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The tour today focused on sites in the Jesus sits in Galilee. We left about 8 AM and made a stop at Yardenet, the pilgrim baptism site on the Jordan River. This is a location that is set up for large groups to come in and participate in a baptism in the Jordan River, although this is not the site Jesus was likely baptized. He was probably baptized near the Dead Sea since those were John the Baptist was baptizing in the Gospels. Nevertheless this is an interesting location because it preserves A portion of the Jordan River for Christian pilgrims. We didn’t perform baptisms today, but I did read from the Gospel of Matthew and talked briefly about Jesus is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

From the baptismal site we drove through Tiberius to Mount Arbel. This is not so much a biblical site, but a hike up to the top of Mount Arbel to view the sea of Galilee. From the top of the cliffs we can see the west and north quarters of the sea, essentially where all of the Jesus sites are located. We always take a group photo at the carob tree at the top of the hill but it was struck by lightning recently and there is nothing but a little stub left.

IMG_2036Returning to the shore of the sea of Gallilee we stopped at Migdal. Although it was the home of Mary Magdalene, the place is rarely mentioned in the Bible. However, a first-century Synagogue was recently excavated along with an unusual carved stone found near the center of the synagogue. The signs of the site suggest the stone is carved to look like the second temple, although this is not particularly conclusive.

But I think it is interesting that this is a first century synagogue not far from Capernaum. Although there is no evidence Jesus taught in this particular synagogue, the gospels portray him is teaching in many of the synagogues in Galilee. So it gave us an opportunity to discuss what teaching at the synagogue might have been like. There are a number of other excavated buildings adjacent to the synagogue including what appeared to be two or three mikvoth. These were not mentioned on any of the signs, and the brochure was late on details. Site costs 10 shekels for students and 12 shekels for adults, so groups will have to weigh the cost for such a short visit. I was told if I made arrangements ahead of time we could have a guide for the site.

IMG_2097.JPGAfter eating lunch and doing some shopping at Nof Ginnasar we arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes about 2 o’clock. All of the Catholic sites are closed from noon until two, and there were only two of the buses waiting in line when we arrived. Neither of these groups seemed to enter the actual garden or visit the church. The group was able to visit the chapel, and then we gathered on the rocks near the front of the garden to read the Sermon on the Mount, then had a few minutes to pray and read the Bible privately. This was one of the best visits I have had to the Mount of Beatitudes since it was so quiet and reflective.

We went back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to visit Capernaum. For most the highlight here is Peter’s house, although it is difficult to see much of the house due to the large church built over the top. There is also a beautiful synagogue, although it dates to the fifth or six century, long after the time of Jesus. For me, the highlight of a visit to Capernaum is walking out in the beach near the Sea and reading the Bible. In this case I read Mark 2 since the healing of the paralytic takes place at Peter’s house.

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It was getting late in the day so we continued around the lake to Kursi, the traditional site of  the exorcism recorded in Mark 5. There is a small Byzantine church on the site which has only partially been restored. We talked through the story, look at the cliffs and wondering how the pigs made the leap into the sea. The simple solution is the pigs were far closer to the Sea than the impressive cliffs.

When we finally turned back into the Ma’agan parking lot we had traveled around the whole of the Sea of Galilee. My students were very tired out by this time and were looking forward to the pool or a nap before dinner.

Tomorrow we enter Jordan and visit Jerash on our way to Petra.

Our goal was to leave Jerusalem at 8 o’clock sharp this morning, but that did not happen since a pair of students oversleep and unfortunately leave their phone off the hook so that could not be called. By the time I pounded on the door we were about 40 minutes late. The only one who is happy about this was our friendly neighborhood scarf salesman who was able to sell another 45 scarfs to the group waiting on the bus. Lest anyone think of exaggerating let me assure you I am not. If you know somebody on the trip (spoiler alert), you’re going to get a scarf for a souvenir.

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Our trip to Caesarea went quickly. Since it was the Sabbath it was virtually no traffic on the road. Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod’s tribute to the Roman Empire. By building such a beautiful city Herod demonstrates he is the ideal Roman client king and makes the claim that Judea is not something backwards end of the Roman empire, it can hold its own against any other Greco Roman city.

