imageToday was a “museum day,” something I have not done quite this way before. We began at Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. This is one of the best designed museums I have ever visited. A person can walk through the story of the Shoah from the beginnings of anti-Semitism and the rise of Hitler through the horrific events in the ghettos and death camps. There are numerous video interviews with survivors who tell their stories, many of these devastate me even though I have heard them several times. If you have the time to read the hundreds of displays you will have a full education in world history surrounding the Holocaust. While there are a few this that betray a bit of a slant, overall I think this is a museum all people should experience.

I am always interested in the reactions of my students as they encounter the story in more detail than an American usually hears. I think this group is one of the more serious I have had the pleasure of leading, and they asked several excellent questions along the way. I was surprised, however, that several did not really realize the Christian community not only was silent when the worst was happening, but participated in the crimes of the Holocaust. One asked me when the Nazis started coming after Christians. My response (“these were timagehe Christians!”) shocked the student.

For those who are a bit younger, it is impossible to imagine the kind of police state that could enforce the crimes against humanity described in detail in the Yad VaShem. To me, this is the question the present generation must deal with. The events of the last week in Baltimore indicate a peaceful nation can be torn apart suddenly. The Christian church cannot be silent about racism against any people nor should we actively participate in attacks against people based on irrational prejudice.

For the first time in many years I took a group to the Israel Museum. After walking around Jerusalem yesterday, most on the students were very interested in the model of Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period. While there a few odd things in the model I don’t quite understand, it is a wonderful teaching tool and most of the students actively participated in our discussion at the model.

We walked through the Shrine of the Book, the hall that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most are Sectarian, although there is a nice display of 1QIsaa showing the best features on the book. This Dead Sea Scroll exhibit is good, but anyone who has studied the Scrolls should have a good grasp of the displays already. I do recommend some time spent in the lower level, which tells the story on the Aleppo Codex. (I do not recommend spending much time in the “nano-Bible” room.)

We walked over to the main museum and I let the kids have something to eat and the walk through the archaeological wing at their own pace. I naturally skipped lunch to spend maximum time looking over the excellent collection. I would estimate an interested visitor could spend several hours in this section alone! There are too many highlights to list here, but I thought the early history of Canaan was particularly good, and there were several important inscriptions on display from the later Second Temple period. There might be a rumor going around I “giggled like a school girl” on one occasion, but that remains unconfirmed.

We start early tomorrow at the Mount of Olives. It will be a long walking day, but very exciting.

Today was a very long walk from our hotel to the Old City of Jerusalem. According to several step-counters people wore, we walked about 7 miles today. One estimate was higher, but the other two were a bit lower, but based on how my feet feel, 7 miles is just about right.

On the Old City Ramparts

 We started walking for our hotel Garden Tomb, a short walk from our hotel. As always the Garden Tomb is a delight. The grounds are a well-kept garden and the staff guides have always been very good. What I particularly appreciate is the clear message that it does not matter if this was the real tomb of Jesus, the only this that is important is that he is not in the tomb! In fact, there is almost no chance this was the tomb of Jesus, but the Garden Tomb is a lovely place to think about the death and resurrection. We had a short communion service (accompanied by the loudest sparrow in all Israel).

From the Garden Tomb we walked up the hill to Jaffa Gate. I will admit the hill is a bit steeper than I remember. We (ok, I) stopped about halfway up the hill to catch our breath, and while I was standing there young man approached me and asked if I was leading a tour. I thought this was perhaps a tour guide trying to find a job, but it ended up being a gentleman from Serbia who is visiting Jerusalem for one day and hope to be able to join us as we visited a few sites. He ended up being a great addition to the group and we had a nice talk over lunch about history and politics.

We did the Rampart walk from the Jaffa Gate to the Damascus Gate. This walk gives the students an overview of two or three sections of the city. The highlight for me is the  Hadrian-era Damascus Gate, since this shows how deep underneath the present “old city” the first and second century city of Jerusalem really is. Unfortunately the gate is not accessible as it once was. I used to be able to walk under the existing Damascus Gate and go through the the gate back up to the Ramparts. All this is locked out now.

