Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Paul, Apostle of Christ, The Movie

Nero’s Torches , 1876, by Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902). Nero used Christians as torches in Rome, in the last days of Paul.

Who was the Apostle Paul, and what was it like to be a Christian in Nero’s Rome, in the A.D. 60’s? Paul, Apostle of Christ, a film directed by Andrew Hyatt, and made by Affirm Films (who also made Fireproof and Courageous), tells the gripping story in a creative way.

Normally, I am a bit skeptical about Christian films, but this one was fantastic. The premise behind the film is that Luke, a physician and companion of Paul, comes to visit Paul, when he is imprisoned in Rome’s Mamertine prison, awaiting execution. Unfortunately, while the film’s premise is very interesting, there is a lot we do no know about the last days of Paul, or how Luke wrote Acts, with any particular degree of certainty. We know from Eusebius, an early church historian, that Paul was held in the Mamertine, and we also know that the madman, Emperor Nero had blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians, using Christians as torches to light the city.

Did Luke write the Book of Acts, in Rome, during the last years of Paul’s life? Were Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, when Luke came to visit? We have no evidence for these speculations made in the movie. But to focus on these historical questions misses the point of the film. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, we get a glimpse into what motivated Paul, as well asking some very real questions as to how the Christians might have thought about Nero’s persecutions.

Should the Christians fight back and resist Nero? Should they flee Rome itself, and avoid the Romans? Should they stay in Rome and pursue a non-violent course? These are tough questions, and the film rightly explores them, as the persecuted Christian community looks to their imprisoned leader Paul, for help.

Many Christians today think of the so-called “Great Tribulation” solely in terms of a future event, that will happen prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Yet Paul, Apostle of Christ makes a very convincing case that the “Great Tribulation” was just as real, and bad enough, in those terrifying days, in Nero’s Rome. Along the same lines, another recent film, Tortured for Christ, tells us that such “Great Tribulation” even happens in our own day, but that much of American Christianity seems rather oblivious to that reality.

If anything, viewing Paul, Apostle of Christ, should encourage any person, believer or non-believer to take the time and seriously read the Book of Acts. Be thankful for the freedoms that many of us take for granted. Find your faith in the Risen Jesus, just as Paul did. Pray for the persecuted church.


Rearranging Prejudices

Rearranging Predjudices in Quebec City

Blending in in Quebec City, August, 2015

 

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
William James

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:9-10 NIV

I have always had an empathetic connection to the civil rights movement. In the early 60’s my family encountered ethnic pressures in a “Quiet Revolution” that caused us to pack up and move from Quebec to Virginia. We switched racial status—from being among the minority of native English Quebecers to being among the majority of southern whites. How times change. Virginia has lost a lot of its ‘southern’ culture, but in 1963 it was strong. I remember being in the back seat of our family’s car while we drove past a cross burning beside a highway interchange. I was too young at the time to know what was going on but knew it was about hatred and fear. We didn’t have any dogs in that fight. We were in Virginia because my father wanted to work and raise a family on a level playing field. That’s all.

My brother and I became completely assimilated into the mid-Atlantic way of life. Dad would express frustration from time to time with Quebec separatists, and we (more or less) passively inherited some of his prejudices. They didn’t seem like ‘prejudices’ at the time, but looking back that’s probably a fair assessment. Ethnic, nationalist and political strife have torn at Canada for decades over the issue of sovereignty for Quebec. In 1995, the year my father died, a national referendum that would have turned Quebec into an independent country was defeated by an extremely narrow margin.

I haven’t really kept up with Canadian politics, much less the temperature of the separatist movement. So when my wife announced this summer that she wanted to visit Quebec City, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that French Canadians were unfriendly to Americans, particularly if the Americans could not converse in French. I struggled through college French 35 years ago, so I was less than optimistic about how we would be treated.

Quebec City StairsQuebec City is one of the most charming, clean and beautiful places in North America. It is a city planner’s dream—beautiful public squares, monuments and statues, lavish stonework, French provincial architecture, lofty vertical buildings that tower over cobblestone streets, flowers and gardens everywhere, sidewalk cafes, talented street performers, horse-drawn carriages, avant-garde restaurants, and people sitting on benches enjoying all the beauty that surrounds them. We didn’t see trash anywhere, not even gum on the sidewalks. The City has a profound Catholic foundation—the major streets and city gates (it’s the only walled city north of Mexico) are named after apostles and saints. There are churches and cathedrals everywhere.

