Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The Book of Acts relates how the risen Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and commissioned him to go as an apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The story is related three times: Acts 9:1-20; 22:3-21; 26:9-20. Paul alludes to this event often in his letters (1 Corinthians 15:3-9; 9:1; Galatians 1:13-16). Paul took this commission seriously as can be seen in Acts and Paul’s letters.

But as I read and study the New Testament there are some questions that keep coming up.
1. Did Paul know about the “Great Commission(s)” that Jesus gave to the original disciples as recorded in the Gospels and Acts 1?
2. Did the original apostles understand the Commission?
3. Why did the 12 procrastinate and stay so long in Jerusalem building a church and not move out?
4. Why was there such a flap about including Gentiles (non-Jews) in the church?

I suppose that the last 3 questions could, with a bit of re-wording, be asked of the church today.

The first question is related to some matters I attempted to deal with in my two previous posts. I have come to the conclusion that Paul was familiar with the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, at least in their “rough draft” form, even though most scholarship dates Paul’s writings earlier than all three. I’ve found too many parallels to believe that they are only coincidental or even that the writers were all just using a common vocabulary.

Perhaps one of our problems with seeing parallels between Paul and the Gospels re: the Great Commission is the Greek word ethnos (plural ethne) which has two different, though related, meanings and is translated by two different words in our English translations. One meaning and translation is “nation” or “people.” It is used of “the Samaritan people” in Acts 8:9, “seven nations in the land of Canaan” in Acts 13:19 and even of “the nation of the Jews” in Acts 10:22.

The second meaning (used in the plural only) is non-Jews, pagans, or heathen, usually translated Gentiles. Our English translations sometimes disagree as to which is meant and sometimes seem to be arbitrary in their choice of words. However, if we translate all the uses with the same word we see the parallels more clearly:

Matthew 28:19: “Go then, disciple all the nations (panta ta ethne) …”

Luke 24:47: “… and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations (panta ta ethne) …”

Romans 1:4b, 5: “… Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto the obedience of faith among all the nations for His name’s sake.”

Romans 16:25, 26: “… according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ … has been made known to all the nations unto the obedience of faith.”

In the commission as recorded in Mark, Jesus uses different wording, but Paul uses nearly the same words in Colossians:

Mark 16:15: “… preach the gospel to all creation (keruxate to euaggelion pase te ktisei).

Colossians 1:23: “... the gospel (tou euaggelion) that you heard, which was preached in all creation (tou keruchthentos en pase ktisei) under heaven …”

As for the last three questions, I would almost have to conclude that the original apostles and the other disciples who may have been with them just didn’t get it! When I look at the passages quoted above as well as Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth,” I have to come to this conclusion. Eventually they did go; bits of history in the New Testament, as well as tradition, tell us this. But it took a lot of prodding.

And not only were they slow in moving out, they were slow to reach those of the ethne who were right nearby; and to accept them on an equal footing when they did reach them.

What I see in the history in the Book of Acts is not men and women who immediately took Jesus’ words to heart and acted on them, but men and women who obeyed in fits and starts, who got off to a good start, then fizzled and had to be constantly prodded by visions and persecutions. God even had to bring in replacements – Stephen, Philip, Paul, Barnabas, Silas – to do the job.

The sad thing is that we seem to be cut from the same cloth. Do we still fail to take Christ’s commission seriously?

Bill Ball

Friday, April 17, 2009


(Building on previous posts.)

Some of the clearest parallels between Paul and Jesus are those between Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives as recorded in Matthew 24 and 25 and Paul’s writings in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Though Jesus’ same discourse is also recorded in Mark and Luke, the parallels are mostly seen in Matthew’s version. Paul wrote these letters around 51 AD, but most scholars date all the Gospels much later. Paul doesn’t quote directly, but he uses the same or similar words in quite a few places. I believe that there are too many parallels for us to just claim coincidence. If I am correct, then we must conclude either that Matthew’s gospel was written much earlier than is supposed (at least in an earlier edition), or that Paul had access to the same sources that Matthew used. Matthew was an eyewitness, though we have no record of Paul and Matthew ever having met.

Both Jesus’ discourse and Paul’s Thessalonians’ passages have to do with eschatology (last things). There is also at least one paragraph in Romans.

Romans 8:22: “… the whole creation groans together and suffers birth pains (sunodineo) until now.”
Matthew 24:8: “All these things are the beginnings of birth pains (odinon).”

2 Thessalonians 2:8, 9: “And then the lawless one will be revealed … whose coming will be according to the working of Satan in all miracles and signs and lying wonders (dunamei kai semeiois kai terasin pseudous).”
Matthew 24:24: “For there will arise false christs and false prophets and they will give great signs and wonders (semeia kai terata) so as to deceive if possible even the elect.”

1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4: “For you yourselves know perfectly well that the Day of the Lord is coming as a thief in the night (kleptes en nukti) … you brothers are not in darkness that the Day should overtake you as a thief.”
Matthew 24:43: “… if the housemaster had known in what hour the thief was coming …”
Also see Luke 12:39; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15.

