Jumping to conclusions: Paul and the tribune

Roman tribune. Claudius Lysias

Modern re-enactor wearing replica equipment of a Roman military tribune of the imperial era.

For some of us, the best exercise we get is jumping to conclusions. That is, we make snap judgments without having all the necessary facts.

A very minor Bible character, Claudius Lysias, jumped to a lot of conclusions. As each proved false, he jumped to another one. He never did find out whom he had in custody.

We don’t learn his name until the very end of his story, but he was the Roman tribune in Jerusalem about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He saved Paul from lynching and never quite knew what to do next.… Read the rest

Justification: by grace or works?

Saint Paul

Saint Paul / Bartolomeo Montagna (1481)

Does the Bible contain contradictions? It can appear so.

Paul wrote, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), and a few lines later, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

James, on the other hand, wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? . . . You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:21, 24).… Read the rest

All the New Testament apostles: more than 12!

apostle Matthias

Saint Matthias / workshop of Simone Martini, ca. 1318

There is a common teaching that God intended that there would be only 12 apostles. When Judas killed himself, Peter and the church chose Matthias to take his place, but later God overruled them and chose Paul.  Then how come the New Testament names other men—and a woman—as apostles?

In order to believe the teaching that the appointment of Matthias was a mistake, it is necessary to believe that

  • Peter acted impulsively, having been misled in his prayer and meditation on the Word as described in Acts 1.
  • After Peter and the entire assembly prayed, the Holy Spirit allowed them to make a fundamental error and start the whole church on the wrong foot.
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Remember Jesus

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

Does it seem odd that Paul wrote “Remember Jesus, raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8) to a dedicated minister of the gospel?

Earlier he had testified that no one on his staff was equal to Timothy. Why should a man like that need a reminder? Remember Jesus? Timothy must have spent most of every day either teaching his church about Jesus or sharing Jesus with the unbelievers in his city.

If we step back a little, though, and consider the history of God’s own people, it doesn’t seem so strange.

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Paul, his government, and where faith takes us

Paul before Agrippa

St. Paul before Agrippa / Sir James Thornhill, ca. 1710

Acts 26 records part of a conversation Paul had with Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice. Officially, those three dignitaries were the Roman governor, the King of Judea, and his wife. A man with his mind set on his circumstances (that is, on the flesh) would have conducted himself very differently than Paul did. He shows us faith in action.

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Being spiritually dressed

Paul had quite a lot to say about clothing. No, I don’t mean any comment that could be taken as a dress code. We all have earthly clothing. We have to take it off from time to time to wash both it and our bodies. It wears out and we have to repair or replace it. Spiritual clothing is different. We need to have that on at all times. We are already clean, and spiritual clothing can never wear out or become soiled.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

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The Bride of Christ: Dead to Mr. Law


We must count ourselves dead to sin. That’s well known. The church is ultimately the bride of  Christ. That’s well known, too. Less well known is that we must also count ourselves dead to the law. In fact, my Sunday school class had trouble wrapping their minds around that concept. They couldn’t conceive of eliminating the moral principles of the law from the Christian life. That’s not quite what Paul meant.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13). Indeed, in two different chapters (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28), the Mosaic covenant lays out exactly the blessings that come from obeying the law and then takes about three times as much space laying out all the evil that comes from breaking it.… Read the rest

God is our husband


Over the past several decades, the church has become embarrassed over the fact that almost exclusively male imagery—and exclusively masculine pronouns—have always been used to refer to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). In our day and age, how are women supposed to relate to male deity at every turn? The same way men ought to relate: God is our husband. In Scriptural imagery, God is masculine to the extent that all of creation is feminine to him. God is male to the extent that all creation is female to him. Rewriting hymns and traditional prayers and retranslating the Bible into gender-neutral forms does not broaden our understanding of God.… Read the rest

Thoughts on the imitation of Paul

In recent decades, it seems a lot of people don’t like Paul or his epistles very well. Even in the church, there are those who think they see a dichotomy between Paul’s words and Jesus’. The closer anyone looks, the harder it is to find any of the supposed contradictions between Paul and any other New Testament writer, but too many Christians today content themselves with an occasional glance. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul urged that church to imitate him. That sends the critics into an uproar, excoriating him for his arrogance.

1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 gives a somewhat different view of the same concept, except instead of urging a church to imitate him, Paul commends a church for the way they imitated  him.… Read the rest

Love your enemy: a dangerous prayer rewarded

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”–Matthew 5:43-44 (NASB)

The Bible, Jesus in particular, has a way of commanding whatever is most counterintuitive. We are such creatures of the world that, even as believers in Christ, the ways of the world seem more normal than what Jesus asks. Here he tells us to love and pray for enemies.

Ahmadinejad on a missile, after stealing the latest election

I have prayed salvation for Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other enemies of America and Christ.… Read the rest