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Paul the Apostle: Aspects of his Life and Ministry

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Question #1:


In regards to 2Cor.8, the thorn in Paul's flesh? It goes on to say 'a messenger of Satan, to torment (buffet) me. How do you see this verse? To me it says exactly what the thorn was, a messenger of Satan to torment or buffet, depending on version. I have recently heard from a teacher that if God healed why did not God heal Paul?


Response #1:

Good to hear from you! I hope that you are doing well and finding your personal ministry more satisfying, and also that your spouse is healing well (I'm keeping both of you in my prayers daily).

As to your question, yes, Paul's "thorn" was most certainly caused by demonic attack as it says here. Demonic attack is, moreover, often directed at the human body. We know from Job chapter two, for example, that Job's skin disease was supernaturally caused, and during Jesus' healing ministry many of those "healed" turn out to have been afflicted by demons, "evil spirits" (e.g., Matt.4:24; 8:16; Lk.6:18; 8:2; 9:1; 13:16):

Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
Matthew 17:18 NIV

It is impossible for us to tell whether the origin of a particular disease or ailment is demonic or not, but as the passage you ask about, 2nd Corinthians 12:7-9, makes clear, believers can be so afflicted. In such instances it is not a case of demon possession (something that can only happen to unbelievers; please see the link: in SR 4: "Demon Possession") where the person's will is affected, but of demon attack where only the body is affected from without rather than from within (please see the link: in SR 4: "Demon Attack").

I'm not sure what this teacher's point is. Certainly, God can heal. Certainly, God answers prayer (and Paul requested deliverance three times). Certainly, Paul had the gift of healing. But as is clear from our Lord's answer to Paul's request, "My grace is sufficient for thee", God was allowing this particular testing for Paul's good. And thus is it ever the case. We believers often prove very vulnerable to spiritual despondency as a result of medical issues, and in sickness it is often difficult to remember that the Lord is charge of everything that happens, that nothing is impossible for Him, that nothing has ever happened in the history of the world apart from His perfect plan, and that if we are not being disciplined for our sins (as the context makes clear was not the case for Paul in regard to this "thorn"), then we can be sure that instead we are "sharing the sufferings of Christ" (Acts 5:41; 2Cor.1:5; Phil.3:10; Col.1:24; 1Pet.4:12-13; cf. Rom.8:17), honoring our Lord, and that whatever we are enduring is for our blessing and our spiritual growth – even though we doubtless do not see how that could be the case at present while we are yet "under the gun". Even Paul, of course, did not "get it" at first (and he was not only one of the most advanced believers of all time but had also endured all manner of extraordinary suffering before). We have no chance of "getting it" in such circumstances without scripture and spiritual growth. Blessedly, however, we do have the encouragement and guidance of scripture, and, as we grow in responding the truth it contains, we can look at Job and realize that not all disease is punishment – sometimes it honors the Lord – and we can look at Paul and realize that not all demon attack is a sign of spiritual failing – sometimes it is a compliment to our spiritual progress and a special help designed to focus our attention more clearly on God's grace that we may advance all the more:

That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2nd Corinthians 12:10 NIV

The Lord could most certainly have commanded this demon to depart (and, it seems from this epistle and what else we know of Paul's life from scripture, eventually did so). The Lord could most certainly have healed whatever physical manifestations there were of this particular attack (and, it seems from this epistle and what else we know of Paul's life from scripture, eventually did so). And Paul, who had healed so many others before through the power of God including possibly also his friends and inner-circle, may possibly have had this power even in regard to himself (though scripture provides no example of this, and there is some indication that he was not always allowed to heal those whom he cared for deeply: e.g., 2Tim.4:20). But it was the Lord's will for Paul to endure this test. So he did, and as a result we have one of the most encouraging passages of scripture which not only sets an example for us as to how to behave when we face similar physical challenges, but also reminds us of the immense power of God toward us even in our weakness, or, as Paul assures us, actually because of our weakness, as we are brought to the point of trusting completely in the Lord and not at all in ourselves. We can have joy (Jn.17:13; Rom.14:17; Gal.5:22; Phil.1:25; 1Pet.1:8) and we can have peace (Is.26:3; Jn.14:27; Rom.5:1; Phil.4:7; Col.3:15; 2Thes.3:16; 1Pet.1:2) in the Lord, but we often have to reach out in faith and grab hold of that peace and joy, especially when we are under severe pressure as Paul was in this case. Only the spiritual mature are in a position to fight that fight and win it.

(2) Brothers, when you are being beset with all manner of trials, take pains to be joyful. (3) For you should keep in mind that this testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) So let your perseverance develop fully, that you may become fully mature and entitled to a full reward, having been found lacking in no respect.
James 1:2-4

(1) So now that we have been justified by faith, let us take hold of the peace [we have] with God [the Father] through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom we have also obtained our access into this grace in which we stand, and let us boast in the hope of the glory of God (i.e., in anticipation of our resurrection). (3) And not only this, but let us glory in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces patience, (4) and patience produces proven character, and proven character produces hope – (5) and this hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us (cf. 2Tim.1:7).
Romans 5:3-5

Sometimes God delivers us entirely from trouble immediately when we call upon Him, but sometimes, oftentimes, He delivers us through it over a longer period of time so as to build our patience and our faith and draw us closer to Him. None of us would probably ever choose the latter. Praise the Lord that He knows what is best in ever instance and always faithfully answers us in just the right way and at just the right time.

And we know that everything works together for good for those who love God, for those who have been called according to His plan.
Romans 8:28

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Dear Bob,

I had a couple of questions, one which is more of curiosity than clarification. The first one is regarding the last statement or two in 1 Timothy 1, where Paul says he has handed Hymenaeus and Alexander to the evil one so that they will learn not to blaspheme. I think I'm being told by the spirit that this is merely as a way to humble them, so that they will learn and turn away from evil, and he hasn't just 'given up on them'. Am I interpreting this right? We may have discussed it before, or if not, I really am getting a feeling that this is way it means (that it is a way of humbling them).

The second one is about Jesus himself, or rather, what His name is in Hebrew. I know in English we call him Jesus, but was this is actual name way back during the time he was walking the Earth among us? If not, what is his Hebrew name, and which should we call Him? Does it really matter what we call him, or only that we know of him and who He is and what He has done for us?

Response #2:

If the Alexander in 1st Timothy is the same as the Alexander the metalworker in 2nd Timothy 4:14, and if Hymenaeus in 1st Timothy is the same as the Hymenaeus mentioned in company with Philetus in 2nd Timothy 2:17-18 (both of which seem probable to me since these are all similarly referenced in the epistles to Timothy), then I fear there is something more going on than a mere rebuke. Paul is concerned with false teaching emanating from these individuals whose deceitful doctrines "spread like gangrene" (2Tim.2:17-18); they have done the apostle "great harm" to the degree that he expects God to "pay back" the offender (2Tim.4:14). Finally, in the passage you cite, the previous verse says that these two are included among those who "have suffered shipwreck of their faith" (1Tim.1:19), and that indicates apostasy. So we see a clear progressions here. Hymenaeus and Alexander become apostate (1st Tim.), and by the time of the next letter (2nd Tim.) are already deceiving believers and leading them to a similar destruction (2Tim.2:18), and are opposing the true apostles of Christ to such a degree that Paul expects the Lord to intervene in a decisive and no doubt deadly way (2Tim.4:14).

As to our Lord's Name, in the Greek New Testament it is Iesous which is most often transliterated into English as "Jesus". It is true that the Hebrew form of this name is significantly different, but the first and critical thing to note is that the writers of scripture had absolutely no problem using the existing, standard Greek version of the name and saw no need whatsoever to go back to the Hebrew original. Since the Holy Spirit calls Him "Jesus" in Greek, why should we feel there is any problem with calling Him "Jesus" in English? Any group which wishes to make a false issue out of how we pronounce our dear Lord's name is merely trying to assert a false authority by sophisticated-sounding arguments. The name "Jesus" is, in Hebrew, identical to the name "Joshua". It means, "the Lord saves" (or "the Lord is salvation"), and it is much more important to understand what that means than to use a (seemingly) "more correct" pronunciation. Such things only succeed in making big issues out of what are really non-issues – and clouding the true issues in the process. I have written up the details elsewhere, so I will invite you to have a look at these links:

The Name "Jesus"

"Jesus" (in BB 4A)

Changing the name of God?

Yours in our dear Lord, the One who is our Savior no matter how pronounced,

Bob L.

Question #3:

Dear Bob,

Hey, I am now on Deuteronomy and 2 Corinthians, though I could use some clarification on things past and I generally try to keep the topics similar so they're easier to reply to.

- In 1 Corinthians 5: 1-2, the man Paul is referring to who is 'living in sin' with his stepmother. What did 'living in sin' refer to? Simply living under her roof, or were they ... well, sinning in "other" ways?

Also, why did Paul suggest/command cutting him off from the community? Was it because he was unrepentant? If it happened, would he/was he allowed back?

- In 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, Paul is speaking of how idolaters those who indulge in sexual sin, drunkards, homosexuals, abusive people, etc. will never inherit the Kingdom of God. For the most part, I'm sure he was mostly speaking of unbelievers, but was he also speaking of believers who practiced these things? Or unrepentant unbelievers?

