New Testament Trivia!

CC BY-NC-SA, LEOL30, Flickr

CC BY-NC-SA, LEOL30 Flickr

Let’s see how well you fair. Share your comments.

  • Excitement over what miracle effectually sealed Jesus’s fate? (John 11:45-54)
  • To whom did Paul likely write a prior epistle that is now lost?
  • Who was the prophet that accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey? (Acts 15:32)
  • A portion of what group of religious leaders converted as the gospel spread in Judea? (Acts 6:7)
  • What church in the province of Asia received a now lost letter that was to be read by the Colossians and vice versa? (Colossians 4:16)
  • What event marked the first great persecution against Christians in Judea? (Acts 8:1-3; 11:19)
  • Who was the cause of sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and was Barnabas’s cousin? (Acts 15:36-40; Col. 4:10)
  • What was the requirement the 11 apostles imposed in selecting Judas’s replacement? (Acts 1:21-22)
  • Who was the first apostle martyred? (Acts 12:1-2)
  • What four languages might Jesus have spoken?

 

ANSWERS

 the raising of Lazarus; the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9, 11; 2 Cor. 7:8); Silas; the priests; the church at Laodicea; the martyrdom of Stephen; Mark, writer of the Gospel; the person must have been an adherent of Jesus’s ministry from his baptism at Jordan to his ascension; James the Greater, brother of John; Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek (most likely), and Latin (possibly)

The Many Faces of Jesus

CC BY-NC-ND, glonann, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, glonann, Flickr

Jesus…all of our favorite person in the Bible—don’t you love him? But what was he like? Only a relative few ever met him. If you’re like me, reading the Gospels is exciting because he’s a pretty charismatic guy. But it’s also an imaginative experience because you wonder about his personality.

Side note: for most of us, within 50 years we all will have met him!

Thus, we’re left relying on the biographies, the Gospels. They help us piece together things about his character and piety, but that’s about all, although “all” is the basis of everything we believe, pretty amazing. To have influenced 12 men to shake the world for God, Jesus must have possessed incredible personality apart from his divine gifts.

So on a lighter note today, I’ve put together nine standout qualities that I notice about Jesus; and, at the risk of appearing sacrilegious, I’m going to reinvent him in the character traits of those we see almost daily. This is my take on Jesus.

#1 – Jesus was Unassuming, like Brad Pitt

CC BY-SA, Blake Nelson Boyd, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, Blake Nelson Boyd, Wikimedia Commons

Many refer to this quality as meekness. I sense that Jesus was not just a gentle and kind person, but that he didn’t seek to draw attention to himself. So, you ask, why in the world Brad Pitt? Well although the ladies and media make a big deal over him, I’ve never seen Pitt feed his ego the way we ogle him. Instead, he keeps out of our attention and has a reputable humanitarian record. I think Jesus was like this. It was never about him but his Father and the kingdom until it was imperative that the people knew who he was.

#2 – Jesus was Down-to-Earth, like Hugh Jackman 

CC BY-SA, Grant Brummett, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, Grant Brummett, Wikimedia Commons

I think Jesus was very approachable. I don’t think he took himself too seriously either. I like to think that he and the disciples cracked up sometimes and had fun together. Hugh Jackman…well this is his reputation: a good guy and a good sport. As I often say, we need to rephrase the question and ask why sinners wanted to be around Jesus. Yes, he went to them but they loved him back.

#3 – Jesus was Eccentric, like Johnny Depp

CC BY-SA, Caroline Bonarde Ucci, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, Caroline Bonarde Ucci, Wikimedia Commons

C’mon, or am I the only one who’s noticed this? In the Gospels Jesus is “THE MAN with the plan,” but he’s just a little…different sometimes, especially with the disciples. You can sense it in their confused inquiries. When Jesus predicted his death and spoke prophetically of his great return, it wasn’t the easiest thing for them to digest. It didn’t make sense: How could someone who used the power of God at will end so horribly? His otherworldliness must have seemed a little odd. And speaking of odd, just think of Johnny Depp; and if that doesn’t do it, remember him in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”!

#4 – Jesus was Brooding, like Jim Caviezel

CC BY-SA, Ewen Roberts, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, Ewen Roberts, Wikimedia Commons

Intense. Serious. Observant. Pensive. In his head. Introverted. It seems Jesus retreated to privacy not just to pray, but also to recharge. I understand this because I’m this way. People often misunderstand this type whom they deem anti-social and quiet, which is not accurate. We love spending time with others, but alone time is essential to that experience. If you know Jim Caviezel—who portrayed Christ in The Passion (top), himself a devout Christian—you know that he’s the epitome of this quality.

#5 – Jesus Loved People, like Cory Booker

CC BY-SA, David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

If you are familiar with Cory Booker’s political career, then you know that people are his No. 1 priority. His leadership and commitment as mayor to the betterment of Newark was transformational and impressive, to say the least. Jesus loved people. He not only cared about their souls; he was concerned about their total well-being, which is implied in the biblical concept of salvation. Remember his concern for the people, their hunger and fatigue, after they had followed to hear him preach? He demonstrates to us how to cherish one another and models a proper humanity.

#6 – Jesus was Smart, like Denzel Washington

CC BY-SA, Faulkenauge, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, Faulkenauge, Wikimedia Commons

Not necessarily intellectual and genius, but savvy and street smart. The Pharisees and members of the Council would do everything to trip up Jesus, but he was never outwitted. Yes, some of it was the Spirit of God in him, but I also think he was adroit and possessed a keen mind. Some of his rejoinders are astonishing. No wonder he had to dash away from the temple officials! Denzel…cool, calm, and collected God-fearing man—but perceptive.

