Tag Archives: Paul

Impressions of “Paul: A Biography,” by N.T. Wright

Recently I read Paul, N.T. Wright’s biography of The Apostle. Paul fits within other books I have read that emphasize the Kingship of Christ in the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven. Wright emphasizes faithfulness to this King, and the freedom that following the King gives to His subjects. Along the way N.T. Wright reconstructs Paul’s journeys, creating a chronology that is both traditional and revisionist.

Heaven and Earth

The oldest Christian creed we have is the Apostle’s Creed. Paul’s missionary journeys took place about halfway between the first of Christ and the writing of the Creed, in A.D. 120. It concludes:

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting
.
Amen.
The Apostles Creed

Christians look forward to a resurrected body and everlasting life. Heaven is not promised as a place of living. Though having one’s own body, a physical existence, is promised.

This brings up a distinction between C.S. Lewis, who Wright reminds me of, and Wright himself. Both were Anglican, both had a knack for talking to a Catholic and Reformed audience simultaneously, and both have a delightful British writing style. But there’s a striking difference. Lewis focuses on Christianity as a philosophy, or even cosmic worldview.

The Weight of Glory focuses on dimensional projection, and The Great Divorce on an image of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Yet if there’s a central difference between Wright and Lewis, it’s that Wright emphasizes Christ’s mission in this world, and not a platonic understanding of the next world. Our home is earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here in part, and the promise of the future is the resurrection of the dead on a new earth, and not eternal souls living in Heaven. I suspect Wright would state that Lewis’s Christianity was less bodily and more abstract than anything written in the Bible, and that such Platonism was not a legitimate development of doctrine, but a forgetting of the good news of the Bible: the Heavenly Kingship of Jesus Christ. To give a brief illustration, the first mention of “Heaven” in each of the gospels is either announcing Heaven breaking into earth, or Heaven as the location that God lives:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2:13-15

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
John 1:32-33

Heaven is not promised as a location for us to live in either the Creed or the gospel text. But the invasion of Heaven into this world, a royal brigandry against the forces of darkness, is:

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
Matthew 12:25-30

By Faithfulness to the King You Are Saved

The Bible was written for us but not to us — it was written to the Jews and later Romans of the near east thousands of years ago. Understanding its message for us requires understanding how it’s message would have been understood by the people to whom it was written.

This is the approach taken by thinkers like Michael Heiser (Reformed), Taylor Marshall (Catholic), and N.T. Wright himself (Anglican). All argue that it is clear that Christ established a Kingdom during his earthly ministry, and his teachings (and those of other early Christians) should be read in that context. What Christ brought was not a philosophy called Christianity, but a Kingdom that reorganized the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven — the Kingdom of God. In this way Mormonism — at least in its corporal understanding of the importance of Jesus — is onto something.

A consequence is an sudden ending of the debate around “justification by faith alone” or “justification by faith and works” — the great dispute between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. If Christ’s Kingship is literally true, then the Biblical term “faith” is better translated and “allegiance” or “faithfulness,” and the distinction between “faith” in Christ and working for Christ melts away. The Greek word translated as ‘faith’ — pistis — refers to the faithful obedience of a subject to a king, or a soldier to a commanding officer. Consider the two passages that had been held up by these rival groups of Christians — the message is the same:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has pistis but does not have works? Can pistis save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also pistis by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have pistis, and I have works.” Show me your pistis without your works, and I will show you my pistis by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that pistis without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that pistis was working together with his works, and by works pistis was made perfect?
James 2:14-22

and Paul’s justification “by faith” becomes

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by pistis in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by pistis in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 2:15-16

Faithfulness in bad faith is not faithfulness. Faith in God is not like the Chinese Imperial Religion where the relationship between fully transactional. And faithfulness without obedience is not faithfulness. Though the purpose of works is to climb the ladder of faithfulness to a closer relationship with God.

According to Wright, Paul argue that God’s righteousness refers to His continued upholding the covenant with Israel. God is a conquering Sovereign who upholds a terms of surrender with a lesser party, in spite of repeated breaches by the lesser party. When Paul speaks of righteousness, Wright argues, is not speaking of individual entrance into heaven — but that in spite of Covenant breach by the inferior party (Israel), but superior party (God) would remain loyal. This makes sense to me. The Old Testament description of Covenant is clearly along the lines of an Status-of-Forces or Instrument-of-Surrender, so it makes sense this theme is continued in the New Testament as well.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by pistis.”

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Romans 1:6,5:17

Freedom in the Kingdom

A “kingdom” reading of the Bible involves at least two offices Christ establishes — the Queen Mother (Mary) and Prime Minister (Peter). Wright elides the issue, noting that (whatever was said in the Gospel itself) by the time of Paul’s ministry a de facto office of “pillar” had been established that included Peter, as well as James and John

And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Galatians 2:9-10

This trio was the group that had witnessed the Transfiguration, or in other words were present at the apparent Constitutional Reform of the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven, and seemed already at that time to be part of an inner circle:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

Paul though at least seems to subvert the new Christian government, whether based on Peter’s Prime Ministership or these “pillars.” He derived his apostleship directly from Christ, and not from the Twelve. This is a challenge to a fully incarnate understanding of the Kingdom, as Paul emphasizes the Sovereign is still God in Heaven:

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Though Paul argues that in doing so he is not subverting the government, but enjoying his “right” as a subject of Christ:

