Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lesson 40: “I Can Do All Things through Christ” - Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

Lesson 40: “I Can Do All Things through Christ”
Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

The Epistle to the Philippians

It is generally agreed that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians around 62 AD, while he was imprisoned  in Rome.  Philippi was an early Christian strong hold that truly endeared Paul, and was loved by him.  While much of the membership there was poor, they were still at the forefront of Christian communities that gave alms to Paul to take care of the poor in Jerusalem. Due to internal concepts that change, it is possible that Philippians is actually portions of up to three letters written by Paul.

A very key part of Paul’s writing may have been a hymn already used by Christians, but definitely used later.  This is the Kenosis Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11.  Kenosis means an “emptying”.  We can see a major difference in translation comparing the KJV version to other translations.

“5. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (KJV, Phil 2:5-11).

“5. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7. but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10. so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11. and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NASV, Phil 2:5-11)

Not robbery to be like God
Phil 2:6

.A couple major differences can be seen here.  First, in verse 6 the translations seem to contradict each other. KJV says Christ did not think it robbery to be like God, while the NASV suggests that equality with God cannot be grasped.  Such is the disagreement of translation.

Other English translations render the phrase like this:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (NIV).

“who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ASV).

The general interpretation is that while Christ was God or equal with God the Father, as a mortal, he did not use this to his own advantage.  Instead of exalting himself, Christ humbled himself below all mankind, and in debasing himself, he allowed God to exalt him above all.  It is important to note that we are to have this same concept in mind: if we are humble servants, God will lift us above all others as well, making us equals with Christ.

Of no reputation
Phil 2:7

The other phrase that stands out as different, we see that Christ would be “emptied out” (NASV) or of “no reputation” (KJV).  In other Bible versions, we read:

“he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (NIV).

“but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (ASV).

“but he lowed himself [but he meeked himself]” (Wycliffe Bible).

There is a early Christian concept that when Jesus came down to his mortal life, he literally emptied himself of his glory, in order to appear as a normal mortal, and so he would experience all things a mortal would.  Such would leave Jesus vulnerable to all the frailties, weaknesses, temptations, fears and trials of any mortal.  In the end, he would descend below all things as the greatest of all servants. In doing this, he lifts us up as the Father lifts him up.  We are glorified in Christ as Christ is glorified in the Father.

In the Apocalypse of Isaiah, an early Jewish writing that was modified by early Christians, Isaiah has ascended through the levels of heaven to the highest level. There he sees God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and worships them with the angels.  Jesus then descends through the levels of heaven on his way to earth.  As he descends, he empties himself of glory, so that those angels on that particular level of heaven see him as they are.  As he reaches earth, he is emptied of his glory.  Because of several similarities, Lehi’s vision of Christ’s descent may have been just like Isaiah’s account (see 1 Nephi 1).

Because of such concepts, Philippians is considered by some scholars as the beginning of Christology, or the study of Christ’s life and atonement.  The focus on love, peace, and knowledge of God fits perfectly for those of us who seek to be true disciples, or followers, of the Messiah; who emptied himself of glory, became a servant of all mankind, and was then exalted by God the Father for bringing knowledge and love of God to all mankind.

Epistle to the Colossians

The epistle to the Colossians is a disputed letter of Paul written in Rome or Ephesus. Many scholars think it was written by one of Paul’s followers, perhaps Onesimus.  Other scholars insist that it is an authentic Pauline letter.  If Paul is the author, it was written while he was imprisoned in the late 50s AD.  If written by a follower, it could be as late as 85 AD. He provided his own residence, but his right arm chained to the left arm of a Roman soldier day and night, the soldiers being relieved daily.

Being only a few miles from Laodicea, one of the cities mentioned by the Lord in Revelation, it seems the people of Colosse suffered from some of the same problems the Lord found against Laodicea:

“14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:14-19).

