Technical problems with Google indexing have made it desirable to re-post all of our material. I hope you will find interest in reflecting with me, on the history of the Church over the centuries and during the life of the Blog which began on 14th December 2009. This post first appeared on 18th June 2010.
From the Tympanum of Saint Paul Outside the Walls



(Paul is 44 – 48 years old as he begins, and the Resurrection is only  16 -18 years in the past.)

Covers modern Syria, Israel, Turkey and Greece.

Trouble came to the church in Antioch in the shape of some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. They began to insist to the Gentile converts that they could not be saved without “being circumcised according to the tradition of Moses”.

Paul and Barnabas strongly opposed their view and defended the contrary teaching they had given to their Gentile converts. It was finally agreed that Paul and Barnabas should go to Jerusalem to defend their teaching. They set off with several others, travelling via Phoenicia and Samaria.

In Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Apostles and presbyters. When the issue was formally discussed, a group of Jewish Christians of Pharisee background strongly asserted the need for circumcision “to keep the Law of Moses“. St Peter, returned from one of his missionary journeys, was present and so the matter was able to be dealt with definitively.

The views of the opposing sides were argued with vigour, and then the Vicar of Christ on Earth, St Peter arose and gave his decision. He reminded them that it was God’s decision that he, Peter, should preach to the Gentiles and that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit as had the Apostles and other disciples. He “had removed all uncleanness from their hearts when he gave them the faith…. It is by grace of the Lord Jesus that we hope to be saved, and they no less." The Law of Moses did not enter into it – they had no need of circumcision. “Then the whole company kept silence”. They listened quietly as Paul and Barnabas related all the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles in the course of their work.

St James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, was present and no doubt he was concerned to mollify his Pharisaic converts to some degree in the face of their correction. He proposed that a letter be written to the Gentile converts in Antioch, Cilicia and Syria confirming that the pro-circumcision group had no authority, but simply requiring the Gentile converts to refrain from food sacrificed to idols, blood meat or meat which has been strangled and from fornication. This was agreed and Judas and Silas accompanied Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch as official representatives of the Apostles to confirm the letter.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul by El Greco.

Some days after their return, Paul urged Barnabas to come with him to re-visit the churches they had established on their first journey. As we have seen, Barnabas wanted Mark to accompany them, but Paul would not agree, because Mark had not originally gone on with them from Perge, but had elected to return to Jerusalem. Paul’s disapproval of Mark’s action is so strong, and Barnabas’ disagreement with Paul’s stance is so firm, that Barnabas goes instead to his native Cyprus with Mark. Barnabas will remain there for the rest of his life as Bishop of the church there. Paul goes on his projected journey with Silas as his companion. Travelling overland through Syria and Paul’s native Cilicia, Paul and Silas preached as they went and established churches. 

In due course, they made the return visit to Derbe and then Lystra. The return to Lystra has a historic significance for here Paul is introduced to Timothy a convert, son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father. In both his native Lystra and in Iconium members of the church are full of praise for this young man as someone of faith, devotion and ability. He quickly comes to regard him as a promising co-worker.

Recalling the exceptional hostility of the Jewish elements in the region, Paul agrees to the circumcision of Timothy ( it being widely known in the region that his father was a Gentile). His circumcision, though not doctrinally necessary, will make him more acceptable to the Jews and thus enhance his effectiveness in the mission. Their co-operation was to become a major boon to Paul: “I have no one else who shares my thoughts as he does; he has shared my task of preaching the gospel like a son helping his father.”

As they moved from place to place they taught the substance of the Apostles’ letter to the Gentiles and were pleased to see how the churches were growing rapidly from day to day. They travelled on toward Asia Minor and Bithynia but the Holy Spirit intervened and deflected them to Troas. With its beautiful situation and harbour, Troas was the embarkation point for Europe from Asia Minor. A few miles inland, across the plains, lay the ruins of ancient Troy.

