Saturday, July 24, 2010

322: Zeus Makes an Appearance

Acts 14-15
"When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, 'The gods have come down to us in human form!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them." - Acts 14:11-13

The chapter starts with Paul (who has completely stopped calling himself Saul) and Barnabas converting some Jews and Gentiles. However, some of the Jews that "refused to believe" rile up some of the gentiles and they make a plot to have them stoned. Paul and Barnabas end up finding out about this and run.

While Paul is preaching in another city he sees a crippled man. Paul looks at the man and can somehow tell that he has enough faith to be healed. When he sees this he tells the man to stand up, and he does. This would imply that Paul only reminded this man that he could heal himself, how is that a miraculous act on the part of Paul? It's important to note that Jesus also says "your faith has healed you" after several of his miracles.

The Lyconians are impressed by this non-miracle and decide that Barnabas is Zeus in human form, and Paul is Hermes. They all decide to start sacrificing cattle to them. The Lyconians only reluctantly stop after being begged by Paul and Barnabas. I guess they didn't make it very clear that they were there to preach about Jesus.

Almost the entirety of chapter 15 is about whether you need to be circumcised to be saved by Jesus. The chapter starts with some unnamed people coming and telling the early church that they (and more importantly the gentiles) have to be circumcised to go to heaven according to the law of Moses. Everyone is so disturbed by this (why?) that Paul and Barnabas agree to go ask the disciples about it.

Peter rebukes them, saying that it is through Jesus's grace that they are saved. This is interesting because Jesus says a couple of times that he's not here to interfere with the law of Moses. Because of this news of "false teaching" about circumcision the disciples decide to write an open letter to the gentiles, and pass it around. In this letter, they tell the gentiles the things they should do (presumably to go to heaven):
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.
First of all, it seems like this letter is to the already converted gentiles. But wouldn't it be a good idea to at least remind them that the most important thing is to worship Jesus? Second, and more importantly, lets examine what the early church thinks are the most important things to follow: don't eat food sacrificed to idols, don't drink blood, don't eat strangled animals, and don't do unnamed sexually immoral things.

Is the commandment not to eat strangled animals even in the Old Testament? I certainly don't remember it. The command not to eat certain food is just more evidence that the early church is completely disregarding Jesus's assertion that "it's not what goes into your mouth, but what comes out of it". Jesus does mention that sexual immorality is bad (though he too doesn't give specifics):
What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' - Mark 7:20-23
Jesus inspires my next question. Why aren't the gentiles discouraged from theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, or folly? It seems that the disciples are trying to make it "easy" to come to the church. But nobody ever said it was supposed to be easy. In the name of growing the church, the disciples are distorting the words of Jesus, trying to make it seem easier than it actually is to be "clean".

The chapter ends with a dispute between Paul and Barnabas about who they should take with them to go back and check on the people they have converted. They can't decide and they end up splitting, Paul going with Silas, and Barnabas going with Mark.

This is an article called "Only way to heaven is spelled out in Bible". That's interesting, I've seen quite a few "only" ways to heaven so far.
Mankind's worst tragedy is the hundreds of millions of people who have been deceived by Satan by placing their faith in false religions. The Holy Bible records the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:15 when he warned, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
That's really mankind's worst tragedy? I was thinking more along the lines of the holocaust.
In every instance recorded in the Bible when a person asked how to be saved, the answer is always the same: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." [chapter:verse??] There is no other way to heaven except by faith in Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior. Religion has never saved a single soul and never will.
In every instance you say? That's quite a claim. This Reverend is certainly not the only person I've heard this from. Lets look at a few of these instances where Jesus tells us how to get to heaven, example one:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:26
Some may argue that "disciple" means one of the twelve, but "disciple" is more commonly defined as "someone who believes and helps to spread the doctrine of another" (Princeton). So, if you don't hate your father, mother, and life you can't be a believer. Example two:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." - Luke 10:25-28
In this case, Jesus doesn't even mention that you have to believe in him. He says you have to love God and your neighbor. This is the first example (the only one needed) to disprove the Reverend's hypothesis that the answer to every question of "how do I get saved" is answered with, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". Example three:
A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.' "