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
1 Corinthians 9:1-5

It is this sort of “freedom” — not a reading of Reformation-era concerns against the Curia, but Paul’s actual position within the Kingdom of Heaven, that he talks about when he speaks of freedom from the law. The Kingdom of Heaven does not have a rule of law by a rule by Christ:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4

This is a profound point I did not grapple with before. God is greater than the Covenant, and greater than the Prime Ministership he appointed. Whether in the old or new Israel, the reality of the Covenant and the Papacy are confirmed and not undermined by the righteousness of God in upholding them along with the direct access of the believer to God. Thus when Elijah tried to lift the Covenant, he emphasized the superiority of God over the merely human King of Israel. With Christ, we now have a righteous King, but are left with merely human Prime Ministers — Popes. This is a view — that the Pope is Christ’s Prime Minister, but a Prime Minister who presides over free subjects, is perhaps best reflected in a document Wright does not mention — the Second Vatican Council. Note how the Council not only restates Paul’s message on freedom, but insists on God’s “righteous” upholding of the terms of His kingdom, as God upholds His covenant.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
Dignitatis Humanae, A.D. 1965

The Journeys of Paul

Wright reconstructs Paul’s travels in terms of major political cities in the Empire. A typical pattern of Paul was first to appear in the Jewish synagogue, and then elsewhere in the city:

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.
Acts 13:14-16,42

This is in keeping with the literal Kingship of Jesus Christ, whose arrival is announced to the country he is king of — Israel — and then to the newly liberated areas of the gentiles. While Heiser emphasizes Christ’s kingship over supernatural forces and powers — the Canaanite gods and the like — Wright emphasizes that it is Caesar himself who is now subjugated. Caesar had been called…

A Savior who has made war to cease
and who shall put everything in peaceful order;
and whereas Caesar,
when he was manifest,
transcended the expectations of all who had anticipated the good news,
not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors
but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him,
with the result that the birthday of our God signaled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him
Priene Calendar Inscription, 9 B.C.

From the beginning, the Church used this rhetoric to make an identical but opposite point: the King is here, but the King is Christ.

Wright also addresses the question of the order of Paul’s travels, and where documents were written. The imprisonment traditionally ascribed to Paul’s stay in Rome, Wright places in Ephesus. If so, this is only obliquely referenced as part of the “uproar” mentioned by Luke:

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen…

But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia
Acts 19:23-24,34-41,20:1

Wright also identifies the Letter to the Ephesians (whose initial line “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” does not occur in the oldest surviving manuscripts) as a catholic letter, and the same as the supposedly lost Letter to the Laodiceans. Wright’s new chronology of Paul has other implications too. He does not find room in this chronology for some of the pastoral letters, leading the possibility open that either Paul traveled extensively during his pre-trial imprisonment in Rome (possible, as he was a citizen) or even was acquitted. The earliest extra-biblical mentions of Paul are ambiguous here:

Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience:
seven times was he cast into chains;
he was banished;
he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West,
he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world,
and having come to the extremity of the West,
and having borne witness before rulers,
he departed at length out of the world,
and went to the holy place,
having become the greatest example of patience.
1 Clement 5:5-7

Another example is Paul’s fundraising efforts to Jerusalem. The Apostle repeatedly mentions this effort in his letters:

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.
Romans 15:25-32

but their reference to it by Luke in Acts is brief, does not address the raising of the money, or how the money was received. The brief mission is bracketed by Paul (at trial) saying he had a clean conscience and no one disputed his mission.

This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, n the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me
Acts 24:16-19

So what does this mean? I don’t know. Its interesting Paul refers here to the “pillars” as Holy Ones, the same terms used for high-ranking functionaries of God in Daniel when translated to Greek:

‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will,
And sets over it the lowest of men.’
Daniel 4:17

This is both a high praise (being compared with angels!) and a subtle knock (like the angels, subject to a higher power). What’s the purpose of including this reference in such a moment? As I said — I don’t know.

Final Thoughts

N.T. Wright’s biography of Paul made The Apostle a fascinating man for me in a way he wasn’t before. I knew the focus on Christ’s Kingship, Paul’s dual identity as both Jew and Roman, and about his travels. But I hadn’t thought to consider the chronology of Paul’s actions, or how the events in Paul’s letter interact with Luke’s recording of similar events.

I read Paul: A Biography in the Audible edition.

Letters to the Thessalonians

Let’s go. To the time of the end.

Blake_ancient_of_days

They focused on the ending. Him, the beginning.

The poor Thessalonians were convinced it was all coming to an end. While the Romans needed to be reminded to love, and the Corinthians to stop drinking during mass, the Thessalonians needed to be still.

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone
1 Thessalonians 5:12-14

The reason for this is that the Thessalonians were expecting the LORD of Hosts.

And the Army in the Sky is terrifying.

Jacob was afraid

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.

And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
Genesis 28:16-17

Mary was afraid

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God
Luke 1:28-30

Israel Himself, and the Mother of Israel’s salvation, had the same reaction to the heavenly host: fear.

So who can be scorn the Thessalonians for fear and trembling?

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

But Paul says, do not be afraid

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Paul’s words echo the Book of Daniel, a book about the end of the world written a century or two before .

Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!”

So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
Daniel 10:18-19

The Book of Daniel is apocalyptic. It is about the end of the world. And to Paul, half of its message is this: FEAR NOT! THE ONE HAVING THE LIKENESS OF A MAN IS WITH YOU!

