Acts 18 – Success Breeds Jealousy

After several very difficult experiences in Philippi and Thessalonica and an unfruitful visit to Athens, Paul finally experiences some good success in Corinth. After preaching in the synagogue he establishes a church that includes several key converts. Luke lists Titius Justus, a god-fearing Gentile and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue.  Both of these were leaders in the synagogue and would have been valuable to Paul as leaders in a new church. A third convert is implied in Romans 16:23 – Erastus, the “director of public works” (NIV) or city treasurer. If Erastus was a convert at this time he would have brought some wealth and prestige to the church. In addition to these converts, Aquilla and Priscilla were in Corinth and eventually the teacher Apollos

art-thou-jealous-muchPaul may have been concerned his success would breed a violent back-lash from the synagogue, as it had in Thessalonica. In fact, Paul has seen this happen before.  The normal pattern is for him to enter the synagogue and face serious persecution.  He is not afraid for his own life, in fact, he seems more than willing to suffer physically for the Gospel.

1 Cor 2:3-4 indicates that Paul was afraid his ministry was destined for failure.  He does not yet know of the fate of the Thessalonican believers, perhaps even Berea is unknown to him.  Athens likely did not result in a church.  Will Corinth go just as badly?  Yet in 1 Cor 2, Paul claims that any success in Corinth was based solely on the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own rhetorical ability.

In Acts 18:9-10 Luke tells us that Paul has a vision in which the Lord tells Paul that he will not be harmed in the city of Corinth and that there are many people in the city that are “the Lord’s.”  There are three short, related commands: Do not fear, continue to speak, and do not be silent.

If these commands reflect Paul’s mood prior to Silas and Timothy’s return, then it is possible that Paul considered, like Jeremiah before him, to remain silent and not open himself up to further persecution (Jer 20:7-12).  But like Jeremiah, Paul cannot keep the Gospel to himself, he must be what he is, the light to the Gentiles.  Even if this means he will be persecuted.  This vision encourages him to continue, since his Gospel message will be received in Corinth. He will remain in the city 18 months, Paul’s longest place of ministry since his commission from Antioch in Acts 13.

An important observation here is Paul’s success was met with increased jealousy and persecution. Paul was obedient to his calling yet he was still suffering. Why is this? To what extent is Luke describing a successful ministry as a persecuted ministry? Compared to what some modern Christians seem to think, this is the opposite of what to expect. Yet for Paul, suffering confirmed he was doing exactly what God called him to do.

Acts 16:3 – Was Paul a Hypocrite?

In Acts 16:3, Paul circumcised Timothy, a Hellenistic Jew who begins to travel with Paul during the second missionary journey.  The problem is Paul’s reasons for circumcising Timothy at this time. The whole point of the conference in Acts 15 was to deal with the issue of circumcision for converts. Gentile converts should not be circumcised since they are not under the Mosaic Covenant. One option is to dismiss this story as a fiction created by Luke to create the appearance of unity in the Early Church (F.C. Baur). Since it does not seem likely the Paul of Galatians would have circumcised Timothy, this story is taken as evidence Luke to not know Paul or the letter of Galatians. Or perhaps Paul was just inconsistent in the application of the decision of the council.

Timothy_stained-glassThe traditional answer for this dilemma is rooted in Luke’s description of Timothy’s parents in Acts 16:3. Since his mother was a Jew, his father was a Greek, he would have been considered ethnically Jewish. The ruling that the one’s status as a Jew was traced through the mother’s line dates back to the time of Ezra and the Mishnah includes a similar ruling often dated to the first century (m.Qidd 3:12). While it is not absolutely certain that matrilinear descent was always followed in the first century, there appears to be enough evidence to say that likely was (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 664, n.23).

Shayne Cohen has challenged the relevance of these texts and argued Timothy was actually a Gentile who happened to have a Jewish mother (“Was Timothy Jewish (Acts 16:1-3): Patristic Exegesis, Rabbinic Law, And Matrilineal Descent,” JBL 105 [1986]: 251-268). He states “The Roman law of persons is completely irrelevant” for this case since there is no hint either of Timothy’s parents were Roman citizens. The Rabbinic texts often cited cannot be dated to the first century with any certainty. For Cohen, Ezra use of matrilineal descent is not relevant since it is not mentioned again in any Second Temple document other than the implication in Acts 16:3. Even if matrilineal descent was a principle in the first century, there is no evidence Hellenistic Jews in Asia Minor would have recognized it as valid. Finally, Cohen points out that no other New Testament text implies Timothy was a Jew. Even 2 Tim 1:5 does not require Timothy to be Jewish.

Yet Timothy is circumcised in Acts 16:3. I think it is wrong think Timothy was forced to be circumcised. He was complete agreement with Paul on this matter! I suggest that despite Cohen’s objections, from the perspective of the most observant Jew in Asia Minor, Timothy was a Jew, not a Gentile. Luke also tells us the reason Paul circumcised him was pressure from the Jews in Lystra and Iconium. They presumably knew Timothy was not circumcised and they would have made Timothy’s status with respect to the covenant the central issue whenever Paul attempted to preach the Gospel in a Jewish community.

Craig Keener sees this incident as an example of Luke’s literary-theological agenda (3:2321). After achieving unity on the issue of Gentile circumcision, Luke reports Paul did not excuse Jewish Christians from circumcision. Luke intentionally told this story after Acts 15 to emphasize the fact Paul was not a threat to Jewish heritage.