How were we treated? For a couple of language-challenged foreigners, everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and helpful. As soon as they discovered we couldn’t speak the language, they immediately switched to English. Everyone we met was cheerful and hospitable, even complete strangers standing in line to order poutine at Fromagerie Lemaire. Their warmth was striking. Not at all what I had expected.

19th-century pragmatic American philosopher William James wrote, “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” (Dick Woodward used that quote frequently.) The apostle Peter wrote, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” After being in Quebec this week, I can’t help but wonder if Peter’s instruction might have had some pragmatic value in motivating others to change their opinions. The New Testament is full of instructions to be cheerful and to respond to prejudicial behavior with kindness and charity—to treat adversaries with respect and gentleness.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44 NIV)

“You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NET)

“Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near!” (Philippians 4:5 NET)

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings.” (James 3:13 NET)

“But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:23-25a NET)

“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NET)

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing,” (Philippians 2:14 NET)

Sometimes being a Christian is like fighting with your hands tied behind your back. We get kicked and slapped and even worse, then we have to fight back with kindness, compassion, empathy, and respect. It can take incredible patience. What we experienced in Quebec was a powerful reminder of the best way to deal with people who don’t like us. Has Quebec turned the corner on ethnic strife? Who am I to say? But their kindness and hospitality makes me want to rearrange my prejudices.

Le Château Frontenac

Le Château Frontenac, Quebec City

HT: Marion Paine


Personal Discipleship Class

Personal Discipleship Class

Click on the images inside this file to link to the online resources. (You may need to adjust your browser settings to allow the links to work, or open it in iBooks, or save it to your desktop and open it with Acrobat Reader.)

Starting today (February 1st), I will be facilitating a new class on personal discipleship. For the next nine weeks, we will meet promptly at 10:45 a.m. in room 156 at the Williamsburg Community Chapel.

This class will build upon the apostle Paul’s instruction in (Philippians 2:12):

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”

“Personal discipleship” is the process by which a believer or seeker accepts personal responsibility for exploring the claims and content of the Bible. The class will explore resources and topics, going beyond the sacred page to meet some of today’s most interesting and thought-provoking theologians, apologists, and philosophers. We will discuss historical evidence for the Resurrection, the dating of Easter, apologetics, textual criticism, the trustworthiness of Scripture, biblical inerrancy, science and faith, and current topics in theology.

The first session will focus on resources for personal discipleship. Click on the image above to download a PDF file containing hyperlinks to some of my favorite resources, which I will demonstrate in the class. If your personal studies are getting a little rote, try clicking on the images in this file to find some refreshing new tools and resources that you can use to reinvigorate your devotional life. The breadth and depth of high-quality resources available today is absolutely stunning.

Objective Truth As The Basis For Our Study

I posted the following video a couple of weeks ago. It presents an interesting, refreshing basis for studying the Christian faith—specifically that Christianity is founded on objective truth. The ideas in this video will frame our approach to studying during this class.


How To Live

Lessons in Lent

Plumb Line In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives us a clear parable about God’s expectations for His people. The basic point of the story is that God has given every one of us gifts, and that He will turn away those who fail to use their gifts wisely. Some parables are difficult to understand, but not this one. It’s a tough object lesson.

N.T. Wright comments on these verses that, “Each of us is called to exercise the primary, underlying gifts of living as a wise, loving human being, celebrating God’s love, forgiving, praying, seeking justice, acting prudently and courageously, waiting patiently for God’s will to be done.”

Okay…how?

To tell you the truth, I’ve never been big on taking a spiritual gift inventory or getting wound up about discerning God’s will for my life. That’s just me. I trust that God has a plan for my life. But the parable does beg…

View original post 836 more words


Who Wrote the Bible? (Part 2)

Who Wrote The Bible

Who wrote the Bible?

In the first part of our new series entitled “Who wrote the Bible?” we explored the human authors of the Old Testament. With this post let’s turn our attention to the writers of the New Testament.

In order to keep everything balanced, we developed an infographic on the composition of the New Testament (similar to the one we developed for the Old Testament), linked to first century history.