- Also in 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20, when Paul is talking about avoiding sexual sin. What does he mean when he speaks of a man sleeping with a prostitute (well, "sleeping" meaning having sexual relations, in this sense - - funny how our society replaced "sexual relations" with a simple "sleeping with"... I wonder why?) will be joined with her? I think I'm sure at least that the act of sex joins two people to become one and that it is connected to marriage somehow, right? What is he speaking of here?

Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 15: 58, I had, I don't want to say revelation, but more like a moment of respite, of relief, of joy. I read "For nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.", and I don't even know why, but after that all I could feel was gladness. I suppose it was a reassurance that faith is what matters, and that the effort counts, even if one is never truly successful.

One more thing. I wanted to ask about wedding rings and wedding bands real quick:

Since my parents are divorced, they no longer had need of their rings, apparently. I was wondering, would using my father's wedding band (we'll get a new one for her I think) be bad or 'taboo'? (or is the concept of 'taboo' a secular one? I know fortune/luck is.)

My dad's ring symbolizes his commitment to my mom, right? Or is it just a ring? What do you think?

I'm leaning towards getting a new band altogether....

Response #3:

Good to hear that you are progressing with your studies. As to your questions:

1) The Greek says "has his father's wife [i.e., step-mother]" after just describing the situation as porneia (from which we get pornography), i.e., sexually illicit behavior. Paul not only ordered him out of the church but also handed him over to the "sin unto death" so that "his spirit may be saved". Later on, he is allowed back in (2Cor.2:5-11), no doubt after the church complied and the believer ended the illicit situation.

2) There is a difference between "being" an idolater, e.g., and "engaging in idolatry"; unbelievers only fall into the former category. However, Paul brings up this argument as a warning to believers: one cannot continually engage in gross sin without it negatively effecting one's spirituality and even putting one's faith to death if taken to extremes (alternatively, the Lord in His mercy takes the offending believer out of this life first via the "sin unto death"; see the link).

3) Prostitution was a terrible problem in Corinth which was a hotbed of idolatry and pagan sexual transactions connected with temple worship. Many of the believers there no doubt had engaged in this before being saved and some had reverted. Paul is making the argument against this practice in the strongest possible terms, demonstrating logically that the net effect of such behavior is to become permanently and intimately enmeshed with those who practice the prostitution. This is not marriage in the biblical sense, but a "marriage" of oneself to all that is foul and degenerate and spiritually destructive – not to mention idolatrous and connected to demon influence. It's not a simple or an innocent "business transaction". That should be obvious, but as a good teacher Paul is taking pains here to dissuade those more vulnerable to this practice on account of the dissolute environment in Corinth and their previous habits.

4) It's always a joy when the Spirit builds us up in this way! Keep on this good path.

5) Rings are not biblically significant. Therefore the only symbolic meaning they have is whatever the wearer chooses to invest them with.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #4:

Dear Bob,

Hey, I just finished 2 Corinthians and will be starting Galatians tomorrow. I've read a whole lot more than I thought I would in this time-frame, at least of the NT. The OT is huge from what I can tell. Anyway, I had a question about a couple of passages in 2 Corinthians, if that's alright?

- In 2 Corinthians 11: 19-21, in Paul's letter he speaks of them 'putting up' or 'tolerating' with fools, people who enslave them, etc. I was wondering: didn't Jesus preach tolerance and forgiveness? Is Paul speaking of something else? I think he is talking about fools/enslavers/people who take everything they had, he is speaking of people who were/claim to be part of the church, am I right in coming to that conclusion? Or was he saying more 'patience and tolerance can only go so far'? I don't think the latter is likely, since Jesus gave an example in a parable about forgiveness. I forget the passage chapter and number itself, but he illustrates a brother saying 'how many times should I forgive my brother? Seven?', and he is told 'forgive him as many as seven times seventy!'. So I wasn't exactly sure what to make of this.

- In 2 Corinthians 13: 5, Paul is telling the Corinthians to test themselves. I was curious about what test he was asking them to do? Is it a test we should be doing, constantly testing/monitoring our own faith? More exactly, what IS the test?

Also, Paul spoke of false "super apostles" within/around Corinth, and I've heard of them before, but don't know much about them. If you feel the desire to, could you give me a brief explanation on them? Does the website speak of them? I know Paul said they were false and not to follow them, meaning they were trying to lead people astray, but how? What were they doing?

Some days I feel like a sponge, and can't wait to learn more.

Response #4:

Always good to hear from you. On the questions:

1) The "fools" Paul is referring to are himself and his helpers – he means this ironically. After he left Corinth the vultures (or, better, wolves in sheep's clothing) descended. Many of them were legalists who were teaching that circumcision and Law-keeping were necessary for salvation. To shame the Corinthians he uses this language: "So, now you consider me foolish and yourselves wise? Well since you suffer fools, listen up to a little "foolish" talk!"

2) What we mean by "test" is a little different from what the Greeks mean by peirazo and dokimazo, the two verbs in question at 2nd Corinthians 13:5. Here is how I translate the verse:

Examine yourselves to see whether you still stand steady in the faith. Put your qualifications [as Christians] to the test. Or didn't you know this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is at home in you – if He's not, then you are already disqualified.
2nd Corinthians 13:5

So it is not as if there is some special test per se. That is an important point, because there is one heresy making the rounds these days to the effect that there is some special test – and only some "special persons" can give it. Buying into that deception will put one's "salvation" and "spirituality" into the power of the person who "knows the special test" and "can properly evaluate" it. What Paul actually means here is that instead of assuming they are now spiritual giants, the Corinthians should instead measure themselves by the truth of scripture, the witness of the Spirit, and the proper function of their consciences where the two meet. In other words, they should apply the truth of scripture to themselves in this regard in precisely the same way that we should all do with all things at all times. If they were really growing up spiritually as they should be doing, that would be obvious to them and to others; since they are not, that is also obvious – if they will only consult scripture, the Spirit's witness, and their consciences in an objective way.

3) "Super apostles" is also meant to be ironic. Clearly, there is no greater apostle than the apostle Paul. But he did not have an impressive appearance, and his speaking delivery was not of a "celebrity" nature. So those wolves and/or blowhards who came in after him gave the superficial appearance of being "super" by comparison – whereas in reality most of them were not even true ministers of Christ, let alone anywhere near as great as the apostle Paul. There is a good lesson here for us in our day and age. Just because a ministry is on TV and the pastor is a celebrity is no guarantee of Christ's approval or of the potential his celebrity may offer for spiritual advance. Indeed, given what the world follows after so as to create the celebrity effect, the opposite is much more likely to be true.

Keep running the good race!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Thank you for your reply, and you did answer my questions. At this point, much of what I ask I have a fairly good idea of/know what is being spoken about, but sometimes I just wish to hear what you think, just to double-check and not make sure I'm wrong in my initial assumptions. While I still have trouble with certain sins, I haven't given up stopping them, and at this point my only real concern is policing my mind, essentially. Once in awhile, old fears (when I first came to you with the question of if I was even saved or not) still try to pop up once in awhile, but overall I think I'm alright now.

Have you ever had rough times? Not really times of doubt, but just troubling times in faith? I ask because, I don't know why, but my fear from when I first came to you came back recently. Granted, the feeling was not nearly as strong as before. Then, at some point, it just stopped. I spoke to myself, arguing with myself that the feeling was wrong, and I don't even remember what did it (or even if it was me?) but the feeling just stopped. Out of nowhere, I just felt this overwhelming sense of the opposite: joy. I felt relieved, joyous, to the point of tears and just couldn't stop smiling. I don't know what happened, but I may go as far as to ask do you think there might've been some direct intervention?

Response #5:

I think it is a common thing for believers who are truly growing in the truth (an un-common thing in our Laodicean age) to experience this sort of victory. The more we learn the truth and the more we believe the truth the easier it becomes to make use of that truth to defeat the attacks that may come (see the link):

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Ephesians 6:16 NIV

We cannot at this point know all of the details of the conflict swirling invisibly around us (in my view that is a good thing), but we do know that there are more who are on our side than those who oppose us and that the Spirit is within us, helping and teaching us, and intervening for us. Indeed, with all we have going for us we all ought to do better than we actually do, but with every step forward there is joy in heaven – and joy in our hearts.

Keep running the good race, my friend!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Hello Dr.

I have been enjoying your website-your answers to the questions sent to you by individuals are thoughtful & thorough. I so appreciate that!

My question has to do with those tricky chapters, 7&8 of Romans. Do these chapters have to do with the Christian walk-the struggles a Christian faces, or is the bulk of ch 7 about what a persons' behavior is like before becoming a Christian. Some have said that ch. 7 is half about the unconverted & half about the converted. From my experience of living a long life, it surely seems the struggles spoken of in these two chapters are those of a Christian. But it's my belief that a true Christian should grow in The Lord & sin less & less. And, Paul does say in ch 8, that if we live according to the sinful nature, we will die. Also, Paul exhorts us to live according to the Spirit.

What are your thoughts?

Thank you for taking the time to answer.

