Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Painful Years, Liberating Letters (49-61)

In 49, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they return to the congregations they had started on Cyprus and in Anatolia. They had sharp disagreements, though, and decided to stop working together. Barnabas sailed for Cyprus and into obscurity. With a friend named Silas and the blessing of the church in Antioch, Paul left for Anatolia.

Second journey as an unconventional witness (49-51). While he did revisit the Anatolian congregations he had started with Barnabas, he didn’t linger with them. He was eager to preach the Gospel in completely new places. He paused in Anatolia, somewhere between Lystra and Troas, solely because of illness (Galatians 4:15). Tradition says the illness was epilepsy but it may have been malaria.

Once he recovered, Paul took little time to get to the western Anatolia coast at Troas. Troas was the name given in Paul’s time to the ancient city of Troy. There Paul had a vision hurrying him, as if he needed greater urgency, to Hellenia.

Philippi. Paul started his first church, in what is now called Europe, in Philippi. A wealthy yet unconventional woman named Lydia appreciated the Good News shared by Paul and opened her house to him and the congregation. Not everyone, however, received Paul with equal joy. At one point two wealthy Olympians accused Paul and Silas of disturbing the peace and got heated support from the crowd. The local ruler had them beaten and jailed overnight before releasing them.

Thessalonica. Paul then went to Thessalonica. There he went to the synagogue on successive Sabbaths and argued from Scripture that Jesus was the Messiah. Some members and many non-Jewish sympathizers believed Paul and joined him in starting a new congregation. Local religious leaders, resenting this loss of members and status, stirred up some public protest and complained to municipal officials about Paul. Paul’s new companions thought it best for him to leave the city. He and Silas did so that very night.

Berea. Paul next went to the synagogue in Berea. There he enjoyed even greater success than before. When religious leaders in Thessalonica heard about this, they again stirred up opposition to Paul. His new companions also sent him away.

Athens. The golden age of Athens, which had witnessed such unprecedented creativity in drama, architecture, philosophy, and science, had long since ended. Paul arrived in a sleepy college town filled with skeptics. Even in their midst, however, he found some individuals, like Dionysius the Areopagite, who had been called to live as unconventional witnesses. At least he didn’t have to flee this city.

Corinth. Paul arrived in Corinth in the winter of 50. There he met Aquila and his wife Priscilla. They had come to Corinth the year before when Claudius, the Roman emperor (r. 41-54), had briefly expelled all Jews from the city of Rome. They were weavers like Paul and the three of them enjoyed working together.

While in Corinth, Paul received word that witnesses to Jesus in Thessalonica faced persecution. He wrote First and Second Thessalonians (two of his letters in the New Testament) to them in support.

Paul continued his custom of going to the local synagogue and proclaiming the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah. As usual, some members and regular attenders believed him while others resented him. Again he gathered those who did believe him into a new congregation. Jesus came to Paul one night in a vision and assured him that, in contrast to previous cities, no harm would befall him in Corinth. He managed to stay there for 18 months.

Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla left Corinth for Ephesus in the summer of 51. Paul’s friends remained there while he returned first to Jerusalem and then to Antioch.

Third journey as an itinerant witness (53-56). Paul left Antioch in the spring of 53.
Ephesus. He revisited the congregations he had started in Galatia (of Anatolia) but traveled quickly to Ephesus. There he happily greeted his close friends Aquila and Priscilla.

Again, this time for three whole months, Paul spoke in the local synagogue about Jesus. Again, he afterward started a congregation of unconventional Jews. Paul remained in Ephesus a total of three years. During this time, however, he experienced constant challenges.

Trouble in Galatia. James the brother of Jesus, leader of the congregation in Jerusalem, sent representatives to the congregations started by Paul in Galatia. These representatives rejected Paul’s authority to preach, insisting he was not an apostle; his message, insisting that his proclamation of freedom from the law was heresy; and they required the circumcision of all male non-Jewish participants. Paul responded to this attack with his Letter to the Galatians.

