Paul Did Not Lie!

Enjoying my coffee this morning at the kitchen table, watching the squirrels and the birds on the back deck. A thought just occurred to me concerning the Apostle Paul. The author of the Gospel of Luke is the same person that wrote about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Scholars agree that Acts was written about twenty to twenty-fives years after Paul’s death. Paul wrote his letters about twenty years after Jesus died. What’s interesting to me is that Paul doesn’t always agree with what Acts says about him. Let’s look at just one of several examples.

Papyrus_8_-_Staatliche_Museen_zu_Berlin_inv._8683_-_Acts_of_the_Apostles_4,_5_-_verso
4th Century: Papyrus 8 – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin inv. 8683 – Acts of the Apostles 4, 5 – recto

As you may recall, Paul was a persecutor of the Christians before he saw the light, literally, and converted to Christianity. After he converted, he must have immediately rushed back to Jerusalem to confer with the original apostles. I can only imagine what he might have said, “Hey look guys – I’m one of you now!” But did he?

According to Acts 9:19-30, immediately after Paul’s conversion he spent some time with the disciples in Damascus, then headed to the city of Jerusalem where he met with the apostles of Jesus. He wanted to be a part of the team!

But Paul seems to disagree with the author of Acts. Take a look at what Paul says in Galatians 1:16-20:

I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!

It appears that Paul’s message to the Galatians was clear – he wanted them to know that his Gospel message came directly from God himself, through Jesus. He did not lie! So, who do you believe? The author of Acts or Paul himself? My money is on Paul!

Time for another cup!

 

Beam Me Up Baptism

Ahhhhhh… coffee at Starbucks this morning. Beautiful day. Philip just came to mind. Philip was one of the Twelve Apostles (Mark 3:18). But there was also a Philip in the book of Acts that was one of the Seven appointed by the Apostles to perform special duties (Acts 6:5). There are a couple of stories in the New Testament book of Acts about how Philip tries his hand at baptizing but just can’t seem to get it right. Here goes.

Sometimes called Philip the Evangelist, he traveled to Samaria where he preached the message of the messiah (Acts 8:5). He was able to convert large crowds and they were impressed by his miracles of healing and releasing demons from the possessed. Philip was apparently so persuasive that he converted Simon the magician who had control over the town prior to Philip’s arrival. The converts were immediately baptized by Philip (Acts 8:12).

When the Apostles heard how successful Philip was with the Samaritans, they sent two of the group, Peter and John, to follow up on his work. When they arrived they found that Philip had baptized them in Jesus’ name but no one had received the Holy Spirit. Holy Cow! The apostles immediately laid hands on the baptized and the believers received the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Maybe it was something in the water or maybe Philip wasn’t paying attention during his training. A rookie mistake.

Later on Philip travels from Jerusalem to Gaza and on the road meets an Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip, the evangelist that he is, tells him the gospel of Jesus and the Eunuch sees the river and decides right then and there to get baptized. Philip and the Eunuch jumps down into the water and Philip baptizes him. As Philip was bringing the Eunuch out of the water, SHAZAM! – Philip disappears into thin air. The Eunuch never sees Philip again and resumes his journey filled with joy (Acts 8:36-40).

But, where in the world was Philip? Well, the book of Acts says he reappears in a community called Azotus and carries on with his travels, preaching the gospel to others, like nothing happened out of the ordinary. You gotta wonder if Philip ever gets the baptizing thing straight. The author of Acts doesn’t say. Next thing you know, he’ll be transporting entire crowds to another community. I wonder if he ever did any time travel?

Another incredible story from the Bible. Read your Bibles! Time for another cup, friends.

Hangin’ Out With Judas

Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve original apostles and was infamously known for his kiss and betrayal of Jesus.  I think that most devoted readers of the Bible know the two different stories regarding the expiration of Judas.  Judas either killed himself by hanging (Matthew 27:5) or had some kind of freak accident by falling headlong and bursting his body open allowing his intestines to spill out (Acts 1:18).  These two dissimilar stories are written by two different authors who wrote decades apart from each other.