#7 – Jesus was Articulate, like Bono

CC BY-SA, David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

When I say articulate, I don’t just mean well-spoken; I mean abreast of the issues, contributing to the important matters of his time, and in that way influential. I like that Jesus resisted the status quo, that he made the real issue a point of contention when others simply refused to rock the boat. Bono has probably gained more fame today as an activist and philanthropist than as the frontman for U2. He forces us to see what is important and needs attention.

#8 – Jesus was Fit, like Carter Oosterhouse

CC BY-SA, Rorincent, Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA, Rorincent, Wikimedia Commons

Skillfully so. He assumed his trade as a craftsman-mason, or carpenter, from his father Joseph and that probably kept him lean and agile. Certainly he required some measure of fitness to travel and preach like he did. Now, you didn’t think I meant fit as in sexy, vain, muscles-for-no-reason “fit”, did you? Then you understand why Carter Oosterhouse is a good choice.

#9 – And my Jesus looks sorta like this Israeli guy, but not all “modely”

Nir LaviSee him in his tunic, cloak, and headdress; his belt and sandals. See him through the eyes of the widow at Nain coming to show you compassion. Picture him standing before an impressive crowd teaching, Mary off to his side remembering back 30 years when Gabriel startled her with the news. How do you see Jesus?

Patrick, Apostle of Ireland

Saint Patrick (stained glass)

CC BY-NC, jcbwalsh, Flickr

Most people know little about St. Patrick other than he’s the patron saint of Ireland, his association with the shamrock, and the Day the world honors his memory and celebrates Irish culture.

Oh yeah, green.

I used to be one of those people, but I’ve discovered how much more there is to know about him. In fact, Patrick’s life reads not unlike the life of the apostle Paul, only with more historical insight. Allow me to recount some important and truly fascinating parts of Patrick’s life and briefly share what they teach us.

What Patrick Teaches Us

1. God will use misfortune in our lives to prepare us for great things to come. Patrick hailed from a wealthy Roman family living in Scotland (or Wales). His father was a municipal councilor and a deacon; his grandfather was a priest. Patrick, however, bore no interest in religion.

Around age 16, Irish bandits attacked his family’s estate and abducted him. He was sold into slavery to a tribal chieftain and druid high priest. For the next six years Patrick worked as a shepherd. He avows, however, that it was during that time that his faith increased and he grew close to God, becoming engrossed with prayer and ignited with spiritual fervor. He also acquired the Celtic language and learned the customs of the druids.

In his sixth year, during a time of prayer, he heard a voice say to him, “It is well that you fast. Soon you will go to your own country.” and “See, your ship is ready.” Patrick then fled some 200 miles to the coast where he discovered a ship ready to sail, but he was denied boarding by the captain. Pleading with God, he finally got aboard and sailed three days to Gaul (France) but wandered around 28 days with his compatriots, wearied and faint with hunger until his fellow, non-believing travelers challenged him to beseech his God for food. No sooner than Patrick finished encouraging them about God’s providence, a herd of wild boars appeared on which the group subsisted for the next two days. Soon enough, Patrick reached Britain and immediately devoted himself to the study of ministry.

  • Did you think of Joseph, or Moses? Patrick’s story gives us hope that when our world comes crashing down, there may be a higher plan at work. We rarely notice in those moments how we’re gaining…experience, skill, connections, witness. Yet God is indeed orchestrating his plan, and we’ll marvel to see how it all comes together.

2. God gives us grace for specific tasks. A few years later and more than once, Patrick received visions prefiguring his ministry. In one particular dream, he saw an Irish man come to him with a bundle of letters. Opening one, it read “The Voice of the Irish”; then he heard children’s voices coming from the letter beckoning him to return to Ireland. Meanwhile, Patrick found mentorship with a renowned bishop and entered the priesthood. He also made several missionary journeys.

At this time the Pope was ardently stamping out heresies, and it was during the (first) Council of Ephesus that Patrick received his commission to take the gospel to Ireland. The task had previously been granted to Palladius, the first bishop to Ireland who preached there five years prior to Patrick. But Palladius was fiercely banished from Ireland and abandoned further ministry for fear of a certain chieftain.

It was at this time that Patrick’s mentor suggested him to the Pope. Patrick had been a faithful disciple for 18 years now, was full of wisdom, and bore some renown. The Pope approved and bequeathed to him the name Patrick, meaning “nobleman”. Patrick’s real name is believed to be Maegwyn Succat.

Patrick explains in his Confession that people didn’t understand why he would endanger himself to evangelize a barbaric society that knew nothing about God. People secretly talked about him, yet he never viewed it as their malice but puzzlement. Still, he was not phased by it and admits, “Indeed, I was not quick to recognize the grace that was in me.”

  • God chooses us for the tasks he has given us the grace to handle. Palladius could preach in Ireland, but Patrick had the facility to reach Ireland like no one else could because his whole life had prepared him for doing just that. And, as you will see, he possessed the heart, character, skill, and focus to obey God in this calling.

3. Grace should characterize our dealings with the lost. Patrick returns to the port that scared off Palladius, and the druids quickly impeded him. He withdrew and opted for a friendlier route into Ireland. So he returned to his old master with the intent to pay the price of his own ransom and to bless him in the name of Christ in return of the cruelty he had experienced. But his master feared Patrick’s retaliation upon receiving word of his coming. Shockingly, he burned down his property and committed suicide in the fire.

Travelling northward, Patrick encountered a chieftain, Dichu, intent on halting his journey. Dichu drew his sword to strike Patrick, but his arm suddenly froze. He was unable to move it until he submitted to Patrick. Dichu was so deeply affected by the miracle and Patrick’s kindness that he inquired of the gospel and subsequently offered Patrick a large barn to use as his church in the village. This incident is recorded as Patrick’s first miracle, and the church became a favorite retreat for Patrick later in his life.