A variety of false teachers infected the city.  Some were teaching the members to worship angels as the equal or superior of Jesus Christ. Some Colossians may also have been introducing concepts of pagan worship into Christian worship.  This included the worship of other gods in addition to God and Christ.  Paul explained in the letter that Jesus was not just another Greek or Roman god, but that Jesus,

“15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col 1:15-17).

The “invisible God” was one that had no statue nor likeness to worship.  In stating that Jesus created all things in heaven (meaning the objects in the sky) and earth,  Paul is making him greater than the angels, or Zeus and the other gods of the ancient world.  Each Greek/Roman god was a specialist.  Venus was the goddess of love.  Athena was the goddess of wisdom. Apollo was the god of the arts.  Paul established that Jesus was the God of all these specialties and so much more.
There was no reason, therefore, to worship any angel or the pagan gods.  The Colossians did not need to be lukewarm regarding their faith.  They needed to wholly dedicate their worship to Christ, rather than dawdling in worshiping pantheons or attempting to cover all the bases (just in case). They did not need to worry about angering angels, Zeus or other gods, as Jesus trumped them all.

The Epistle to Philemon

The epistle to Philemon is considered an undisputed letter of Paul. It is the shortest letter written by Paul, written from Ephesus or Rome.   If the letter to the Colossians is authentic, then Philemon probably dwelt there. Being wealthy, his home was large enough to house Church meetings for the poor Christian group there.  

Paul wrote to Philemon on behalf of Philemon’s slave Onesimus (“useful”), who was described as not so useful at times. While the exact division between Philemon and Onesimus is unknown, various scholars believe Onesimus was a runaway slave.  Onesimus probably escaped with his pockets full of Philemon’s wealth. Paul sent Onesimus back, accompanied by this letter not only to make things right, but also to achieve a reconciliation between the two Christians.

This is a very personal letter to Philemon.  Martin Luther described Paul’s letter as “holy flattery.”  Philemon should follow the forgiving attitude of a good Christian, while also reminded that Paul is his apostolic leader.  Because of Onesimus’ conversion, he should be considered not just a slave, but a brother to Philemon.  Paul basically asks Philemon to not only forgive Onesimus, but to redeem him by freeing him.

From this, we can learn that just as Paul had sinned grievously and still was reconciled to Christ, Philemon should be Christ-like in forgiving and embracing Onesimus.  And so we do for those who are indebted to us, for regardless of the size of debt, ours to Christ is still vastly larger.  


Epistle to Philippians - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Philippians

Epistle to Philippians - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/philippians.html

Kenosis - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosis

Ascension of Isaiah - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ascension.html

Epistle to Colossians - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Colossians

Epistle to Colossians - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/colossians.html

Colossians - Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04131b.htm

Colossians - Bible.org: http://bible.org/seriespage/colossians-introduction-argument-outline

Philemon - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Philemon

Philemon - Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11797b.htm

Philemon - Bible.org:  http://bible.org/seriespage/philemon-introduction-argument-and-outline

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 39: “For the Perfecting of the Saints” Ephesians

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 39: “For the Perfecting of the Saints”

The tenth book of the New Testament is generally considered to not have been written by Paul, but perhaps by one of his followers.  While tradition has it written by Paul around 62 AD, while imprisoned at Rome, most scholars believe it was written after 80 AD.   The earliest manuscripts suggest it was written to “the saints”, rather than to the Ephesians.  The author does not seem to know the people of Ephesus very well (Eph 1:15-16), which Paul would know intimately, given he spent several years there in his missionary efforts.  In fact, Marcion, a later Gnostic Christian leader, believed the letter was instead sent to the Laodiceans, given the content of the letter.

Two key themes are that the Church members should get along, be unified in the work of Christ, and that the body of Christ (the Church) should be kept pure.  Such concepts suggest that Paul’s letter is primarily focused on behavior rather than doctrine.  