As for biblical significance, Caesarea is the city Peter visit when he preached to Cornelius in    Acts 10. In Acts 12 Herod Agrippa was struck dead when he entered the theater looking like a God (a story confirmed by Josephus). Philip the Evangelist lived in Caeseara with his four daughters when Paul passed through the city on his return from Ephesus. Paul also spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial will Felix was the governor. It is what it was it Caesarea that Paul made his famous appeal to Ceasar. There is a cistern in Herod’s palace at Caesarea which claims to be the prison of the apostle Paul, but I think this has about a zero percent chance of being accurate. Since Paul was a Roman citizen it is highly unlikely he he would have been held in a cistern for two years (or at all for that matter).

After we visited the theater, many of the more adventurous students went down to the beach area to pick up shells and put their feet in the Mediterranean Sea, all the while ignoring the signs telling them to stay off the beach. I of course implored them all to come back, but they did not hear me (or simply ignored me). All in all was a good time.

From the beach area we walked across the hippodrome and explored some of the larger buildings the bathhouse storage areas and shops of the Byzantine Caesarea. The rest of Caesarea is preserved crusader castle that has been converted into a number of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed gelato, coffee, and several pizzas before leaving the site.

IMG_2009From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel, past Megiddo and across the plain of Jezreel to Beth She’an near the Sea of Galilee. It was now quite late in the day and they were virtually no other tourists in the park. Bet She’an is excavated to the first century and features a mostly restored theater, a cardo with several restored shops and a large bath house complex. A favorite feature of this site is the sacred area and the water system that leads to several swimming pools and an ancient public toilet. Students seem to like sitting on the public toilets and posing for the camera.

We arrive at out hotel at the Sea of Galilee about 4:30, allowing the students plenty of time in the pool. We are staying at Ma’agan, the most beautiful resorts in Israel. Tomorrow we will visit quite a few sites related to the life of Jesus.

After a lighter walking day yesterday, we started at the Mount of Olives with the goal of walking across the Kidron Valley, up to the City of David, through Hzekiah’s tunnel, and then Back up to the Dung Gate, back across the Old City and out the Jaffa Gate to meet the bus.

The day begin with a local vendor getting on our bus and probably making his profit for the month. My students were were scarfing up his wears, pun unintended; we bought probably 45 scarves from the man. And by “we” I don’t mean “me”.

IMG_1951.JPGThe drop off point for the Mount of Olives walk was (as usual) crowded with tourists and vendors hawking their wares. Several people in our group decided to ride a camel, so we watched them trot around the parking lot a bit before we were able to take our group down to the railing and have a group photo (including a particularly persistent beggar) and a time of teaching. By this time we’ve been to the southern wall excavations and seen several models of the city of Jerusalem so the students were asking good questions about locations of various things we were seeing.

We walked down to Dominus Flevit, a church about halfway down the Mount where (traditionally) Jesus wept over Jerusalem before the Temple action (Luke 20:41-44). The site was more crowded than previous trips (several large Indian groups), but we managed to get a location to look over the valley and discuss the Triumphal Entry and Jewish Messianic expectations in the first century.

From there we visited the Church of all Nations, the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. This is another site which is usually crowded, and today was no exception. After a quick look at the olive trees many of the students went into the church to see the Agony Stone, the traditional place where Jesus wept on the night he was betrayed. We read Luke 22:39-46 (Jesus’s prayer) and 22:47-53 (the arrest). This gave us a chance to discuss the meaning of Jesus’s prayer asking God to “take this cup” from him.

Something I added to the tour last time was a walk through the Kidron Valley. This involves crossing the busy street and entering the walking path on the other side of the street. The parks service has cleaned this area up considerably in recent years and there are free toilets (not the cleanest in Jerusalem but good enough!) Walking down into the valley, we saw the so-called Tomb of Absalom and the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter, none of which had anything to do with those people. They are impressive Hellenistic tombs, but dating to no more than 150 B.C. One of the locals has built a Bedouin tent here, and had a camel in a pen. Strangely he was not selling anything nor was he interested in talking.

There is a promenade on the west side of the Kidron which makes for an easier walk (I did stop halfway to explain the view and catch my breath). The walk ends at the south east corner of the Temple Mount, near the Southern Temple archaeology park, offering a unique view of that end of the southern Wall. It is just a short walk from there to the City of David. It looks like there are quite a few things being renovated in this site, mostly some walkways around the Stepped Structure and administration building. We could only look down on these things from the overlook.