God Bless!

Response #6:

Good to make your acquaintance, and thank you for your encouraging words.

As to your question, I would say first that Romans chapter 8 is most definitely talking about and talking to believers – your reasoning and example here are absolutely sound. I also agree entirely with your appreciation of our role as Christians: not perfect people but people who are expected by our Lord to grow in many ways, one important one being our sanctification and separation from sin and all manner of sinful behaviors (e.g., 1Thes.4:3-8; Heb.12:14). We can never be perfect (Rom.3:23; Jas.3:25; 1Jn.1:8-10), but we are to pursue perfection/sanctification day by day.

Romans 7 has always been a hotly debated chapter in terms of this question. My own view is that it is "autobiographical" of Paul's experience before he was saved (see the link: "Is Romans 7:14 autobiographical?"), but that, as is often the case, the truths this chapter contains are applicable to believers and unbelievers alike, depending on to whom we apply them and how. For example, in the oft-quoted verse "the wages of sin is death", that is true for unbelievers: refusing to repent and turn to God through the gospel results in condemnation; but it may also be true of believers: giving oneself over to a life of sin damages and, in extreme cases, can destroy faith resulting in apostasy or, just prior to that horror, the "sin unto death" (please see the link).

The subject of sin is wide and deep, and there are many aspect to it (see the link: BB 3B: "Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin"). So throughout this chapter we have to keep in mind that for every passage aimed at the unbeliever, there is probably going to be some application to believers as well – although as believers we have passed from death to life, so that our issues with sin are not the need for "repentance unto salvation" but "repentance unto confession and the restoration of our fellowship with the Lord". Believers are completely forgiven when they believe (positional forgiveness – a blanket pardon from all sin, past-present-future) and also forgiven when they repent and confess of sin committed as believers (experiential forgiveness – being forgiven sinfulness after salvation). That is why Jesus washed the disciples' feet and told Peter, "Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean" (Jn.13:10 NIV) – precisely in order to distinguish the two and make this important point.

I hope this answers some of your questions. Do feel free to write me back about any of this.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #7:

Thank you, Dr. Luginbill, for taking the time to respond to my email & question. I will say I can agree with the possibility of your opinion about Romans ch 7 being about an unconverted Paul. I've often visualized Paul as trying to dramatize a bit-as one would in a play-to try & clarify for his listeners (surely he spoke of these things more than once, probably to gatherings of believers & seekers in various places) & to the Roman readers, through acting out the struggles of a person trying to keep the law and failing miserably. Doing that, of course, to make his point more powerfully that Jesus & His strength are our only hope of living righteously. I think there's a lot of disagreement about the meaning of ch 7 because in the reality of life, Christians often do fail miserably, and believing the passage is about Christians helps to soothe the conscience. But, as you've said, this passage of scripture has been "hotly debated''. And, I doubt that will change.

I look forward to reading more articles on your website, which from the looks of the amount of material covered, doing so will take me a good while.

Thanks again-

Response #7:

You're very welcome!

Please feel free to write back about this or anything else.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #8:

Dear Professor,

Another set. I appreciate you are very busy, please take your time. Also, I understand that editorial problems might not be the ones you want to address at this moment in time, in which case I can just collect all the typos or some other formal issues into one document and send them to you whenever you like - I wouldn't like a person like you to be bothered by minor faults which are effectively only aesthetic or formal in nature when I'm aware that your time is spent helping people draw closer to the Lord. I pick these up only for your website to be as neat as possible - your ministry has become very important to me.

You wrote: 'Whether it be David's adultery and murder, Elijah's flight to the desert, Peter's denials of Christ, or Paul's reckless journey to Jerusalem despite divine warning (Acts 21:4; cf. Acts 21:10-14)'.

I assume Paul's sin was putting his own desire above a recommendation I assume he knew was inspired by the Spirit?

Response #8:

Always good to hear from you, my friend. I am happy to have you include everything in one email. First, I am always very glad to have typos and other problems pointed out (it is usually a long time between re-readings of these things for me, and when it comes to editing I do not have a very careful "eye", especially as regarding my own materials). Second, it is sometimes difficult to sort out typos et al. from points that need explaining. We have hit on a good system for handling these matters, and I don't think we should change it up as long as it is working. As always, I appreciate your observations, corrections, and questions, and also your patience (as it often takes me a while to make my way through these lists). As to those questions:

Yes, that is the way I see it. The book of Acts records what happened usually without offering commentary as to what was done was "right", "wrong", "in between" or "none of the above". I cannot reconcile the clear statements warning Paul "through the Spirit" not to go up to Jerusalem without seeing this journey as a mistake. Add to the that 1) the fact that it was not necessary for him to go (unless God had told him to make the journey which is not only never stated but stands in opposition to the verses quoted), and 2) his compromised position once he does arrive – being pressured into involvement with the temple rites which he knew very well had been superseded by our Lord's actual death (which the rites foreshadowed – cf. the whole book of Hebrews of which he is the anonymous author). There is much more about this at the following link: "Paul's Jerusalem Error".

Question #9:

What is meant by 'purified' in Acts 21:26?

The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them.

Response #9:

In general this would mean being ceremonially rinsed or sprinkled with the water of purification (Num.19:9). What additional (unbiblical) steps may have been added to the temple ritual at this time by the legalistic interpretations of the Law which had by then accreted around the biblical pronouncements is impossible to say.

Question #10:

Could you please clarify:

Acts 24:27: But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

When was Paul imprisoned - was it during Felix reign or during the reign of his successor?

Response #10:

It was under Felix' term of office. One might otherwise have thought that Paul was a "lose end" that the Roman governor would want to tie up before departing, so Luke gives us the reason why Felix violated what was apparently standard policy.

Question #11:

Could you please clarify:

Acts 26:14: And when we had all fallen to the ground,

Who was traveling with Saul?

Response #11:

That is not discussed or described anywhere else in scripture, so we can only speculate. As a special emissary of the high priest, it stands to reason that Saul would have had a number of individuals attending him to care for his logistical needs. Also, he states that it was his intention to bring those he found back to Jerusalem to stand trial (Acts 9:2). That would require a military or police detail of some size.

Question #12:

A question about our Lord's appearance to Paul:

Acts 26:16: "But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you."

The footnote adds that two early manuscripts say 'seen Me' - could you clarify the meaning of the passage and what the Scripture should say in this place?

Response #12:

The Greek word με "me" is not part of the original text. It was added to try to make sense of a grammatically difficult passage (an attracted relative pronoun – a common occurrence in Greek, even in the Bible, but a difficult construction for later scribes to grasp). The translation you include, " a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you", is accurate. The "which" in Greek is "of which" (through attraction) and the με was added to try to work in the genitive (unnecessarily and, in this instance, wrongly).

Question #13:

Could you please clarify:

1 Corinthians 15:4-5 (NIV1984): "that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve."

Why does Paul say 'then to the twelve'? That means there was Peter and the twelve, making it thirteen. Does Paul include himself in this calculation? Does he include anyone else?

Response #13:

"The twelve" is the official name used for the college of the disciples/apostles. That is sometimes also the case during the period between the betrayal of Judas and the call of Paul (e.g., Jn.20:24; Acts 6:2). Sometimes, however the term "the eleven" is used in that period between Judas and Paul (e.g., Matt.28:16; Mk.16:14; Lk.29:9; 29:33; Acts 1:26). So Paul means "the disciples/apostle" who were at that time only eleven – the "twelfth" being himself, having yet to be called.

Question #14:

Could you please clarify:

Acts 26:14: We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

What does our Lord mean by 'It is hard for you to kick against the goads' and why are these words by our Lord not quoted by Paul elsewhere?

Response #14:

To take the last part first, these words are not included in Acts chapter 9 by Luke where he first recounts Paul's conversion (but it is understandable that he does not record every word said in many places in the narrative where we might wish to know more – history of any sort is necessarily selective). Paul tells of this conversion in his own voice in two other places in the book of Acts, first, during his impromptu defense on the temple steps in Acts 22, and later in his telling of the story to Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26. It is in the second instance where this fuller version occurs, and that is understandable in regard to the first instance where there was not much time (addressing an angry mob while in chains), and so Paul on that occasion chose to stick to the main points of his conversion; whereas in the latter instance he was at leisure to tell the story more fully. It may also be the case that in the prior instance Paul was less inclined to make an issue of himself and the Lord's calling into question his conduct in doing what the crowd would have felt was correct. In any case, all three of these accounts are completely consistent, even though they include and/or stress different details and express things in slightly different ways. Since this book was written by a single author who got the details of this particular event directly from the source, Paul himself, it is a good reminder to those who find fault with differing versions in the gospels that such apparent "discrepancies" are not discrepancies at all, merely the editorial genius of the Holy Spirit at work.

Question #15:

Could you please clarify:

Acts 20:34 (NASB): "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me."

Does Paul here means his own hands and being self-sufficient financially?

Response #15:

Yes. Paul went to great lengths to avoid being a financial burden to others, even though he affirms at many points the right of those who teach the Word to be supported by those to whom they minister (see the link: "Pay the Pastor"). This is a clear demonstration of the fact that for Paul the "mission" was everything: he would rather suffer personally than to give anyone any reason to doubt his motivations – quite a difference for many wolves in sheep's clothing today who are all about the money (and could care less about ministering the truth of the Word of God to those who need it).

