, and then also what the particular expression of ‘falling away’ was that is mentioned in 1 Timothy.  To do so, I began to explore the evidence for when 1 Timothy was written, what other books were written around the same time, and what ‘winds of doctrine’ were blowing across the church in that particular period.  The study has expanded beyond what I had initially expected, so I have converted it into several blog posts to help others understand what I came to see about Early Church history and theology.

The second post (the first being this introduction) is therefore an analysis of Paul’s conception of ‘faith’ in 1 and 2 Timothy, to better understand how one might be considered to have ‘fallen away’ from it.  The third post looks at the date of 1 Timothy, and gives a brief explanation of the situation in the church in Ephesus into which Paul wrote.  [It will be clear, therefore, that I am assuming Pauline authorship of all the letters attributed to him, though not necessarily of the epistle to the Hebrews.  Only if the picture drawn from such an assumption lacks cohesion or persuasiveness would we possibly be justified in doubting the explicit claims of the texts.  Even then, though, the Christian insistence on truthful communication, and the evident belief of the Early Church that pseudonymous letters were deceptive (1Thes 2:1-3), make it extremely implausible that these letters would have been accepted by the Church if it was known they had not been written by Paul.]

After this I broaden out my scope in the fourth post to consider the primary doctrinal issues in each of the first three decades of the Early Church.  This is followed by the fifth post in which I assemble the various bits of evidence about ‘winds of doctrine’ in the decade of the 60’s AD.  In the sixth post I focus in again on Paul’s opponents in 1 Timothy, in light of the common doctrinal issues witnessed by other books.  This assessment is confirmed by a brief look at the letter to Titus which was written around the same time as 1 Timothy.  The seventh post is a reconstruction of Paul’s fourth missionary journey, after being released from his first imprisonment in Rome.  The eighth post then looks at the background of 2 Timothy, which was written just after the battle against false teaching had been won in Ephesus.  In the ninth post I move on to look at the context of John’s first epistle, which I interpret as having been written to the church in Ephesus shortly after 2 Timothy.  The tenth post then focuses in on the situation in Ephesus as revealed in 1 John.  Having thus finished looking at the historical background behind the ‘falling away’ mentioned in 1 Timothy, I return in the eleventh post to the question of apostasy, focusing especially on the centrality of faith and grace to the Christian message.  Then in the final, twelfth post, I consider the question of permanent apostasy, and whether it is possible to ‘lose one’s salvation’.

I would encourage people to read all the way through the historical background posts (three through ten), because they not only explain the background of 1 Timothy, but also set in context many other books including Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude, 1-3 John and Revelation.  Please feel free to make comments – my thought about Early Church history and theology is a work in progress.

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