IMG_1976.JPGWhat most people want to see at the City of David is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is the water system built by Hezekiah according to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. After a short walk down through tunnels to the Canaanite spring, there is a split in the Tunnel between the “wet” tunnel and the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. The wet tunnel has water flowing over the knees, and is completely dark. This is the first trip I have led where the majority took the wet tunnel. I, however, took the safer route through the dry tunnel (fear of chaffing drives many of my decisions).

The dry Canaanite tunnel exits near the Jebusite walls, and the park has re-configured the walk further down the hill to the pool of Siloam. We no longer exit the park and walk along the street (which is busy and potentially dangerous). There are now a series of wooden walkways within the park and partially through a private neighborhood. This is much more convenient and it appears the site is developing additional viewpoints along the way.

The pool of Siloam is mentioned in connection with Jesus healing a blind man (John 9:7). In the first century it may have functioned as a public mikveh for pilgrims arriving at Jerusalem from the south. Since the pool was discovered more than ten years ago, additional work has been done to expose steps which appear to lead all the way up to Wilson’s Arch. Although the presentation of these recent discoveries is clear, it is a damp smelly place.

We had a bit of a scare when one of the students did not get on the shuttle back to the Dung Gate, but eventually we found her. This did allow most of the students to enjoy some ice cream in the shade (I had neither ice cream or shade). After our scare I took the students to the Cardo, the remnants of the Byzantine Roman Road through Jerusalem, and to the remnants of Hezekiah’s Wall on our walk back to the Jaffa Gate.

I planned to return to the hotel early enough to allow the students some time in the swimming pool. They seem to have appreciated this a great deal after three days of serious walking in and around the Old City.

As I finish up this post, I can hear music from a children’s concert as people are beginning to celebrate Shabbat.

We leave Jerusalem tomorrow morning and head north to Caesarea and our hotel on the Sea of Galilee.

This was our first full day in Jerusalem. After a short walk from our hotel we visited the Garden Tomb. As always this was an early highlight for everyone. Our Garden Tomb guide was Peter, and his presentation of the facts about the Garden was excellent and his faith was both genuine and evident. For those who do not know the Garden Tomb, this is a rare British evangelical site next to Gordon’s Cavalry, a rocky cliff side that looks vaguely like a skull. The location has a good case for being the actual site for the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection although most scholars think the Holy Seplucher is the more likely location. I heard one guide say a Catholic friend told him something like “it isn’t the place where Jesus was buried, but it should be.”

From there we walked up to the Jaffa Gate where we visited the Tower of David Museum, although to be honest it does not have all that much to do with David. Sometimes the traditional names are not very helpful. The reason I wanted to go through this somewhat newer site was the overview of the history of Jerusalem from the Canaanite period to Suliman the Magnificent. There are several small museum galleries dedicated to periods in Israel’s history and one or two very helpful dioramas which help to visualize the Second Temple.

For some reason everyone was hungry about noon, so we walked to the Jewish Quarter where there are several options for lunch. Since I know everyone is wondering I had an excellent falafel.

After lunch we walked down the steps to the Davidson Center to visit the Southern Wall excavations. I have always considered this site a highlight of any tour, if you are in the Old City, plan of at least two hours (or more) for the short orientation video and to walk the site. Unfortunately there was a large and noisy group of high school students being led backwards through the site by a few rather bored looking teachers. We avoided them for the most part.

The Davidson Archaeological Park encompasses the southern Wall of the Temple Mount, including several massive Herodian stretch stones on the corner as well as some original steps going up to the double and triple gates. This is where Christian groups sit on the steps and read parts of the gospel. But sadly not a single Christian group other than mine walked down to the recent excavations in the Ophel. I suppose herding 60 older people down the steps would be difficult, but I think it is important to show the sites for both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

We the went to the Western Wall. I have not been there since they re-oriented the entrance to the men’s section, which looks like a long term change. I noticed quite a few students put their prayers in the cracks of the Wall this time. Since it was late in the day, the plaza was not crowded, but I did see something special: a young Jewish man at the Wall praying with his young daughter. I did not know that was possible, but it was very nice to see.

On our way back to the Jaffa Gate we visited the Holy Sepulcher. It has only be a few weeks since the renovations were completed, and the shrine does look much better. But I thought  there were far more people than usual. Every section of the Church was packed and uncomfortable. Even the Syrian chapel was stuffed with two or three large groups. The Rotunda was closed, which was disappointing. If my goal was to confirm my students as official Protestants, I was successful.

We slowly walked back to the Jaffa Gate and then eventually our hotel. I wrote most of this before dinner (the food at our hotel is excellent) and the students are really enjoying their stay here.

Tomorrow we start at Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, then over to the National Museum for the rest of the day.

nigtc-seriesHere is an exciting announcement from Eerdmans: Mark Goodacre and Todd D. Still are taking over editorship of the New International Greek Text Commentary series. The NIGTC is one on the premier New Testament commentaries published today (here is my review of the recent Romans volume from Longenecker). The press release from Eerdmans indicates previous editor Donald Hagner is scaling back from of his responsibilities and I. Howard Marshall passed away in 2015. Marshall was one of the original editors of the series, along with W. Ward Gasque.

Marshall also contributed the first volume of the series in 1978. His NIGTC Luke commentary one of the first major commentaries I purchased when I was in Bible College and I used Charles A. Wanamaker’s Thessalonians commentary as a textbook for Exegesis of Pauline Epistles when I was in Seminary. I consider F. F. Bruce’s NIGTC Galatians commentary to be one of the best ever written on the letter, even though it was published in 1982. New International Greek Text Commentaries appear frequently on my list of top Bible commentaries. Hopefully the series can be completed (Acts, John, Ephesians) and perhaps a few volumes updated to reflect recent scholarship.

Mark Goodacre

Mark Goodacre

Mark Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University. He served as the series editor for Library of New Testament Studies (formerly Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement), 2004-2014. He has been one f the major voices questioning Q, for example, is The Case Against Q: Studies in Marcan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002). In addition, Goodacre is one of the original bibliobloggers, maintaining his NT Blog since 2003, the NT Gateway and he even has a podcast.

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Todd Still

Todd Still is the Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. He is the co-author of Thinking Through Paul (with Bruce W. Longenecker, Zondervan, 2014) as well the co-editor of the Lightfoot Legacy Series (with Ben Witherington, IVP), including John, Acts, and The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.

I am happy to say the New International Greek Text Commentary series is in good hands with Goodacre and Still at the helm.

Zondervan is offering the 42 volumes of the NIV Application commentary for $4.99 each for a limited time. Starting on November 7, you can purchase any volume of this series in an eBook format for only $4.99.

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This series features the work of many world-class scholars who have contributed major commentaries on a book. For example, Douglas Moo, who wrote a major commentary in the NICNT series, contributes the NIVAC volume on Romans. It is possible many busy pastors and teachers who do not have the time to wade through all of the exegetical intricacies of Moo’s 1000+ page commentary on Romans will find his comments on Romans in this series more accessible.Image result for NIVAC genesis

Each section of the commentary begins with as section entitled “original meaning.” Here the author provides a narrative commentary on the text. In most cases the commentary reflects the author’s work in the original although there is little reference to Hebrew or Greek. I would characterize this as an exposition of the text rather than exegesis.

After the exposition, the commentary has a short section entitled “bridging contexts.” Since the world of the Bible is different than our world, the authors attempt to set scripture in context of the first century and then provide some analogy to a modern situation. In Scot McKnight’s commentary on Galatians, for example, he describes the challenge of the Judaizers to Paul’s ministry, then draws an analogy the challenge faced of strict fundamentalists today.

Image result for NIVAC galatiansFollowing this section, the author’s offer some application of the text to contemporary Christian life or church practice. This “contemporary significance” is often very personal, McKnight’s comments on fundamentalism are draw from his own experience. These sections will help a pastor or teacher apply the text, but will also be encouraging to general readers.

In fact, the NIV Application series is designed to be an accessible commentary for general readers. Any volume of the series would make a good companion volume to supplement a layperson’s reading of a biblical book. There are footnotes pointing to other literature for readers who want to read the technical, scholarly details and the bibliography will point readers to other more extensive commentaries.

Each commentary is only $4.99 in an eBook format (Amazon/Kindle, Barnes & Noble/Nook; CBD/eBooks; iTunes/iBooks). There are several bundles collecting several NIVAC volumes, starting at $17.99 (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels and Acts, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles and Revelation).

The sale ends on November 13, 2016 (Sunday) at 11:59pm ET.

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.

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Christian Theology

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