Question #16:

Could you please explain Romans 9:3? What does Paul mean by 'For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren'?

Response #16:

I take Romans 9:3 to mean that Paul was concerned for the salvation of his own people whom he dearly loved that he would have given up his salvation in order for them to be saved – were that possible. Praise the Lord that it was not! We will not be deprived of one our most illustrious brothers in Christ but will enjoy sweet fellowship with him and all our other brothers and sisters before the Lamb together forever and ever!

Question #17:

Could you please explain 1 Corinthians 4:15? What does Paul mean by 'For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers'?

Response #17:

NIV has "Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers . . .", and that is the true sense. Paul is their "father" in the sense of being the human agent of their spiritual rebirth: he gave them the gospel with the result that they were saved. Compare Philemon 1: (NIV): "you owe me your very self" (i.e., for the same reason).

Question #18:

Regarding 1 Corinthians 4:15 and what you wrote, what would be the difference between the tutors or guardians and fathers, if the former are also (or should be) the human agents of spiritual rebirth?

Response #18:

This is an analogy only. Paul is saying that while the Corinthians may have enjoyed the teaching of many of the other men who later came to serve them (e.g., Apollos), Paul deserves a special place in their heart as the one who brought them the gospel (and so was their spiritual "father" in that sense).

Question #19:

You wrote: But in his heart, Paul understood that he was sinful and committing sin in his life - a fact that made him ripe for salvation and, after turning to the Lord, for service (a humble appreciation of reality is essential to being usable by God).

I do understand that the appreciation of reality is always helpful and certainly so when it comes to the service to God, but when it comes to the service specifically, in what sense is it directly related to it? I would have thought that the awareness of one's gifts is important, but you make this point when referring to the awareness of one's sinfulness.

Response #19:

In my view, the knowledge of the damage he had done and the absolutely stark contrast between who he had been and what he had become provided Paul with the motivation to love Jesus Christ all the more and so to serve Him all that much more energetically. Of all people, Paul had quite a lot to be grateful for since he had been saved from a much deeper "hole" than most (1Tim.1:15-16; cf. Lk.7:47).

Question #20:

Questions on 2 Corinthians 5:12: "We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart."

I) What is the difference between 'commending oneself' and 'giving an occasion to be proud of oneself' - as Paul makes that distinction, but I don't know what is the basis of it?

II) Does Paul mean here that he wants Corinthians to be proud of him, so that they can oppose those who take the pride of appearance? Why does he say they should take pride in Him rather than Jesus?

Response #20:

On the first question, the difference is large. "Commending oneself" to someone else is something done a) to try to get into a person's good graces and b) cedes a measure of superiority to the person being addressed. Paul was an apostle. The fact that he treated the Corinthians (and everyone else) with kindness and humility should not (he tells them) have been taken as either a sign of weakness or an indication that abusing his authority was permissible – and it seems that the Corinthians were guilty both of wrongly considering him weak and also of abusing his gracious deference to a high degree. But Paul does make it clear why he is giving them the information he is giving them here, namely, to give them an opportunity to be "proud" (as we should say) of the benefits they had received and the high position they had enjoyed as being under his tutelage. Even this is done in humility for their edification. The difference between the two possibilities, therefore, is not apparent from the information communicated, but is fundamentally different since it stems from entirely different motivations than the Corinthians in their spiritual immaturity might otherwise have supposed: Paul is concerned for their spiritual welfare, not his own reputation or status – and he is willing to forego these entirely in the cause of the growth of these believers whom he loved.

Question #21:

Could you please explain 1 Corinthians 15:8? What does Paul mean when describing himself as 'one left out due to having been a miscarriage', also rendered as 'and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also'?

Response #21:

The first translation is mine, of course, and I put it that way to try and bring out the true meaning. All of the other apostles were as "children born in a timely fashion", but Paul, as he thinks of it, was late getting to the work of the Lord and came out of posture of persecuting Christ's Church – as if he had been the subject of a miscarriage. The analogy is not meant to be exact in all its parts, and the idea is clear enough: Paul has a very humble view of his own status as an apostle of Jesus Christ, starting late and being "the worst of sinners" – but he certainly made up for lost time and past faults to become the greatest of the twelve.

Question #22:

Could you please explain 2 Corinthians 12:21: "I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you".

Why would Paul be humiliated before Corinthians?

