I Paul Write This With My Hand…

  In Philemon 19 it says: “I, Paul, write with my hand: I will repay…”  Paul is telling Philemon that if his runaway slave Onesimus owes him (Philemon) anything, he (Paul) will for sure repay whatever it is to help restore the relationship between the two.  It’s interesting that Paul notes he’s writing at this point in the letter, in the body and not the conclusion, like he did elsewhere.  And he doesn’t say “I wrote this *letter*.”  It could be he is referring to the following phrase: “I will repay!”  It would then go like this:  I write with my hand: I will repay!!!”   The NLT puts verse 19 in ALL CAPS to show that perhaps Paul literally wrote that part of the letter as a legal signature that he would for sure repay what he promised: I PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT….”  Perhaps Paul’s secretary wrote the other parts of the letter, but Paul wanted his signature here as a guarantee to Philemon and the house church there that he’d do what he said.

While I certainly disagree with aspects of J. D. G Dunn’s theology, I like his comments on Philemon 19:

ἐγὼ Παῦλος ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί, ἐγὼ ἀποτίσω· ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι ὅτι καὶ σεαυτόν μοι προσοφείλεις. In an unusual step Paul evidently took the stylus in his own hand at this point and both signed his name (“Here is my signature: Paul,” NEB/REB) and wrote out his personal guarantee (“Here, I will write this with my own hand: I, Paul, will pay you back,” GNB). It would be necessary to state what he was doing since the letter was not purely personal (where change of penmanship would be sufficient visual indication of the author’s personal intervention; see Weima 46–47) but was for public reading.

The step was unusual for Paul, since elsewhere his personal autograph marks the beginning of the letter’s closing (see the introduction to the comments on vv. 8–20). But here it comes as the climax to Paul’s appeal to Philemon, where he is pulling out all the stops and putting the full weight of his personal standing behind his words (cf. the “I, Paul” of 2 Cor. 10:1; Gal. 5:2; 1 Thes. 2:18). In this case the personal autograph does not have the function of legitimating the letter as Paul’s (see on Col. 4:18), but rather has a legal function as Paul’s personal guarantee to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. The legal character of the procedure is put beyond doubt by Paul’s use of ἀποτίνω, which occurs only here in the New Testament, but, once again, is common in the papyri as a legal technical term meaning “make compensation, pay the damages” (BAGD, MM). Paul was not content to make promises and provide mere reassurances; rather, he undertakes the formal legal responsibility to make good whatever wrong Onesimus has done Philemon.

 James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996), 339–340.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Leading Principle of a Faithful Minister (Newton)

One of John Newton’s lesser known works is called “A Review of Ecclesiastical History.” It’s a book that basicaly summarizes church history from Christ’s birth until the end of the apostolic era. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I do recommend it.

In one section, Newton discusses the character of the apostle Paul (book 2, chapter 2). This is a great chapter for pastors to read! Here’s a helpful quote by Newton on Paul’s love for Christ – applied to Christian pastors today:

Supported and animated by this love [for Christ], he [Paul] exerted himself to the utmost, in promoting the knowledge of Him whom he loved, and bearing testimony of His power and grace. Nothing could dishearted, or weary or terrify, or bribe him from his duty: and this must and will be universally the leading principle of a faithful minister.

Should a man possess the tongue of men and angels, the finest genius, and the most admired accomplishments, if he is not constrained and directed by the love of Christ, he will either do nothing, or nothing to the purpose; he will be unable to support either the frowns or the smiles of the world. His studies and endeavors will certainly be influenced by low and selfish views. Interest or a desire of applause may stimulate him to shine as a scholar, a critic, or a philosopher – but til the love of Christ rules in his heart, he will neither have inclination nor power to exert himself for the glory of God or the good of souls.

The inseparable effect, and one of the surest evidences of love to Christ, is a love to his people. Of this likewise our apostle exhibits an instructive and an affecting example….”

John Newton, Works, III, p. 220-221

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Apostles: Then and Now?

 Are there apostles today?  Can someone make a valid case that he is an apostle of Christ?  Speaking of the apostles, what is an apostolic church?  I appreciate Gerald Bray’s explanation of these questions in chapter two of his book The Church: A Theological and Historical Account.

Bray first notes that to be an apostle according to the NT, one had to be an eyewitness of the risen Christ and also have a divine calling to the apostleship.  What about Paul?  “Paul knew that he was exceptional because he had not been a disciple of Jesus and had even persecuted the church before his conversion, but he attributes his apostolic calling to a special act of God’s grace that he did not deserve and that had not been given to anyone else” (1 Cor. 15:8-11; 2 Cor. 11:1-33; Gal. 1:1-17) (p. 38).