From the Damascus Gate we headed back to visit the Western Wall. I had intended to visit the Pool of Bethesda, but we did not get off the Ramparts until noon, the site was closed. We did stop for lunch (your choice, pizza, schwarma or falafel) and an icy  lemon mint  drink.

The Western Wall plaza has not changed much since the last tour, although I noticed they moved the entrance to the Temple Tunnels back by the security checkpoint. The Herodian excavations are not open to the public, and the people at the gate resisted my plea for a quick look. I this this is going to be a very nice addition to a Jerusalem tour in the future.

I took the group up the steps toward the Jewish Quarter so the could buy some cold water or maybe an ice cream. Unfortunately the toilets were under repair, so several of us (mostly Zac) were in great need.   After most of the group bought t-shirts of American sports teams in Hebrew, we cut back through the city to the Holy Sepulchre.

Outside the Holy Sepulchre

The Holy Sepulchre is one of those places your need to visit on a tour to Israel,although I am never really happy about it. It is of great historical significance, but it is also a place where many legends about Jesus are perpetuated to serve the faithful. Is the is real site of Golgotha and the Tomb? Perhaps, and there is a better chance this is the site than the Garden Tomb, but as a Protestant, I think the place obscures the truth more than is expected.

Back to the Leonardo Hotel for a great dinner, although not everyone appreciates beef tongue like I do.

Our long travel day started from the Grace Bible College commons, and although the bus was late and we hit some really slow traffic, we made it to Chicago in time to make the flight. Funny that a trip of 6000 miles starts with road construction in West Michigan,

imageThere are 25 in our group, five veterans of previous GBC trips to Israel. Josh and Lisa Tweist were on the 2011 trip (which started in Jordan) and Becca Zuber was a member of the 2013 trip. She is along as a chaperone. Scott Shaw (professor at GBC) is along for the third time, providing his usual help and occasional Tae Kwon Do lessons. It was good to see Jeremy Herr, a pastor in Long Island and one my my former students. Jeremy flew separate from us and we met up at the Ben Gurion airport.

The Chicago to Frankfurt flight was long, eight hours flight time. Not much to do but sleep, although the small child sitting behind me kept that from happening. We had a short layover in  Frankfurt before flying to Tel Aviv. Our drive to the Hotel Leonardo near the Damascus Gate was uneventful and we checked in with no problems. We had a great dinner, no complaints on the food from this group.

We start tomorrow at the Garden Tomb, just a short walk from the hotel. We will the head to the Jaffa Gate and walk the ramparts, visit the Western Wall and the Holy Sepluchure.

At Jaffa Gate 2013

At Jaffa Gate 2013

I am leaving today to lead a tour in Israel and Jordan.  This is my seventh trip to Israel since 2005 and I am looking forward to this one a great deal.  I have 24 students along with me on this trip and they are all ready for an adventure.  We arrive in Tel Aviv and begin with a walk through the Old City, the Rampart Walk, Western Wall and Davidson Archaeological Park.

We have a couple of days in Galilee, visiting all the “Jesus sites” as well as Tel Dan.  We will cross into Jordan at Tiberius, see Jerash and Mount Nebo on the way to Petra.  Finally, after crossing back into Israel at Eilat, we get a few days in the Negev, visiting Arad, Masada, En Gedi, Qumran and a few other sites.

Ten Dan, 2011

Ten Dan, 2011

I am particularly looking forward to the Southern Temple and City of David excavations, there are always and exciting things to be seen there.

I plan on walking down the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley, then up the other side to the City of David excavations. While it is a long walking say, I think it will be an education on just how far people walked in and around Jerusalem in the first century.

Here is the basic itinerary, days 1-2 are travel and arriving in Jerusalem.