Grace not Works
Ephesians 1-2

The epistle begins by telling us that we are “predestined” to be adopted children of God, having been chosen of God from “before the foundation of the world.”  In this sense, Paul is explaining that even before birth, Christ chose to save the world, adopting all as his own if they will but “be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1:4-5).  This fits in well with the LDS concept of fore-ordination.  We believe that before this mortal existence, we dwelt with God.  Satan and many angels rebelled against God and were cast out as devils.  Those who were not cast out, were then prepared to come to mortal life, in order to develop faith and faithfulness in Christ.  Those who are born upon the earth are “predestined” to come here and freely partake of the atonement of Christ.

Sin brings spiritual death.  We are no longer in the presence of God, even symbolically.  We are no longer holy.  But Jesus spiritually brings us back to life through grace (Eph 2:4-6).  

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

Paul is speaking on two levels here.  First, the works required by the Law of Moses will not save us.  We can sacrifice animals all day long, be circumcised, and follow all the 613 points of the Mosaic law, and still not be resurrected nor brought back into God’s presence.

Instead, we are saved solely by the atonement of Christ.  Through our faith in Christ prior to this existence, we accepted him as Savior.  For this past faith, all those born into mortality will resurrect.  We are saved from physical death.  Through our faith in Christ in this life, we are saved from spiritual death and hell.  

It is a simple faith and repentance that is required to escape spiritual death and hell.  When Jesus was on the cross, he promised the repentant thief “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Paradise is a portion of the Spirit World, where the dead await the resurrection.  The thief would not have to suffer in Spirit Prison/hell for sins, because he already believed and repented of them (1 Peter 3:18-22, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

In the Book of Mormon, the rebellious Alma had a near death experience, in which he noted the intense suffering he went through in hell:  

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments....
And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:11-20).

There was no cause for him to pay for his sins.  Christ had already done so.  The only requirement was to believe and repent.  Once his repentance was complete, he was rescued.  

So it is with us in this life.  We have sinned and fallen from grace.  We return to grace, or life in Christ by believing on him, exercising faith, and repenting.  In the previous lesson on Romans, I discussed justification in regards to this process of salvation by grace.  We are made guiltless or without sin. We are reconciled with God through Christ (Eph 2:16).

From Sinner to Saint
Ephesians 2

With the discussion on justification, or to be made guiltless through Christ’s grace, Paul moves on to making us Saints.

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:18-22).
Once we are justified in Christ’s blood through faith in Christ and repentance, we are ready to join the Saints through baptism of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Ghost moves upon us, making a mighty change in us, causing us to “no more have disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:1-4).  As we grow spiritually, line upon line, from one level of grace to the next level of grace, receiving “grace for grace” even as Jesus did in his mortal life (D&C 93:11-14).

As the Spirit changes us, we keep the great commandments without fear nor pressure. We desire spiritual things, and to be like Christ.  We seek to be as the Saints, or righteous members of the body of Christ, his Church.  As “fellow citizens of the household of God”, we embrace the foundation Christ has built for us: “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

So, as we establish ourselves on Christ’s atonement and the teachings of both dead and living oracles of God, we grow in grace and righteousness.  We become sanctified and righteous, symbolically becoming “an holy  temple in the Lord.”

As we truly become as Christ is, a place where the Holy Spirit may reside, barriers break down between the Saints.  In the world, we see contention, arguments, hatred, spite, and enmity among families, peoples and nations.  Jews and Gentiles were often divided in Paul’s day.  But with the covenant of Christ, they were now one house of God.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, we learn:
“the establishment of a community of salvation welcoming within its fold both Jews and Gentiles without distinction, the Death of Christ having broken down the middle wall of partition, i.e. the Law, and both sections of the human race having thus been reconciled to God so as thenceforth to form but one body, one house, one temple, of which the apostles and Christian prophets are the foundation and Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 1:16-2:20)”

Not only does Christ break down the partitions of the Law of Moses, but every other wall that separates mankind. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a giant gulf separated the two dead men.  In Luke 16, we find that Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham (Paradise), while the rich man suffered in hell (Spirit Prison). With the resurrection and atonement, Jesus bridged that gulf, so that even the rich man can have a chance to believe and repent of his sins (1 Peter 4:6, 3:18-22).  As people believe in Christ and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they are no more strangers, but family.  