Patrick was a diligent ambassador for Christ throughout Ireland, especially among the tribal leaders and kings. Patrick’s strategy was to convert chieftains who might convert their clans. He tirelessly worked to share the faith with them, regularly baptizing them and their families as converts into the church.

  • The maxim goes, “You can draw more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” Patrick’s life and ministry prove the point well. We hinder ministry by ramming the gospel down others’ throats or by having something to prove with our beliefs. Jesus is the subject of our faith, and Jesus must be the essence of our approach to others.

4. God protects his servants and will confirm his work with miracles, if necessary. Dichu informed Patrick of a regular pagan celebration that was approaching at which all the chieftains and priests would be in attendance. Patrick decided to accept the occasion as a chance to proclaim the reality of the one true God. As part of the ritual, the ruling monarch of Ireland had decreed that a light, or bonfire, should be lit on a certain hill and that there should be no other bonfires seen in Ireland at that time.

It turned out to be March 26—Easter Sunday—in 433 A.D. Patrick, in full episcopal regalia, and his contingency were stationed at a monastery at the opposite end of the valley. There they lit a light in defiance of the decree. The king sent a band of warriors to kill Patrick and to extinguish the fire, but Patrick and his entourage eluded them and neither could the fire be extinguished. When summoned by the king, Patrick explained that he brought a new light, the light of Christ.

It is reported that a spiritual showdown then occurred. The druids using their incantations swept the hills with darkness, but Patrick prayed and the dark clouds retreated and the sun shone brightly. One of the druid priests was seen levitating under a demonic power, but at Patrick’s prayer he was dropped against the rocks. Having witnessed the power of God, many of the chieftains and the king’s own noblemen bowed to Patrick. Moreover, the king permitted Patrick freedom to preach Christ in Ireland.

  • This battle, so reminiscent of Elijah combating the prophets of Baal, is considered the pivotal moment the gospel gained a foothold in Ireland. Other miracles are recorded about Patrick, including those detailing his escapes from death and prophetic insight. Further, we are reminded of the words of Gamaliel: “Leave these men alone!…For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).

Patrick is a remarkable example of a life given to the gospel of Christ and is rightly called the patron saint of Ireland. He baptized more than 120,000 Irish and planted over 300 churches. Let us love and serve Christ and others with the same diligence and fervor Patrick possessed.

Read St. Patrick’s Confession

“Open the Universe!”

CC BY-ND, rmatthendrick, Flickr

CC BY-ND, rmatthendrick, Flickr

Okay, let’s think outside the box. 

Evil has recently been vanquished and the redeemed now live on New Earth where all is perfect and Jesus is King. Many customs and things still resemble the previous world, although spectacularly enhanced now. Pastime and sports, for example, still exist and so does most other recreation, including a truly virtual telecasting experience.

The biggest draw across the global kingdom now is an ongoing contest called “Open the Universe!” initiating Jesus’s long-awaited expansion of the human race to other planets throughout the cosmos. But who will govern the first new world?

Thus, Jesus has handpicked two teams of the faithful to compete and showcase their glorious skills and abilities. The task: build a city. Each team travels to a designated location on New Earth, constructs, and manages a city of their own, engaging the help and talents of the chosen denizens who will inhabit that domain.

In the end, Jesus will award his first regency to the team that has best organized, designed, erected, and governed its city. There are no losers; the second team will gain regency of the next expansion.

The people of New Earth are riveted by the giftedness of the participants, for each person presents facets of the Sovereign One, as they are called, only that individual can express. In fact, the hosts in Heaven watch with excitement, too.

Here are the first teams:

TEAM LION

Captain: David
Team:  Moses, John, Ezekiel, Apollo, Paul, Deborah, Solomon, Titus, Stephen, Silas, Noah, Elijah, Hezekiah, Ezra

TEAM LAMB

Captain: Joseph
Team: Abraham, Peter, Nehemiah, Josiah, Daniel, Esther, Joshua, Barnabas, Elisha, Luke, Samson, Timothy, Philip the Evangelist, John the Baptist

Cities on New Earth are designed around themes that are strongly incorporated in the built environment. The theme Jesus desires for these new cities is “Human Wonder in Eternal Triumph.” Use of the theme also factors in team selection.

Based on what you know of these people’s lives, particularly their strengths and abilities—projected in a perfect reality—which team do you think would be awarded the first regency? Why?

  • How do you interpret the city theme? 
  • How might each team incorporate the theme into its design?

Please comment and be imaginative!

The Nature of Christ

"Prince of Peace" by Akiane CC BY-NC, Waiting For The Word, Flickr

“Prince of Peace” by Akiane
CC BY-NC, Waiting For The Word, Flickr

The nature of Christ rested at the center of the greatest controversies in church history and often led to the important ecumenical councils of the Church and the development of the creeds. Here we’ll discuss five major heresies regarding the nature of Christ: Ebionism, adoptionism, Nestorianism, Apollinarianism, and Eutychianism. I encourage you to consider the implications that logically proceed from these doctrines. Also, reflect on statements and teaching you’ve heard that veer close to these.

Jesus and the Christ

Christological heresies existed as early as the apostle’s ministry. A Judaizing group called the Ebionites taught that Jesus was an ordinary human possessing unusual but not superhuman or supernatural gifts. They espoused that the Christ descended upon Jesus the man at his baptism and withdrew from him near the end of his life. The doctrine resembles the teaching of Paul of Samosata who taught that the logos was not a being but was equal to what reason is in a human and merely impersonal. Jesus, so said Samosata, was uniquely indwelt by the wisdom of God and, in successive stages, grew closer in relation to him.

Samosata’s teaching is called dynamistic monarchianism, or adoptionism, and holds that this power from God came upon Jesus the man, again, at his baptism. Adoptionism opens a doorway to modern liberal theology that devalues the divinity of Jesus and teaches the recognition of human’s God consciousness.

Nestorius, on the other hand, did affirm both the divinity and humanity of Christ but insisted that the two natures not be confused but viewed as being completely distinct. Nestorius was opposed to the term theotokos, a reference to Mary as the “God-bearer.” The Alexandrian school taught that if there was in Christ a physical union of God and man, then it could be argued that Mary was the “mother of God.” Nestorius, of the Antiochene school of thought, opposed this and claimed that the logos had taken residence in Christ. The divine element in him, however, was not in his human nature.

Nestorius implied a lack of unity, stating, “I distinguish between the natures, but I worship but one [Christ].” Christian orthodoxy acknowledges both natures of Christ but that the two became one and simultaneously retained their uniqueness. It remains questionable whether Nestorius really taught what he was accused of due to the vagueness of his teaching.

Swallowed in Divinity

Apollinaris offered a truncated view of Christ’s humanity. He believed that Jesus took on genuine humanity but not all of it. Apollinaris was very concerned about maintaining the unity of the Son. He opposed Arianism—the Son was not pre-existent and was created by the Father—but ventured too far with his teaching. According to Apollinaris, Jesus was a “compound unity,” part human and the rest divine. What Jesus bore of humanity was merely his human flesh. This flesh was animated by the divine logos (spark), which replaced a human soul.

Thus, Jesus was human physically but not psychologically; his soul was divine. Jesus was essentially different from all human beings because he possessed no human soul or will nor did he possess the capability to sin because he was divinity poured into a human vessel. Further, there is a slight implication that Jesus’s flesh could have only been a mystical, docetic one, not truly subject to his overpowering divinity.

If Ebionism represents the extreme view of Jesus’s humanity, then Eutychianism is the opposite extreme. Eutyches agreed on the two natures of Christ but felt that the two became so blended in their union that there could only be one nature and it fully divine.

Apollinarianism and Eutychianism differ from the others because they hold that Jesus had one nature and not two. These two doctrines are called monophysite doctrines, meaning “one nature”; Ebionism, adoptionism, and Nestorianism are dyophysite.

Council of Chalcedon

The fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon brought an end to these disputes, specifically Eutychianism and Nestorianism. The council began on October 8, 451, and was attended by 630 bishops and deputies. After five sessions that lasted until the 31st, the council finalized the Chalcedonian Creed, one of the greatest, that further defied Christological heresy and established sound Christology.

Swedish theologian Bengt Hagglund, in his History of Theology, helps clarify the significance of the creed (in part):

We confess one and the same Son [against Nestorius, who…was believed to teach that there were ‘two sons’], our Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect in His divinity [against dynamism, Arius, and Nestorius] and perfect in humanity…with a reasonable soul and a body [against Apollinaris who replaced Christ’s human soul with the Logos and taught that the Logos assumed a “heavenly flesh”], of one essence with the Father according to divinity…of the same essence as we according to humanity [against Eutyches]…”

The value of the Christian creeds is inestimable. The Church is triumphant over heresy today because of the great work the Fathers undertook to clarify and summarize Holy Scripture. Many groups in the Protestant Church overlook and even avoid creedalism, being speculative of it. Yet the creeds are the signet of the Church, concisely expressing theological thought contained in the scriptures. The creed is, as Cyril calls it, the “synthesis of faith” and has been a sustaining force in the existence of the Church.

The Book of Malchus

CC BY-NC, Michele.oliveira82, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Michele.oliveira82, Flickr

This is my attempt to reconcile the mystery about certain ones who encountered Christ. Here I present a reinvention of Malchus, servant to Caiaphas, in what became his addition to scripture. What strikes you? Also, read A Devil’s Point of View, a rethinking on Mark 1:21-26. 

To Pelias, friend and brother in the gospel, and his household, faithful servants in the ministry of God: I write you so that your heart will hold firm in God and the powerful grace at work in you. When you received your consecration, no one stood with you except me. And I have kept my promise to you in the labor of Jesus Christ.

Malchus’s Conversion

No man believed me either, not even the soldiers who stood with me that night. But after he touched my wounded head and the ear, the blood ceased flowing and all who saw it were astonished, for not even a scar remains. And he spoke to me, saying, “My Father has called you his servant.” None of my company dared to speak more about it, and the elders forbade me. Yet the hand that healed me never departed. The Spirit of the Nazarene greatly troubled me. I held my peace during the scandal, lest I put myself to death. But I could not withhold my witness forever. 10 Having suffered greatly at the hands of Caiaphas, I was thrown from his house and found haven in the company of the saints, who welcomed me into the faith and removed my burden. 11 I met Peter again, the friend of our Lord and my slayer, who now showed me great compassion and explained the gospel to me, a feeble child. The Spirit was mighty in him. 12 I continued in fellowship with the church in Jerusalem where there was strength and wonderful works of God. 13 My zeal grew; so did the word of God in me. 14 Then, the grace of God came to me from our brother Apollodoros to build the church in Bithia. 15 After much prayer and counsel from those higher in the faith, I landed upon this shore the servant of God, as he had promised.

Sharing His Sufferings

16 Who among us have borne the scorn of Christ without cause? 17 Did he not shake Israel with his words? Did we not faint at the radiance of his goodness? 18 You were a man with honor, but you gave it up for Christ and now carry his marks in your flesh. The holy apostles suffer persecutions daily. Is it for nothing? 19 Instead, we gladly bear this burden, for we behold him unveiled in our hearts. Our perseverance is born of faith.

Undeniable Proof

20 Remind the saints about us, your friends in tribulation. We pray for you daily. 21 Refute those who undermine the gospel and cleverly argue that Christ was a sorcerer or that he worked no miracles. 22 You saw him with your eyes and I received his touch. 23 Proclaim the truth for which you have given everything. We were the accusers of Christ but are now the very evidence of his victory.

Final Words

24 Greet Attolos, with whom I once labored. We praise God for the great grace that rests upon him. We expect his fellowship and ministry soon. 25 May the peace of our savior be with you all.

A Survey of Ephesus, Paul and Timothy’s Field

CC BY-NC, B Evershed, Flickr

CC BY-NC, B Evershed, Flickr

The following was originally an academic paper. I encourage you to incorporate this rich information in your study of Acts, Ephesians, 1&2 Timothy, and the Johannine writings. It is longer than most posts you read, but it won’t disappointpromise!

The apostle Paul assigned his young protégé Timothy to Ephesus to oversee the affairs of the church there (1 Tim. 1:3). Paul was aware of threats opposing the gospel, and he sent Timothy to fight against an onslaught of heretical teachings. His primary concern was that Timothy guard the church by maintaining the truth of God’s word. He was to do this by carefully concentrating on its internal affairs.

Throughout the Pastoral Epistles (1&2 Timothy, Titus), Paul affirms the church’s presence in a spiritually dark world. If Timothy’s war within the church was difficult, the thought of confronting the sin and mindset outside the church was more daunting. Paul himself had spent three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31) and knew that the spiritual climate there was rife with paganism, immorality, and relativism. This was the field of evangelism for the Ephesus church.

City of Culture and Pleasure

In the mid-first century, when Paul and Timothy ministered, Ephesus was the first and greatest metropolis of the Roman province Asia Minor. Little is known about its exact origin or the origin of its name. Grave relics place the founding of the city between 1400 B.C. and 1300 B.C. The story of Ephesus’ founding is legendary, its roots being traced back to the mythical Amazons, a race of female warriors. The city grew to become the premiere commercial, political, and religious center of Western Asia. The population ultimately rose to 250,000 by the third century, placing it third in size in the Roman Empire behind Rome (800,000 to 1 million) and Alexandria (300,000).

Ephesus was located on the western coast of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea, and, as a leading seaport and the resulting trade, it swelled into a cosmopolitan metropolis. The city was the capital of the slave trade—the backbone of the Roman economy—from 100 B.C. to A.D. 100. The slave trade made Ephesus wealthy.

The city was also the meeting place for ideas from both the Eastern and Western cultural traditions of the empire. The scholarship of Ephesus was vast. Richard Oster and Markus Barth say, “It was well-known for its philosophers, artists, poets, historians, and rhetoricians. Ephesus made distinctive contributions to intellectual and religious history from the pre-Socratic period down to the philosophical revivals of the later Roman Empire.”

Ephesus was a city of culture where the people were distinguished by their amiableness, refinement of manners, luxury, music and dancing, and seductive arts that lead to vicious indulgences. The city hosted numerous festivals that attracted participants from other cities. Additionally, there was located there the world-renown Temple of Artemis, the library of Celsus, a 25,000-seat theater, temples dedicated to deities and cults, and numerous gymnasia and baths.

At the city’s center was the agora, or marketplace, a rectangular area 360 feet long surrounded by pillared halls, shops, and rooms. A sun and water clock was set in the open space. This environment entertained a multitude of hedonistic pleasures and philosophical ideologies that served to corrupt the moral consciences of the people.

Paul and Timothy’s Challenge

The ministry of Timothy and the Ephesian church cannot be perceived as anything other than doubly difficult. Paul and Timothy fought a battle on two fronts. One was definitely outside the church but the other was inside. Paul writes the two epistles to Timothy because he was well aware of the trouble Timothy faced at Ephesus having Judaism-loyal Jews right within the church (Acts 20:19).

Persecution by the Jews was prevalent at the time as well. Kenneth Scott Latourette says, “At the outset…the main persecutors of the Christians were those who held to Judaism and were antagonized by the fashion in which what superficially appeared to be a sect of Judaism was undermining institutions and convictions cherished by that religion.” This persecution was fueled by the church’s success in converting Jews and did not dissipate until there was further separation between the two religions.

O.P. and Barbara Reid provide an image of Paul and Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus. They explain that it is generally an unquestioned assumption that Paul was everywhere successful in ministry. Yet he must have found Ephesus challenging. Any success that he did have was most probably among ethnic Jews rather than the pagans of Ephesus.

Religious Relativism

What did the spiritual landscape look like then? Ephesus was home to the flagrant worship of more than seventeen deities and other cults. Dr. James Jackson explains what made this so difficult for the Ephesian church and other churches like it. He says that most pagan religions in Ephesus were either Greek or Roman, and Greco-Roman religion was without dogma. Any practicing priest at that time functioning in such a polytheistic setting would never make a claim to a unique validity of one set of rites or beliefs.

In addition, there was no religious prosecution. Just as there was no dogma, there would have been no need for heretics or martyrs. Religion was personal and unorganized, and there was no thought of denying the cults of other gods. The Greco-Romans viewed foreign gods as being like their own gods, although with other names. It would have been ill-mannered for one to assert the supremacy of his god above a neighbor’s “false” god. Such religious relativism provided the seedbed for a niche teeming with myriad forms of religion, cult, and superstition.

Artemis and Her Worship

The greatest of the Ephesian deities was undeniably Artemis Ephesia (of the Ephesians). She was first identified with the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele who was worshiped prior to the arrival of the Greeks in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Her worship was great, being called by Eugene Peterson “a pastiche of stories, superstitions, and systems of thought endemic to the ancient East that served Ephesus’ religious need.”

Artemis (Diana, her Roman name) functioned mainly as a city or local goddess, like most other gods and goddesses of the time. She undoubtedly contributed to the high feminism of the city, after all, a city founded by female warriors. Artemis served to protect (as a tutelary goddess) the safety and wealth of the people and their social institutions of justice and democracy. The wealth and security of Ephesus so attested to the power of Artemis Ephesia that other cities adopted her as their goddess. In fact, artifacts from her cult have been found as far east in the empire as Palestine and as far west as Spain.

Ephesus was the site of the world-famous Artemision, or Temple of Artemis, deemed one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It was the largest Greek temple in antiquity, and the apostle Paul and Timothy would have seen it regularly. It was constructed on a huge concrete platform 238′ x 418′ (l) upon which sat the marble temple itself, 163′ x 342′. The roof was supported by 127 Ionic columns six feet in diameter and an astonishing sixty feet high. It is believed that the women of Ephesus sold their jewelry to help fund the project and that kings presented gold and furnishings to the temple. In 356 B.C., however, it was burned to the ground by an arsonist leaving only the four walls and a few columns. It was later rebuilt (completed in 323 B.C.) to match the splendor it had previously known.

The Artemision was Ephesus’ symbol of wealth. It served as a safe deposit of people’s personal wealth and offered loans to the public at a profitable rate of interest. The temple also boasted its own band of priests who were automatically and simultaneously officials of Ephesus and the sanctuary. Their job, however, was accompanied with ceremonial prostitution and other indecencies streaming forth from the temple center.

Artemis was depicted by an idol that supposedly fell from heaven. The upper part of the image’s front body was covered with rows of what appeared to be breasts that labeled Artemis as a fertility goddess, although this is uncertain. Coins that have been found bear this image of her, and it is with regard to this that Paul experienced the frenzied loyalty with which the Ephesians protected their goddess. Acts 19:23-41 is called the “revolt of the silversmiths” passage and refers to the trade derived from Artemis. Paul’s troubles come when silversmiths become alarmed that their trade is being diminished on account of the apostle’s preaching.

Other Deities of the Ephesians

Artemis was the main deity of Ephesus, yet there were a few other notable gods and goddesses there as well. Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of love. She was associated with phallic mysteries that usually resulted in the loss of virginity. Prostitution was common in her cult, including festivals honoring prostitutes and sacred prostitution. She was also celebrated as the goddess of hermaphrodites. In fact, there were several divinities that symbolized Aphrodite’s powers and were revered together. These included Eros (Love), Himeros (Longing), Posthos (Desire), Peithos (Persuasion), and the Horai (Seasons, Youths, Beauties). The personifications together contribute to a picture of erotic seduction all around Aphrodite.

Apollo, the Sun god, was the most famous and celebrated of all the Greek gods. Prophetic powers were associated with him, and his oracle at Delphi was world-renown for the counsel it produced on commercial ventures and political issues. Apollo represented order and discourse. Dionysus was Apollo’s opposite. Dionysus (Bacchus) was the god of lust and debauchery. His worship was associated with great festivals of wine, wild dancing and music, ecstatic revelry, and orgiastic excess, all too common in Ephesus.

Cabiri, a Phrygian god, was another ecstatic religion that had its roots in the primitive religion of the mother goddess from whom derived Artemis. It was also orgiastic in nature and involved scandalous obscenities. The cult of Asclepius was known for its miraculous powers of healing. As the Christian message of Jesus’s miraculous healings spread, his virtues were paralleled with the powers and wonders of Asclepius.

Other gods and goddesses worshipped in Ephesus included: Zeus (king of the gods and god of the sky), Gaea (goddess of earth), Hestia (Vesta, goddess of the hearth), Hecate (goddess of horror, witchcraft, and darkness), Hephaestus (Vulcan, god of destructive fire), Athena (Minerva, goddess of war), Demeter (Ceres, goddess of harvest and fertility); and the Egyptian gods and goddesses: Serapis (wonder-worker and protector), Anubis (Anpu, god of the dead), and Isis (goddess of family and motherhood). The Egyptian gods arrived in Asia Minor with Egypt’s merchant and military presence.

Then, there was always the imperial cult of Caesar and hero veneration. Hero veneration happened in Greek cities when certain individuals were worshiped for reasons that might have included benefactions, miraculous interventions, extraordinary civic or political contributions, or unique roles in the founding and history of the city.

This was Timothy’s field.

The city of Ephesus was a bastion of paganism, magic, and religious tolerance. The people gave themselves over to pleasures, revelry, and unimaginable sexual grossness. The authoritative words of Paul were challenged at every point, and even demon counterfeits seemed to rival any true spiritual manifestation of the Spirit. Timothy had to refute damnable teachings within the church, then look into the culture and preach the exclusivity of an inclusive God and kingdom. How was he to bear the task?

A Gospel Legacy

It is proper to think of the ministry of the Ephesian church as difficult but not impossible. The words of Paul to the Ephesian church the last time he would ever see them are befitting:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on alert remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:28-32).

Paul knew that after his departure teachers would attack the fledgling church from all directions. Any other person looking at the situation might have questioned the survival of the church. Nonetheless, Paul trusted the power of the grace of God, and it is with those hallmark words, that benedictory blessing, that he could count on the survival of God’s work in Ephesus.

Timothy’s Death

John Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, relates that Timothy died in Ephesus in A.D. 97 at the hands of pagans celebrating the Feast of Catagogion. This feast was held annually in Ephesus on January 22. Men would run about the streets in a frenzy dressed in outrageous costumes with clubs in-hand carrying images of their gods. They would rape women they encountered and beat or kill the men. Foxe says that Timothy met the procession and rebuked them for their “ridiculous idolatry” so enraging them that they beat him severely with their clubs. He died two days later of his wounds.

The Fascinating Conversion of Augustine

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The following was originally an academic book report and is extracted from Augustine’s Confessions.

“For what am I to myself without Thee but a guide to my own downfall?” These are words Augustine had learned to speak following a tortuous path to faith. His was a life that proved the cost of sin and salvation to be the same: everything. Augustine is remembered glowingly as a bishop, church father, teacher on grace, and author of City of God. He is often considered the greatest theologian of the church after the apostle Paul. Yet Augustine’s Confessions show us that the grace of God retrieves even the saint from sin’s dump.

Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis was born in Tagaste, Numidia (Souk Ahras, Algeria), in North Africa on November 13, 354. His mother, Monica, was a devout Christian and his father, Patricius, was a city official and practicing pagan who in later years converted to Christ. Patricius determined to provide Augustine the best possible education, even above what wealthier students were afforded, which resulted in Augustine studying rhetoric, philosophy, and Greek and Latin literature and grammar. Augustine had a brilliant mind, but he was not a serious student. He was motivated to learn only what engaged his attention, and he describes himself as disobedient. He was often flogged for being slow at learning and wandering off to play rather than completing his assignments.

He says of his parents during his adolescent years, “I disobeyed them, not because I had chosen a better way, but from a sheer love of play. I loved the vanity of victory, and I loved to have my ears tickled with lying fables, which made them itch even more ardently.” Augustine eventually became mischievous and rebellious, something that alarmed Monica. She pleaded with her son to turn to God, but Augustine viewed the things of the church as inferior in intellect and purpose. Monica would remain the prime spiritual influence in Augustine’s life and earnestly prayed for him the rest of her days.

By the time he was sixteen Augustine had relocated to Madaura, a city twenty miles from Tagaste. There he studied grammar and rhetoric; while there he gathered money to visit Carthage for further education. Not getting all of the money he needed and between schools, Augustine says that it was during this time that sexual lust gripped his heart and plunged him headlong into promiscuity. He writes, “The mists of passion steamed up out of the puddly concupiscence of the flesh, and the hot imagination of puberty, and they so obscured and overcast my heart that I was unable to distinguish pure affection from unholy desire.” It would be the greatest vice of his life. Augustine became a sex addict and soon a son, Adeodatus, was born to him. During these same years Augustine became increasingly mischievous and seeking of ambition, gathering to himself companions who enjoyed like passions.

Finally, arriving at Carthage, Augustine became a master student at the School of Rhetoric where he studied “books of eloquence.” He says that whatever was written in any of the fields of rhetoric, logic, geometry, music, or arithmetic, he easily understood without the assistance of any instructor. He also took an inquisitive look into the scriptures, but he says:

I saw something not comprehended by the proud, not disclosed to children, something lowly in the hearing but sublime in the doing, and veiled in mysteries…Truly they were of a sort to aid the growth of little ones, but I scorned to be a little one and, swollen with pride, I looked upon my self as fully-grown.

This time was also the beginning of Augustine’s nine-year espousal of Manichean philosophy. Augustine was nineteen years-old at this time. The Manicheans were a Christian sect founded by Persian religious teacher Mani. A radical dualism distinguished it, and it attracted many for its straightforward rational solution to the problem of evil. Augustine took a strong interest in astrology, also, and became unshakable in his conviction about it.

He returned to Tagaste to teach rhetoric and says that God was still working to remind him of grace. He had a dear friend from his childhood with whom he had often enjoyed mischief. This friend became seriously ill and fell into a coma for a considerable time. While he was in the coma, he received a baptism; when he revived and learned of it, he became very serious about faith. Upon learning that his friend was revived, Augustine rushed to his bedside. Augustine says that he tried jesting with him concerning his baptism but was stunned to learn that his friend had turned to Christ. The friend even recoiled from Augustine as though he were an enemy. Augustine decided to let his friend recover before inquiring further, but the fever returned upon his friend and he died. Augustine became depressed but more curious about God.

Once again Augustine moved, back to Carthage, to teach rhetoric, putting him in contact with some respected individuals. This marked a turning point in his spiritual progression. At this time philosophy was not satisfying the deep questions in his heart, but a (providential) break in his darkness soon arrived. Faustus, a famous Manichean bishop, visited Carthage. Augustine, now 29, had longed to see this man but had since become disillusioned with Manicheanism. He now found the ideas of other philosophers to be more credible than Manicheanism’s “tedious fables.” Augustine walked away from Faustus disappointed with his empty, eloquent words. Augustine says that his own learning exceeded Faustus’s, and this threw him into further despair and perplexity.

He then took a teaching position in Rome, partly because of the higher salary but more on account of studious Roman learners, something that turned out to be untrue. After arriving in Rome, however, Augustine nearly died of illness; upon recovering his mind, he returned to his Catholic upbringing. His stint in Rome was short-lived and soon he accepted a public teaching position in Milan. Augustine says, “And to Milan I came, to Ambrose the bishop, famed through the whole world as one of the best of men.” Augustine was intrigued with Ambrose. He saw that Ambrose was not only well-educated and eloquent, but also very caring and devout. These traits impressed Augustine and he drew close to Ambrose.

Augustine became Ambrose’s protégé and a catechumen. His faith continued to grow from this point on, but he still could not resolve nagging questions that led him back to philosophy. One day while walking the streets of Milan, Augustine saw a beggar with a “full belly,” laughing and joking. The site tortured him: to think that such a person without anything could attain happiness in life but he himself, an accomplished academician, was burdened, agitated, and guilt-ridden.

He also continued to struggle with promiscuity. Having his mistress and mother of his son with him in Milan, Augustine—now 30—yet planned to marry another matron. The normal minimum legal age for marriage was twelve, but the intended bride was only ten at the time! So proposing to endure the two-year wait, he sent his heartbroken mistress of thirteen years back to Africa. Afterwards, still being swollen with lust and too weak to wait, Augustine obtained yet another mistress. His dear friend Alypius eventually talked him out of the marriage, as it would hinder their quest for truth.