Trouble in Corinth. Three men brought a letter to Paul from the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 16:17). In response he wrote First Corinthians and sent it back with them and his good colleague Timothy. Timothy returned to Paul in Ephesus with the message that Paul’s authority and message were being undermined in Corinth too. Paul made a quick trip to that church—only to be insulted and rejected. Back in Ephesus, Paul wrote another letter to them and again sent Timothy to deliver it.

Trouble in Ephesus. Paul’s preaching about Jesus in Ephesus drew people to Jesus and away from their dedication to the Olympian gods. In Ephesus this reduced the amount of money being made by artisans selling their silver souvenirs to people visiting the city’s impressive Temple of Artemis. These artisans caused a riot, Paul could no longer walk safely in public, and once again he had to leave a city.

Troas. Paul enjoyed an enthusiastic response to his preaching here. Still, he had sent his good colleague Titus ahead of him to Corinth. When Titus failed to meet him in Troas, Paul left to find him. Along the way he visited churches in Hellenia that he had previously started. He enjoyed no end of harassment and threats and later admitted he constantly faced “fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5).

Thessalonica. Titus found Paul in Thessalonica with good news from Corinth. The letter Paul had sent after his painful visit had brought the church back to its senses. In Second Corinthians, which he now wrote, Paul expressed his joy at hearing this. He also wrote that he was collecting money for the church in Jerusalem. He hoped the church in Corinth would contribute to the collection during his third visit with them. Paul then sent the letter with Titus to Corinth.

Corinth. Paul stayed in Corinth for three months (December 55 to March 56), reaffirmed his relationship with the congregation there, and planned new adventures. He’d started churches in Anatolia and Hellenia. He didn’t need to do so in Latinia—others had done that already. So, after a visit to Rome, he’d leave for Iberia.

In the winter of 56, while in Corinth, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. The congregation there had gone underground during the rule of Claudius and had resurfaced only after his death in 54. Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Corinth, delivered the letter.

Prisoner in the Levant (Spring 56-Fall 58). Paul left Corinth in the spring of 56. On his way to Jerusalem he celebrated the Passover in Philippi and preached in Troas. He avoided the city of Ephesus, still too dangerous for him to visit, but met leaders of the congregation there in nearby Miletus. Continuing to Caesaria in the Levant, he stayed with Philip, a deacon of the congregation in Jerusalem.

Concerned people warned Paul of imprisonment if he continued to Jerusalem. Why did he? He doubted whether James the brother of Jesus and the Jerusalem congregation would accept the relief money he’d collected on their behalf (see Romans 15:30-32). Only by visiting them personally could Paul possibly repair the relationship.

In his meeting with Paul, James identified a way that Paul could overcome the resentment toward him. While following the advice of James, some resentful people from Ephesus saw Paul, started a riot, and grabbed Paul to beat him to death. Only quick action by Roman soldiers saved him. One night, while Paul slept in jail where he had been placed for his own protection, Jesus again appeared to him and encouraged his beaten and depressed companion.

Paul had to defend himself to the local Roman leader, the council of Jewish leaders, and the Roman ruler of the region. Conspiracies to murder him continued. After sitting unjustly in prison for two years, and defending himself before the new Roman ruler of the region, Paul as a Roman citizen could and did demand to have his case heard by the emperor in Rome. In response, the new ruler sent him there.

Journey to Rome (Fall 58-Spring 59). Paul even faced difficulties during the voyage to Rome. A hurricane destroyed the ship though everyone got safely to the island of Malta. After three months, Paul boarded a ship and soon arrived in Rome.

Prisoner in Rome (Spring 59-Spring 61). In Rome Paul was allowed to live in his own apartment with only a Roman soldier left to guard him. As was his custom, Paul spoke to local Jewish leaders. As was their custom, some believed him and some didn’t. He continued to share the Good News with all who came to his apartment during the remaining two years of his confinement. During this time he wrote letters to the Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Colossians.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.