Thursday, October 26, 2023

Timothy our brother (Acts 16)

Acts chapter 16 opens with a vingette that seems to contradict the previous chapter, and the SAB takes it that way. Is circumcision required? This was really answered in chapter 15, which oddly enough isn't linked to on this page, but I suppose there's no specific verse to link to there. The answer is no for Christians, yes for Jews. (If the question is required for salvation, it's a straight across the board "no".) The Old Testament passages are all for Jews (as well as the Luke passage, because Jesus was Jewish), and most of the New Testament passages are addressed to Gentile Christians. Timothy, whose mother was a Jew and father was a Greek, is a believer, and wants to go with Paul, but for some reason, Paul decides Timothy needs to be circumcised. It's not made particularly clear why Paul decides this, especially so soon after the Jerusalem council; it may be because what with Timothy's mother being Jewish Paul felt a need for Timothy to have some Jewish cred, so to speak. (Paul notes in Galatians that he didn't compel Titus to be circumcised because he was Greek.)

I already responded to whether the Gospel should be preached to everyone in Acts chapter one, where I pointed out, as I will again, that Phrygia and Galatia are in Asia, so it's not even very clear what verse six is trying to say! Paul has a dream about a man in Macedonia asking for help, so Paul goes there. The SAB, always with an attention to detail, notes that the narrative switches to first-person, and wonders why. The standard Christian explanation is that Luke (the author of Acts) must have joined Paul around this time. Anyway, shortly after they get to Macedonia, they meet Lydia, and convert her. The SAB's suggestion that Lydia might be a lesbian because she sold purple (I assume purple clothes rather than the actual dye) seems a bit of a stretch, as purple is more likely associated with nobility; it is interesting that she does appear to be an independent woman, which may have been more common in Europe. (Note I'm not saying Lydia definitely wasn't a lesbian, I just don't think the evidence is compelling enough.)

Paul's encounter with the demon possessed woman is actually pretty absurd, I have to agree. She's demon possessed, but follows Paul around hyping him up. Apparently there's something annoying or otherwise distracting about it, and she is demon possessed, so Paul casts the demon out of her. Her owners are pissed off, because they were making money off of her, so they bring Paul and Silas to the rulers of the town where they are beaten and thrown into prison. That night, while they're sitting in prison in chains, they are singing praise songs, and a miraculous earthquake happens, that opens the doors of the prison and loosens everyone's chains. The warden wakes up, and seeing the doors open, makes to commit suicide, as apparently he's going to be in trouble. Paul calls out to him, letting him know they are still there, and not to kill himself. He comes in to Paul and Silas and asks how he can be saved. Paul gives him a curious answer, saying if he believes in Jesus, he and his whole family will be saved! There are actually Christians who believe that if the husband is saved, that covers the whole household. I actually used to know a witch online who said she had a husband who was a pastor, and as far as he was concerned, she was saved because he was. So the SAB has to ask, Is salvation by faith alone? I'm sure I've answered this question elsewhere at least in part, but as the page doesn't have a link, I'll address it here in full. The answer is yes, but it's complicated. There are a few things that need to be said that may address the "no" verses. First of all, despite the fact that a person is "saved" doesn't mean they won't be judged; there seems to be both a judgment concerning salvation and a judgment concerning rewards and punishment that is separate. Also, many of the Old Testament passages are talking about judgment here on earth, the idea that God rewards good people and punishes bad people. Also, there is another important teaching that is especially accentuated in the book of James: that faith, if it is genuine, should result in good works, and if the good works are not present in a person's life, you should question their faith. Oh, and said works also include one's words that one speaks. So, for those passages not covered by these issues... The Matthew five verse I explained in Matthew five, basically saying that Jesus is using hyperbole to say that you can't get in to Heaven on righteousness. Matthew 19 in the broader context is illustrating that most rich people are violating the first Commandment by having money as their god. The Romans two passage is, I think, being taken wrong, as the broader context of the entire book is salvation by faith; perhaps Paul is saying, as Jesus sometimes did, that nobody is capable of keeping the whole of the law, because in the end, we are all sinners. The Philippians two verse is not at all clear in and of itself, and certainly could be saying to keep the faith. Revelation 22 is a tricky one, but I think it can certainly be said that Jesus had Commandments (the SAB has them all tracked, in fact), which were mainly about faith. If a husband believes, is his wife saved also? I think it's arguable that the point of all of these verses is that the faith of one spouse has a great influence on the other, although as I said above, some people believe the answer is a simple "yes".

So, the warden puts his faith in Jesus, and is baptized, along with his family. Just because it doesn't say what the rest of his family thought about all of this doesn't automatically imply that they were baptized against their will; it's entirely possible that the whole family made confessions of faith as well. Lack of information doesn't imply that something didn't happen, but it's certainly true that it leaves us wondering. In the morning, the order is given to let Paul and Silas go. Paul is apparently offended that they arrested them publicly, but want to release him privately. The people in charge hear about this, and the fact that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens, which is serious business, since there are special rules about how you treat citizens, and they haven't been treated properly. The rulers release them and ask them to leave the city. After visiting with Lydia one more time, they depart.

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