“Following this logic the apostles and their ministry died out in the first generation, and there can be none today, although the papacy and some small Protestant groups have claimed to preserve the office in their different ways. The pope is regarded by his followers as the living successor of Peter, complete with the prerogatives of his apostolic ministry, and some Protestant pastors have claimed the title for themselves, but this way of thinking was alien to the early church.  Paul instructed Timothy and Titus about how they were to carry on his ministry once he was gone, but he did not suggest that they would become apostles in his place, and there is no sign of an apostolic succession anywhere else either.”

What about apostolic churches?

“The disappearance of the apostles and their active ministry does not mean that apostolicity has ceased to have a bearing on the life of the church, however.  It was the duty of the apostles to transmit the teaching of Jesus to other believers, not just because they had been witnesses to his earthly ministry but because after his resurrection he gave them a special charge to that effect.  As long as they were alive, local churches could appeal to them for guidance, as we know the Corinthians did when they wrote to Paul about various matters that were troubling the church.”

“After the apostles’ deaths, their writings, along with the writings of others who worked closely with them and in some sense under their supervision, were collected together in what became the New Testament.  Practically speaking, the authority of the apostles nowadays is the witness of the New Testament, which remains foundational for Christian doctrine.”

Gerald Bray, The Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 38.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Problem with the Islamic View of Paul (Qureshi)

Nabeel Qureshi’s soon-to-be released book, No God But One: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity, has an excellent section where Qureshi discusses the relationships between Paul and Christianity, Paul and Jesus, and Paul and the apostles.  Many critics of the NT – including Muslim scholars – say that Paul was the founder of Christianity, that Paul was deceptive, that Paul hijacked the church, that Paul made up things about Jesus, and so forth.  Here’s the helpful summary of Qureshi’s chapter on this topic:

“The common Muslim view of Paul has significant problems even when considered from an Islamic perspective.  First, what happened to the disciples?  How were they so easily overcome by Paul that either they were convinced by his trickery and followed him, or their voices were completely drowned out and there is no record of their dissent?  Was this outsider that much more powerful than Jesus that he was able to undo all of Jesus’ work and teachings?  As a Muslim, I never provided a model as to how this might have occurred, and I have never heard one after leaving Islam.”

“The problem becomes sharper when we revisit one of the Quranic verses that makes a promise to Jesus: ‘Indeed, I will cleanse you (Jesus) from those who disbelieve, and I will make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve, until the day of resurrection’ (3.55).  Allah promises to make the disciples superior to the disbelievers, and Jesus would be made free from such disbelievers.  The Muslim view of Paul, that he overcame the disciples and hijacked Jesus’ message, seems to ignore the Quran’s promise to the disciples.”

“It would be helpful if the Quran had something to say about Paul, but it says absolutely nothing, never so much as mentioning his name.  Given the pivotal role Muslims often think Paul had in corrupting Christianity, the silence is deafening.  Why does the Quran not mention him?  Is it on account of the Quran’s omission that Muslims in the early and classical periods of Islam, such as Tabari and Qurtubi, saw Paul as a follower of Jesus?”

“In US criminal law, as in other places around the world, three aspects of a crime must be established before a suspect can be found guilty: a means, a motive, and an opportunity.  The Islamic view that Paul hijacked Christianity fails to secure any of these three.  Paul could not have had the means because Allah promised to make the disciples insuperable; there is no viable motive for Paul to deceive the church as his efforts earned him only persecution and a death sentence; and there is no model suggested that clarifies how Paul might have had an opportunity to overcome all the disciples and hijack the church.  Of course, not only should Paul be considered innocent until proven guilty, but so far as this investigation is concerned, there simply is no evidence to convict him.  Case closed.

Nabeel Qureshi, No God But One (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming), p. 205-6.

Shane Lems

Paul’s Conversion

Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul's Theology of Justification (New Studies in Biblical Theology) In studying Galatians 1:11-24, I came across a some good stuff from two church fathers.  Chrysostom said of Paul’s conversion: “[He] was sobered at the very height of his madness.”  Ambrose, reflecting on how the church in Judea glorified God because of Paul’s conversion, said of v.24, “By these words they ascribe all to divine grace.”  Mark Seifrid also has some helpful reflections on Paul’s conversion in chapter two (though I don’t agree with everything he wrote in the chapter).  Here are some quotes:

“…In this [i.e. his persecution of the church] he obviously regards himself as having been guilty of a fundamental sin.  It is impossible to miss the irony in his final statements in Philippians 3:6.  His zeal was such that he was a ‘persecutor of the church,’ to which he adds, ‘as to the righteousness which is in the law [I was] blameless.’  In looking back on his preconversion life, he sees that the law was capable of providing a righteousness according to human standards, but not before God and in the heart, where he now knows Christ as Savior (Phil. 3:7-8).”