1_6-1_ruth_ruth_and_naomi_gleaning_in_the_fields

Let’s go. To the time of work.

Paul is aware he is writing apocalyptic literature. To the Thessalonians he borrows the Book of Daniel’s rhetoric style, which is cryptic with meaning just out of reach.

In the Book of Daniel, the angel angel is delayed by the “Prince of Persia”

Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.
Daniel 10:12-13

And paralleling this, Paul was delayed by Satan

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:18-20

Paul writes this to emphasize the words of the Book of Daniel, Fear not! Peace be to you! The response to the nervous street side preacher is not scorn or condensation, but joy. Yes, all these wonderful things will happen, but not don’t be afraid, there is work to do.

The Thessalonians were most open to the visions of the end, to the mysterious and cryptic. So that is how Paul wrote, speaking of a “Restrainer” as mysterious as Daniel’s “Prince of Persia”

And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming
2 Thessalonians 2:6-8

priest-covered-in-blood

Let’s go. To the time of death.

Whatever happens at the end of all of this, odds are we will see the end of this particular this first. Christ may have conquered death, but in this world, the Angel of Death still takes us.

Our work continues through death.

There’s something heartbreaking about the Thessalonians. Paul’s words do not mean grieve for the dead — that would be inhuman and ungodly.

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

Don’t worry, Paul reassures. You’ll be there to guide them too.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thesalonnians 4:13-18

The dead learn from the living, and the living from the dead.

St_John_the_Divine

Let’s go. To the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets, wrote through the evangelists, and proceeded from the Father and the Son to give us the truth. But our ears aren’t much for hearing, and our eyes aren’t much for reading.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?
2 Thesalonnians 2:5

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:34-35

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it… Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:1,4-5

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:17-18

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9

Maybe after we get this right, we will learn what is next

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
John 16:12

Let’s go. Time to work.

St_Francis_394233c

Letter to the Colossians

The letter to the Colossians is a short book, only four chapters, but ties together not just the thoughts of the Paul of Tarsus and John the Evangelist, but of the Hebrew religion with later Christian developments like the Nicene Creed.

Because though he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born ofthe Virgin Mary, and suffered under Pontius Pilate, He died for the cenutrians as much as the women at the well.

centurian cross 1016longinius

Pau’s letter to the Colossians concerns the the LORD, the Human God, the incarnation and person of the Deity with arms and legs, with saliva and blood.

Christ is the Co-Creator with God

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:15-17

Being the LORD, Christ is not worshiped because of the Law — the Law is “the law” because it comes from Christ. He is the Sovereign LORD who dictated the Law’s terms. The Law is a shadow of the LORD, Jesus Christ is the LORD Himself

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Colossians 2:16-17

This is important. The text is a messenger. An Angel is a Messenger. A Prophet is a messenger. All have their place and all have their honor. But worship is for God, not his creations.

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
Colossians 2:18-23

We worship Christ Himself, not His angels and not His prophets. And while distance forces a bodily seperation from each other, while the tyranny of distance gives us only spiritual proximity to each other:

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Colossians 2:2-5

Christ is physically with us.

If you are near anyone, you are near Christ

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Colossians 3:11

In any relationship, Christ is one of the related. He is loved when the other is loved. He is hatd when the other is hated. He is honored when the other is honored. He is enslaved when the other is enslaved. This is the easiest part of Christianity to say, and the hardest to live

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
colossians 3:18-4:1

In each murder He is in the murdered.

And in the murderer.

centurion-at-cross

He is in he who is nailed to the cross.

And in he who holds the hammer and drives the nail.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

The Human God is nailed to a cross. God, in the human, in the one who nails to the cross.

bull in field

The Canaanites, who seem to have been visited by the Holy Spirit and knew so much, but through shadows, calle God “The Bull El.” The strength, the fury, the testicles must have impressed upon the Canaanites the sense of the Ruler of the World, but so must have been a Bull’s fearsome protection.

He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Garinpettingbull

The way one feeds God, of course, is to give the poor food (Matthew 25:42). And this prayer, for the virtuous man Danel, is incorporated by reference by the Holy Spirit, who spoke through the Prophet Ezekial, who reminded us that before there were Hebrews, God was still active in the world. (And how could He not be, when He is the firstborn of all creation?)

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Danel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

No wonder the Hebrew Bible also describes God as a bull

God who brings him out of Egypt,
is like the horns of a wild ox for him;
he shall devour the nations that are his foes
and break their bones.
He shall strike with his arrows.
Numbers 24:8

No wonder the Bull demanded a sacrifice of a Bull. Because God Himself would be there — the priest, the victim, the altar, and even in the murderer – when God himself was sacrificed.

“Bring the bull to the front of the tent of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. Slaughter it in the Lord’s presence at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and pour out the rest of it at the base of the altar. Then take all the fat on the internal organs, the long lobe of the liver, and both kidneys with the fat on them, and burn them on the altar. But burn the bull’s flesh and its hide and its intestines outside the camp. It is a sin offering
Exodus 29:10-14

The bull. The sin offering. The slaughter. The blood.

bull fighting blood mouth s32_19640973

God, let the blood be on these people, and their children. It will wash away the sins of the world.

All of creation has fallen. But He is greater than it all, the source of it all, the Redeemer of it all.

He is the LORD

A God with internal organs, liver, kidney, and fat, with flesh and intestines.

A God in those who are burned. A God in those excluded.