Saint Luke

Here, Luke, the physician joins the missionary band. He is believed to have been the brother of Paul’s co-worker Titus, and well known to Paul. In writing Acts, Luke can only let us know when he was personally present indirectly, by using the first person plural ( the “we” sections as they have been called).

They sailed from Troas to Philippi, The Greek sailors of the time sailed only by day and always in sight of the land – the island mountain peak of Samothrace was of great help on the present voyage. Philippi had Hellenistic origins and was founded in 356 BC. The small city of approximately 2,000 people had been the control centre for the nearby gold mines. But in 167 BC the Romans took control of the Macedonian kingdom and Philippi lost importance to nearby Amphypolis. In 42 BC, however, Philippi positively leapt into prominence because the site of Octavian’s and Mark Antony’s defeat of the forces of Brutus and Cassius lay in its immediate vicinity. They settled some of their veterans there.

In 30 BC Octavian, now triumphant, but not yet declared Augustus ("majestic"/"sacred"), re-organised the colony and settled more veterans there. When in 27 BC he was declared Augustus, the city was re-named Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis.

In Troas, Paul had seen a vision (Acts 16:9) of a Macedonian standing by him begging him, “Come over into Macedonia and help us”. After several days teaching and preaching, they went on the Sabbath outside the city to a riverside location where people gathered to pray. Among those in the assembly was Lydia a purple seller from Thyatira. She listened carefully to Paul’s preaching and was converted and baptised with all her household. Evidently a wealthy businesswoman, her home was back in Asia Minor. Her hometown was a renowned centre for the manufacture of fabrics and dyes. Purple fabrics were highly prized in the ancient world where purple had connotations of royalty, nobility, wealth and power.

Lydia invited Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke to stay with her household “and she would take no denial”.

Here, Paul’s actions were to produce surprising results once again. A young girl possessed by a “divining spirit” had been following Paul and the others for days proclaiming them “servants of the Most High God proclaiming to us the way of salvation”. Paul became upset by this (perhaps by the circus-like atmosphere this known performer brought to their movements. He commanded the spirit to leave her. It did. This outraged her managers who had done nicely out of her predictions.

They dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates for “disturbing the peace”(!), suggesting that their teachings were incompatible with the obligations of Roman citizens. They were sentenced to be stripped, lashed many times and imprisoned in the inner prison in stocks.

At midnight an earthquake rocked the prison while Paul and Silas prayed. All the doors flew open and the chains were all undone. The gaoler, fearing punishment for the breach of gaol security, drew his sword to kill himself. Paul called out “Do not harm yourself, we are all here”. Calling for a light, the gaoler came to Paul and Silas falling at their feet. He led them out asking what he must do to achieve salvation. They instructed him and all his household on faith in Jesus Christ and they were converted. He took them to wash their wounds and they baptised him and his household. He took them to his home and fed them and they celebrated his conversion and that of his household.

Next morning the magistrates sent officers to announce their release and to urge them to leave Philippi. But Paul noted that they had been publicly punished and imprisoned without trial and now the effort was being made to secretly get rid of them. This was no way to treat Roman citizens, he said. He required an apology direct from the magistrates. When they heard mention of Roman citizenship, the magistrates hurried along and pleaded with them to leave.

On they travelled to Amphypolis and Apollonia and to Thessalonica. Here there was a synagogue and for three Sabbaths they preached there. They won many converts among the Gentiles and among the leading women. The Jews stirred up a mob in the marketplace and went in search of Paul and Silas. They knew that a man called Jason had been giving them hospitality. Failing to find Paul and Silas at his home, they seized Jason himself and some of the Brethren and dragged them before the city council. Describing them as ‘the men who are turning the world upside down” and as defying Caesar and saying Jesus is the King. They alarmed the Council which would only allow Jason and his companions to go on bail. Paul and Silas were hurried away to Beroea by the brethren for their safety.