“God’s choice and calling were unconditioned by Paul’s ‘progress in Judaism’ (Gal. 1:14).  From birth God had set him apart, like the prophets before him, prior to any works or worthiness on his part.  His ‘calling’ came by the sheer grace of God.  His coming to faith was a matter of divine revelation in which Paul himself played no role.  It was a ‘birth,’ indeed a premature one (1 Cor. 15:8). …This contrast [in 2 Cor. 4:4-6] which Paul draws between the absolutes of darkness and light, and his interpretation of his conversion as a new creation, make it clear that he regards this change as purely and utterly an act of God.  Paul’s heart was the ‘darkness’ in which the light of the gospel now shines.”

“…Prior to his conversion, Paul fought with heart and soul against the confession of a crucified Messiah.  His rage corresponded to his blindness.  The grace of God came to him like a ‘plumb-line from above’ without any preparation on his part, just as Paul himself indicates in his letters.”

Mark Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, chapter one.

shane lems

Jesus, Paul, Redemption, Religion

Around 100 years ago, liberals were driving a big wedge between Paul and Jesus; something similar is still happening today.  For example, some people say that Jesus was a nice teacher of morals (the first Christian and a martyr for the cause), but Paul came in and messed it all up with detailed doctrine. Machen responded to this liberal teaching quite well in The Origin of Paul’s Religion (in 1925). In chapter 4, for example, Machen does a nice job showing how Paul, as an apostle commissioned by Jesus, agreed with Jesus in his teaching and preaching.  Here are two paragraphs I really appreciated:

The details of Jesus’ earthly ministry no doubt had an important place in the thinking of Paul. But they were important, not as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end. They revealed the character of Jesus; they
showed why He was worthy to be trusted. But they did not show what He had done for Paul. The story of Jesus revealed what Jesus had done for others: He had healed the sick; He had given sight to the blind; He had
raised the dead. But for Paul He had done something far greater than all these things—for Paul He had died.

The religion of Paul, in other words, is a religion of redemption. Jesus, according to Paul, came to earth not to say something, but to do something; He was primarily not a teacher, but a Redeemer. He came, not to teach men how to live, but to give them a new life through His atoning death. He was, indeed, also a teacher, and Paul attended to His teaching. But His teaching was all in vain unless it led to the final acceptance of His redemptive work. Not the details of Jesus’ life, therefore, but the redemptive acts of death and resurrection are at the center of the religion of Paul. The teaching and example of Jesus, according to Paul, are valuable only as a means to an end, valuable in order that through a revelation of Jesus’ character saving faith may be induced, and valuable thereafter in order that the saving work may be brought to its fruition in holy living. But all that Jesus said and did was for the purpose of the Cross. “He loved me,” says Paul, “and gave Himself for me.” There is the heart and core of the religion of Paul.

J. G. Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion, p.167 (ch. 4)

shane lems

The Peril of Modernizing Paul

Justification Reconsidered Stephen Westerholm is a helpful voice for those of us opposed to the New Perspective(s) on Paul – perspectives which have been around for forty years or so.  In his recent book Justification Reconsidered, Westerholm explains and critiques the New Perspective(s) on Paul and also gives a biblical defense of the historic or classical perspective.  Since it is only 100 pages, this is a great book for those who want an introduction to this discussion; it is also good for readers who want to review the errors of the New Perspective(s) and be refreshed with a fine defense of the traditional view.

I especially enjoyed the first chapter, where Westerholm argued (contra the New Perspectives) from several of Paul’s epistles that the Apostle’s main emphasis wasn’t first and foremost ecclesiological (how Gentiles might get into the “messianic community”); rather it was soteriological (“how can sinners find a gracious God?”).  Here’s Westerholm – and I appreciate how he answers this question: “exactly who is modernizing Paul?”:

“The problem comes …with what Stendahl [an early advocate of what is now called the NPP] denies; and, ironically, it was precisely by modernizing Paul that Stendahl made welcome his suggestion that others, not he, had modernized Paul.  Our secularized age has undoubtedly thrust earlier concerns about human relationships with God into the background – if not rendered them completely unintelligible.  Conversely, in our multicultural societies, acceptance of people from ethnic and cultural backgrounds other than our own is more crucial than ever to community peace.  Both negatively and positively, then, Stendahl posits a Paul attuned to modern agendas.”

At the end of the chapter, after discussing the epistles to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, and Philippians, Westerholm concludes:

“How can sinners find a gracious God?  The question is hardly peculiar to the modern West; it was provoked by Paul’s message wherever he went.  But Paul was commissioned, not to illuminate a crisis, but to present to a world under judgment a divine offer of salvation.  In substance though not in terminology in Thessalonians, in terminology though not prominently in Corinthians, thematically in Galatians and regularly thereafter, Paul’s answer was that sinners for whom Christ died are declared righteous by God when they place their faith in Jesus Christ.”

Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), chapter 1.

shane lems