What if the Book of Acts was written as evidence for Paul’s trial?

(Remember–the “What If…” series are not necessarily ideas I think are true–just ideas that are fun to think about and could possibly be true.)

Most of us have heard of the Apostle Paul.  He was a fervent defender of the Jewish faith…until Jesus appeared to him and he converted to Christianity himself.  After this, he went on missionary journeys, founding churches and sharing the Gospel of Jesus with many people.  He also wrote many letters to both churches and individuals, some of which were preserved in the New Testament.  The end of Paul’s story as we have it in the Book of Acts is that he gets arrested for treason.

What if Luke wrote the Book of Acts as evidence in Paul’s trial?  What evidence do we have to think this?

1.  Luke introduces the Book of Luke (the first volume of Luke-Acts) by addressing the work to the “most excellent Theophilus”.  The title “most excellent” could mean that Theophilus was a government official–in this reading, an official involved with the trial.

2.  The Book of Acts spends many more chapters on a much shorter period of Paul’s life because that period of Paul’s life would be important to the trial.  Chapters 21-28 are spent on Paul’s life in relation to his trials, which took place over 4 years, versus Chapters 1-20, which cover 24 years.

3.  The Book of Acts ends without telling us how the trial ended.  Surely this shows that the trial had not yet finished by the time Luke finished writing Acts.  This would of course be the case if Acts was meant to be used as evidence.

4.  Acts 28:30 says that Paul had been under house arrest for 2 years.  Paul was a Roman citizen.  According to Roman Law, the accused prisoner had the right to a “speedy trial”.  Perhaps this mention of the 2 year house arrest was to show Theophilus that Paul’s rights had been violated.

Was the Book of Acts written to be used in Paul’s trial?  I don’t know.  But it seems to be a possibility!

The Upside-Down Kingdom of God (Making Sense of Christianity #5)

There is something backwards about the way God works.

Think of the stories we have in the Bible.  God wants to bring salvation to the world through a specific people.  God needs to start a nation through an individual, so who does He choose?  Maybe a general of a mighty army, someone who could demolish all of God’s foes.  Maybe a mighty king, who would have all the wealth in the world, who could buy anything the new nation of God’s chosen people might need.  Maybe a mighty religious leader who God could use as his perfect mouthpiece.  Who does God choose?  A sort of wandering gypsy named Abraham, who is way too old to have children, let alone start a new nation.  Continue reading

The Passover Lamb (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #1)

One quality that is unique to the Bible is that it tells one continuous story from beginning to end, even though it is written by many different authors over thousands of years.  In this series of posts we will examine some of the major storylines in the Bible, some of the symbolism used and how authors continue these storylines and use these metaphors to tell one continuous story even though they are living and writing thousands of years apart.

Perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves of the general story of the Bible.  God created all that is.  Adam and Eve live in Paradise, enjoying all of creation and God Himself.  Adam and Eve choose to eat of fruit God had previously forbidden.  There is Noah and the flood.  God makes a covenant with Abraham that his descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and that all nations will be blessed through his people.  Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel are eventually enslaved by the Egyptians.  Moses leads the Exodus out of Egypt to the Promised Land.  The nation of Israel is divided into two kingdoms, experiencing different wars and occupations.  Various prophets predict judgment and reward for different nations. Prophets also predict salvation through a Messiah.  God becomes man in Jesus to be the predicted Messiah.  Messiah Jesus lives among humanity for around 30 years, is crucified, buried and resurrected.  The church is born.

This is the general outline of the story of the Bible.  Let’s look now at the specific image of the Passover Lamb that continues throughout the various books of the Bible. 

In the book of Exodus, we are told the story of how Moses lead the people out of captivity in Egypt.  Through Moses, God uses plagues on the Egyptians to try to convince Pharoah to let the Israelites go free.  The last of these plagues is the death of the firstborn.  In order to be spared from this plague, the each Israelite family sacrifices a lamb and puts blood on the frame of their doors.  This night came to be known as Passover–a feast was later implemented in order for the people to remember and celebrate how Death passed over their houses that night.  Part of the celebration and ritual implemented was that a lamb was to be sacrificed every year.  The lamb was to be male and without blemish.

This image of the Passover Lamb is picked up by many of the later authors in both the Old and New Testaments.  Isaiah says of the coming Messiah “…he was lead like a lamb to the slaughter…”  The New Testament authors pick up the image of the Passover Lamb and apply it to Jesus.  In 1st Corinthians, Paul says “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  Peter says “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of (the) Messiah, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

The image of Jesus as the Passover lamb is magnified when one considers the death of Jesus.  We are told in the Gospels that Jesus is crucified on the night of the Passover.  Consider what this means.  Just as Jesus is being crucified and dying, the priest is in the Temple, sacrificing the Passover lamb.  As the priest moves to slit the throat of the lamb, Jesus utters “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” and as the passover lamb dies, the Passover Lamb dies too.  Just as this happens, the sun goes out and the veil in the Temple is torn from top to bottom.

The Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.  Let us now celebrate how we are no longer bound by Sin and Death.  Let us celebrate how Death has passed over us, thanks to our Messiah Jesus.

Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus Chapter 3

We are reading through Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus and analysing it in some detail.  We will pick up where we left of with Misquoting Jesus–Chapter Three.

Throughout Chapter 3, Bart Ehrman gives us a quick history of the different texts and manuscripts we have of the New Testament, and how these manuscripts have affected translations of the New Testament.  The first fact that we ought to look at is that by Ehrman’s own admission, we have 5700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Some of these manuscripts are partial manuscripts the size of a credit card, some are collections of more than one book, and a few even contain the whole New Testament.  Continue reading

What if Lazarus wrote The Gospel of John?

This is the first in a new series of posts, called “What if…”  This series will not be ideas that I necessarily think are true–they are just some fun ‘What if” sorts of possibilities.

What if Lazarus wrote the Gospel of John?  “But wait” you might be thinking, “The name of the book is ‘The Gospel of John’.  It’s the Gospel of John because John wrote it!”  And you’re right–the book has traditionally been known as “The Gospel of John”.  But the titles of the Gospels, as well as the chapter and verse divisions, were not in the original manuscripts.  The titles were only added and passed down later–they were not originally with the books.

What do we know about the authorship of the fourth Gospel simply from reading it?  Throughout the fourth Gospel, the author refers to someone as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23-25, 19:26-27, 20:1-10, 21:1-25).  We learn in John 21:20-25 that it is the Beloved Disciple who wrote the Gospel.  This is the only hint we get at the identity of the author from within the text of the Gospel.

Who is the Beloved Disciple?  Good question!  What if Beloved Disciple is not John, but Lazarus?  How would this fit with the text of the fourth Gospel?

First, we ought to acknowledge that John 11:5 specifically states that Jesus loved Lazarus.  While we know, obviously, that Jesus loves everyone, it is not often that it is specifically stated that Jesus loves an individual.  In fact, this may very well be the only place that specifically states that Jesus loved an individual male.  And that male is Lazarus, who just might be the Beloved Disciple.

We have just come through Holy Week.  One thing the Gospels tell us about this time is that the Twelve Disciples (minus Judas) hid while Jesus was being crucified and buried, because they feared for their lives.  John, however, says that the Beloved Disciple was there at the cross.  In fact, Jesus entrusts his mother, Mary, into the care of the Beloved Disciple, and he takes her into his home for the rest of her life.  But if the other Gospels are correct, the Twelve are hiding, so the Beloved Disciple can’t be John, because John is hiding at the same time that the Beloved Disciple is at the cross.  Perhaps the Beloved Disciple who Jesus entrusts his mother to is Lazarus.

All four of the Gospels record Jesus being anointed by a woman using perfume.  Judas complains that the perfume is too expensive, but Jesus affirms what the woman is doing, saying that she is anointing him for his burial.  The Synoptic Gospels do not identify who the woman is.  The fourth Gospel, though, identifies the woman as Mary and the place as Bethany.  It makes sense for the author to make these identifications since Mary is Lazarus’ sister and Bethany is where they lived.

Many scholars argue that the fourth Gospel was the last to be written, mostly because the content is so theological in nature.  If Lazarus is the author, though, it makes sense that the content would be much more theological than the other Gospels.  Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus, so it makes sense that he would make deeper theological connections with Jesus than any other individual.

Again, it is not a core belief of Christianity that Lazarus is the Beloved Disciple and the author of the fourth Gospel.  My faith would not be shattered if it is somehow proven that Lazarus couldn’t have written it.  It is, however, a fun possibility to think about.

Incidentally, this idea of Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple is by no means an original idea.  I highly recommend Dr. Ben Witherington’s blog, which has a post on this subject.

Good Friday

“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).  Here they crucified him…Jesus said, ‘It is finished’.  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit…Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.  With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.  Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.  This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.  Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”  John 19:17,18,30,38-42

Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus-Chapters 1 & 2

We are reading through Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus and analysing it in some detail.  We will pick up where we left of with Misquoting Jesus–Chapter One.

In the first chapter, Ehrman gives an introduction to Judaism, Christianity and then Christian Scriptures.  While there are not many controversial ideas in this chapter, at least when compared to the last, Ehrman still makes one significant mistake that someone of his stature should know better than.  In the process of explaining Jewish history, Ehrman makes the statement that just as there was only one God, “so, too, there was only one Temple…they (Jews) could perform religious obligations of sacrifice to God only at the Temple in Jerusalem.” (p. 18)

This simply is not true for at least one major reason: The Jews, Judaism and Jewish sacrifices predate the Temple.  Continue reading