Pass through any Christian congregation that is filled with the Spirit and you will find a united people with compassion, love and kindness.  Glance at the world we live in today, and you will find discord, contention, hatred, war, violence, and sin.  Whether in politics, in many religions, sports, etc, there is a continual strife.

Among the first things the resurrected Christ taught the Nephites was:
“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:27-30).

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in all attributes. The only difference in them is they are separate persons or personages. Such is the example we are given from the Godhead.  We must be united in faith, hope and charity in Christ.  That our sainthood and holiness must be founded upon apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone, makes perfect sense.  To the faithful Latter-day Saints, the Lord stated:

“he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;  And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:36-38).

On the other hand, Satan thrives on contention.  His is a house divided, whereon he can master all within the house by keeping them at odds with one another.  We must seek to be united, as Paul and Jesus taught, or we cannot be of the household of God and dwell as saints with Christ.

Paul as the least of the saints
Ephesians 3

Paul then describes his role in this wonderful plan of salvation, unity and reconciliation.  His responsibility is to bring the gospel and  the mysteries of godliness to the Gentiles.  What once was the sole domain of the Jews would now go forth throughout the world!  The Gentiles would become joint-heirs with the Jews of all that God wished to give mankind.

Paul’s greatest hope was:

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

Only as a Saint, one who is justified in Christ (made guiltless) and sanctified in the Spirit (made holy) can know of Christ’s love and to receive “all that the Father hath.”

How to be ONE
Ephesians 4

For the Saints to truly be Saints mean there must be one way of doing things. There really is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Yet, while not everyone is ready just now to be a saint and have a fullness of God’s blessings, they can still receive grace.  “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph 4:7).  We see that levels of grace are given to those who seek, according to the level they are ready and willing to receive.  Again, we move from “grace to grace” receiving “grace for grace” (D&C 93) as we become more and more sanctified and perfected in Christ, even until we receive a fullness.  

As Alma noted:
“the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Alma 29:8).

Becoming a saint, becoming one, is a process.  It does not occur the moment we believe, the moment we are baptized, nor the moment the Spirit first touches our hearts with pure testimony.  And God has provided helps to guide us in the process of becoming one.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:11-15).

Not only is the Spirit given to us to guide us along, but men called from God are sent to assist us.  There are many  evangelists, pastors and teachers in the world that help much of mankind to live better lives, guiding them according to the knowledge they have received.  The more grounded they are in the Bible and the whisperings of the Spirit, the more they can help their flocks become unified in Christ.  

Interestingly, the first two noted by Paul, namely apostles and prophets, are in a class of their own. Anciently, God “only revealed his secrets through his servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  Moses, Isaiah, and other prophets foresaw the coming of Christ, and prepared the hearts of the people in their day.  The prophet John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord’s mortal ministry, which began with his own baptism.  Paul believed the prophecies of Agabus, the prophet. John the Revelator saw in vision that the events of Armageddon in the last days will include two prophets in Jerusalem.  And in the midst of all this, the Lord called twelve special prophets, named “apostles.”  These would be special witnesses of the resurrected Lord.  Paul would also be such a special witness, having seen the Lord Jesus in vision.  His witness would be retold several times by him in the scriptures, and countless other times by those who read his account and believe.

Today, the Lord has again called forth apostles and prophets to join their voices with the ancient ones.  Through Joseph Smith, the Lord restored the priesthood callings of apostle and prophet. Today, we enjoy the blessings of listening to modern prophets and apostles.  They are special witnesses of the resurrected Christ, inviting us to repent and believe, inviting us to become united as saints of God.

Their voice is given us to enhance and add greater things of God to the voice of the wonderful pastors, priests, and teachers that preach faith in Christ throughout the world.  The teachings of modern prophets and apostles include the teachings of the temple, wherein we learn the mysteries of godliness, and the highest form of unity.  

If Paul was the actual author of Ephesians, then the Jerusalem temple still stood.  If not, then the temple had been destroyed for at least a decade or more.  Either way, the author would have known the workings of the temple.  He would have understood the importance of using it as a symbol for those seeking to be saints.  Symbolically or literally, the temple must be founded on Christ as the cornerstone, with apostles and prophets as foundation.  In this way, the people know how to follow Christ in unity.  There are no major variations of doctrine that can twist and toss members around in vain contentions.  We will not all come to a full “unity of faith” until we all repent and embrace the living prophets and apostles of Christ.  That probably will not occur until His 2nd Coming.

In the meantime, those LDS saints who enter the modern temples of God, learn that it really is the “House of God” and a place where “the Spirit of God like a fire is burning.”  In the process of receiving sacred rites for oneself or vicariously for one’s ancestors, we find a oneness.  Individuals are united across the ages into eternal families.  The dead in the Spirit World, who never had the chance to hear of Christ’s grace in mortality, are given the chance to accept a baptism done on their behalf.  Passing through rooms that represent the gloom and contention of earth life, we symbolically rise to higher levels of grace and glory, until we are taken into the Celestial Room and enjoy fellowship with God and Christ in the perfect union of oneness.


Ephesians - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Ephesians

Ephesians - New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05485a.htm

Ephesians -  Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ephesians.html

“The Spirit of God”, LDS hymn #2: http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=2&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=2&searchsubseqend=ZZZ

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38: “Thou Hast Testified of Me” Acts 21-28

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38: “Thou Hast Testified of Me”
Acts 21-28

Paul is warned

Returning to the Book of Acts in this lesson and the continuing saga of Paul.  Paul has gathered together the offerings for the poor from among the Gentile converts and sets sail to Jerusalem.  In his letter to the Romans, he noted his intent to visit them after going to Jerusalem, probably as part of a plan Paul had to open up a new mission field in Spain.

As Paul goes on his journey, and is warned many times by disciples and the prophet Agabus that danger awaits him in Jerusalem.  In fact, Agabus trussed himself up in Paul’s girdle and stated that Paul would also be bound if he went there.  It seems that the Lord was giving Paul a choice, and several opportunities to back out of a sore trial and imprisonment.  Yet, Paul set his sights on his plan, and continued on it until there was only one option: imprisonment and being sent to Rome.

It would really be interesting to be able to get inside of Paul’s head to see why he made such a determined decision.  Did he think that being imprisoned would open doors that otherwise would remain closed?  Did he think there was no other way for him to go to Rome?  Or was he just a stubborn old fool that was going to do things his way, and disregard the counsel given him by others.  Think of it.  Had he stayed away from Jerusalem, he could have had many years of preaching.  He could have gone to Rome as a free citizen, rather than a prisoner.  He would have been able to continue on to Spain, France, and perhaps even England.  Why then, did he choose the route he did?

Paul’s Imprisonment

As expected, Paul returned to Jerusalem.  While there, the apostles asked him to be cleansed and serve in the Temple as a proper Jewish-Christian.  He agreed and went to the temple.  Some saw him and thought he brought into the temple a Gentile.  The action angered the crowd into being a mob, and they attempted to slay him.  The Roman centurions stopped him and allowed him to explain himself to them and the crowd.  Speaking in Hebrew, he explained his Jewish past at the feet of the great Jewish scholar Gamaliel, and his conversion by Jesus in vision.  

Again, the Jews were angered from hearing about his taking the gospel to the Gentiles and the soldiers had to take him in.  There, they chose to question him by flogging.  Flogging, a harsh form of torture, was often used upon individuals that resided within the Roman Empire.  It could not, however, be used on free citizens without Caesar’s approval.  Paul noted he was born a free citizen, unlike the centurion before him, who had purchased his freedom.  

Paul went before the Sanhedrin, where he put them fighting among themselves, asking questions that put Sadduccees against Pharisees.  He stated that he was a Pharisee and was in trouble because he taught about the resurrection of the dead.  Pharisees believed in resurrection, but Sadduccees did not believe there was life after mortality.  An argument ensued, and he was whisked away once again.

That evening, the Lord told him he would go to witness in Rome.  Paul had reached the point of no return when it came to having a choice of where he would go.  At any prior time, he could have decided another route: not go to Jerusalem, not go to the temple, not anger the crowds by telling them about preaching to the Gentiles, not angering half the Sanhedrin.  There were no other options for a free-born Roman citizen who had left his Jewish roots completely behind and embraced the Gentile order.  Jesus appeared to tell Paul where his choices had now led him.

A plot was planned against Paul’s life by radical Jews, so he was taken by armed guard out of Jerusalem and to Caesarea to be judged of the governor Felix.  Paul defends himself against the Jews who bring claims against him.  Not found guilty, Paul still is kept in house arrest for two years.

Festus, the governor of Jerusalem went to Caesarea to judge Paul, asking him to return to Jerusalem to be judged.  Paul insisted on going to Caesar to be judged instead.  Paul still was intent to follow his path to Rome in chains, even when other paths may have taken him there easier.  Paul was then heard by King Agrippa,  Felix and Festus were concerned about sending a prisoner up to Caesar, not knowing what to write regarding the case, as parts of it seemed frivolous, yet here were members of the Sanhedrin willing to testify against him.

So amazing was Paul’s conversion story that Festus told Paul, “thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24).  Just as with Joseph Smith, who claimed to see God and angels, Paul was considered crazy or possessed by demons.

Yet, King Agrippa, who was a student of Judaism since his childhood, understood the teachings of the prophets regarding the Messiah and resurrection: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (26:28).  Many of those who understand ancient Jewish/Christian things are amazed at what Joseph Smith brought forth in the Book of Mormon, and other ancient writings.  Harold Bloom, a well known scholar of Judaism, wrote highly of him and wondered how such a poorly schooled young man could successfully recreate ancient Judaism within the Book of Mormon.

The rulers agreed he was not guilty of death or bonds.  Yet, because Paul had asked to go before Caesar, they had no choice but to send him on to Rome.

Enroute to Rome, the ship was caught in a storm and shipwrecked on an island.  Through God’s providence and protection of Paul, all on-board were protected for following his counsel.   The crew and prisoners were well cared for by the island people until they were rescued.

And interesting event occurred during that time.  While putting firewood near the fire, a poisonous snake leaped out of the fire and bit him.  All watched to see Paul fall over dead.  To them, he obviously had done some heinous act that required punishment from the gods.  Instead, Paul shook the snake back into the fire and continued with no harm.  When he did not die or get sick, they decided he must be a god.

While Paul was not a god, he was a disciple of Christ.  In Paul’s writings we’ve read several passages that talk about our being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, able to receive all the blessings of God, which includes his sharing all his power and glory with the faithful.  While Paul was not divine, he had the power of the divine with him.  Such power amazed the natives, who had never seen a person survive such a deadly and dangerous attack before.  What kind of viper jumps out of a fire, except one sent from the gods?  Yet Paul paid it little heed.  Obviously, his magic was more powerful than that of any local god trying to harm him.

And such is the teaching of Christ we receive from Paul.  We may occasionally get bitten by fiery serpents in this life.  But through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, each of us can eternally shake off all the ills and pains of this life and become even as Jesus is, a divine child of God.

Paul did arrive in Rome, where he lived for two years in house arrest before he was brought before Caesar’s judgment.


Harold Bloom, "The American Religion":