New Testament Infographic

So what do you see in the infographic? There are five divisions in the New Testament: the Gospels, a history book (Acts), Paul’s letters, general letters, and a prophetic book (Revelation). In no particular order, here are some fun facts you can use in water cooler conversations:

  •  Two of the four Gospels were written by authors who were not firsthand witnesses to the events they recorded (Mark was Peter’s associate, and Luke was an associate of Paul).
  • While it may appear as if Paul wrote most of the New Testament, in fact Luke wrote more words than anyone else.  (Luke was very thorough in his research and writing, and was always meticulous with the details.)
  • As far as historical research can determine, there was a writing gap between the Resurrection and the writing of the New Testament books. Don’t be disarmed by this apparent gap—it’s considerably smaller than the gaps for other ancient manuscripts, and well within the lifetimes of firsthand witnesses. (Don’t believe it? Study this infographic.) The gap is also understandable in terms of the history of the early Christian Church—which was so inept (by its own reporting) that it barely held together in its first years.
  • James is arguably the earliest of the New Testament manuscripts (competing with Paul’s earliest epistles). Who was James and why was he important?  Keep reading.
  • That James would be the first to write is consistent with his leadership of the early Church in Jerusalem.
  • There are only eight known authors of the Old Testament (the authorship of Hebrews remains uncertain). In terms of occupations, one was a tax collector, one was a physician, one was a tent maker, two were fishermen, and two were half-brothers of Jesus Christ.
  • Only three of the new Testament writers were among Jesus’ 12 Apostles (although Paul clearly had apostolic authority).
  • Although precise dating of some of the New Testament Scriptures is not possible (by the way some can be dated very precisely), it took approximately 14 years from Paul’s conversion for him to begin writing his contributions to the Bible. Why so long? Well according to his own writing, he spent years with Jesus Christ learning all that God had to show him.
  • John was the youngest of the apostles, some think as young as 13 years old when Jesus was crucified, and he lived much longer than the other Apostles. John’s writing comes later, and with the possible exception of Jude (who only wrote one chapter of the Bible), is the only New Testament author writing after the conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The precise dating of the New Testament books in the context of first century history is a fascinating subject, well beyond the scope of this post. Two excellent sources are From Abraham to Paul: a Biblical Chronology by Andrew E. Steinmann, and anything by Norman Geisler (here’s a small sample of his work—if you only click one hyperlink in this post, let it be this one so you’ll see how forensic this topic becomes when it is approached with academic integrity).

How important is understanding how these texts fit in history? Hmmm…maybe we could light a fire under Clarke Morledge to start with John in Ephesus in 70 AD and take it forward from there (Clarke has a passion for Christian history). Let me just state for now that it’s important to appreciate how tightly the dots are connected.

So…back to the New Testament authors.  Click on the names of the authors in the right-hand column to read their biographies (yes we’re using Wikipedia, which doesn’t have all the facts straight, but does provide mostly useful information with lots of links to rich content).

The New Testament

The Gospels

Matthew

Matthew

Mark

Mark

Luke

Luke

John

John

History

Acts

Luke

Pauline Epistles to Churches

Romans

Paul

1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

Galatians

Ephesians

Philippians

Colossians

Pauline Epistles to Individuals

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy

Titus

Philemon

General Epistles

Hebrews

???

James

James

1 Peter

Peter

2 Peter

1 John

John

2 John

3 John

Jude

Jude

Prophecy

Revelation

John

Matthew was a tax collector, clearly among the most despised people in Judea. He would have been a meticulous record keeper, and was probably very good at getting away from mobs—both useful skills for an apostle and Gospel writer.

James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus Christ. James was the leader of the Jerusalem Church, and was the glue that held it together at the Council of Jerusalem. (The discovery of the James Ossuary has recently touched off a firestorm of controversy in the field of biblical archaeology.)

Peter was an illiterate fisherman (which may explain why Mark is thought to have written Peter’s accounts in his Gospel), with a Galilean accent. Peter’s tomb is arguably the finest grave site in the world.

Paul was a tent maker, and a gifted student of the Hebrew Tanakh. He was a small man with a fiery temper, humble and remarkably fearless. He also had a marvelous sense of humor (he wrote that greeting while chained to two Roman guards.) By the way, speaking of tombs and chains, Paul was honored with a very fine basilica of his own. Click the graphic below to take a 3-D virtual tour. The chains at the center are thought to be the chains that bound him to his Roman captors, with provenance back to the fifth century. In 2009 the Vatican announced that bone fragments collected inside his sarcophagus were indeed from a first century man.

Paul's Tomb

Take a 3-D tour of Paul’s Tomb at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (in Rome).

Click away, dig deep, and share the joy of personal discipleship! After you’ve gotten acquainted with the authors, in our next post in this series we will explore the apologetics of defending the claims for traditional authorship of the Bible. Enjoy!


%d bloggers like this: