Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 31: “And So Were the Churches Established in the Faith” Acts 15-18, 1&2 Thessalonians

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 31: “And So Were the Churches Established in the Faith”
Acts 15-18, 1&2 Thessalonians

Paul’s Balancing Act on Circumcision and the Law of Moses
Acts 15-16

As mentioned in the previous lesson regarding Acts 15, a large dispute occurred on whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised or obey the Law of Moses. It was determined by a council in Jerusalem, headed by Peter and James that the Gentiles would not have to live under such a yoke.

However, in Acts 16, we see that Paul takes a new convert, Timothy, under his wing as a fellow missionary in Greece. In taking the young lad with him, Paul first circumcised him. Why, do this if the Gentiles were not required to be circumcised? After all, we are told that Timothy’s father was a Greek, and therefore he was at least half-Gentile. The reason was on account of the Jews they would encounter in the cities they would come to. The Jews were commanded to not listen to the unclean Gentiles preach. This would severely limit Paul’s efforts to first preach to the Jews in those quarters. Gentiles would not be concerned as to whether the person preaching to them was circumcised, but the Jews would be. So Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, was circumcised in order to serve effectively as a missionary.

Paul goes to Macedonia

Paul and his missionary companions went to many cities and towns on their mission. In some areas, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to enter. It is possible that they were forbidden because the areas were not yet ready to hear, or would even be violently opposed and seek to kill them. Eventually, the Spirit told Paul to go to Macedonia where people were prepared to receive him.

Macedonia is a north-eastern state in Greece. Just 375 years earlier, Macedonia was an independent nation, ruled by Philip II of Macedonia. When Philip was assassinated, his son, Alexander II became king. This Alexander would continue his father’s dream of conquest and ruling the world. Alexander the Great would go on to conquer Greece, Persia, the Levant (where Israel is), Egypt and to the borders with India. With his conquest, Alexander brought with him the philosophy, education, and culture of Greece. Centuries later, even under the Roman Empire, people would still use Greek as the common language.

Having success in city after city, Paul eventually arrived in Thyatira, where a woman possessed of a “spirit of divination” cried out telling everyone that he and his companions were “servants of the Most High God” and told people to listen to them. Fearing that such a woman would harm his efforts more than help, he cast the demon from her, and she lost the gift of divination. Just as Jesus silenced demons who cried out at him, so Paul would also silence the possessed woman.

The owners of the woman, as she would have been a slave and misused to enrich her owners, were angry at the loss of income and riled the city up against the missionaries. Beaten and then imprisoned with their feet in stocks, a miracle occurred that night. An earthquake occurred, breaking down the prison doors and some walls. The jailer feared the prisoners had escaped, and readied to kill himself, as he would be tortured to death for their escape, when Paul calmed him and told him the prisoners remained in the prison. Such an example of faith amazed the guard, and he asked Paul how he too may be saved. The guard and his family were baptized that night.

In the morning, the centurion (leader of 100 Roman soldiers) ordered Paul and his friends released. But Paul insisted on an audience, refusing to be beaten in public and then released quietly. Learning that Paul was a Roman citizen, they feared retribution from Caesar, and so begged Paul’s forgiveness and that he would leave the area.

Paul had some success in Thessalonica, but false witnesses were brought forth to cause a riot. Paul had to leave town and went to Berea, where the missionaries had much success. For some reason, evil men cannot leave the gospel alone, even when it isn’t in their own town. Those Jewish Thessalonians who sought to destroy Paul came to Berea to try again. Paul fled again, this time to Athens.

Athens and Mars Hill

Athens was a cosmopolitan place, and the center of Greek philosophy, gods and culture. In the city were several schools of philosophy: from the Sophists and Cynics, to the followers of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. There were also found the temples and altars to many of the Greek and Roman gods, as well as other gods picked up along the way from other nations.

Paul saw the whole city caught up in idolatry. He even disputed in the synagogues with the Jews because of his concerns. The Jews of Athens were obviously worshiping the Greek gods along with their worship of Jehovah.

Mars Hill, or Areopagus, was a place where philosophers and religionists met to discuss ideas and faith and to hear new things. Paul was invited by some philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic schools to preach on Mars Hill, for he brought with him concepts they had not considered before, such as a human god named Jesus and of resurrection.

Paul was not interested in being a circus side show attraction, by introducing his teachings as completely new to the Greeks, who prided themselves in the age-old beliefs and religions they espoused.

“22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”

Paul was going to teach them something they already should have known. The Unknown God was an ancient God of the Greeks that they simply knew nothing about. Paul was to teach them that this unknown God was the only real God, and was going to show them how they were mistaken in worshiping any others.
“ 24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;”

This unknown God has created all things. He does not need to be created by man’s hands or need to have people bring food sacrifices to him, as though he needs to eat. Temples are not needed for God to exist. He can be accessed anywhere, especially for Gentiles who did not have access to the Jerusalem temple, God could be personally reached through prayer and faith.

“26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”

Here is an ancient Jewish concept that was lost during the Deuteronomic Reformation of the Jewish King Josiah. Ancient Jews believed that God was anthropomorphic - man like. He was not made by hand of any material, such as gold, silver, wood, stone, etc. Instead, Paul explained that the relationship is that of a literal father-child. God is the “Man in Heaven” and Jesus is the “Son of Man in Heaven” (John 3:13). Jesus and his apostles sought to restore this ancient concept of man’s true relationship with Heavenly Father, and here Paul clarifies it to the idolatrous Athenians.

God “winked at” the concept of God being something else besides our Father, but now with the coming of Christ and his apostles, this ancient belief was again restored. Sadly, the concept would again be lost for centuries among Christians. The early Christians from about 300 AD on would embrace Hellenist (Greek) beliefs that God is an unknown Spirit that is made of pure matter utterly different than the stuff we are made from. Somehow, with the exception of Jesus, God in this concept is unable to make something that is his literal offspring. For centuries the concept of the Trinity not being human-like and of a different substance than his greatest creation (mankind) has held many Christians from fully understanding our true nature and relationship with God. Yet Paul understood and taught it to the same Greeks who came up with the concept of a God that is the Unmoved Mover.

Thankfully God has chosen to restore this ancient teaching again in our day through modern prophets and apostles, such as Joseph Smith. We again know that God IS anthropomorphic, the “Man in Heaven” and we are his offspring. This will be a concept that Paul will discuss again in his epistles, emphasizing this great teaching that was long lost among the Jews.

Paul’s Epistles

At this point, we should look at the overall view of scholars regarding Paul’s epistles. The epistles we currently have were gathered together around 380 AD by St Jerome as he wrote the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome went through many books and epistles that were available in his day, and tried to determine which ones were authentic, and which were not. Occasionally, politics entered into his decision making. To have the western portion of the Church accept his list of approved books meant he had to include Hebrews and Revelation, though he personally believed they were not originally from Paul and John.

Today, scholars have determined that only about half of the epistles of Paul were actually written by the apostle. The remainder were possibly written by some of his followers or others who created forgeries - a very common practice in the first few centuries of Christianity, as different Christian sects sought to impose their views upon all Christians.

The Pauline epistles are now separated into three groups by modern scholars: authentic Pauline epistles, those which are disputed to be authentic by various scholars, and those that are very likely or definitely not written by Paul.

The epistles that are generally undisputed are: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

Those that are disputed by scholars on authenticity: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians - these are known as the Deutero-Pauline epistles, as a second person(s) who may have known Paul most likely wrote these.

Finally come the Pastoral-Pauline epistles, which were most likely written by someone else: 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Whether they were actually written by Paul or not, they are accepted by Christians as inspired writings that can help us understand concepts and teachings of the early Christian Church.

1 Thessalonians

First Thessalonians was probably written by the year 52 AD, and is believed to be the oldest written book of the New Testament. Paul wrote the epistle either in Corinth or Athens. Most of the letter was written to encourage the Christians of Thessalonica, due to the persecutions they were suffering. The last two chapters, however, are doctrinal.

Paul had taught in the area of Thessalonica on at least two occasions. This is the first known epistle of Paul to the members in that unruly and violent city.

Just a note or two on 1 Thessalonica then. In chapter 4, Paul discusses the hope of the second coming with the Thessalonians, as a hope that their tribulations will one day end.

“ 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

We see that the Second Coming will be a grand event. Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout” and a trump or in a manner that all shall know. The dead shall resurrect. At that time, the holy saints of Christ will also be raptured and caught up to be with the Lord. Whether those who are caught up are resurrected at that time, or are changed to a semi-immortal state called “translation” is not apparent. Many LDS believe that at this moment, those caught up will be translated, and later will be resurrected.

Translation is the sudden changing of the body from its mortal state to a semi-immortal state. From this, a person shall never taste death, but shall change in the “twinkling of an eye” into a fully immortal state at resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Some Christians believe that this and a couple other verses refer to a pre-tribulation rapture, where the righteous will be caught up 3 ½ years before the Coming of Christ, and all others will be Left Behind (as in the book series). A close study of the scripture, however, notes that this translation or rapture comes AT the time of the Second Coming, and not before. We see that the dead resurrect and that Christ comes with a loud trump and voice. These are not events of a pre-tribulation, where the righteous escape the horrors of the last days, but instead are events that occur in the midst of such tribulations. Jesus comes in his Second Coming to save the day. He will rescue both physical and spiritual Israel against their enemies in the physical and spiritual world. The righteous dead will resurrect. The righteous living will be caught up to be with Christ.

To show even more conclusively that this event ties to the Coming of Christ in glory, we need only jump over to chapter five. When Paul wrote his epistle, there were no chapters, headings, etc. These have all been added in modern scripture for ease of use. But for Paul, our chapter 4 and 5 were part of the same thought.

“ 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”

If there is a rapture 3 ½ years before the tribulation, then why must the saints be watchful for the sudden destruction at Christ’s coming? Instead, they would prepare for the rapture and avoid the destruction altogether.

In his final words, Paul gives a laundry list of things the Thessalonians should do to be good Christians and be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ:

“15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

These are important enough to think about and ponder how well we do them:
1. Do not be mean to those who are mean to you.

2. Always rejoice. How often do we grumble and complain? How can we grumble and rejoice at the same time? Obviously, if we focus on Christ and his Coming, we may rejoice through all our tribulations. Otherwise, the trials of life will seem overwhelming.

3. When you aren’t on your knees, carry a prayer in your heart. This keeps us ever remembering the important things. It is hard to sin when we are praying.

4. Give thanks in all things. When did you thank God for your last trial or hardship? Was there a hidden blessing in that trial that you missed because you forgot to be grateful?

5. Do not quench the Holy Ghost. How can we have inspiration, revelation, comfort, peace, joy and the other gifts of the Spirit, if we douse out its flame? Keep the fire of the Holy Ghost burning bright.

6. Prophesy, both ancient and modern is for us. It may make us feel uncomfortable at times. It may not always be politically correct. We may not always agree, but we must not despise it.

7. Do not take things at face value. Too many people reject the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Christ because of some problematic concern. A true seeker of truth and light will actually prove it and all things. If a pastor tells someone to not read the Book of Mormon, how are we proving it? We remain in ignorance and cannot make a full decision regarding whether it is God’s word or not. And once proved, we must hold onto that thing.

8. Abstain from all evil. Just don’t do it. Evil comes because we give into it. No one forces it from us.

These concepts will help prepare us well for the Coming of Christ in glory.

2 Thessalonians

This letter was probably written between 52-54 AD, shortly after the first epistle. It is considered a pseudo-epistle because although it has a colophon that states Paul wrote it, its style is very different than the other Pauline epistles. Still, of all the pseudepigrapha (questionable books) it has perhaps the most evidence towards it actually being authentic.

The Thessalonians had a major concern on the timing of Christ’s Second Coming. Paul’s first letter obviously confused many of the members into thinking the event was imminent. It caused a lot of contention and confusion among them and required Paul to explain the Second Coming and the timing for it.

“ 1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2).

Paul clarifies that there are yet things to occur prior to the Second Coming of Christ. the Son of Perdition, or Anti-Christ, must set himself up as God in the temple. Paul states that this being is hidden for a purpose, but the day would come when he would be fully revealed (vs 8), and it is finally in that day when Christ will come, reveal the anti-Christ, and destroy him.

The term “falling away” can also be translated as “apostasy.” Some consider this the sign of a Great Apostasy away from Christ, to a worship of the Son of Perdition who sets himself up as a replacement for the Savior.

Over the centuries, many have been viewed as this anti-Christ, including the early entrant and Roman Emperor Nero (who blamed the Christians for burning Rome) and the Pope. Given that Nero never actually sat on God’s throne in the temple, and that the Pope preaches people to follow Christ and not him, it is safe to say that neither of these qualify as the actual son of Perdition.

But it will be a person with much power and influence in the world. We may never know in our lifetime who it is, as the person may not be revealed to us. But we can watch to see if anyone attempts to set him/herself up as a savior for mankind in the ways of economics, world government, and giving people hope during a period of intense trials. Many will be caught up in such a charismatic leader who offers earthly salvation from hardship and risk.

Interestingly, we live in a day unlike any day since Christianity took hold in the western world. We now have Christian nations that are no longer Christian, but are secular. People no longer look to Christ for answers, happiness, salvation and hope; rather to their governments, leaders, movie and rock stars. It would not be hard for such a Son of Perdition to set himself up in God’s temple today, offering happiness to those who are willing to follow.


There is only one Christ and one God. God Most High is the Unknown God of the Greeks. He has always been, even though we’ve often been ignorant of him. It is easy to follow after idols and gods of our own choosing. Having curiosity to learn of new things, we grow tired of old philosophies and religions, and seek to sate our thirst with odd novelties.

Such a stance as the philosophers had on Mars Hill can only lead us nowhere. There is but one God Almighty and his son, Jesus Christ. Our relationship is apparent in that we are God’s offspring. Yet many of us choose to seek after a more charismatic savior or philosophy that can save us from the doldrums of truth and earth life.

But though they may seem to offer us eternal fun and peace, their promise only holds as long as the paper bag it is in holds up. True hope, joy, peace, and power comes from turning to God through Christ and his atonement. He will help us through our trials. He will heal us. Through Christ we are resurrected and forgiven of sins. We are not bound by any philosophies of men that offer something less than the best.

Satan will offer us charismatic counterfeits of perdition. But the real hope comes from God’s true grace, Jesus Christ.


Authorship of the Pauline Epistles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Pauline_epistles

1 Thessalonians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_to_the_Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Epistle_to_the_Thessalonians

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 30: “God Is No Respecter of Persons” Acts 10-15

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 30: “God Is No Respecter of Persons”
Acts 10-15

Clean and Unclean: Gospel to the Gentiles

Christ had specifically told the apostles to not go among the Gentiles, but only to the House of Israel (Matthew 10:5). This issue was so specific that the Lord also denied them preaching to the Samaritans, a nation of mixed Israelite and Gentile blood. While Jesus did heal a couple Gentiles in his ministry, it was uncommon and due to their great faith. Still, the gospel was not preached to them even after the healing.

Israel had always viewed itself as separate from the world. The Law of Moses gave physical laws to remind them of spiritual concepts. The special Israelite diet that separated animals out between clean and unclean was meant to help Israel keep themselves apart from the rest of the world. Lepers were unclean and were not allowed into cities. People who had sinned, or women who had her menstrual period were also unclean, and were to remain without until cleansed once again. The whole society was based upon clean and unclean.

Peter received a vision where the Lord showed him a blanket full of unclean animals. Commanded to eat, Peter insisted that he was not supposed to touch unclean things. Three times, the food was shown to him, with a heavenly voice explaining that which the Lord has made clean is no longer unclean.

Commanded to follow the servants of Cornelius who sought him, Peter went with them. This would be a learning experience for both Gentile and apostle:

“And he (Peter) said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

Peter could be stoned to death by the Jews for being entertained in the house of a Gentile, in this case, Cornelius the Roman centurion. Peter taught the gospel, particularly concerning the Messiah, Jesus Christ. As he taught them, the Holy Ghost fell upon all in the house. All of the Jewish Christians were amazed that the Holy Ghost would fall upon Gentiles. Peter saw this as God’s sign that Cornelius’ household had been cleansed. They were no longer “common or unclean.” He insisted they be baptized into the Church.

This moment creates a major change in the early Christian Church. From this moment forward, it is no longer a Jewish sect, but will become a separate religion of its own. From Cornelius’ conversion onward, key decisions would be made in the Church that would cause an ever widening gulf between it and its Jewish roots.

Such a division can be compared to the break between Catholicism and Protestantism, or comparing traditional Christianity with the Mormon restoration movement. While each has similar roots, major changes and differences developed that cause a separation.

Circumcision and Gentile Converts
Acts 11

So huge of a change was this in the Church, that upon his return, the circumcised Jewish Christians demanded to know from Peter if he had eaten with uncircumcised people. Peter rigorously defended the change. Describing how the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius, they conceded that God had allowed the Gentiles to repent and receive of Christ’s atonement.

From there, the gospel went beyond the borders of the nation of Judah to other regions. Still, the work would begin among the synagogues in those areas prior to being taken to the Gentiles. In Antioch, the preaching would convert many Greeks. It would be in Antioch where the main split from Judaism would occur, with the converts taking upon themselves the name of Christian. These would be neither Gentiles nor Jews, but an entirely separate division: Christians who were baptized into a quasi-Jewish/Gentile-based religion.

Barnabas took the new convert Saul to be his missionary companion. Antioch was their first stop and they established a strong foundation for the Church there. Among their works would be to gather offerings to help the poor and struggling Christians in Jerusalem. How did the Church handle Saul the former persecutor of the saints in Judea? They sent him to be a missionary to the Gentiles.

Saul becomes Paul
Acts 13

Paul and Barnabas are called by the church leaders in Antioch (in Syria near the border with Turkey) to serve a mission.

“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3).

Again we can see the importance of inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and of laying on of hands to set someone apart in a specific work of God by those with His authority was required for this important mission. This laying on of hands gave him priesthood authority and power to preach and work in God’s name. Paul will display his priesthood authority and power many times in the Book of Acts, as he meets adversaries that claim to have the real power or knowledge.

Going to Cyprus and the Greek islands, the two preached with great power and fervor. They had the opportunity to preach to the deputy prefect of the country. However, a Jewish sorcerer in the area sought to prevent them from preaching to the deputy. This sorcerer’s name was Bar-Jesus, literally “Son of the Anointed” in Aramaic. He was also called Elymas (“Wise” in Arabic).

As Moses before Pharaoh’s magicians, or as Jesus once was compared/contrasted with Barabbas (Son of God) at his trial before Pilate, now we see that Paul will contrast the power of the priesthood he holds to that of the sorcerer’s power.

“And (Paul) said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.
Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:10-12).

Neither the wisdom (Elymas), nor claimed power and authority (Bar Jesus) of the sorcerer were greater than the true wisdom, power and authority of God through Paul.

Interestingly, many of the Jews in the area initially believed on the words of Paul and Barnabas, until they saw that the Gentiles were also converting. The Jews did not want to share salvation with Gentiles, as it went against their understanding of the Mosaic Law. The Gentiles were not circumcised, and therefore were not in compliance; they were unclean.

Paul as Divine Being
Acts 14

When Peter first arrived at Cornelius’ door, the Roman centurion fell at his feet and worshipped him as a god. Now, when Paul healed a crippled man at Lystra, they were also worshipped. The Greeks believed that the gods had come down to bless them. Barnabas was believed to be Jupiter, and Paul to be Mercury. The priest of Jupiter’s temple brought oxen to be sacrificed as well. Paul and Barnabas barely restrained them.

For the Roman Empire, the concept of God being anthropomorphic (in human form) or even that humans could be gods (such as in the case of Caesar), was not out of the ordinary. By this time, however, the Jewish faith had changed from a belief in many divine beings to the belief in just Yahweh set the Jews apart from the rest of the world. As noted in previous lessons here, Jesus tried to restore the concept of man becoming divine. This concept caused the Jews to seek his death on many occasions for blasphemy.

Paul’s concern was that he was not a divine being, but mortal. Even if he were divine, he was not worthy of worship. Only God the Father and Jesus Christ were to be worshiped.

Jews came to Lystra and convinced the people that Paul was bad, and so he was stoned. Believing him dead, they took him out of the city for the wild animals to consume. However, Paul rose up and departed for another city. In this event, we are not certain whether he was actually killed and brought back to life or not. It seems that if he were not killed, the injuries sustained would have left him incapable to standing up later and leaving. If he were killed, then he was also brought back to life. Either way, it is apparent that a miracle occurred here, which was greater than the healing of the crippled man. In this moment, however, because the people did not believe, but rejected him, they were not present for such a miracle.

Returning to Antioch from their mission, they rejoiced in the number of converts and success they had. And they rested.

The Law of Moses and Circumcision - Jewish Christian vs Gentile Christian
Acts 15

In this chapter, we begin to see an ever widening divide between the Jewish and Gentile converts, as well as between Judaism and Christianity. Some Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch. They began to preach in the Christian church, saying that in order to be saved, the Gentile converts would have to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas argued that salvation for the Gentiles did not come through the Mosaic Law and circumcision, but could not come to an agreement.

A delegation, including Paul and Barnabas, went to Jerusalem to have the apostles determine the correct doctrine. Some Pharisee converts stepped into the expanded conversation, insisting that the Gentile converts would have to follow the law of Moses and circumcision. In their view, Christianity was still a sect of Judaism, and so the Gentile members would have to not only be baptized into Christianity, but also circumcised into Judaism.

Peter finally stood up and shared his viewpoint as chief apostle and the servant through whom the Lord initially took the gospel to the Gentiles.

“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them (the Gentiles) the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:8-11).

The Gentiles received the Holy Ghost without being circumcised. The yoke of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision, was no longer needed as Christ fulfilled the law. Instead, they would be saved by faith through the grace of Christ.

What does this mean? Does it mean we do not have to obey commandments or be baptized to be saved in Christ? Of course not. Many of the epistles of Peter, Paul and others will continue to emphasize obedience to the commandments of God. What is different is that we are not directly saved by those works. Instead, as we believe and repent, we will naturally desire to obey the commandments. They become a natural outgrowth of our faith. Unlike the Pharisees, who believed that circumcision and outward works saved men from hell, Christianity teaches that true faith and conversion saves us through Christ’s grace. We grow from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace (D&C 93).

If man could keep all the laws of God, could he resurrect himself? If he has but one sin, can he stand in God’s presence with that sin? No to both questions. Christ’s grace gives us free gifts. We must be willing and able to receive them. Resurrection is a totally free gift to all born on earth. Salvation from hell only requires us to believe and repent of our sins (see Alma 36).

Nephi taught that we are “saved by grace after all we can do” (2 Ne 25). What does that mean? When the righteous Lamanites buried their weapons of war, the Lamanite king told his people that it was “all that we could do to repent” (Alma 24:11). As we can see, for our salvation, all we can do is believe and repent. The rest is entirely through the grace of Christ.

Now, the level of salvation we receive is clearly based upon what we become. D&C 76 and 88 teach us that to be celestial requires us to become a celestial-like being. Even receiving a portion of the celestial allows us to be eligible for the fullness of the celestial glory. The same goes for the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms. In this instance, Christ’s grace continues to work with us. He takes us where we currently are guides us through the Holy Ghost from one level of grace/righteousness to the next.

Unlike the Pharisees, we will not be weighed by how many prayers or alms we’ve given, but the quality of our prayers and alms. Christ taught that the inner cup must be cleansed, not just the outside. Quality is something God can measure easier than we can, for we often cannot determine anything beyond outward behaviors of people. For this reason baptism and temple interviews ask about basic beliefs, Word of Wisdom, tithing, etc. Such are easier for men to measure than the intensity of a testimony. God, on the other hand, can measure the full worth of a testimony, and will do so in the final judgment. Commandments are important only so far as they are a sincere expression of the internal conversion.

We will return to this concept frequently in Paul’s writings, as he seeks to balance grace with the importance of keeping commandments, and putting them all in their proper perspective.

The apostles proclaimed that the Gentiles did not require circumcision, nor to live the Law of Moses. They were required to be obedient to guidance given by the apostles and other ordained leaders. They were required to repent, and live just lives.

Could a Gentile voluntarily accept circumcision and to live the Law of Moses? Of course. It was not prohibited of them. To this day, most American Christians still get circumcised for tradition’s sake, not for religious reasons. It just was not necessary for salvation.

James, Bishop of Jerusalem and brother of Jesus, stood forth and said,

“Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren” (Acts 15:19-22).

So, while the specifics of circumcision and the Law of Moses were not required of the Gentile Christians, there were still commandments expected of them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 29: “The Number of the Disciples Was Multiplied” Acts 6-8

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 29: “The Number of the Disciples Was Multiplied”
Acts 6-8

The Calling of the Seven
Acts 6

The apostolic work became so intense that the work of providing for the poor and needy had to be delegated to others. Their concern was that to focus too much on the poor was to “leave the word of God and serve tables.” While caring for the poor was important, preaching the gospel was more important as the special witnesses of the resurrected Christ.

So seven holy men were called to a special purpose. These, in fact, would be similar to our bishops today. Later, in fact, the New Testament church would establish the position of bishop, as the Church spread outside of Jerusalem and was established in many Jewish and Gentile communities. Not only did they provide for the poor, but also were responsible for preaching the gospel in their areas of responsibility. For example, it seems that Stephen’s work was primarily in the area of Jerusalem, while Philip would travel to Samaria to perform much of his early labors.

In fact, while they were called to care for the poor, it seems that they spent much of their time preaching the gospel. In this sense, they would also be like the seven presidents of Seventy which we have today. They assist the twelve apostles in all of the work, as needed.

So, what was the proper form to set these men apart in their position?

“Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6).

We shall see as we continue through Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles that the proper practice in performing any ordinance: setting someone apart in a calling, giving the gift of the Holy Ghost, or performing a healing, all required a person with the proper authority laying hands upon the individual.

Acts 6-7

“...Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Stephen had been imbued with the power and authority of God. We are not told what these miracles were, but they obviously caught the attention of the Jewish leaders. He was brought before them, accused of blasphemy. They said Stephen claimed the temple would be destroyed, and Jesus came to change the law of Moses.

In a modern sense, it would be like someone speaking against Mohammed, the Quran, and Allah. Such blasphemy would merit a fatwah of death. Such was the place in which Stephen found himself. Israel at this time was full of radicals. An ever growing and powerful sect of Judaism was the Zealots. Such would push for war against the Romans, believing that Israel was righteous and able to throw off the yoke placed upon them by Caesar. Among the Zealots were many who claimed to be Messiahs, those who would deliver Israel from Rome. With this zealous impetus for overthrow, came an intense dislike to anything that questioned the Jewish stance that Moses was God’s supreme prophet, the temple would stand forever as God’s sanctuary, and the Law of Moses would be an eternal and unchanging law. To claim that a Messiah Jesus would come and change that law was an insult to Moses, the Law, and to God himself.

When asked by the high priest if the charges were true, Stephen gave the Sanhedrin (Jewish high council) a history lesson, beginning with Abraham. He said that Abraham began in a foreign land, where God came to him and chose him to start a new people in a new land. This promise would not be fulfilled in Abraham’s day, but over time his children would be sent away captive and then rescued when they were large enough to be a people themselves.

Moses was brought forth to rescue the Israel from Egyptian bondage. This same Moses prophesied that a future prophet would come, which the people must listen to and obey, if they wish to be saved. This future prophet is Jesus the true Messiah.

Later, Solomon would build the temple of God. The problem here is that God desires to dwell in the heart, not just in a building. The people focused on the temple sacrifices, and not on the God who created them.

51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers

The Jewish history showed that the people rejected and killed many of the prophets. Their fathers sought to kill Elijah and Elisha. They slew Isaiah, and cast Jeremiah into prison. Now those present were accused of slaying the Just (Holy or Anointed) One, the Messiah, the Angel of the Lord’s Presence, even Jesus Christ.

Instead of repenting when hearing of this claim that the people were still guilty of murdering the prophets, they “were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54).

Stephen was stoned to death. But as he was stoned, Luke tells us:
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Stephen had his theophany. A theophany is when mortal man meets deity. Often this event occurs in a vision or dream, and in it God is often seen exalted on his throne (see also Isaiah 6:1-6, Genesis 28:12-13, Revelation 4, 1 Nephi 1:8).

In Stephen’s vision, he also saw the Lord Jesus Christ standing on God’s right hand. This shows us what Jesus taught: that the Lord is the way to the Father. It also teaches us that early Christians saw the Father and Son as actual anthropomorphic beings. Stephen didn’t see a nebulous spirit that represented both Father and Son, but saw the two separate beings: the first on the throne and the other beside him. Why God would seek to misrepresent himself to one who would momentarily be dead and again in God’s presence? It does seem that the living God showed his real self and the resurrected Jesus Christ to Stephen.

Saul of Tarsus
Acts 6-7

We learn that Saul, who would later change his Hebrew name for a Gentile name: Paul, was at the death of Stephen, consenting to it and holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. Was Saul guilty of murder? According to Jewish law, he was not. He was a Pharisee, trained at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was a scholar of the law of Moses. He was very zealous and walked closely in his understanding of the Mosaic Law, which required a person to be stoned to death for blasphemy against God.

Saul believed he was doing God a favor by slaying the enemies of the Law of Moses. Here was this new sect of Judaism that was quickly moving away from many of the tenets of faith. In this time, Judaism had become very monotheistic, very unlike how it was previous to the destruction of Solomon’s temple by Babylon. Much of the ancient Middle East and Israel believed in a divine council of Gods, headed up by Elohim. When he created the Table of Nations, Elohim divided the land in the days of Peleg, giving kingdoms to each of his 70 divine sons (Genesis 10:25). Israel was given to Yahweh/Jehovah, the greatest of the sons of Elohim.

But this knowledge was long lost to Israel, who had manipulated the scriptures over the centuries, and changed the temple rites between the First and Second Temples. Solomon’s temple included angels, the Tree of Life, and much symbolism. The Second Temple did away with this, and focused all on Yahweh worship via sacrifice.

According to Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker, the early Christians sought to restore the original temple liturgy and belief, which included Elohim and his divine Son, Yahweh.

The Jews were in apostasy. They rejected Christ, and now began stoning the leaders of the Christian sect of Judaism. This was a long established pattern in the teaching of Judaism. For Saul to convert, it would require an earth-shaking event to cause him to reject his old beliefs, and accept this new faith.

Philip, Peter, Simon and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
Acts 8

Philip, one of the chosen Seven, was sent to Samaria. While there he preached and baptized and healed many from their diseases and infirmities. Here enters Simon Magus, a magician, who would later be known as the first major apostate of the Christian church. Simon performed magic tricks in order to convince the people he was a god, so they would give him tribute.

Simon supposedly also came to believe and was baptized. In a recent lesson, we discussed how Peter had received a testimony, but was not yet converted by the gift of the Holy Ghost. It seems Simon had a testimony or at least a witness of Philips miracles, and believed on what he saw. But he was not truly converted. He was one who sought power to suit his own purposes.

While Philip was able to baptize by water, the apostle Peter was sent to Samaria to give the people the gift of the Holy Ghost. Obviously, Philip did not have the authority to give the Holy Ghost to the new members. This suggests levels of priesthood authority, wherein the Seven could baptize, but did not have the power to give the Holy Ghost.

How did Peter give the Holy Ghost to the people? First, he prayed. “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:17).

18 And when Simon (Magus) saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Here we have two Simons: the one called Peter, and the one called Magus. Peter was the leader of the Christians, chosen of Christ and ordained to the holy apostleship (John 15:16). His was the responsibility to direct the Church via revelation.

Simon Magus was the ultimate usurper and false prophet. According to the early Church historian Eusebius:

“We have understood that Simon was the author of all heresy. From his time down to the present those who have followed his heresy have feigned the sober philosophy of the Christians, which is celebrated among all on account of its purity of life. But they nevertheless have embraced again the superstitions of idols, which they seemed to have renounced; and they fall down before pictures and images of Simon himself and of the above-mentioned Helena who was with him; and they venture to worship them with incense and sacrifices and libations.”

Peter saw that Simon had not become a Christian through faith and repentance, but because he desired the power that the apostles had. And he couldn't have it.


Here we see the reactions of many people to this new sect of Judaism, called Christianity. At this point, it is still a Jewish sect. However, the field was already crowded with Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, and Zealots. For many, it was easier to crush this small sect now than to wait until it grew too big to stop.

Some, such as Saul, would soon come to a huge awakening that would ever change his life. Others, like Simon Magus, saw the miracles and believed there was power to be had and used for personal gain.

We’ve learned that no one can have the authority of the priesthood, unless chosen of Christ and ordained by the proper method, as we have seen with the ordination of Mathias to the apostleship (Acts 1), the performance of miracles by the laying on of hands, and also the Gift of the Holy Ghost by that same method from those with the proper authority. In the early Church, authority was not only important, it was necessary.

Many Christians today see the authority as having changed. They believe in a “priesthood of all believers.” Others, such as in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches believe in a specific priesthood lineage. LDS believe in both lines of personal and church guidance. We have prophets and apostles and others with specific priesthood authority to perform ordinances and guide via revelation the general points of the Lord’s Church. We also believe that the members may be guided by the Holy Ghost to guide and direct them in their personal lives, regardless of whether they hold the actual priesthood authority or not.

The ancient beliefs of Israel had been changed. No longer did they understand the role of the Messiah or even of His temple. Jesus came to restore those concepts and continue them through the apostles and other ordained leaders. Yet from the beginning of the early Christian Church, there have been those like Simon Magus seeking to again twist and contort the beauty of the Lord’s gospel to fit their own agenda.


Table of Nations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sons_of_Noah

Divine Council and division of the nations: http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DT32BibSac.pdf

Margaret Barker on the Temple and Christians: http://www.thinlyveiled.com/barker.htm

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History on Simon Magus: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.xiv.html

Dallin Oaks, the two priesthood channels of communication: http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication?lang=eng&noLang=true&path=/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28: “We Are Witnesses” Acts 1-5

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28: “We Are Witnesses”
Acts 1-5

Book of Acts

The Book of Acts is said to be written by the disciple Luke, who also wrote the gospel. This book follows Jesus’ life with stories of the apostles. Luke notes at the beginning of his epistle to Theophilus that there were many who witnessed the resurrected Messiah.

They were not yet to go out and minister, but wait until the Lord prepared them by sending them the first Comforter promised them. This will be seen in the second chapter.

The Ascension
Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1

After the resurrected Savior’s forty day ministry amongst his disciples, he was ready to move on to other responsibilities in the heavens. In front of 500 witnesses, he ascended into the clouds. Those watching were amazed and incredulous. Two angels described as “men in white apparel” appeared and told them that Jesus would come again, but this time in the manner he has just ascended. For the Lord’s Second Coming, he would descend in glory and power. He would be a resurrected and glorified being, even as his apostles witnessed as they touched and felt his body that he was not just a spirit/ghost, but was actually resurrected - a spirit clothed in a glorious body of flesh (Luke 24).

Restoring the Twelve: a Pattern

Returning to their homes to await further instructions of the Lord, the eleven apostles began restructuring the leadership. It was apparent that there had to be twelve apostles to be a full quorum, and so they discussed the matter. Their discussion led them to two righteous men, who had both seen the resurrected Jesus. It was necessary that they not call just any person, but “must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Reducing their choices to two, the apostles then prayed that the Lord would select the appropriate person. They then used the ancient Israelite method of choosing by lots.

According to the Septuagint Bible, the ancient Israelite high priest used the stones on the Urim and Thummim on his breastplate to deliver an answer from God. Other groups, which would include the apostles in this occasion, would throw sticks or dice and allow the Lord to affect the randomness of the event. This prevented politics or bribes to affect the outcome.

In this instance, the Lord chose Matthias, and he was then numbered with them as one of the apostles.

Day of Pentecost - conversion vs testimony
Acts 2

The Day of Pentecost was part of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, celebrating Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, it occurred 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, and ten days after his ascension into heaven.

Many were gathered to Jerusalem and the surrounding area for the celebration. The apostles had gathered to join in the celebration. Their original goal was not to preach, but to observe the feast. However, the Holy Spirit fell down upon them and the apostles began to speak in tongues, being understood by those Jews who had come from foreign lands to celebrate the events at hand. It is traditionally believed that they gathered in the same upper room where the Last Supper was held. Many people of the Jewish faith who traveled from elsewhere would have rented a seat at the Pentecostal feast. Seeing the Galilean fishermen speaking in many tongues at the same time would have been astonishing.

Peter had previously received a testimony of Jesus Christ from God: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16-17). Though he had a testimony, it was not the same as being truly converted. At Jesus’ trial, his faith and testimony temporarily failed Peter, and he denied knowing Jesus. Just before that event, Savior would tell Peter in the same upper room during the Last Supper, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

Peter was not yet converted. Not until this moment at Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost provided more than just a testimony. The converted Peter became a lion for Christ. Standing up before the others at the table, he explained that the apostles were not drunk, but filled with the Spirit of God. He noted the prophecy of Joel, wherein people would have visions and dreams from God as support that it was partially fulfilled in that moment.

Not only were the apostles moved, but the listeners were “pricked in their hearts” and moved upon to also believe. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

They believed. Now they had to repent, receive the necessary ordinance of baptism in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15, John 3:5), and then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost had previously witnessed to Peter of Christ’s divinity. Now, he received the entire Gift, which was turning on the floodlights of spiritual power to this once lowly fisherman.

From this point on, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” as they found the true power that comes through conversion.

Restoration of All Things
Acts 3

Peter has the opportunity to preach to others, including Jewish leaders. His approach to them was very different than to those in the upper room at Pentecost. He did not call them to faith, repentance or to be baptized by water and the Holy Ghost.

Instead, he noted:
14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;
15 And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

Because they knowingly murdered Jesus Christ and rejected him as their Savior, they would not be called to baptism and faith at this time. They would have to await a future time, just before the Second Coming of Christ. Peter was telling the Jews at Jerusalem who had a part in slaying Jesus two things. First, their rescue from the trials of this world would only come in the last days before Jesus’ glorious return, and Second, that their own salvation could come later.

Peter wished they had been ignorant of their choice in slaying Jesus. But the Jewish leaders had studied the prophets of old: Moses, Samuel and all the other prophets had foreseen Jesus’ coming. The Jewish leaders would not be eligible for baptism at that time:

19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

We see that there would be a “times of refreshing” and the “restitution of all things”. This epoch would not occur until just before Christ would be prepared to come down in glory for his Second Coming. Not only had the prophets foreseen the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ, but also his Second Coming. And they foresaw the “times of refreshing” when all things would be restored, preparatory for Jesus’ return.

Peter foresaw the restoration of the Lord’s gospel and order upon the earth occurring prior to the 2nd Coming. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes and teaches that this restoration is now occurring, as God has called modern apostles and prophets as living witnesses of the resurrected Jesus Christ. These holy men receive revelation from God, even as Joel prophesied would happen. Joel foresaw the complete fulfillment of his prophesy would occur in a day when the sun would be darkened and the moon would turn into blood on “that great and notable day.” These modern prophets and apostles prepare the world for the Lord’s triumphant return and the end of this world.

One of the things restored in this day through modern prophets is the concept of vicarious baptism for the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This is one way in which those of old who would have to await the “day of refreshing” could not only repent, but receive the saving ordinances of the gospel. This is what Peter taught to the Jews that day long ago.

Today, the Church proclaims as did Peter did on Pentecost:
38 ...Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Jesus’ call of salvation is still sent to all the world through apostles of God.


Casting Lots: http://www.biblestudy.org/question/what-is-casting-lots.html

Pentecost: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentecost