Friday, March 14, 2008

1 Corinthians: Parallels to Acts

As I've been teaching Bible classes regularly the last couple years, I've found it helpful to tie together different sections of the Bible to show how the writings complement each other. As I teach the letters of Paul, I think it's good to go back to Acts as you read his letters and see if there may be any helpful information that Acts provides. So, in Luke's account of Paul's ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19), you learn that Ephesus has a strong community dedicated to the cult and magic. When you read Ephesians, you notice that Paul, more than any other letter of his, uses language of our victory in Christ in the "heavenlies" and strong language of "spiritual warfare" (Eph 6:12-20- maybe in another post I can talk more about this). No coincidence.

When I went back to Acts recently, I noticed a few parallels between its account of Paul's ministry in Corinth (Acts 18) and Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians, some are minor, some helpful. I thought I'd list them out for my reader.

1. Acts 18:3 says that Paul worked in Corinth as a tentmaker, which fits with his account that he worked rather than have the Corinthians "pay his way" (1 Cor 4:12; 9:6, 18- see also 1 Thess 2:9- this seems to have been Paul's modus operandi).

2. Acts 18:5-6 note that Paul's ministry to the Jews in the synagogues was largely unsuccessful, so much so that he declared "from now on I will go to the Gentiles." Sure enough, it seems reasonably obvious that Paul's Corinthian audience is mostly Gentile.

3. Luke tells us that "Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized" (18:8). Paul mentions baptizing Crispus in 1 Cor 1:14.

4. While Paul was in Corinth, "the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attach and harm you, because I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10). It isn't a stretch to assume, then, that Paul was afraid. In Paul's own words, "I came to you in weakness with great and trembling" (1 Cor 2:3).

5. Luke also records the beating of Sosthenes, another synagogue leader, at the hands of an angry mob (18:17). He was, presumably, a believer, and eventual "cowriter" (using that term loosely) of Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1:1- I wonder if he left Corinth because of the beating?).

6. Finally, after they all leave Corinth, Priscilla and Aquilla, Paul's coworkers, meet Apollos in Ephesus. Luke tells us "He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures...and he spoke with great fervor" (Acts 18:24-25), who was then taught more thoroughly by Priscilla and Aquilla. After this, Apollos ministered in Achaia and Corinth (Achaia is the overall region where Corinth was located) and "vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate" (18:28).

Interestingly, this seems to have caused some unintended problems within the church at Corinth. We learn that some chose to follow Apollos, while some chose to follow others (1 Cor 1:12). It seems that some of the Corinthians had rejected Paul on the basis of his lack of "wisdom" and "eloquence" (1 Cor 1:18-2:16; see also 2 Cor 10:10). Could it be that after experiencing Apollos' rhetorical abilities and his knowledge that some had placed Apollos higher on the "spiritual" scale than Paul? It would seem that their love for wisdom and persuasive rhetoric would certainly make this possible, if not probable (1 Cor 1:22; 2:1-5). Of course, Paul doesn't blame Apollos; he was, after all, doing his job of watering the seed that Paul had laid down (3:6). And it's clear that Apollos was no longer in Corinth when this letter was written (16:12), so the divisions probably happened after his departure.

None of these 6 points, mind you, are necessarily crucial to understanding Paul's letter. In fact, it seems to me that numbers 3 and 5 are purely incidental, number 1 confirms what we already know in other letters, number 2 gives us a good understanding why Paul's audience in this letter seems so Gentile (and also confirms what we know from other letters- he was the apostle to the Gentiles, after all), and numbers 4 (on Paul's fear) and 6 (on Apollos' abilities) give us some interesting background that proves to be more helpful- especially the last point.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I've been tagged: Bible Meme

Cousin Jeremy (who incidentally will be legally changing his name to Cousin Jeremy soon) tagged me for this. Now, apparently as I do one of these I'm under contractual obligation to make a disclaimer along the lines of "I normally don't do these things, but... (my excuse: I can't sleep tonight)", so please consider it done. Thank you.

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

Although a long time user of the NASB, I might have to go with the TNIV- I've become a big proponent. Sorry, Jimmy Dobson.

2. Old or New Testament?

I'm with Jeremy on this one- aren't they both the Bible? I'm tempted to say the Apocrypha.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

Oh gosh. 1 Corinthians, because it has so much going on in it, I love using it for teaching. Philippians because it's downright awesome. Revelation because it's so different. Isaiah because it carries so many of the major themes of the Bible. I could go on.

4. Favorite Chapter?

1 Corinthians 15. Without a doubt. Philippians 2 pulls into second place. Or maybe Isaiah 53. Or maybe Psalm 103. Or Daniel 7. Or Revelation 4. Or Revelation 5. Or...

5. Favorite Verse?

For now, 2 Peter 1:3- "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (TNIV)

6. Bible character you think you're most like?

Daniel- because we share a name and are both prone to frequent angelic visitations.

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

Only one? I have always wondered what Jesus really meant when he said "God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." I've heard many explanations, but none have ever satisfied me.

8. Moses or Paul?

In a steel cage match to the death? Moses. But otherwise... let's break this down like a boxing match-

Moses & Paul: the Tale of the Tape

Canonical writings: Moses- the Pentateuch vs. Paul- 13 letters: advantage- even
Divine Encounters: Moses- the burning bush vs. Paul- the risen Christ: advantage- Paul
Guest Preacher: Moses- slow of speech & tongue vs. Paul- unimpressive: advantage- even
Miracles: Moses- 10 Plagues, parting the Red Sea vs. Paul- numerous healings: advantage- Moses
Helpers: Moses- Aaron, Miriam vs. Paul- Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Luke, etc: advantage- Paul
Difficulties: Moses- rebellious, complaining people, dry desert air vs. Paul- ungrateful churches, imprisonment, beatings, "thorn in the flesh", eventual martyrdom: advantage- Paul
Movie Portrayals: Moses- Charlton Heston in The 10 Commandments vs. Paul- Anthony Hopkins in Peter & Paul: advantage- Moses
Winner: Paul

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don't get?

The teachings on caring for the poor are something I struggle with, not in understanding them but what that looks like for a 21st century American.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?


So I have to tag 5 people? How about the Neaves, Andrew, Jan, Brian and Isaac, except I don't know if he has a blog, so he can put his answers in the comments section.

Oh, and the answer to #6 was a bit of a joke, in case anyone was wondering.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Guardian Angels?

I've always kind of scoffed at the idea that there are guardian angels. I realize that the Bible teaches that angels do protect God's people (Ps 91:11), but I've never thought too highly of the view that God has assigned a specific angel (or angels) to guard a person. I've heard some interesting beliefs regarding this that are certainly nonbiblical. For instance, I remember hearing a sermon where the preacher went on about how our guardian angels even look like us. I had, in my mind, put guardian angels in the category of nonbiblical ideas that have crept into church theology over time and been assumed by many to be true without any Scriptural proof- along with receiving wings when we get to heaven and Satan's horns and pitchfork.

Recently, however, I read Matthew 18:10 (TNIV):
See that you do not despise one of these littles ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
Now, I realize that this verse still doesn't necessarily have to mean that each child (person?) has one guardian angel assigned to them, though that is a possibility. But I admit, I was confused. Perhaps I've been wrong all this time, maybe the Bible does leave room for the possibility of guardian angels.

So I checked out D. A. Carson's excellent commentary on Matthew (page 401) to see what he had to say. I have to admit, with all due respect to a fine NT scholar, I found his explanation completely unconvincing:
The "angels" of the "little ones" are their spirits after death, and they always see the heavenly Father's face. Do not despise these little ones, Jesus says, for their destiny is the unshielded glory of the Father's presence. ...But can the word "angel" be pressed into this interpretation? Certainly Jesus teaches that God's people in the Resurrection "will be like the angels in heaven" as to marriage (22:30) and immortality (Luke 20:36). ..."their angels" simply refers to their continued existence in the heavenly Father's presence.

Really? Are Matthew's readers really supposed to pick up such a subtle nuance? Saying that believers will be "like angels" in the resurrection is quite different from saying they will be angels (and I'm sure Carson would agree, but he doesn't really deal with it here). Now, if there were some other connection between the two contexts in Matthew, he might have a point. But, one is about resurrection (Matthew 22:30), the other is dealing with a present issue ("their angels in heaven always see..."). Matthew 22 is dealing with the believer's "gender state" (for lack of a better term) at the resurrection, that idea is completely unrelated to Matthew 18. So what would ever prompt us to read that text back into Matthew 18:10? I fear that Carson has gotten too creative for his own good (and I will reiterate, Carson is a fine scholar and his Matthew commentary really is good).

In the end, I'd rather simply let the text mean what it says on the surface level- that these little children have angels in heaven. Does this mean they each have a guardian angel specifically assigned to them? Not necessarily, Jesus doesn't elaborate enough to make that a definite point. But it certainly leaves the door open for the possibility, in my opinion. And it means I can't just laugh it off anymore.