At this time Augustine constantly exchanged philosophies in his search for ultimate truth. He and his friends even formed an alliance for this purpose and lived together communally. Although he was a catechumen of the church, he only gradually recanted Manicheanism. He grew weary with astrology calling it “lying divinations and impious absurdities” and took to Neo-Platonism. Yet he did not credit Neo-Platonism with leading him any closer to real truth. So he seized upon the writings of the apostle Paul and these influenced him greatly. He had before thought Paul to contradict himself and to not agree with the Law and Prophets, but he says:

Now all these doubts vanished away. And I saw that those pure words had but one face, and I learned that whatever truth I had read (in the Platonists) was here combined with the exaltation of Thy grace. Thus, he who sees must not glory as if he had not received, not only the things that he sees, but the very power of sight—for what does he have that he has not received as a gift?

Soon Augustine visited Simplicianus, the greatly revered spiritual father of Ambrose. Simplicianus told Augustine the story of Victorinus whom he had known personally and led to open profession of Christ. Victorinus was a well-educated high Roman citizen and senator who had been honored with a statue in the Roman Forum. Victorinus studied the scriptures and found truth in them. And surrendering to Christ, he publicly professed his faith and was baptized before an ecstatic congregation.

Soon Ponticianus, a fellow countryman and friend of Augustine in Africa, visited him unexpectedly and while there saw the writings of Paul on Augustine’s game table. Surprised to see the book and to hear of Augustine’s study, he proceeded to tell of Antony the Great of Egypt who had recently lived. Ponticianus told his own story of being indirectly influenced by the monk’s life and how his two friends and co-workers, all of them imperial guards, after receiving Athanasius’s account in one reading, renounced on the spot all their work and personal endeavors to serve God and become monks.

The reaction in Augustine was cataclysmic. He says to God:

But while he was speaking, Thou, O Lord, turned me toward myself, taking me from behind my back, where I had put myself while unwilling to exercise self-scrutiny. And now Thou didst set me face to face with myself, that I might see how ugly I was, and how crooked and sordid, bespotted and ulcerous. And I looked and loathed myself; but wither to fly from myself I could not discover.

The stage was finally set for Augustine’s conversion. Augustine grew disgusted with himself and knew that there was but one resolution. If his discontent about the beggar had unnerved him, the story of the two guards enraged him. In the most dramatic turn in Augustine’s story, the cataclysm within him erupted and, like a crazed man, he ran and grabbed Alypius and exclaimed:

What is this? What did you hear? The uninstructed start up and take heaven, and we—with all our learning but so little heart—see where we wallow in flesh and blood! Because others have gone before us, are we ashamed to follow, and not rather ashamed at our not following?

Alypius was a dear friend to Augustine and understood, even felt the distress within him. Augustine dashed away to the garden of the house with Alypius following behind him. He beat himself like a madman, tearing at his hair, striking his forehead, entwining his fingers, and grabbing his knees. When he thought he might have “choked with weeping,” he did not want Alypius to see him and darted out of the garden and fell under a distant tree, weeping and wailing over his condition.

Augustine had come to the end of sin, recognizing it for what it had done to his soul, and he cried out to God, “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?” As he was lamenting he heard a child’s voice chanting over and over “Tolle, lege. Tolle, lege,” or “Pick it up, read it. Pick it up, read it.” It was common to believe that the first words one came upon in the scriptures was a revelatory word from God; Augustine remembered this in Antony’s conversion. He quickly came to his senses and returned to the bench in the garden where Alypius was still sitting and where he had left the book of Pauline writings. Augustine says:

I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in clambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Augustine closed the book and, with a tranquil countenance, marked his conversion. He proceeded to tell all that had just happened to Alypius, but he learned that Alypius himself had a like experience in the same moment, apparently taking up the identical text. Thus, they were both converted at the time and went to inform Monica who had finally received her prayers answered and with great joy.

A History of Preaching

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In two thousand years of church history, preaching has undergone an evolution of purpose and meaning. The earliest form of what became Christian preaching is witnessed in the declarations of the Old Testament prophets. The prophetic tradition ended with Malachi (John the Baptist for some) and gave rise to a different style of proclamation. This was the rabbinic tradition with its Jewish sages who, like the Greeks, taught in a master-disciple approach. Jesus followed this method of preaching and demonstrated to his culture his stellar ability to teach—”Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to him?” (Mark 6:2).

Preaching was very simple in the New Testament church period and accompanied only by the scriptures. It was common that the teacher would sit as the people stood in attention. Interestingly, whenever the discourse was very good, the people would applaud, offer vocal acclamations, wave handkerchiefs, and even toss garments. Many would write the sermon word-for-word in order to save it for posterity.

Lakesides, private homes, synagogues, and public streets were all used for preaching; for a time there were no edifices specifically designed for such public discourse. In fact, it was considered corrupt practice when churches later began to be constructed for ceremonial display with great alters, images, and processional aisles. This became more common throughout the fourth century as heathen temples and basilicas were converted to Christian churches.

During the second century the church began organizing itself into a more unified body, and its preaching adapted to these changes as well. The bishops or an appointed presbyter bore the responsibility of speaking the word of God. Preaching was mainly hortatory, or exhortative, and termed by purpose: tractate (exposition), disputation (polemic), allocution (doctrinal thesis), and homily (popular conversation). Preaching was also done to reflect on events and occasions.

The homily has characterized preaching for most of church history. It is not greatly different from the sermon (lecture providing religious instruction), except that it is given to free, explanatory discourse on a familiar topic, whereas the sermon holds tightly to homiletics. Eventually, the homily shortened to a form known as the postil that was a mere glossing over a text with brief explanation.

In time preaching began to lose its original intent and was gradually replaced by ceremony, panegyric (eulogistic oration) for saints and martyrs, and veneration for Mary in the growing Roman Catholic tradition. The Protestant Reformers are credited with returning preaching to its early roots in the saving message of Christ.