Judas-betraying-Jesus.-A-fresco-painting-in-the-chapel-of-Calvary-where-Jesus-was-crucified

Non-believers of Christianity like to bring up the apparent contradiction to prove that the Bible contains errors and contradictions.  Christian apologists defend the stories and agree that the two merely supplement one another.  Apologists will say something like, “Judas simply hung himself and after a while the rope snaps, the decayed and bloated body falls from the tree onto the ground and splits open, spilling his guts out.”

The harmonization of these two stories is fine – I have no problem with that.  However, most apologists who combine the two stories usually forget including “all” the details.  For instance, Matthew’s version states that Judas felt remorse after turning Jesus over to the officials so he gave the money back to the chief priests.  They took the undesirable silver pieces and bought a field as a burial place for foreigners fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah.  They called it the Field of Blood because it was about “blood” money.

Luke, the author of Acts, believes that Judas took the silver pieces and bought the field himself prior to his death.  Later on, he falls headlong and his guts spill out.  Luke doesn’t mention Jeremiah’s prophecy but believes everyone in Jerusalem called it the Field of Blood because that’s where Judas spilled his guts.

My thoughts?  I enjoy the Bible stories for what they are.  Instead of trying to make two different stories into one, why not appreciate the fact that these were simply two stories about the death of Judas – myth or real – who knows for sure?  Why insult one author’s opinion over the other?  As a Christian, wouldn’t you prefer to hear someone say, “We’re not certain how Judas died but we do have two different opinions,” instead of a made-up story?  Uh, oh… wait a minute.  Our Christmas story is a conflation of two separate stories by two different authors.

Oh, well!  Coffee solves all the mysteries of the world – at least in my world.  Read your Bibles!

To Flee or Not To Flee

The Lord will give you understanding.” 2 Timothy 2:7

Had a quick Starbucks in the Nashville airport before leaving on a jet plane to California. I’ve found that the crampiness of flying is not conducive to writing. Kind of makes me think of how the apostles must have felt when Jesus was crucified on the cross. I know… it must be my wild imagination for me to think that there’s any connection between being cramped and being crucified.

Something I’ve always pondered, though – what were the apostles thinking when they heard that Jesus was about to be hung on the cross? Did they hang around (no pun intended) to see what was in store for them? Or did they flee to another place to get away from the authorities? They must have been frightened for their lives, don’t you think? If I were in their shoes, or sandals, and seeing how my savior was treated and killed, I would certainly be scared out of my mind. We all know how Judas turned on Jesus and ratted him out. And what about Peter? He denied him thrice before the cock crowed.

So, what did the followers of Jesus do and where did they go? Did they think they would ever see Jesus again? Let’s see what the writers of the Gospels and Acts has to say.

The Gospel of Mark has no resurrection narrative (in the authentic writings). Mark does, however, have a message from a divine character of a promise of a resurrection. The divine messenger told the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to flee to Galilee where they will see Jesus again (Mark 16:7). Matthew’s Gospel confirms the appearance to the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20). Makes complete sense to me. I wouldn’t hang around the Jerusalem area where the “King of the Jews” was just tortured and killed on a cross.

But wait a minute. In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel (24:49) and the first chapter of the book of Acts (1:8) – same writer, by the way – Jesus tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem to wait for his return. So, they did stay after all? Who am I to believe?

Goes to show you how stories change over time. Mark was written about 40-50 years after Jesus died and Acts was written in the beginning of the second century, about 80-100 years after Jesus’ death. I can’t remember what I did even 10 years ago and I’m bound to tell stories where the fish I caught was much larger than my mother says it really was. The truth is always an illusion. I doubt that we will ever know how this religion we call Christianity came about. It certainly wasn’t the same in the early decades after Jesus died. But then again, who am I to say?

I’d say it’s time for another cup but airplane coffee is not for me. For now, I’ll just sit here patiently and fantasize about having another cup of dark roast.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path to my coffeehouse.” Kaffeina 119:105

I Cannot Tell A Lie!

The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” – George Carlin

Ahhh, I wonder if the apostle Paul had the luxury of a dark roast coffee every morning. I am certainly spoiled. Speaking of Paul, here’s something you might find interesting.

The book of Acts is written by someone who writes about Paul, either as an eyewitness or from stories heard over the camp fire. Who knows for sure? On the other hand, Paul writes directly about himself in his 13 epistles (letters). I love comparing the stories to see if there are any differences in who said or did what. You may be saying to yourself, “Are there really differences in their stories?” I wouldn’t be writing this if there weren’t. Let’s look at one.

You all know the story about Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of the new “movement” to the biggest advocate and evangelist for Christ. Directly after his conversion, did Paul go straight to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles before him?

To answer this question, I will be looking at what Luke says that Paul did in Acts 9:19-30 compared to what Paul says he did in Galatians 1:17-20. Feel free to blow the dust off your Bible and follow along.

In Acts, after several days in Damascus, Paul goes to Jerusalem and meets with the apostles, stays with them, and moves about freely in Jerusalem. It must have felt great being part of the team, high-fivin’ and telling stories about Jesus.

In Galatians, though, Paul explicitly says that he did not go to Jerusalem but went to Arabia instead and later returned to Damascus. After three years he then goes to Jerusalem and stays with Cephas but did not see the other apostles. He finishes by saying, “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.”

So, who would you believe? My money’s on Paul! If I wanted everyone to believe that my revelation came directly from Jesus and that I did not learn any of these teachings from the other apostles, then I would definitely want you to believe that I did not meet with and confer with Jesus’ right-hand men. Go get ’em Paul!

It’s not for me to say who’s right. I do know one thing, though – time for another cup.

The Greater Commission

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Anyone for Coffee?

This morning I flipped open my thick NIV Study Bible and guess where I landed? I landed right in the last part of the Gospel of Matthew where I had highlighted a few verses and in the margin next to it was labeled “The Great Commission.” So, I got to wondering…

When Jesus came back from the dead, He gathered the eleven apostles in Galilee and gave them a firm directive on what He expected from them after He ascends to the clouds. These instructions became known as The Great Commission – the most quoted comes from Matthew 28:18-20

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus teaching

What I get out of this is that Jesus wanted His Eleven to make disciples of everyone, to baptize (a Trinitarian baptism) them, and then indoctrinate them in all His teachings. That sounds like a heavy load for these illiterate, Jewish laborers from a small community who Jesus rebuked many times for not understanding.

Did you know that The Great Commission is also found in the other three Gospels and also in the beginning of Acts? One slight problem though – they’re all different. But, I have an idea. Let’s combine the five commissions to figure out what Jesus really said. Isn’t that how we get the real birth story? We harmonize the two birth stories of Jesus from Matthew and Luke to come up with our own version of the birth story that we tell every Christmas. Anyway, here’s what the entire Commission might sound like…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations and preach the good news to all creation. Preach also repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. You have the authority to forgive sins as well as not forgiving sins. Whoever is not forgiven will not be forgiven. Whoever believes and is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit will be saved. As a sign of their belief in me they will be able to drive out demons, speak in tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, drink deadly poison – and it will not hurt them. Whoever does not believe will be condemned. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, Acts 1:4–8, and John 20:19–23.)

With this new, harmonized Greater Commission in mind I decided to read through the book of Acts to see how well the apostles followed directions. And sure enough – they forgot again. For one thing Jesus demanded a Trinitarian baptism and all they did was baptize in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38-39; 8:15-16; 10:44-48; 19:4-5). Not once did they give a proper baptism! And they never once gave anyone a drink of poison to test their faith. Holy cow! I can now understand why Jesus rebuked them so much. And Peter must have been the misfit of the group seeings that Jesus called him Satan (Matthew 16:23).

Oh, for those of you who enjoy Christian history, the Commission is not found in two of the oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. I wonder when God actually added them to the Bible? Another mysterious act of God!

Time for one more cup… or two.