Paul and JamesWhen Paul arrives in Jerusalem, he meets with “James and the Elders.”  As it turns out, there are many Jews in Jerusalem who believe Jesus is the Messiah yet are still following the Law (21:20).  This is not unexpected since Jesus said he did not come to destroy the Law nor did Jesus ever teach his disciples to reject the Law or Temple worship. Jesus did reject the traditions of the Pharisees, but he lived as any Jew might have in the first century. It is better to see Jesus calling his disciples to a deeper engagement with the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus wants his followers to obey not only the letter, but also the spirit of the Law.

James, the Lord’s Brother, has emerged as a leader in the Jerusalem church. When Paul arrives he gives a report (ἐξηγέομαι) of how God is working among the Gentiles. While the elders of the community rejoice and praise God for this, James moves quickly from what God is going among the Gentiles to a potential problem with Paul’s missionary activity. James describes the Jerusalem church as very large, the NIV has “thousands,” translating the Greek “myriads” (μυριάς). While this might seem like hyperbole, several thousand people accepted the apostolic teaching in Acts 2 and 3. It is likely additional converts in the many years that have passed and there are still a large number of Jesus-followers in and around Jerusalem at this time.

There are some among this Jewish Christian community who think that Paul has made a grace error by teaching Jews who have accepted Jesus as Messiah to turn away from the Law (v. 21).  Certainly Paul taught Gentiles they were not under the law. The letter to the Galatians is a strong condemnation of Gentiles trying to keep the Law.

With respect to Jews who are in Christ, there is no specific text which clearly indicates Paul told Jews to continue keeping the law and traditions of Israel. It may or may not be the case that Paul considered ceremonial law and traditions matters of indifference.

Wrong Paul and James

Wrong Paul and James

Ben Witherington thinks it is at least possible Paul considered traditional Jewish practices as no longer required in the present age. Galatians could be read as a repudiation of the Law, although it seems that Paul only has in mind Gentile converts. But this may be the heart of the problem: the church Paul has created is something new and different.  People are converting to a belief in Jesus as savior apart from Law rather than converting to Judaism or converting to a particular messianic conviction within Judaism (Acts, 648).

If members of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem had read Galatians, they may have wondered if Paul had rejected the Law himself. If rumors of his “all things to all men” ministry model reached Jerusalem, then it is likely there were Jewish Christians who thought Paul has gone too far in his desire to reach the Gentiles.

Luke certainly describes James and the Elders as polite and welcoming, but there are lingering questions about Paul’s ministry method. Luke does not create an artificial unity here, he reports a real tension in the early church over a critically important issue, the status of Gentiles in the church as well as the role of the Law.

To what extent do these two issues continue to be a problem in Acts and Paul’s letters? Is this tension still a problem in the modern church, even after the Reformation?

Bad WolfPaul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus. What was the purpose of this plan? Paul’s desire is to get to Jerusalem as rapidly as possible, so he may have simply wanted to avoid Ephesus. Had he stopped there, he would have had so many obligations that he would have never been able to meet his schedule. He would lose more time in Ephesus than if he  meets the elders in Miletus. Another possibility is that Paul’s ship was scheduled to stop in Miletus, not Ephesus. One did not book travel on a passenger ship in the ancient world, all travel was on cargo ships and one was often at the mercy of the cargo-schedule

When the elders arrive, Paul warns them of trials they will have to face in the near future (Acts 20:25-31). Paul employs a common metaphor to warn the elders from Ephesus that they are about to face trials.  Since elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to the task of shepherding the flock, the natural metaphor for an attack against the flock is a “savage wolf.”  The elders are to keep watch over the church in order to guard it against enemies.  But this also involves watching themselves – they are to be worthy shepherds! These “wolves” seek to tear the congregation apart, and at this point may refer to elements in Ephesus, whether Greek or Jewish, that see Christianity as a threat.

Paul also warns of threats which will arise from within the congregation itself.  Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that these wolves may very well arise from within their congregation – some men will arise, distort the truth, and draw disciples away after them.

SheepThis is exactly the situation we find in 1 Timothy, a letter written by Paul several years later to Timothy while he worked in Ephesus.  The false teachers are “insiders,” people from within the church that are distorting the truth.  Based on 1 Timothy and  Acts 20:30, it appears that the false teachers were elders from within the Ephesian church. The are teachers (1 Tim 1:3, 7, 6:3) and the task of teaching in the church is given to the elders (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17).

It is important that we not read this with a 21st century view of church in mind.  The elders are likely presiding over small house churches.  A city the size of Ephesus would likely have had many house churches by the time 1 Timothy is written.  There may have been a few elders who hosted a church in their home that have departed from the body of teaching Paul taught for the three years he was in Ephesus.  It is these elders that Paul wants to discipline.

At this point in Acts, the “savage wolves” are in the future – or are they?  Paul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus.  While it is possible Paul simply wanted to avoid obligations to meet with many people in Ephesus in order to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible, it seems to me that the problems which 1 Timothy addresses are already surfacing.  This meeting at Miletus, then, is a gathering of loyal elders who still can be trusted by Paul.

Is it possible that Paul’s speech reflects the situation of the post-apostolic church?  What happens when Paul dies? Who “takes over”?  It seems to me that Paul is telling these shepherds that they are now in charge of the flock, and they have to be on guard against internal and external threats to the health of the church.

This “guarding” function is an important application for modern churches since most threats against the church are not coming from the outside (the government is not our greatest enemy, believe it or not!), but from other Christians, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Collection PlatePaul leaves Ephesus with the intention of returning to Jerusalem for the purpose of delivering the collection to the Jerusalem church at Pentecost. The collection was a gift from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem believers.  Romans 15:26 states that “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem,” a text written from Corinth in the three-month period after Paul’s Ephesian ministry.

Paul has does this sort collection for Jerusalem before.  Before the first missionary journey in Acts 13, Paul delivered funds to Jerusalem collected by the Antioch church.  This visit is the subject of Gal 2:1-10.  In Gal 2:10 Paul said that the James had only encouraged him to “remember the poor.”  The “poor” in mind here are the members of the Jerusalem church, the very people the famine visit was intended to help.

The Jerusalem appears to be still living in a sort of shared community, supported by gifts.  Given a famine (and possibly a Jubilee year), the poor believers in Jerusalem were even more dependent on Antioch than ever.  Ben Witherington wonders if the handshake was an agreement to continue the financial arrangements between the Antioch church and the Jerusalem church (Acts, 429). This is possible since the same sort of language appears in Acts 15 as well, although the collection is not mentioned.

The Collection was unique in the ancient world.  The Greco-Roman world has a system of public benefaction, but nothing like a modern “fund-raiser” where people are solicited for money which is then distributed to the poor.  Likewise, in Judaism the poor received Alms from individuals, but money was not collected in mass for re-distribution to the poor.  Which the exception of Queen Abiabene, who brought relief to Jerusalem (Antiq. 20:51-51), there are no other examples of this sort of collection of funds.

Since Paul is collecting this money in the Greek world, it would have been unprecedented and would have looked very suspicious. Likely as not, the inclusion of representatives of the churches was meant to give confidence to the churches that Paul was not going to steal the funds and disappear.  Notice that in Acts 20:4 there is a list of names traveling with Paul, all likely representatives of Paul’s churches in Macedonia (Thessalonica, Berea) Asia Minor (Derbe) Paul was careful to separate his own ministry from the Collection for the Saints.  While he did not require churches to give to support him, he is adamant that churches “give what they can” to the Collection.

What is unusual is that Luke does not mention the collection at all, although that seems to be the point of the large part traveling back to Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. Why Luke would omit this collection is a mystery – some have speculated that the collection was not well-received by the Jerusalem church, perhaps even rejected.  The scene is rather tense in Jerusalem when Paul arrives with a large contingent of Gentiles to deliver the gift.

What was the “point” Paul was trying to make with this collection?  If the collection was rejected, why would James (or the Jerusalem Christians)  reject the generosity of the Gentile churches?

Bibliography: Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 932-947; S. McKnight, “The Collection for the Saints” in DPL, 143-147. The collection is mentioned in 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8-9 and Rom 15:25-32.

Forty QuestionsKeathley, Kenneth and Mark F. Rooker, eds. 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. 40 Questions and Answers Series. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 432 pp. Pb; $23.99. Link to Kregel.