Beroea had been captured by the Romans in 168 BC and Pompey had wintered there in 48-49 BC

Here again, Paul and Silas preached in the synagogue, this time with very good results. Hearing of their success some Jewish agitators came from Thessalonica to stir people up against them. Silas and Timothy remained but the brethren urged Paul to leave for his safety’s sake. A group of them escorted him as far as Athens and returned with instructions for Silas and Timothy to re-join him in Athens as soon as possible. Reading between the lines, it seems that Paul’s escape from Beroea was made in very great haste – a truly narrow escape.

Waiting for his companions, Paul explored this great pagan city and was saddened by the systematic idolatry so much in evidence. He located the synagogue and taught there and engaged in discussions with all he met in the marketplace. He encountered Stoic and Epicurean philosophers who led him to the Areopagus where they invited him to publicly expound his teaching. They did not have to ask twice! Here he was in the intellectual and artistic heart of the Roman world. Its political and material glory now somewhat faded, and surpassed by Rome itself, Athens still held its intellectual pre-eminence.

Paul compliments the Athenians on their religious devotion and, noting the shrine “to An Unknown God”, he tells them it is that God he has come to reveal. Skilfully he relates the history of salvation until he gets to the Resurrection. Some openly mocked him for this talk of rising from the dead. Others wanted to hear more. When Paul finished a number attached themselves to him for just this purpose.

Paul then travelled on to Corinth 40 miles west of Athens. Here he met Priscilla and Aquila some of the Jewish Christians only recently expelled from Rome (A.D.49 .) by the Emperor Claudius. They were also tent-makers and so he stayed and worked with them.

Corinth in the Roman Period

Corinth lay on the Ionian coast a few miles across a narrow neck of land lay the Aegean port of Cenchrae Two hundred miles of coastline separated the two ports, including the treacherous Cape Malea. To avoid the journey vessels from the east, bound for Corinth, would unload at Cenchrae and tranship their cargo by wagon for the few miles to Corinth.

Each Sabbath Paul taught in the synagogue disputing with the Jews and the Greeks. Silas and Timothy returned from Macedonia when Paul’s activity was at its height. The Jews became resolute in blasphemous opposition to Paul’s preaching and teaching. He finally shook their dust from his clothes and declared that from henceforth he would preach to the Gentiles. As it happened a convert lived next door to the synagogue, and this man Titius Justus invited Paul to stay with him enabling him to teach next door to the synagogue. Crispus the Leader of the synagogue was converted with his household. Many of the Corinthians were converted and baptised.

Our Lord appeared to Paul urging him to speak boldly in Corinth “ I am with you and none shall come near to do you harm; I have a great following in this city” Paul remained there for 18 months.

Then, when Gallio was Roman Pro-Consul for Achaia, the Jews mounted a co-ordinated attack on Paul dragging him to the judgment seat. Their desperate action was a measure of the success Paul was now achieving.

Gallio, recently arrived in Achaia, was the brother of the famous Seneca at the time tutor to the young Nero. The increased number of Jews in Corinth since their expulsion from Rome by the Emperor Claudius was causing tensions in the city. Gallio, like his brother Seneca, had no time for the Jews. Their plot against Paul was about to backfire. Gallio refused to hear their complaint against Paul. Further, when the assembled mob then turned on Sosthenes the new Leader of the synagogue and beat him, Gallio refused to intervene. (Before long we find Sosthenes also a convert, like his predecessor Crispus.)

Paul remained for several days but then crossed over to Cenchrae and set sail for Syria. Before doing so, he shaved his head, having made a vow We know nothing of the substance of the vow or its intent But we do know about its form. This was the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6) and would involve him taking a portion of the hair he shaved from his hair to Jerusalem to be burned on the altar of the Temple, among other things. It is interesting that Paul who so forcefully insists on the supercession of the Old Law chooses to use this devotional procedure from his Jewish heritage.. He lands in Syria at Caesarea.

Although Acts does not mention it, Paul seems likely to have gone from Caesarea to Jerusalem to visit the Apostles and the Church there.

 Tony Dixon
Copyright  This article first appeared in the September, 2008 issue of FOUNDATION.


Popular posts from this blog