Does Paul do the right thing in requiring Timothy to keep the Law, even though he argues passionately in Galatians that those who are “in Christ” are not “under Law?”

Acts 15:37-40 – A Parting of the Ways: Part 2

[This is another post by a student in my Advanced Acts Studies seminar class, Camron Befus. Camron prepared a lecture on the conflict between Barnabas and Paul, so I asked him to write two blog posts on the topic.]

Argument 2Barnabas wishes to take his cousin John Mark on a second missionary journey Paul has proposed. But Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had already deserted them in Pamphylia and not continued with them in the work. They had such a “sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:38-39). Luke uses the word παροξυσμὸς for “sharp disagreement,” which is an odd choice of words to describe Paul’s disagreement. The word most often is used as “to stir to anger,” “to be irritated,” to do something that causes a person to get upset at a person. This is exactly what happened to Paul, as he was “provoked to anger” by Barnabas request.

This word is used in the Septuagint to describe God’s anger or wrath when he is provoked:

Deuteronomy 1:34-35 “When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors…”

Deuteronomy 29:27 “Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.”

Jeremiah 32:37 (LXX 39:37) “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety.”

Luke describes Paul as being very angry at Barnabas wishing to bring John Mark along, and we quickly see they even split up because of this disagreement. From Luke’s perspective Paul evidently believed he is in the right in this discussion. Luke chooses a word commonly used to describe the unfaithfulness of the Israelites towards God to describe Paul’s anger. Did Luke use this word because he was agreeing with Paul decision to be against John Mark coming on the trip? Or did Luke use this strong of a word for this disagreement because he was disappointed in Paul having such a strong reaction against his companion?

Some scholars believe Paul is the one who is in the wrong: he did not wait for the Holy Spirit’s leading to go on a second missionary journey. It was the Holy Spirit who had moved Paul and Barnabas to be commissioned and go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). Perhaps God used Paul’s impatience to show him that good does not come from not waiting on God.

Paul was not going to change his mind about bringing John Mark and Barnabas must have felt the same way, so they parted ways. Their solution to the problem was to continue reaching the Gentiles, although they will no longer work together. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul recruited Silas and went to Derbe. They went to the towns Paul had visited on his first missionary journey.

What did Luke intended by using this particular word to describe Paul’s anger? Who was in the right in this conflict over John Mark?

Acts 15:37-40 – A Parting of the Ways: Part 1

[This is another post by a student in my Advanced Acts Studies seminar class, Camron Befus. Camron prepared a lecture on the conflict between Barnabas and Paul, so I asked him to write two blog posts on the topic.]

The first conflict in Paul’s ministry occurs over a particular person (Acts 15:37-40). Paul proposes to his colleague Barnabas to revisit the churchs they had planted from their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Barnabas agrees but wants to take John Mark along. Mark had accompanied them on their first missionary journey but abandoned them half way through the trip (Acts 13:13).

Businessmen fightingThe Bible gives no reason for John Mark’s rapid departure in Perga of Pamphylia. Scholars have speculated on the reason for his departure because it caused Paul to be against John Mark coming on the second missions trip. His abandoning the group appears to be the principal reason if not only reason for Paul not desiring him to join them. Some have speculated that John Mark was home sick and therefore decided to return to Jerusalem where his mother is believed to have lived (Acts 12:12).

Another reason for his quick departure was that, James the leader of the Jerusalem counsel, was keeping tabs on Paul and his new ministry, and John Mark was there for the wrong reason. He abandoned them after he had seen what Paul’s message was and reported back to the counsel.

It is also sometimes suggested John Mark was still immature in Paul’s eyes. Paul did not wish to bring a ministry in itself along on what was certain to be a difficult trip as Paul knew hardship and persecution was coming. Acts 15:38 says “but Paul did not think it wise to take him.” This phrase might be translated as, “Paul did not think him ready.” Another factor is that John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10) which meant he would most likely side with Barnabas on any discussion. Whatever the case for his departure Paul was against Barnabas’s desire to bring John Mark along.

Another area that might have contributed to Paul and Barnabas going separate ways is found in Gal. 2:11-13, “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Barnabas is influenced by the men who were sent to Antioch. These men would not eat with the Gentiles and Barnabas joined them. This is important depending on how Gal 2 fits into the chronology of the book of Acts. If the Antioch Incident occurs after Acts 15, then Barnabas would have sided with Paul in the Jerusalem Counsel against circumcision but then back stabbed Paul because he was influencing the Gentiles to turn back to the Law. If it is placed before the Jerusalem Counsel occurs in Acts 15 then Barnabas would have sided and back Paul up at the Jerusalem counsel. This would have shown Paul his true understanding of the ministry to the Gentiles and that he had a backbone.

Many scholars have argued Gal 2 occurs before Acts 15, perhaps sometime in Acts 11. The reason for this is that in Gal 2 Paul states he went to Jerusalem to meet with the counsel by a revelation and meet in secret (Gal 2:1-2). This was done to further explain and understand the ministry God had called him to. He does the speaking to the counsel while in Acts 15 Paul is just a witness and Peter does the talking. In Acts 15 Paul does not go on his own accord but is sent by the church in Antioch who wanted to understand more thoroughly what to do when it came to circumcision.

Was Paul correct in splitting ways with Barnabas over John Mark? Was the main cause for Paul and Barnabas going separate ways because of the disagreement over John Mark or do you believe that something was adding to it as well? Was Luke trying to mask a bigger problem behind the disagreement over John Mark?