Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
Two Herod Agrippas, father and son, ruled parts of Palestine during the period of the early church, touching the ministries of James, Peter, and Paul. While they won over many first-century Jews, they had far less success with Christians, whom they persecuted from time to time to curry favor. Their history fills gaps in the Bible's depiction of this critical period.
Some of us cannot seem to realize a blessing if it slaps us across the face! Mark Schindler, in recounting a personal story, shows how ingratitude can hold us back in our relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's work in Ephesus, during his third evangelist campaign, where he entered the stronghold of worship of the mythological multi-breasted goddess of fertility or providence — Diana or Artemis- whose statue supposedly had fallen from heaven by the hand of Zeus. Initially Paul had to augment the understanding of new converts to Christianity who had received the baptism of John, but who were ignorant of the function of God's Holy Spirit. For several years, Paul used the school of Tyrannus to continue his evangelistic teaching. From this venue, the precedent of anointed cloths for the healing of the sick had its origin. Paul's success at promoting the Way started to undermine the prosperity of vendors promoting the worship of Diana, leading to a riotous assembly (actually a hastily called 'union meeting') in the Temple of Diana, a tumult which the city clerk was able to diplomatically quell, giving Paul and his companions room to breathe and regroup.
At the beginning of chapter 18, Paul arrives in Corinth, befriended by Roman expatriates Priscilla and Aquila, devout individuals very important in Paul's ministry, both economically and spiritually. Paul's spirits are additionally revived and energized at receiving good news from Silas and Timothy, leading him to be more aggressive and bold. With this new-found energy, Paul encountered some new persecution but also saw his work bear fruit; he was driven from the synagogue, but paradoxically won over the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, to Christianity. A potential problem and source of persecution is quickly resolved by the new Roman consul, Gallio, who, upon refusing to get involved in what he considers an intramural squabble in the Jewish church, gives Christianity legal status in the Roman empire. At the conclusion of the chapter, we become acquainted with the eloquent new convert Apollos, whose deficit in knowledge and understanding is filled in by Priscilla and Aquila.
John Ritenbaugh explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
John Ritenbaugh spends some time explaining the phenomena of lying wonders and visions (such as those seen at Lourdes and Fatima) predicted to become more frequent at the end times. This kind of spiritism involves the deceptive work of lying demons rather than disembodied "souls." In chapter 13, the first time Saul is called Paul, the false prophet Elymas is cursed with blindness, providing the witness prompting the Proconsul Sergius Paulus to become converted. It was Paul's custom to initially seek out the Jewish populations in Greek- populated Cyprus, attempting to connect their history, prophecies and tradition to Jesus Christ's Messiahship. Paul declares that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection did not occur in a vacuum, but attended with an overwhelming number of witnesses. Paul and Barnabus make the case that the sacrifice of Christ provides the justification which animal sacrifices could never accomplish. Paul's success with the crowds (both Jew and Gentile) inflamed the rulers of the synagogue with jealousy, leading to persecution and banishment.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.