  • Day 3: (Wednesday-April 29) Jerusalem. Jaffa Gate and Old City of Jerusalem. We will pass the Citadel of David and begin the “Rampart Walk.” We continue to walk through the Old City market to the Western Wall, including parts of the Via Dolorosa and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
  • Day 4: (Thursday April 30) Jerusalem. We will spend the morning at the Yad VaShem Museum and Israel Museum (Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem Model, and the Archaeology wing of the Museum).
  • Day 5: (Friday-May 1) Jerusalem. The day begins on the Mount of Olives, looking across the Kidron Valley. Walking down the Mount we will visit Domiunis Flevit (where Jesus wept over Jerusalem), the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We will walk across the Kidron Valley past Absalom’s tomb and up to the City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel and the pool of Siloam. Finally we visit the Davidson Archaeology Park on the Southern wall of the Temple.

    At En Gedi, 2009

    At En Gedi, 2009

  • Day 6: (Saturday-May 2) Galilee. We will begin the day by driving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, through Nazareth to Beit Shean, and finally arrive at Maagan Holiday Village in the late afternoon.
  • Day 7: (Sunday-May 3) Galilee. We will begin this day by visiting Mount Arbel, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi and/or Tel Dan, Kursi.
  • Day 8: (Monday- May 4) Jordan, Jeresh, Mt. Nebo, Amman. We will leave the Galilee early and prepare to cross into Jordan at the King Hussein Bridge and transfer busses in Jordan. We will stop at Jeresh for a tour of this spectacular Roman city.
  • Day 9: (Tuesday-May 5) Petra. We start out for Petra early, walking the Suq to the famous Al Khazneh or Treasury at Petra. We will ahve a full day to explore this fantastic site!
  • Day 10: (Wednesday-May 6) Aqaba, Eilot, Tamar. We will head south to the Red Sea, crossing the border back into Israel at Eilat. After some time swimming in the Red Sea we will arrive at Biblical Tamar Park.
  • Day 11: (Thursday-May 7) Mamshit Tel Arad, Masada, the Dead Sea, Tamar. We will be on the bus early to explore several sites in the desert. Our first stop will be Mamshit, a Nabatean trading village which has been beautifully restored by the Israeli Park service. Then we will visit Arad, an ancient Canaanite city captured by Joshua. We will visit the Israelite citadel and travel to Masada, the famed fortress built by King Herod 2,000 years ago.

    08 Mount of Olives 04 Group

    Mount of Olives, 2013

  • Day 12: (Friday-May 8) Ein Gedi, Qumran, The Dead Sea. We will hike to the waterfall in Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul, then visit Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We end this day with a float in the Dead Sea.
  • Day 13: (Saturday-May 9). We will depart Tamar Park and visit a few sites on the way to Jerusalem to spend our last few hours in the Old City for shopping.

One of the highlights of my tours is spending a few days at Tamar, an archaeological site south of the Dead Sea.  The site is small but unique, with remains from the Iron Age (include a small Solomonic Gate and a four-room house), an Edomite shrine, a Roman bath and store rooms, a Turkish water system, a building once used as a jail during the British mandate, and an Israeli bomb shelter.

Look for frequent updates from Israel and Jordan over the next two weeks!

Tel Dan 2007

Tel Dan 2007

GBC Israel 2005

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching for the morning Worship Service at Rush Creek Bible Church in Byron Center, Michigan. I do not get to do this very often since I usually teach the Sunday Evening Bible study as well as a Sunday School class. I was asked to finish out a long series on the Gospel of John so I used the final words of the book as a way to summarize many of the themes of John’s gospel.

If you would like to watch video the sermon here is a link:  The World Itself Could Not Contain the Books…  (Scroll down past the overly large series title for audio or video.) Be warned: people tell me I have a face made for radio. You may prefer to listen to the audio instead!

Jesus Beloved DiscipleHere is a summary: After the resurrection Jesus met some of his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. After providing a miraculous catch of fish, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved him. This conversation was a public restoration of Peter, a confirmation that Jesus has forgiven him and that Peter’s denial will not define the rest of his life. Jesus then predicted that Peter would be faithful to the end; he would be crucified because of his testimony for Jesus.