Response #22:

As their pastor and father in the gospel, Paul's coming again to Corinth should have been an occasion for great rejoicing, happiness and good fellowship. But that sort of experience could not happen if instead of behaving themselves in a reasonable and righteous way the congregation instead ignored the guidance in this epistle so that he would find himself in need of disciplining them instead of having an enjoyable time with them. That would be humiliating for him. Paul didn't care for outward expressions. For him, actual belief in and following of the truth was what mattered. If the Corinthians kept proving themselves lax, he would be forced to play the hard taskmaster when he arrived again instead of enjoying a time of mutual good fellowship in the truth of the Word of God, and he describes that as "humiliation" since this is not how things should be and would reflect badly on his efforts to lead them forward if they insisted on drifting backwards.

Question #23:

Could you explain Romans 7:7-13? In Polish Catholic translation the footnote to Romans 7:7-13 says that the 'I' used by Paul stands for all the human beings since Adam - is this the case? Should we interpret this passage as applying to every human or rather a description of Paul's experiences?

Response #23:

I would say that we all are sinners in the manner of Paul and so, if we are objective about it, can relate to this experience – but this is definitely autobiographical and definitely not literally applicable to the whole human race as the actual referent of the words.

Question #24:

Regarding Colossians 1:19-20, I came across an interpretation of this passage according to which its meaning is the same as Ephesians 1:10:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Colossians 1:19-20

with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him
Ephesians 1:10 (NASB)

What is your take on it? It seems reasonable, but since in Colossians Paul says "whether" before "things on earth or things in heaven", it could indicate he means both the "things on earth" and "things in heaven" individually, rather than relating to a relationship between them.

Response #24:

I take it that we are only talking about the meaning of "things on heaven and on earth" (because there are many substantive differences between the two passages)? It would depend on how specific the interpretation you reference gets, I would say. The phraseology of "all things" and also of "the things on heaven and the things on earth" is identical in both passages. The Greek ta panta means "the physical universe", and has since the days of the pre-Socratic philosophers. Paul adds the second phrase to bring in the spiritual dimension so as to let the reader know that the effects he is discussing in both passages are not merely material but also spiritual. This was important for both congregations inasmuch as the letters were written in the same time frame and the congregations are told to share them; Colossians and Ephesians are very similar in many ways and we are blessed to have them to compare one to another because the similar though not identical parallels throughout the two epistles make it easier to see what Paul means in many places. Paul was in prison at Rome, of course, when he wrote these letters, and one of his driving concerns in doing so was to counteract the rising influence of incipient Gnosticism in the Asian churches. I think for that reason more than any other he expands ta panta, "the all things", in the phrase in question, that is, to remind the recipients that there is much more to world than what meets the eye. Gnosticism (see the link), for all its pseudo-spiritual aspects, essentially reduces all things divine to a sort of hyper-material plane. As to what happens to "all things" in either passage, what we have is similar but not precisely the same. Both passages center on the supremacy of Christ (as opposed to the false dividing of things up among the various aeons of the Gnostics), but the Colossians passage looks to the ultimate victory in the eternal state when the plan will have been fulfilled in Jesus, whereas the Ephesians passage is discussing the victory-phase of the plan of God as being founded in Christ, namely, the Church Age and its administration through His Body, the Church.

Question #25:

You wrote: As Paul says in regard to our appearance before the judgment seat of Christ, "we know what it is to fear the Lord" (2Cor.5:11 compared with 5:12).

Could you please clarify 2 Corinthians 5:11-12: Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.

With constant prayer for you and your ministry and in our Lord,

Response #25:

This is not the only time Paul distinguishes between how he relates to God versus human beings – in order to make very clear why he is doing what he is doing:

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10 NKJV

God knows "the score". It is mankind that needs to be persuaded of the truth. There are two important corollaries of this double principle: 1) Since God is not persuadable, it is imperative that we make our minds to do things His way from the start and at all times; if instead we buy into some false system of works (e.g.), we will find that while we may persuade ourselves or other human beings that what we are doing is "good", God will not see things the same way. 2) It is human beings that Christians are here to serve, leading unbelievers to the truth and ministering to the needs – especially to the spiritual needs – of our brothers and sisters in Christ; but if instead out of a desire to be "loved" or out of desire for worldly gain we allow others to persuade us to do what they find pleasing (instead of what God finds pleasing) we are making a terrible bargain. Paul falls into neither of the two traps described above. He understands who he works for and what his job is: he strives to please Jesus Christ by doing the right thing in the right way, and he tells the truth to others in spite of the fact that this sometimes brings unhappiness or outright opposition.

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness.
1st Thessalonians 3:3-5 NIV

Your friend always in Jesus Christ and the truth of His holy Word.

Bob L.


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