Behold Him born in a manger! Behold the Image of the Invisible God! Behold the Firstborn of All Creation!

hereford bull calf

Letter to the Philippians

Philippi_Daumet_Direkler

My friend Steve Boint called it “the dumb semite theory”: the view of some people that the ancient Hebrews were so simple minded that their holy text is a line-by-line collection of various sources, almost randomly edited together. Many scholars, such as Robert Alert and E. Theodore Mullen have written on how ancient Hebrew and Canaanite writing works.

Without repeating all of that, it is worth describing doublets in Hebrew literature, escalating parallelism in Hebrew poetry, and how St. Paul combines both in two lines of the Letter to the Philippians.

Ancient Hebrew Literature

One of the bad consequences of the “dumb semite theory” is one of the greatest works of ancient literature, the Book of Samuel, is read only by academics who believe that complexity is a result of random editing.

For instance, the phrase “Is Saul, too, among the prophets” occurs twice in the Book of Samuel. There are actual scholars who believe this is because the ancient Hebrews were so illiterate they actually included the same incident twice, and later on had to change the details to cover their tracks.

Fools.

Saul Before Samuel and the Prophets

The first time, Samuel says that Saul will be seized by a spirit, “prophecy” (act like a mad man), and this is a proof of his kingship:

“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
1 Samuel 10:5-7

Sure enough, the spirit seizes Paul, he acts like a mad man, and he is the true king of Israel

When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And when he had finished prophesying, he went to the high place.
1 Samuel 10:10-13

But later, we learn the truth. This is brought home as David’s war against Saul begins and Saul seeks a meeting with Samuel to perhaps end it

But he can’t keep his composure. He acts like a mad-man, tearing off his clothes, embarrassing himself and showing Samuel — the man who anointed him — the horror of that anointing. The same phrase — Is Saul, too, among the prophets — is used again. The reader remembers happier times and the heart breaks

Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?”

And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1 Samuel 19:22-24

Samuel misread the signs. Saul was crazy from the beginning. Samuel anointed a Mad King.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry

The poetry of the Hebrew Bible is based on parallelism, where the first incident of a concept is in some way magnified by what comes after

Lamech and his Two Wives 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05061

The form is used three times in perhaps the oldest poem in the entire bible, in inexplicable Song of Lamech – a story of killings further removed from Paul than Paul is from us

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Genesis 4:23-24

The is used in the Writings, such as Psalms

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalms 22:9-10

Verse 9 uses two concepts of a mother’s body, womb and breasts, and escalates, from the physical location of the infant before birth (the womb) to the plcae the child is loved, all of its life (the breast, or heart).

Verse 10 does the reverse, taking an abstract concept “from birth” and emphasizing its concrete reality (“from my mother’s breast”).

… and Job, with a parallel between lips and tongue, going further inward to emphasize the inwardness of the sufferer

my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies.
Job 27:4

It is used in the Latter Prophets

Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Isaiah 49:23

They “bow” — but then they “lick the dust.” The same concept of submission is paralleled, but its manner is escalated

as it was in the Former Prophets..

The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
2 Samuel 22:5-6

… from waves to torrents, from cords to snares.

Saul’s Reuse of Biblical Literature and Poetry

Saul — the other Saul, Saul of Tarsus — was a “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). That is, unlike the Sadducees, he believed the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Prophets and the Writings. Thus he was more exposed to the use of ancient Hebrew literature and poetry than Sadduccees, and would have been more influenced by that tradition than even many other educated Jews.

Saul uses the same literary technique of escalating parallelism, combined with the ‘twist ending’ used in the Book of Samuel, in the Letter to the Philippians. The letter is short, and mostly retreads themes of letters presented earlier in the Bible.

In the first chapter of the Letter to the Philippians, there’s this odd line:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ;
Philippians 1:12-13

That word “praetorium” is tricky. It might be a reference to the imperial jailers or guards (fitting, as Paul is under a sort of house arrest while during a long appeals process in Rome), or palace guard, or even imperial palace.

Perhaps Paul has attracted sympathizers with his jailers.

Praetoriumreal_syria

But in the second to last verse of the letter, the meaning is clarified.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
Philippians 4:22

Paul literally has sympathizers in the headquarters of the military. And in the household of the Emperor himself.

The twist ending – Paul has access, not just to his jailers, but to those close of the head of government.

And he showed this through two lines of Hebrew poetry, wrote in Greek, which bookend his letter to the Philippians

It has become known throughout the whole praetorium
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

The Good News

What has become known, the greeting of the saints, is the Gospel, the good news. As Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

The LORD has become Man!

The Creator has become a Creation!

He suffers with us, He dies with us, He lives with us.

With us He is hung on a tree. With us He weeps.

david-absalom

With us – with Paul, with you, with me – He despairs

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Philippians 1:21-24

With us He is not understood

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.”
Matthew 27:46-47

With us — even with Nero, the Caesar of Casear’s household — He has a mother

Nerón_y_Agripina

With us He drinks milk!

abraham3visitors

With us He drinks wine!

wedding-at-cana

With us, even when we don’t see Him!

lds-hearts-burn-bread-jesus

Letter to the Ephesians

The old man was a murderer.

stpaulicon_1432903c_old

Of all the men and women in the Bible, only Paul begins as a villain and ends as a hero.

