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.

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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!

 

Super Apostles!

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15

It’s coffee time! I wonder if the apostles ever sat around the fire on a cold morning craving their coffee as I do? Just a thought. Here’s a question for you that’s been bugging me for quite some time. What would you do if Jesus gave you the same powers that he gave to his apostles? Would you heal the sick or cast out any demons (Mark 6:7), maybe cleanse those infected with the ebola virus or help a psychotic neighbor – or two? Would you resurrect any deceased people that you know – maybe a family member that died at a young age or your favorite aunt? Would you forgive anyone’s sin (John 20:23)? Most of all, wouldn’t you immediately believe in Jesus?

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Peter was so good at healing others that people were healed by just being in his shadow (Acts 5:15). But on the other hand he could make someone lose their life without blinking an eye (Acts 5:5). The apostles must have gotten a little arrogant with their powers which caused Paul to sarcastically call them the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5).

I once asked a Southern Baptist pastor why I had such a hard time understanding the Bible. He quickly insisted that I was not saved or that my faith wasn’t apparent. “No one can understand the Bible until they have faith,” he exclaimed. Now wouldn’t that have been great if Jesus gave the apostles the power to make the Jews understand that Jesus was truly God? That would have been miraculous!

And with all these powers given to them, some of the apostles still weren’t sure. So, what would it take for you to be a believer? I’m pretty sure that if Jesus gave me super powers, I would be a believer. Up, up and away!  Time for another cup!

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.

On the Road Again

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Meeting my brother at Starbucks this morning, so this may be a short one.  I think that we all know the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts.  If not, here’s a brief summary:

Paul was on his way to Damascus with some traveling companions.  His mission was to seek and destroy any person(s) who was worshipping Jesus.  On his way, a bright flash of light came from the sky which happened to be Jesus.  Jesus confronts Paul and asks why he has been persecuting Him.  Paul then receives instruction on what to do next.  Thus begins Paul’s conversion from Pharisitic Jew to a follower of Jesus.

What makes this story a bit irregular is that it’s told on three occassions and each story is slightly altered.  The narrator tells the first story and it begins in Acts 9:3.  I will paraphrase each story to save time.  A light flashes around Paul and he falls to the ground and hears a voice.  Paul’s traveling companions hear the voice but they don’t see anything.

The second story is found in Acts 22:9 and Paul is telling the story.  He again falls to the ground and hears a voice.  His companions don’t hear a voice this time but sees the light – just the opposite of what happens in the first story.

The third story, found in Acts 26:12, Paul is telling the story to King Agrippa.  When the light flashes they all fall to the ground.  Paul doesn’t say whether or not his companion heard a voice or saw the light – just that the light caused everyone to fall to the ground.

There is another point I’d like to make.  In the first two stories, Jesus tells Paul to go to Damascus where he will receive instruction from a man named Ananius.  But in the last story told to King Agrippa, Paul says that he was instructed by Jesus himself.

It’s time for another cup!  See ya next time!

“But I Say to You…”

As a teacher, I always try very hard to simplify things.  Over my first cup of coffee this morning I wanted to see if I could simplify Jesus’ teachings by jotting them down briefly on a sheet of paper.  I thought the Gospel of Matthew was a good place to start since Jesus did a lot of teaching from a mountainside.

He starts out with what we call the Beatitudes (5:1-11), or the “Blessed are” statements.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  That’s a tough one to live up to.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Then he says in 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  He says that if we break “any” of the old Jewish commandments or causes others to break one, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But, here’s the shocker.  “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:21 starts out with what I call the “But I say to you…” statements.  For instance, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  And adultery was forbidden by Jesus.

Jesus sums it up in Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Amen to that.  Very few I would say.

To enter the kingdom heaven, according to Jesus, is a very difficult thing to do.  But wait a minute.  Paul saw a vision on his way to Damascus.  The bright light that blinds him on that road turns out to be Jesus.  Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, immediately converts from an executor of Christians to a faithful follower of Jesus.  He dedicates his life in the teachings of Jesus.  Most Christians will say that he started the Christian movement.

Now, the hard part for me to understand is that Paul appears to “simplify” the teachings of Jesus.  He claims that all you have to do is believe in Christ and that he was risen – no works necessary.  Matthew’s Jesus was all about works – how you conduct yourself and how you treat others.  It appears that Paul’s teachings were at odds with what Jesus taught on the mountainside.  Did Jesus, aka God, change his mind about what he taught earlier?

Oh well.  Another mystery goes unsolved – at least in my mind.  So, I’ll just have another cup of coffee.

Rapt in a Rapture

I love reading the Bible over coffee first thing in the morning.  Then I got to thinking… was it Peter or Paul that was responsible for starting the Christian religion?  My opinion is that it had to be Paul!  He was a heck of a persuasive character to convince those Greek-speaking communities to give up their gods for the one true God.  What do you think?

According to scholars, Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians would be the first “book” in the New Testament if we were to list them chronologically.  Paul was known to visit a community, persuade gentiles and maybe some Jews into believing in the Jewish God, and then go on to the next community.

 After leaving Thessalonica Paul had gotten word that some of the members were concerned because their loved ones had died.  Paul had promised this community a glorious afterlife encounter after Jesus came back – as long as they believed in Christ.  They clearly thought that the Lord would be back before any of them died.  Apparently, Paul had forgotten to tell them that they did not have to be alive to participate in this Rapture.  He reassures them that their loved ones will be included and not to worry.  He tells them that the “day of the Lord will be soon and arrive when you least expect it.”

 I wish that I could have been at that first meeting when Paul met with these Greek-speaking laborers to try and convince them that they should reject their beliefs in other gods.  He had to be a very persuasive salesman to induce them into believing in a Jewish prophet who was executed by the Romans and came back to life.  And that this Jesus went up into the sky with his Father who happens to be the same person but not really the same person, but will return from the clouds real soon.  “And no, I was not a witness to any of these things but a blinding light appeared to me and told me so,” Paul might have said.  Wow!

 So, Paul gets my vote for starting the Christian religion and for the phenomenon that it is today.  Time for a second cup of coffee.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

My coffee is really good this morning.  I prefer a dark roast but I’m willing to try just about anything.  Hope you’re enjoying a cup or two.

I read something interesting as well as shocking the other day.  The article stated that the divorce rate among Christians turns out to be the same rate as the National average – which is about 50%.  How can that be?  What would Jesus think about our high divorce rate?  Did Jesus prohibit divorce?  Here’s what I found.

The prohibition of divorce by Jesus is attested by three sources:  Paul (1 Cor. 7:10-11), Mark (Mark 10:1-2) and Q (Matthew 5:32 & Luke 16:18).  According to scholars it also passes the “criterion of dissimilarity” since divorce was permitted by the law of Moses (Deut. 24:1).  Because of this, scholars believe that Jesus “historically” said that divorce is absolutely prohibited.

Absolute prohibition of divorce is a radical thought among Christians but it is demanded by Jesus.  How are churches getting by with allowing a divorced Christian to remarry?   Time for another cup!