Kenneth D. Keathley (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Mark F. Rooker (PhD, Brandeis University) are both professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rooker describes himself as a young-earth creationist, while Keathley holds to an old-earth view. Together they have produced an irenic and fair book on the often controversial topics of creation and evolution. The book also includes a number of chapters on other issues in Genesis related to creationism, such as the age of the earth, the historical Adam, and the extent of the flood.

To be honest, when the opportunity to review this book came up I almost passed since I find most of these sorts of books creation rather argumentative, producing a great deal of heat and very little light. I have read many conservative books on creationism that seemed to be aimed and scaring the faithful away from thinking about what the Bible might actually say. But this is not the case for 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. Keathley and Rooker usually present several sides to the issue and rarely present issues as either/or litmus tests for a “real Christian.” While there is neither author identifies themselves as a theistic evolutionist or an advocate of intelligent design, they present these views fairly.

What is more, this is a genuinely scholarly book, interacting with the original language of Genesis as well as a broad range of scholarship. By scanning through the notes I recognize many familiar evangelical scholars, but they are not from the most conservative side of evangelicalism. In addition, all of the major Genesis commentaries are represented when discussing and exegetical issue.

Part one is four chapters concerning the doctrine of creation. Here Keathley and Rooker deal with the place of the creation narrative in systematic and biblical theology. Since creation is the beginning of the “grand narrative of the Bible” the creation story re-appears frequently throughout whole Bible, culminating in a “new creation” in Revelation.

Part two contains six chapters on creation in Genesis 1-2. In this section the authors deal with some of the literary problems of relating the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 as well as the various options for understanding the function of Genesis 1:1 to the rest of the chapter. Two chapters are devoted to more theological issues. Question 9 concerns “The Meaning of the Sabbath.” Question 10 focuses on the purpose of mankind based on the creation narrative.

Part three presents six different views on the days of creation. A short chapter describes the Gap Theory, then Keathley and Rooker present a chapter several other more popular theories for understanding the days in Genesis 1: The Day-Age (Hugh Ross), Framework (Mark Ross), Temple Inauguration (Levenson, Walton, Beale), Historical Creationism (John Sailhammer), and Twenty-four Hour Day (Edward Young). These could be seen as moving from “more open” to evolution to “less open,” but in all five cases these are legitimate interpretations of the days in Genesis 1 and are all compatible with both inspiration and inerrancy.

Perhaps the most controversial section of the book is part four on the age of the earth. Two chapters deal with evidence for old and young earth theories, and there are four sections on some of the problems with a very young earth. For example, gaps in the biblical genealogies may permit a much older earth than some of the most vocal young-earth creationists would accept (ch. 17), and light from stars implies an old creation (ch. 21) or a “mature creation” model (ch. 22).

Part five deals with a series of implications of a biblical view of creation. Among these nine chapters Keathley and Rooker deal with several views on the Image of God (ch. 23) and the effect of the fall (chs. 25-27) Three chapters are on Noah’s flood (chs. 29-30) since young-earth creationists often use the flood as an argument for the appearance of age. Only one chapter deals with the currently hot topic of the Historical Adam (ch. 24). Here the authors interact with Peter Ens (The Evolution of Adam, Brazos, 2012) and Denis Lamoureux (I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution, Wipf & Stock, 2009). In this case, they conclude “an affirmation of the historicity of Adam and Eve must be maintained.” They cite C. John Collins, Did Adam and Even Really Exist (Crossway, 2011) and conclude an affirmation of a real Adam and Eve is required for a proper understanding of the Fall.

The final part of the book contains questions about evolution and intelligent design. These include brief descriptions of the theory of evolution itself, Darwinism, whether Darwinism is an ideology. They fairly summarize arguments both for and against evolution, although they reject them in the end. The final two chapters of the book concern Intelligent Design and the “Fine Tuning Argument.” Perhaps most interesting chapter 38, “Can a Christian Hold to Theistic Evolution” This is obviously a rather controversial topic since there are many Christians who assume Christian belief are completely incompatible. Keathley and Rooker do not doubt the salvation of theistic evolutionists, but they clearly conclude it is very difficult to fully embrace both evolution and an evangelical form of Christianity. They cite Wayne Grudem’s eight objections and conclude the chapter that “evolutionary creationism is a theory in search of theological justification” (385). While the format of the book does not allow for a response, Enns and Lamoureux might disagree, or agree and leave evangelicalism behind.

Conclusion. When I first received an invitation to review this book, I almost passed because I assumed this would be a very conservative book arguing entirely for Young Earth Creationism.  For question 19, “What are the Evidences for the Universe Being Young,” there are only as few Answers in Genesis references and there is nothing from directly Ken Ham. Keathley and Rooker observe the problems with the evidence often offered by young-earth creationists and cite young-earthers Nelson and Reynolds admission that “recent creationists should humbly agree that there is, at the moment, implausible purely on scientific grounds” (199). This is certainly not an “absolute young-earth creationist” book!

There are number of chapters I found unusual for a book strictly on creationism. Part five concerns the Fall and the Flood, both of which go beyond creation and evolution. I doubt “forty questions” could be developed on just historical Adam issues so it makes some sense they appear in this collection, although the book could be fairly titled Forty Questions about Genesis 1-11.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he is preforming a parabolic act. As with parables, we need to understand the context in order to understand what Jesus was trying to teach through the washing of his disciples’ feet.

It is well-known that hospitality in the ancient world included foot-washing. Since virtually all travel was by foot, a visitor should be allowed to “refresh themselves” when they arrive by washing their feet. If the host had servants, the task of washing the guest’s feet fell to the lowliest servant. For a Jewish family, the task would be assigned to a Gentile slave (Köstenberger, John, 405). In this case, Jesus takes off his outer clothes and wraps himself in a long towel and does the job of the lowliest slave.

Since this is a Passover meal, it is likely that each of the disciples have washed their hands ceremonially before touching the food of the meal. My guess is that the feet would need to be washed since the are most likely to have come into contact with uncleanliness, the slave who washed the feet would therefore himself be unclean.

This is therefore a shocking act by a Jewish teacher prior to the Passover meal. Jesus’ humble service of his disciples is an illustration of how the disciples are to continue his work after the resurrection.

Said R. Joshua b. Levi, “All acts of labor that a slave performs for his master, a disciple of a sage performs for his master, except for removing his shoe.” b. Ketub. 96a (Neusner, b. Ketub. 11:1, I.2.A; 9:440)

Jesus is due the titles Teacher (Rabbi) and Lord. Even if we take the title Lord as equivalent to sir, both titles put Jesus well above the disciples socially. In a teacher-student relationship of the Second Temple Period, there was little a teacher could not ask his disciple to do for him. Yet Jesus reverses cultural expectations by doing an extremely humbling service for his disciples.

This is a pattern for the disciples to follow (v.15). The noun used here (ὑπόδειγμα) has the sense of a pattern, or model used for moral instruction. Jesus is saying this is an illustration of how you are to serve one another. This is not a pattern to be followed for worship, for example. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with practicing foot-washing in some Christian denominations, it is not an ordinance like the Lord’s Supper. To me this is analogous to saying the Lord’s Prayer. It is not particularly wrong, but misses Jesus point when he gave the prayer of an illustration of how to pray!

How do we serve as Jesus did? First, Jesus did not insist on his titles and honors. Ideally, Peter ought to have served Jesus, but Jesus radically reverses expectations and serves those who are socially lower than himself. If the Lord (and God) of the universe can get down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of those who owe him honor and loyalty, how ought we to serve?

Second, notice that he washes all the disciples’ feet, including Judas. He knew that Judas was the betrayer, yet he extended to him the same humble service that he gave the other “loyal” disciples. Jesus knew that Satan was about to enter Judas and he knew exactly what Judas was about to do, but he treated him in exactly the same way he did Peter or John.

That is remarkable to me. I have no problem humbly serving my family or my church family. But what about those who are outside the church? There are people who are outside of my normal circle who I do not serve, in fact, I sometimes treat them with contempt.

Jesus did not, he died for them as well.

the-old-testament-library-series-isaiahJust when you though the Logos Free Book of the Month promotion could not get any better, they offer Brevard Childs’ commentary on Isaiah in the in OTL series for free through the month of April. This 576 page commentary on on Isaiah was published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2000. Childs is a one of the major voices in the development of what has become known as “canonical criticism” as early has his OTL Commentary on Exodus (1974) and his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Canonical Criticism means the exegete attempts to read the final form of the text of Isaiah a whole in order to develop theological themes, often listening to how those theological themes resonate in later historical Christian and Jewish interpretations. While the commentary is often not as nuanced in lexical or syntactical issues as some reviewers would have liked, Childs is an excellent expositor of the text and has a broad understanding of Jewish and Christian interpretations of Isaiah. Childs has continued to write on Isaiah, his The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture was published by Eerdmans in 2004.

the-old-testament-library-series-jeremiahIn addition to the Free Book of the Month, Logos is offering Leslie Allen’s 2008 Jeremiah commentary in the OTL series for only 99 cents. Allen contributed the Ezekiel (1990, 1994) and the Psalms 101-150 (2002)in the Word Biblical Commentary and a Minor Prophets commentary ( NICOT series from Eerdmans). This 656-page commentary replaced Robert Carroll’s OTL commentary in the series and was very well-received in the academic community.

This is perhaps the best giveaway from Logos to date and I can think of no better use of 99 cents than adding these two resources to your Logos library.

As always, you can enter to win a seven-volume collection of OTL commentaries in the Logos library. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Carnival CreepyJacob Prahlow posted the March Biblical Studies Carnival over at Pursuing Veritas. Jacob did an excellent job curating a list of blogs on biblical and theological topics. So check out his work and put Pursuing Veritas on your regular blog reading list.

In other biblio-blogging news, Jim West’s Alt-Carnival is a collection of photographs from SBL Southeast 2015. As always, Brian Small has a great collection of Hebrews Highlights for the month.

Peter Kirby posted his top 50 BiblioBlog list, Reading Acts sadly dropped to #17. This is probably because I registered the name so all my .wordpress.com Alexa stats we lost. On the other hand, there are some really great blogs on this list!

If you use FlipBoard to read blogs, consider following my Biblical Studies magazine.

Looking forward to future Carnivals, Jeff Carter will be hosting April’s Carnival. The May Carnival will be hosted by Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary. In June, Cambridge doctoral candidate William A. Ross will be moderating this Carnival. There are plenty of open Carnival spots for the rest of the year, so if you are interested in hosting, contact me ASAP or leave a comment below.

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of BibliBlogs.

 

[This is the second guest post from one of my Advanced Studies in Acts students, John Caprari. John is a senior undergraduate Biblical Studies major with an emphasis on Pastoral Ministry. He and his wife will be going to Africa soon after graduation to explore a church planting ministry. He has therefore focused his attention on Paul’s missionary method.]

It amazing to reflect on the many Christian works Paul began. He had a strong desire to win as many people as possible (1 Cor. 9:19). In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he declares his inner yearning for the gospel’s proclamation: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).

romans-1-16Paul set this framework in which he would preach the gospel, and he did just that. Although there were not many places where Christ had already been proclaimed, he certainly fulfilled this internal passion. He had a “commitment to pioneer evangelism, to pursue his mission only in virgin territory” (Dunn 544) Can you imagine entering a city that not only has a population of 0% Christians, but also live in a culture that worships pagan gods? Where and how do you even begin telling people about Jesus? Paul’s answer? The synagogue.

Luke communicates in Acts over and over that upon arrival in a city, the first thing Paul did was go to the Jewish synagogue (Acts 13:5; 14:1; 17:10). Wait a second… Wasn’t Paul supposed to be the light to the Gentiles? Why is he going to the Jewish gathering place?

There are some who understand Paul to believe that the gospel was meant to be proclaimed among Jews before Gentiles (Rom 1:16). They believe that Paul’s custom was to go to the Jewish synagogue because he had a theological understanding that the gospel must be heard by the Jews, and then upon rejection, the Gentiles (Acts 14:36). The following is an excerpt from a scholar who understands Paul’s custom of going to the Jewish synagogue as a theological issue rather than strategic:

Although Luke’s plain intent is to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ was carried from Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, to Rome, the center of the Gentile world, he records of Paul’s ministry in the Roman capital only his customary initial ministry to the Jews (Acts 28:17 ff.). In Acts too, therefore, the theme is clear, the gospel is “to the Jew first.” (Stek 17)

Paul went to the synagogues first because he thought it would be the best way to carry out his mission: to be a light to the Gentiles. These gathering places were mostly filled with Jews. However, it was common for there to be a couple of God-fearing Gentiles who would congregate with the Jews. Dunn writes, “for it was in the synagogues that he would find those Gentiles who were already most open and amenable to his message” (Dunn 560).

Why do you think upon arrival Paul would immediately go to the synagogue? Was it a theological understanding or a strategical method? If theological, how come? If strategical, what made the synagogue, a Jewish gathering place, the right place to be a light to the Gentiles?

 

Bibliography: Dunn, James D. G. Beginning from Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009); Stek, John H. “To the Jew First.” Calvin Theological Journal 7.1 (1972): 15-52

[This is the third set of guest posts from my Advanced Studies in Acts class. John Caprari is a senior undergraduate Biblical Studies major with an emphasis on Pastoral Ministry. He and his wife will be going to Africa soon after graduation to explore a church planting ministry. He has therefore focused his attention on Paul’s missionary method.]

The Apostle Paul is undoubtedly one of the greatest missionaries to walk this earth. The fruit of his labor is convincing enough! I’m sure Paul would suggest that he was simply a vessel. And a vessel he was. But, what does that mean? Some might say he just went wherever the Spirit led him. I might add, we should always be obedient to the direction the Spirit guides us in. With that being said, Paul did not just sit around and wait for anything supernatural happen.

Missionary ChurchRoland Allen is one of the classics of our era who have written on Paul’s missionary methods that many look to for understanding. He believes Paul’s ministry strategy was more a lack of strategy than anything else. He calls it spontaneous expansion: “This then is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the exhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church…” (Allen 10).

In his book The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church Allen argues that the less control we have over the church, the more growth we will see. The more freedom we allow the Spirit to work, the more expansion of the Church will happen. For Allen, no type of organization is important. The pre-requisites of a great missionary are: 1) faith and 2) dependence on the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit’s influence on Paul’s ministry is not only evident, but also vital. It’s the Spirit that called Paul and Barnabas out: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “’Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). And it’s the Holy Spirit who led them where they were to go: “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus” (Acts 13:4). Just a few chapters latter in the narrative of Acts, Luke again shows the presence of the Spirit in these missionary journeys: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, have been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). I wonder what Paul was thinking after this: “Come on! There is so much potential in the province of Asia. The gospel needs to be preached there!” But, God had other plans.

These are just a few examples telling of the influence of the Spirit in Paul’s ministry. Surely, there are many more that communicate the Spirit’s guiding and also the importance of the Spirit’s ‘hand’ on the fruit of our work.

Can you think of any passages, especially in the book of Acts that communicate the absolute need of dependence on the Spirit in our ministry? Is Allen right in suggesting that we should drop all ‘control’ we have and allow more freedom for the Spirit to expand the Church? Is there room for organization and strategic planning in missions? Why or why not? Was Paul more strategically oriented in his ministry or was he completely dependent upon spontaneous expansion?

Acts 19:11-17 reports the amusing story of the Sons of Sceva who attempt to cast out demons in the name of Jesus and Paul. Jewish exorcists are well known in the ancient world. Legends about Solomon’s great power of demons were well-known. Josephus says God gave Solomon great wisdom, but also remarkable magical powers (Antiq. 8.42-49).

“God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return, and this method of cure is of great force unto this day.”

He goes on to describe a Jew by the name of Eleazar who cast out demons in the presence of the emperor Vespasian and many other witnesses. The method Eleasar used to cast out the demon was strange: “He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.”

Solomon is not the only Jewish name thought to have magical powers. In Paris Papyri 574, the exorcist says to the demon, “I abjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews,” and “hail God of Abraham, Hail God of Isaac, hail God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”

seven-sonsIn Ephesus, at least some Jewish exorcists attempted to use the names of both Jesus and Paul as “power words” to cast out demons. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek ἐξορκιστής (exorcist) is used.  When commanded, the demon reverses the usual process and “exorcizes” the exorcists! This humorous scene shows that the God of Paul is not to be manipulated like the other gods of the ancient world.

The news of beating of the sons of Sceva spreads quickly.  The text says that the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor (μεγαλύνω).  This does not necessarily mean people became believers. The word appears in Acts 5:13 to refer to the reputation the apostles gained in Jerusalem (“held in high regard by the people”), but certainly in that context people were not converted to Christianity.

What are the implications for modern evangelism and/or church life? While I suspect this will have a different application in the West as opposed to other parts of the world where a belief in demons is more vivid, American Christianity is not immune from using the name of Jesus as a quasi-magical word that someone guarantees we “get what we wished for.” This kind of neo-paganism is common, but very dangerous.

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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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