He is first seen, almost as an afterthought, in the murder of St. Stephen

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.
Acs 7:55-8:1

st_stephen_martyr

But this Saul of Tarsus — this St. Paul — was still recognizably the same man after his conversion than before. It was before his conversion, before he understood how or why he was blinded, that his character was revealed

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul was and remained, a man searching for God

The Letter to the Ephesians, a public epistle meant to be read aloud, is also the most private of Saul’s letters. Nowhere else in the Bible is the written directions of a man to others so clearly a man’s reflection on himself

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32

Paul tells us — tells himself? — to imitate God

Yet the Man, God, himself instructed us to act in the actions of another

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.
John 8:37-39

Abram, who became Abraham, shares some traits with Saul, who became Paul. Both had transformations. Both were incomplete transformations.

Abraham’s character is introduced as a cautious man, a coward, who uses deceit to protect those he loves

And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
Genesis 12:11-13

But it is later, against a far greater threat, Abraham instead uses logic and reason– even when the the subject of the conversation is the LORD Himself

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Genesis 18:22-26

In both cases Abraham is fearful of the consequences to his loved ones. In both cases he’s cautious. He improves, as Saul improves. But he is his own self, if not, entirely, his old self.

And not without the pain of his old self

Hagar%20&%20Ishmael%20d

Genesis 18 may be the most important single chapter of the Bible. We see Abraham in his fullness, the new yet recognizably the same man once known as Abram. We see the LORD, eating steak and drinking milk with Abraham, the Man God, who so loved His creation that He Himself became a creature. And we see this becoming, not only from Abraham, but from the LORD

The four verses before Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom, and direct after the meal of steak and curds and milk are as follows

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Genesis 18:16-19

The Divine Internal Dialog. The LORD in His full humanity. The LORD, fully human and fully divine, that also imitated Abraham

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Mark 6:1-6

At the radical core of Christianity is the greatest miracle, the greatest act of love, the work of the greatest will imaginable. The Creator became a Ceature. God became man. Paul says to immigate God, the Lord says to imitate Abraham, and Abraham himself imigates God and Paul.

Abraham_Isaac

Few men ever see another, knowing that he would die for him, that he would be tortured in his place

As Paul wrote

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

I wonder what the LORD thought to himself, seeing Isaac?

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Genesis 22:6-7

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Abraham_and_Isaac_-_WGA07427

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

But God loves us that much.

Christ could have taken Himself down fromt he Christ. He didn’t. He could have avoided death. He didn’t. He could have avoided hunger and pain and thirst. He didn’t. The One so loved us the One became one of us.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Mark 12:29-30

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6

Letter to the Galatians

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”
Genesis 14:18-21

abraham isaac jacob

After the nightmare of the Corinthians, who got drunk off communion wine and followed “super-apostles,” Paul can take a break. The Galatians want too many rules, and insist on following them too blindly. And even better, correcting the Galatians requires breaking out rabbinical theology and political theory.

Paul certainly was smiling at his pleasant task when he coined an expletive rather more vivid than the version commonly used today

I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
Galatians 5:12

The Letter to the Galatians concerns the Law of Moses, and the role it plays among Christians. Both the Torah and the Gospels themselves emphasize the importance of the Mosaic Code

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-19

At the beginning of Galatians, Paul recounts his leadership among the pharisees who were persecuting the church, including the murder of St. Stephen

ststephenmartyrdom

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
Galatians 1:13-34

Paul was a radicalized student of Gamaliel, a far more patient pharisee than Paul. Gamiel appears twice in Acts of the Apostles, in an extended direct quote. In the logic of ancient Jewish writing, the first words, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do with these men” indicate that Gamaliel is a brother to Jews, a thinker, and cautious.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him.
Acts 5:33-39

and then referenced as a teacher of Paul

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today
Acts 22:3

Gamaliel s recorded is the Mishna, but one of the most striking parts of his life is that he is the grandson of Hillel the Elder, who famously accepted the challenge of a centurion to explain the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel’s answer was

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This of course is striking similarl to the Gospel according to Paul’s friend Luke

Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:31

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

So if Christ did not come to change Moses’s Law, and Christ himself seemed to be agreeing with pharisees in loving your neighbor, how can Christians possibly not be under the Mosaic Code?

Even the first Pope Peter (called Cephas) was confused

When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Galatians 2:11-14

The core of the dispute seemed to be that all involved agreed that God had given the Law to Moses, that the core of the Law was love, and that Moses was intercessor between man and God, and that Moses’s intercession itself recalls God’s promise to Abraham:

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Exodus 32:9-14

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Indeed, at this time Jews and Christians both seemed to believe (as Catholics and Orthodox still do believe) that the dead could pray for souls, and that Abraham himself could speak to those in hades

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
Luke 16:22-25

abraham_and_lazarus

It is on this backdrop — that Moses was an interlocutor between God and Israel, but Abraham is the grandfather of Israel, and the blessings of God were a free gift from God. Moses negotiated a suzerainty treaty with God, but as Paul says

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
Galatians 3:19

Moses executed a what would nowadays be termed as a instrument of surrender. If the Law is peace it is the peace of Submission. But just as Jesus the Lord would not change a single word of the Law, the Law itself cannot change a single word of God’s promise to Abraham

As Paul writes

Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring;it does not say, “And to offsprings,”as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
Galatians 3:15-18

The works of the Law were a test, like an X-Ray, of everything wrong. Christians are freed of the law — God does not impose the surrender terms on us — but requires something else. Faith through love.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Galatians 5:6

“Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 , Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6), but it was not a dead faith. The love of his wife, his son, his kinsman, and stranges shine through in his life and struggle. Father Abraham received the prayers of many generations, and was granted as a free gift the inheritance for his seed.

His seed is Christ Himself, and in that inheritance we are free.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-29

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15

If only it was an easy rule to follow.

Second Letter to the Corinthians

Acts of the Apostles is an adventure, of the first Pope, the greatest apostle, and the Holy Spirit.

The Letter to the Romans is a brilliant summary of Christian theology.

But by the time we get to the second letter of the Corinthians…

Paul’s goal is to create a worldwide church, which would replace the now-meaningless sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem with the re-presentation of the one sacrifice, of the LORD on the cross.   Paul’s goal was to redefine civilization in Christian terms, opposing the most perfect Empire and most perfect Monotheism yet created to do so.

But to get there, he needed to work with people like the Corinthians.

And others, perhaps even including the original apostles, willing to give up and hide from the world.

Well let’s talk about despair.
2 corinthians text art

The Hebrew Bible has two great writings of despair: the Book of Job and the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the Gospels has one great work of epistemological doubt: the Gospel of John. Here, in this letter, Paul brings both themes together, and it all revolves around the Corinthians, those dunderheads who got drunk off communion wine.

Ecclesiastes threw the Pharisaical enterprise into doubt. Paul’s great defense was hope…

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 23:6

But is that just a hope? What can we say about the Law or about life everlasting, when the Law informs us of our weakness and about life everlasting we know… little

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
Ecclesiastes 3:18-21

Paul echoes both of these. The Law of Moses brings death, it brings dullness, is tells us of our weakness but not our freedom

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.
2 Corinthians 13-15

But Paul echoes the other part of Ecclesiastes’ writing too: what do we know, and how can we brag? If we receive a revelation or a prophecy, what would that even mean? How would others know? How could we truly tell?

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4

It’s vanity to mention it, but only God knows if that soul rose, or fell, or was in a temporary earthly slumber.

Likewise, in the Book of Job, the grief comes from earthly tragedy, but the cosmos horror that the Redeemer would intervene to sav Isaac, to save Miriam, but not the ones you love.

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:23-25

Paul’s tone is different from Job’s, but the theology is the same: The persecution is inexplicable.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthian 4:7-9

Though even in that there is hope

And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5

And Paul touches on the epistomological doubt on theology – not just on resurrection but in the nature of the Divine itself — he makes a fool of himself by mentioning signs, wonders, and miracles

If I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
2 Corintians 12:11-13

And this is a foolish claim because Christ hismelf refuted it

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1:48-50

And it is that tension — a foolish claim — a foolish claim that works — the promise of greater things to come — is what Paul is wrestling with, in the context of the dunderheads of Corinth.

But the Corinthians are not done with Paul yet. Paul is organizing a church that will be world wide. He is using the energy of one community to help convert another. He needs money. And he will flatter — flatter with a hint of sarcasm — to get it

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7

Paul must have thought of Ecclesiastes as crafting this message

Words spoken by the wise bring them favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.
Ecclesiastes 10:12

The habit of the Corinthians to get drunk on communion wine, to feast on Communion bread, and now the need for money from them, must have made Paul think of another line in Ecclesiates, too…

A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything.
Ecclesiastes 10:19

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_01

Under the surface of the Second Letter to the Corinthians is the Didache. The Didache, also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or the “Judgement of Peter,” is a two-thousand year old, Messianic Jewish text about Christian belief and Christian life. An example passage, showing both its resolute Christian character and its different tone than Paul’s churches, is as follows:

Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”
Didache 9, The Eucharist

Whether or not the Didache really came from Peter, or Andrew, or another apostles, it also contained lines that Paul found himself battling with

But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.
Didache 11, Concerning Teachers, Prophets, and Apostles

The Didache instructed communities to be cautious of outsiders. But Paul’s objective was building a Church Militant, of replacing the Temple in Jerusalem with a new global religious life centered around the LORD, Jesus Christ.

And for that, he needs money

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12

Aaron needed priests. Joshua needed men at arms. Paul needs money.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:12-14

In order to defend against those who might cite the Didache, as a “false prophet” who seeks money and does not work locally in a community, Paul himself needs to accuse others of being false apostles

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15

At the end, Paul rises from the muck of this world, encouraging the early church and thinking beyond money for a moment

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14

A worthy success to Aaron and Joshua, Paul leads a generation after the great covenant between God and Israel. But it is someone else who performed the miracles, presented the covenant, and climbed the mountain. Instead, Paul needs to keep Israel together.

The Bull El, the Lamb Jesus, has been given up.

The sacrifice has been made.

Now only to distribute the blood.

priest-covered-in-blood

God so loved the world that He sent His Son into it. And as Paul discovered, even His followers must live in it, too.

First Letter to the Corinthians

Reading Paul’s words about Jesus, I kept thinking of Joshua and Moses.

consecration of joshua

First Corinthians is a book written after the excitement. While Paul was fashioning a Christianity that could rebuild Roman civilization, and the exponential growth of Christianity would continue for centuries, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were now in the past. The LORD, who had made men out of clay like a potter makes pots and ate steak and milk with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18) had ascended into heaven.

And now things were going wrong.

But this was not the first time. Both Joshua and Paul think back to the Exodus, when the glory of God was followed by immediate apostasy and decades in the wilderness

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.
Joshua 24:5-7

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Joshua — who had seen the how mighty governments can fail when God and “human cohesion” are against them — resorted to sarcasm in addressing the nation of Moses

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15

Worship Ba’al? Worship Enki? Whatever. Just have the decency to chose one pantheon.

St.-Pauls-Vision-by-George-Kordis.

Paul’s letter is equally sharp as Joshua’s speech.

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!
1 Corinthians 4:8

Joshua and Paul are not just leaders, but teachers, concerned about day to day affairs, and at the end of their ropes. Both had been miraculously visited. Now both had handle these people.

joshua meets the commander of the lords armies

Both upbrade their followers.  Paul, with simple (and funny) exasperation

For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Joshua, with stark divine threats, but the people’s response (worthy of a four year old) provokes its own laughter from the reader

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!”
Joshua 24:19-21

The moral of Joshua’s farewell address, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are the same: the criticism of idolatory. In ancient times Canaanites worshiped a god they knew didn’t create them, Ba’al, because he was powerful. Operand conditioning as theology. But this is hardly new, or old. Money is the answer to all things, although money did not create us. Weather Paul’s followers worshiped Zeus or money, or Joshua’s followers worshiped Ba’al or silver, there is no difference: the use of a tool and the love for a tool have profoundly different consequences

Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Joshua 24:14

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Fittingly, Joshua ends his talk and seals a covenant between God and Israel with a tree and a stone

joshua-renews-covenant

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.
Joshua 24:26-28

Paul also knew of a covenant, a tree, and a stone. And what happened next. The branch of Jesse’s tree.

EmptyTombRelief

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
Isaiah 11:1-2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And of course the stone, the empty tomb

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8

For as Joshua stated, obey all the commandments

Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left,
Joshua 23:6

But one thing is at the heart of all things:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Or, as Paul put it:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13

emptycrosstomb

Letter to the Romans

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a wisdom book, similar to Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Like those books it does not introduce new doctrine, new stories, or even deep grounding in an environment. Rather, it is a guide for how to think about what has already been written.

cole_st_paul, Wed Mar 26, 2008,  5:11:42 PM,  8C, 5378x6746,  (380+569), 100%, bent 6 stops,  1/60 s, R86.6, G51.8, B74.4

We know about Paul from his friend Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke (the story of Jesus and Peter) and Acts of the Apostles (the story of Peter and Paul). We know from Luke that Paul was a Pharisee — at trial he famously said “.” We know from Luke that Paul began as a villain (assisting in — if not leading — the martyrdom of Stephen) and that Paul’s basic character is a man searching for God — his first recorded words are “Who are you, Lord?”

  • It is in this context that we read “Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. The same Lord is Lord of all and he bestows riches upon everyone who calls upon him, for whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13)
  • It is in this context that we read, “For your sake we’re being put to death all day long and we’re regarded as sheep for the slaughter.” (Psalms 44:22, quoted in Romans 8:36)
  • It is in this context that we read “It is hardly likely that someone would die even for a righteous man, although someone might have the courage to die for a good man” (Romans 5:7)

How many men in the Bible would know this first hand? That cowardice would keep them from dying for the righteous, but a few might die for the good?

the-martyrdom-of-st-stephen

The general focus of The Letter to the Romans is to explain the revolution in the Torah brought by Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew, written as a capstone to the Hebrew Bible, presented the LORD as simultaneously Legislator, Prophet, and King. But the implications of this are more apparently in the Gospel of Luke, and now in Paul’s own letter: it is the LORD that is the proper focus, and not his offices of Legislator, King, Prophet. Non-Jews, who were not under the Torah, not ruled by David’s House, and not spoken to by the prophets, are saved by Jesus as much as Jews are. Indeed, of God of Israel is fundamentally a human God of a human man, not only (but no less) a Jewish God for Jewish men.

abraham_and_lazarus

Paul’s argument elevates Genesis, not just a prologue for Moses, but fundamentally preceding the Hebrew Law. And Father Abraham, not just a prefiguring of Moses, but fundamentally preceding Moses

We say, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, but when was it credited to him? Before he was circumcised, or after he was circumcised? It was before he was circumcised, not after…

For the promise to Abraham and his descendants that they would inherit the world was not based on Abraham’s observance of the Torah but on the fact that he had been restored to fellowship with God through faith.
Romans 4:9-10

Israel was a man before his children became a nation.

Aside from Love, the law is an x-ray machine. It can identify weakness. But the Law was just method of doing so.  Even in Psalms did learn

No one is righteous, not even one,
no one understands, not one seeks God.
Psalms 14, quoted in Romans 3

The Letter to the Romans is essential to Christianity. The purpose and function of religious teaching is explained, prioritization is made, and an ocean of words and experiences made sensible.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:5

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15

For you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not covet and any other commandment can be summed up in one sentence — You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Romans 13:9

Acts of the Apostles

[And Moses said] The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

Deuteronomy 18:15-16

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 14-15-17

The Son of David was murdered, hung on a tree.

The Gospel of Luke tell us what happens next: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:50-53

The first time this happened, when Joab murdered Absalom, David did not see his son ascend. He had to hope.

So the watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.”

And the king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good news.”
2 Samuel 18:17

But you know what they say about hopes

Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

The stuttering, the stammering, the weeping from the King recalls Moses paralysis at the illness of his wife

And Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “God, pray, heal her, pray.”
Numbers 12:13

But David was no Moses, and Absalom was not healed.

We go to the dead. They do not go to us.

And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
2 Samuel 12:22-23

Like David we do not see the ascension. We are not part of that happy few.

We will not see the resurrection of the dead, until we are dead.

So what now?


absalom

The Teaching of the Acts

Acts of the Apostles begins as a rambling and somewhat weird (the Apostles as a corporate organization; the Holy Spirit is doing things) continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Another Messiah is dead and, much worse, is turns out that while flames do not harm the Son of Man, nails are pretty effective at shutting him up. After the hustle and bustle of life after the birth and death and resurrection and everything else is the writing itself, written in Greek but recalling ancient Hebrew.

In Genesis and the older parts of the Hebrew Bible, the difference between the objective situation and verbalized description is used to explain character and motivation. This goes beyond someone simply “not telling the truth.”  The difference between how the LORD instructs Moses to threaten Pharoah, and how Moses actually threatens Pharoah, gives a foreshadowing of Moses’s arrogance and bloodlust (Robert Alter, summarizing William H.C. Propp).  Likewise, both meaningful silence of both  Abner and David in fully answering Saul’s question (1 Samuel 17:57-58) foreshadow their future treatment of the Branch from Kish.

But we’re not all fated to be like Moses before the Pharaoh. Sometimes, people can reveal good character.

Consider the Revelation to Cornelius

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Acts 10:1-6

And Cornelius’s retelling of it

Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 3
Acts 10:30-32

What differences there are the result of virtue, not vice.

  • Cornelius downplays the reception of his “prayers (“come up as a memorial offering” v. “remembered”)
  • Elided over speaking directly to the Angel (“What is it, Lord?” v. passively listening to orders)
  • Emphasized Peter’s social position (“a man named Simon” v. “for Simon”, and Peter as simply staying with Simon v. being a guest of Simon’s)

This writing — what Cornelius saw, what he told to Peter — was placed their by Luke. He’s demonstrating he understands the literary style of the Torah and the Prophets. The purpose is to make one sentence make sense, because it is the most important sentence written after the Gospels.

cornelius and peter

The Most Important Sentence

In the Hebrew Bible, the first words spoken by a character indicate his true personality — his heart and his spirit.

If you know only this about Abraham, know this: he is smart, loving, and very cautious

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”
Genesis 12:11-13

If you know only this about Moses know this: he is a natural ruler of a people:

The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?
Exodus 2:13

If you know only this about Samson, know this: he is bold and earthy

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1

And the nightmare at the heart of the Hebrew Bible: the kindest and most timid man in Israel:

When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”
1 Samuel 9:5

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Prophets and Apostles

As the greatest writing of the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible contains the most complex characters. The Book of Samuel, specifically, is the greatest work of psychological realism — with the conflicting motives, roles, experiences, and ages of characters — before the modern world

This is Samuel, who anointed that humble man Saul, and learning from his mistakes, anointed David:

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
1 Samuel 3:4

If you know anything about Samuel, know this: he is that he is.

And David, annoited by Samuel and first king of the line that ends with Jesus Christ:

David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?
1 Samuel 17:26

Rabble rouser, warrior, and looking for a deal.

But Samuel and David, with their inner lives and inner faults, are not villains. They (ultimately) do the right thing, if not for the right reasons.

But now, in Acts, we meet a man doing the wrong thing

And Saul approved of their killing him

That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.

But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Acts 8:1-3

But Saul does this without saying a word. We have read eight chapters of Acts, and still do not know who Saul is.

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Aside: The Character of God

According to the four Gospels, these are the first recorded sentences of Jesus

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
Matthew 3:15

The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!
Mark 1:15

Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
Luke 2:49

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?
John 1:38

Two statements, emphasizing now.

Two questions.

Now, what are the answers?

TonguesofFirebyathyGrimm©2012

Who is Saul of Tarsus?

This is all you need to know about Saul

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul — truly and in his heart — is a man searching for God.

fresco of apostle paul

The Unknown God

It’s striking how often people think Saul is a god.

In Asia

And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
Acts 14:12-13

In Malta

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
Acts 28:5-6

The people saw Saul and thought that god must be very close. They weren’t wrong.

But Saul says, God is unknown

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things
Acts 17:22-25

Saul says, he hopes for the resurrection of the dead.

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.)
Acts 23:6-8

But you know what they say about hopes

Who knows whether the spirit of the sons of men goes upward, and whether the spirit of the animal goes down to the earth?
Ecclesiastes 3:21

st paul malta snake

The Teaching of the Unknown

Immediately after Ecclesiastes exposes the greatest existential doubt of Scripture, the teacher concludes

So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
Ecclesiastes 3:22

Paul agrees. There is a great uncertainty. Even among those who spoke the most with God — Abraham and Moses, Samuel and David — each was so different from the other. We are like blind men searching without sight

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
Acts 17:26-28

It is appropriate that Paul’s life is the great unfinished life of the Bible. The truth – his execution, his martyrdom – is well known. But Acts ends a little before, open ended

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him
Acts 28:30-31

And thus Acts concludes, perfectly matching Luke.

We don’t see the ascension. We search for God and, perhaps, grope for Him and, perhaps, find Him.

But we can receive others. We can have confidence.

As do the priests. As do the cardinals. As do the writers of the Torah and Samuel, as did Father Abraham and King David, as did the evangelists and the letter-writers.

It is for the Spirit that they grope, and, when God wishes, with the Spirit that they grope.

We can rejoice in our work. Delight in our searching.

st paul writing in rome

Now,

why do you work,

and what do you want?