But the most interesting parallels are in the warnings, especially in the play between the words gregoreostay awake (usually translated watch) and katheudosleep.

1 Thessalonians 5:6, 7: “So then, let us not sleep as the rest. But let us stay awake and stay sober, for those who sleep, sleep in the night and those who get drunk get drunk in the night.”

1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10: “… our Lord, Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep we may come to life with Him!”

Matthew 24:42, 43: “Stay awake then, because you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” “… he would have stayed awake …”

Matthew 25:5 (the parable of the 10 virgins): “And while the bridegroom was delaying they all dosed off and fell asleep.”

Matthew 25:13: “Stay awake then, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

The word gregoreostay awake is sometimes used literally in the New Testament, as in Jesus’ warnings to his disciples in the garden (Mark 14:37, 38, etc.), but it usually has the figurative meaning of “be watchful” or “be alert.”

Similarly katheudosleep or fall asleep, though sometimes used literally in the New Testament, often is used figuratively for spiritual dullness. Often, even when used literally, it still has that connotation as in Matthew 25:5 quoted above.

There is another Greek word for sleep, koimaomai, which is often used as a euphemism for death. Paul uses it in this way in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15. Jesus uses it as well in John 11:11-13. In fact, Paul always uses koimaomai for death and katheudo for spiritual dullness.

Some have attempted to find an exception in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 quoted above and would interpret it as meaning “whether we are alive or dead.” But both the context and Paul’s consistent usage would argue against this translation.

Why is this important? Because I believe this is a promise that gives us assurance. When Christ comes to take up His own, all of us who know Him by faith will be taken, whether we are in a state of spiritual alertness (gregoreo), or whether we are in a state of spiritual dullness (katheudo). Our position in Christ is not based on our behavior, but on His finished work.

Bill Ball

Saturday, April 11, 2009


In a previous post (FORFEIT AND GAIN) I mentioned that I had been looking for parallels between what Jesus said and what other New Testament writers have said. I’m still looking, though sometimes not consciously.

Then I read a post on a blog I follow: Been Thinking About, 3/20/2009, “Why Doesn’t Paul Quote Jesus?” asking the question of why Paul doesn’t quote Jesus, at least more often. The post referred to two quotes: Acts 20:35 and 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25, as well as to the fact that Paul did quote the words of the resurrected Christ. This made me search a bit more in earnest.

1 Corinthians 11:24, 25 is Paul’s account of the inauguration of what is known as the Lord’s Supper or Communion. It is similar to the accounts in Matthew and Mark, but it is especially similar to Luke’s account (Luke 22:19, 20), though slightly abbreviated. Paul says, however, that he “received it from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23). I don’t believe that this necessarily implies direct revelation. Luke and Paul were traveling partners and may have used the same sources or traditions. (Luke’s gospel had probably not been written at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.)

In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus’ words to the Ephesian elders: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is found nowhere else, not in the canonical gospels, or as far as I know, in any other early writings. We can only assume from this that Paul was familiar with other sources which were not incorporated in our gospels.

There is at least one more quote, which Paul doesn’t directly attribute to Jesus, but which he refers to as Scripture: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing … ’ and ‘The worker is worthy of his wages’“ (1 Timothy 5:18). Though the first quote is from the Law (Deuteronomy 25:4), the second is word-for-word from Luke 10:7. Luke’s gospel had probably been completed only a few years earlier.

But there’s more!

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is giving instructions on marriage and divorce. He says in verse 10: “To the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord” and then tells us: “ … the wife is not to divorce her husband … ” and continues in verse 11: “ … but if she does divorce, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband; and the husband is not to divorce his wife.” However, in verse 12, Paul says: “But to the rest I say, not the Lord …” and continues with his instruction. The instructions attributed to the Lord in verses 10 and 11 are similar to Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 19 and Mark 10:10-12, but have some notable differences. Paul omits equating by Jesus of remarriage and adultery and Jesus in our gospels says nothing about reconciliation. We can only assume that Paul either was paraphrasing or drawing conclusions from Jesus’ sayings, or more likely, that Paul had other sources.

Paul and James both quoted the Law of Love, found in Leviticus 19:18, “ … you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8) and had much to say about it and its application. But so did Jesus (Matthew 5:43, 44; 19:19; 22:39 = Mark 12:39)! Though both Paul and James would have known this passage from their studies of the Old Testament, it seems probable that the prominence they gave to this Law is because of Jesus’ frequent use of it and of his referring to it as the second great commandment, right after: “You shall love the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

There are many more places where Paul alludes to or paraphrases sayings of Jesus. I’m still digging them out. But might we not also conclude that there are other places in Paul’s writings that were not original with Paul, but were taken from sayings of Jesus which were not recorded in our four Gospels?

More later.

Bill Ball