But what about the Beloved Disciple? The final chapters of the Gospel of John have contrasted Peter’s actions with the belief of this disciple, who is likely John, the son of Zebedee. If Peter is to be executed, what will happen to John?

John does not want to focus the attention on himself or his book (“I could write more,”or “This book could be much longer….”) The story has been about who Jesus is from the very beginning! “The greatness of the revelation of God in the Logos-Son is vaster than the cosmos created through him.” John’s gospel is about the vastness of Jesus from the first line to the last.

It is remarkable that the final words of Jesus are “you follow me!” Jesus began his ministry asking people what they wanted of him. In John 1:38, Jesus’ first words are “what do you want?” and he command his disciples to follow even then (1:43). At the end of the book Jesus expects his two closest disciples to continue to follow him, one to his death, the other to a long life of ministry, both looking forward to the return of Jesus in glory.

The books of Luke – Acts end with the phrase, “boldly and without hindrance. Since Paul is in prison when the book ends, it is quite remarkable that Luke could describe Paul’s activity not being hindered. But the statement is not about Paul but the rather the Gospel. How is it that Paul’s preaching can be described in this way?

First, Paul’s preaching in Acts and throughout all his letters is based on Jesus as Messiah and his work on the cross. That the person and work of Jesus is the basis of the gospel is clear from the preaching of the apostles in Acts. Beginning with the preaching of the Apostles in Acts 2:22-24, the central theme is Jesus Christ, that he was crucified and rose from the dead. On Acts 13:26-31 Paul emphasizes the death and resurrection of Jesus. Notice that in both Peter and Paul’s sermon the fact that Jesus was crucified is clear, but also that God raised him from the dead and exalted him to his right hand, proving that he was in fact God’s son, the messiah. In fact, in 16:31, Paul says that the only want to be saved is to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is tempting to downplay the centrality of Jesus to our faith since he is still as controversial today as in the first century. People seem to like the idea of spirituality and religion, but they are not attracted to Jesus – the scandal of the cross is very real in contemporary culture. “Spiritual but not religious” is a movement which rejects religions, advocating love and respect without being dogmatic on who Jesus is or whether there is a God or not. It is also possible to place such a strong emphasis on building relationships and social activities that there is no confrontation with Jesus. Our churches need relationships and social activities, but we need to confront people with the truth of the Gospel, the Gospel demands a response!

Paul’s preaching centered on Jesus and what he did on the cross, and what this atonement for sin means for people in the present age. Paul brought his sermons to a decision. As the jailer in Acts 16:31 asks, “what must you do to be saved?”

Second, Paul taught freely and with boldness because his gospel was based on Scripture. If we go back in Acts and read Paul’s sermons, we find that they are based on the fulfillment of scripture. The same is true for the letters, Paul constantly quotes scripture and alludes to the Hebrew Bible as the revealed word of God.

Using Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 as an example, he blends several verses from the Hebrew Bible in order to show that Jesus is the messiah. In fact, ever apostolic sermon in Acts is laced with references to the Hebrew Bible, whether that is Peter in Acts 2 and 3 or Stephen in Acts 7. The only exception are the two sermons of Paul in pagan contexts, but even there he alludes to the story of the Bible without directly quoting it. This implies that Paul knew his Bible well and was able to apply that scripture to new events. In this case, to show that Jesus is the messiah and that his death on the cross means salvation for both Jews and Gentiles.

Here is another potential problem for modern Christians. We lack confidence in the Bible for several reasons:

  • Biblical Ignorance – Biblical illiteracy is a problem in the church, it is an epidemic in the world. Most church kids are taught the Old Testament by vegetables, most twenty-somethings only know the few Bible stories that were on the Simpsons. This is a problem which must be overcome, but not by downplaying the text of the Bible.
  • Biblical Embarrassment – some of the stories from the Hebrew Bible are difficult to read in a modern context. When I teach freshmen Bible survey classes, frequently I hear from students, “I had no idea that was in the Bible!) There are stories in the Hebrew Bible that are attacked by secularists as violent, misogynist, or portraying God as a sociopath.
  • Biblical Replacement – it is sometimes easy to get people to a spiritual idea without using the Bible. (Using movie clips at camp, teaching the gospel through a secular song or literature, the Gospel according to Lord of the Rings, for example). This is a legitimate way to generate interest, but if the Bible is not the foundation of the sermon, it does not matter how crafty your illustration is.

As shocking as it seems, there are churches in America that do not peach from the Bible. Their people do not bring Bibles to church because they do not own Bibles and there is little need for them in the sermon.

Third, Paul taught freely and with boldness because his preaching of the gospel was the fulfillment of God’s plan. We are looking at the last line of the book of Acts and seeing how Luke wanted to end the story. But the idea that God is fulfilling the great story of redemption in the work of Jesus is a major theme of his two books.

Luke 1:1 states that his purpose for writing was so that Theophilus might have an accurate record of the “things which have been fulfilled among us.” Luke 24:44-49 concludes the book of Luke with the same idea, Jesus himself states that everything that happened fulfilled scripture. Acts is the story of how that fulfillment works it’s way from Jerusalem to the rest of the world, and ultimately to Rome itself.

If I absolutely knew how a sporting event was going to come out, I would be able to wager with confidence. I might even have a boldness to “bet it all” on the outcome of the game. What Luke is telling us in the last few verses of Acts is that we can have confidence in the outcome because God has already planned the key events of salvation history and he has already won the victory in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Standing on the foundation of the scripture, we can have confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ and share our faith “with boldness” and “without hindrance.”

Why is it, then, that we pretend we are hindered in our presentation of the Gospel?

The last words of the book of Acts in the Greek are “boldly and without hindrance.” This is a good theme to leave the book of Acts, that Paul preached the gospel boldly and without hindrance.

To speak “boldly” (παρρησία) is to have freedom to speak, perhaps even fearless speech. “Boldness” is a characteristic of apostolic preaching in the first part of Acts. The Sanhedrin saw that Peter and John spoke boldly (4:13), and the Jerusalem church prayed that God would continue to give them boldness (4:29); when they were filled with the Holy Spirit they did in fact speak with boldness (4:31).

apostle_paulBut the word also has the nuance of confidence, knowing that you are speaking the truth; that you know the right answer, etc. In Acts 2:29 Peter makes an argument based on Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, he says this “with confidence.” This is the confidence which I began with – knowing that something is certainly true gives you a confidence and boldness which a “guess” does not. Paul can speak from his house arrest with confidence because he knows the gospel he proclaims is the truth.

“Without hindrance” (ἀκωλύτως) indicates that there were no groups that stood in his way, as Paul had to deal with earlier in the book. Sometimes this rare word is used in legal contexts (P.Oxy 502, Ant. 12.104, 16.41, for example). The word might be used to describe some legal constraint, you cannot do want you want to because of a legal ruling (think of a restraining order in contemporary culture).

If we read the whole book of Acts, we might see quite a bit of “restraining” going on, things hinder the progress of the Gospel from the very beginning of Paul’s ministry. Jews in Asia Minor actively work against him on the first missionary journey, attack him publicly and stone him at Lystra, and continue to harass him when he returns to Jerusalem in the late 50s.

While Rome does not actively hinder Paul’s mission, he was in Roman custody several times in the book: at Philippi, nearly so at Thessalonica, he was arrested in Corinth, and was likely under arrest at some point in Ephesus, he cause a riot there as well. When he finally returned to Jerusalem he was taken into protective custody by Rome, but held for two years in Caesarea before being shipped to Rome, where he is under house arrest (at his own expense) for two years.

We might also add a kind of spiritual hindrance to this list as well. For example, Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica and was unable to return to the city, although he wanted to. In 1 Thess 3:18 he says that “Satan blocked our way,” literally “Satan tore up the road” so that Paul could not return and finish his work in the city. What happens in Corinth and Ephesus can also be taken as spiritual warfare, Satan was actively hindering Paul’s mission.

The book ends by telling us nothing is restraining the gospel. Paul is not hindered in the least by his imprisonment and there is nothing Rome can do to stop the gospel from going “to the ends of the earth.”

Front of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls - Roma - Italy

Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome

Christianity came to Rome before Paul, but we have very little idea of how it got there or how closely it was aligned with Jerusalem.  As Luke tells the story, Christianity did more out from Jerusalem, to Samaria and Judea, then to major Diaspora Jewish communities – Antioch, then Asia Minor, Greece (Corinth) and finally Ephesus.  Paul’s mission to the gentile world began at Antioch in the Synagogue and his normal strategy was to find the synagogue in a community in order to reach the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles first, then he moved into the marketplace in order to reach Gentiles.

It is possible that the Roman church was not Pauline in theology, having been founded by Jews after Pentecost.  We know that the letter to the Romans was sent five years before this time to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles, but we have no idea how that letter was received by the community in Rome.

Ben Witherington suggests Paul was the first to bring the gospel of grace through faith and gentile salvation apart from the Law to Rome (Witherington, Acts, 785).  This is entirely possible, since the only reference we have to pre-Pauline Roman Christianity is Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18) and the reference in Tacitus to Jewish rioting over Chrestus.  It there appears as though pre-Acts 28 Christianity in Rome was quite Jewish.

The similar questions arise when thinking about the Jewish community.  To what extent were the Jews in Rome in contact with Jerusalem?  What authority did the Sanhedrin have over synagogues in Rome?  (Or anywhere, for that matter.  In Acts 9 the High Priest requests that Christians be turned over to Paul, he does not order the synagogue to do anything!)   There is therefore a tension in Paul’s arrival – how will he be received?  Have Jews from Jerusalem managed to arrive before him?  If they had left about the same time as he did from Jerusalem they could hardly have traveled faster given the time of the year.  Paul has no idea if he will meet Jewish Christians who are predisposed to attack him, or whether they will be like the Bereans, more open to his teaching.

This uncertainty does not seem to bother Paul.  Once he finds lodgings in Rome he begins to meet with individuals in order to explain his presence in Rome and, likely as not, to explain his “side of the story.”  He is still the apostle to the Gentiles and his imprisonment will permit him to reach the household of Caesar.

If Luke has carefully designed his two-volume history, we should probably pause to wonder why he includes such lengthy description of the journey to Rome. This must be more than an exciting story (did he think readers were getting bored?), nor was Luke trying to fill out a scroll (as if he was a student trying to make it to 10 pages for a paper). There are literary and theological reasons for Luke’s inclusion of Paul’s shipwreck.

First, Luke is traveling with Paul. On the one hand, this accounts for the details. But often ancient historians narrate a story up to the time in which they are living and then include themselves in the story in order to build credibility. Josephus summarized all of Jewish history up to the time of the Jewish revolt and included himself in the story as a lost-intro-oleader in Galilee. Thucydidies wrote a history of the Peloponesian War and included his own participation at various points. This shipwreck functions to give Luke credibility – he witnessed the events himself and was a participant in the history he tells. A Greco-Roman reader would expect this sort of thing if the book of Acts was to be seen as credible.

Second, there is more going on here than Luke’s interest in travel. If someone (say, Theophilus) has been reading through Luke and Acts, he would notice some similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both are arrested by the Jews and handed over to the Romans, both are tried by a secular authority (Pilate and Herod; Felix/Festus and Agrippa) and both are the victims of a miscarriage of justice motivated by the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  Will Paul suffer the same fate as Jesus?  Will he be executed by the Romans as a political undesirable, or will he receive justice from Rome?

Third, we need to remember Luke’s theme for the whole book: “beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth.”  Luke knows that Paul will go to Rome to testify before the Emperor, but the reader may think that Paul will be killed along the way.  As James Dunn has observed, Luke is trying to show that “come what may, God will fulfill his purpose by having Paul preach the good news in the very heart of the empire.”

Fourth, some scholars question the historicity of the shipwreck based on parallels with other ancient literature, including Homer’s Odyssey.  Often a guilty man will try to escape justice (or fate), head out to the seas to avoid capture, but ultimately he will suffer and die anyway.  Paul is escaping from the Jews, yet is shipwrecked and eventually nearly killed by a snake, it is thought that Luke is patterning this story after the archetypal Greco-Roman novel plot-line.

There is something to the parallels and it may be Luke tells this story in such detail because shipwrecks were popular in literature at the time. But this does not necessarily negate the historicity of the story.  Paul went to Rome, the best way to do that is by ship. It is entirely plausible Festus would send him off in this way.  Shipwrecks were in fact common, so much so that Paul has already suffered shipwrecks twice in his travels (2 Cor 11:25)!

While I think Paul did travel to Rome by ship and experienced a shipwreck, Luke’s theological motivation is that nothing will hinder the Gospel getting to Rome.

In his defense before Festus, Paul offers a his view on the Servant in Isaiah: The Servant is Jesus, who suffered for our sins (Luke 4:18, Is 61:1). There seems to have been some discussion of who the servant was; recall that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading this text in Acts 8 and the idea of a suffering, dying and rising messiah appears at several points in the book of Acts.  This is anticipated as early as Luke 2:32, Simeon’s blessing on Jesus cites Isaiah and proclaims that this salvation has come to Israel.

But the “Light to the Gentiles” in Acts 26 refers to Paul and his ministry. This is a rather bold statement since it might appear the Servant is the light to the Gentiles. Luke 2:32 has already applied Isaiah 42:6 to Jesus, but here Paul sees his ministry as a participation in Jesus’ messianic office as delivering the “light to the Gentiles.”

Paul describes salvation as “turning to God” and “opening eyes,” are both drawn from Isaiah 42:6, but may allude back to the paradigmatic miracle on Cypress, the blinding of Bar-Jesus (13:4-11).  Like Isaiah, both Jesus and Paul ministered to blind people, both literal and spiritual blindness. The disciples, for example, were in need of healing in their understanding, so they might believe that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.  Paul is sent to preach repentance to both the Jews and the Gentiles (recalling Romans 1:16-17, to the Jew first).

Festus interrupts Paul’s speech: “You are out of your mind!”  It is possible that this means that Paul’s knowledge of esoteric doctrines find things that are not necessarily true. This may reflect the common-sense “down to earth” Roman worldview. Festus is saying that the conclusions to which Paul comes is “beyond common sense,” not that these are strange and outlandish things.

Paul states that he is speaking “true and rational (σωφροσύνη) words.”  This description is good Greek rhetoric, sobriety is a chief virtue in Greek philosophy. Agrippa, on the other hand, understands that Paul’s speech has a persuasive value, which he is trying to convince them both of the truth of the Gospel.  What Paul has done has “not been done in a corner,” but rather out in the open for all to hear and evaluate.  This too is a feature of good philosophy and rhetoric, those who engage in secrets and mysteries are questionable (and probably not sober and self-controlled).

CrayCraySo Paul sees himself as engaged in messianic ministry (although he is a servant of Messiah Jesus; Paul does not see himself as a messiah!) This claim is rational, based on evidence and is both truthful and rational. Festus recognizes Paul’s “great learning” but thinks Paul has gone out of his mind-the opposite of rational. The Greek μανία can refer to madness or even delirium. This was an accusation against a political or philosophical opponent, or as BDAG says, “eccentric or bizarre behavior in word or action.”

For a Roman official like Festus, Paul presents strange ideas in rational manner, and he is impressed but unconvinced. To what extent can Paul claim to be rational in his arguments that Jesus is the Messiah or that he has been called by God to this particular mission? Is there a way to use Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus as a model for ministry in a post-modern world?

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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