"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Luke 18:18-22
We're getting a little closer, Jesus does eventually mention that you should follow him to be saved. But first he says you can't kill, steal, lie, or commit adultery. And you have to give away all your things. This is still far from "just believe in Jesus". Example four:
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." - John 6:53-54
Now we have to feast on his flesh. This is also not "just believe in Jesus". Example five:
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 18:2-3
He's back to not even mentioning believing in him. I guess we now have to be like children to make it to heaven. Example six:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:20
So we have to have the knowledge of the teachers and Pharisees (to be more righteous than them), yet still have the ignorance of a child. That's perfectly reasonable. This is still not "just believe in Jesus". Finally, finally, the quote we've been looking for:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I think what the Reverend meant to say was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, throw out the majority of Jesus's teachings in the New Testament, and you will be saved". It's even more interesting if Jesus didn't actually say John 3:16. My red letter KJV bible seems to think that Jesus said it, but I don't recall Jesus talking about himself in the third person. Is universal salvation through just believing in Jesus a concept made up by John?
Any attempt to find salvation other than by faith in Jesus will result in spending eternity in hell. Sadly, many people believe they can earn their way to heaven by good works, or by church membership, or by baptism, or by putting their faith in the pope, or the virgin Mary, or Buddha, or Mohammed or some other human being.
It seems that, at least based on the bible, the idea of preaching that you only need to believe in Jesus is the real thing that's sending people to hell. Based on what they preach, many modern Christians have completely lost touch with the words that actually came out of Jesus's mouth. I only find people later on in the church that preach "just believe in Jesus".

I'm left with an open question to Christians: If you like Jesus so much why do you ignore what he says?

(via The Augusta Chronicle) [list of Jesus quotes via]


  1. Acts 14

    Acts 14:1. Isn't Paul supposed to be the "apostle to the Gentiles"? Why is he going to Jews first at every stop and only turning to Gentiles when the Jews reject him?

    And were there really so many Gentiles attending Jewish synagogues?

    Acts 14:4,14. On what basis are Barnabas and Paul apostles? In Acts 1 the apostles were defined as only the Twelve. What is the definition of an apostle now?

    Acts 14:8-10. Paul heals a lame man just like Peter did earlier.

  2. Acts 15

    I'll say more about the Apostolic Conference when we read Galatians.

    Acts 15:1. Who were these men who believed that circumcision is necessary to be saved? Were they even Xians? What about women? Do they need to be circumcised, too? What about the other 629 laws of the Torah as well? Do those need to be followed as well?

    Acts 15:2. Who appointed Paul and Barnabas?

    Acts 15:2,4. Note how here the word apostles seems to only apply to the Twelve again.

    Acts 15:5. We have the "party"/"school" of the Pharisees, as before with the Sadducees, an expression that appears to have been due to Josephus (which is the only other place where it is found).

    More importantly, there are Xian Pharisees?! That's like dogs and cats living together.

    Are these Pharisees the same people in verse 1, or a different group that believes Xians must be circumcised? At least we can see that they thought the whole law must be followed, too.

    Acts 15:7,13. Peter begins with "Men, brothers." James responds the same way, too. Is this the way everyone talked, or only Luke?

    Acts 15:7. God made a choice that Gentiles might believe?! So before that God didn't accept Gentiles? She changed Her mind?! How did God prevent Gentiles from believing before? Did She harden their hearts?

    BTW, the word gospel in the NT is only used this way in Paul's letters, outside of this speech.

    Acts 15:7-9. If Peter really had the experience converting Cornelius (and other Gentiles), and told everyone about it, so that word of it spread throughout Judea, why is this issue even coming up? (BTW, Peter's position here is actually closer to the real position of Paul, according to Paul's letters, except that it is even more radical.)

    Acts 15:10. The Jews and the Xians cannot bear the "yoke" of the Law? Would the Pharisees agree with that statement? Would any Jew or Jewish Xian agree with it? Or even Paul (short answer - No; cf. his letters).

    Acts 15:11. Now it is through the grace of Jesus that one is saved. So does that mean that one need not do anything to be saved?

    Acts 15:14. Peter is called "Simeon" here. Is he Simon or Simeon? Or Peter or Cephas? There were a number of names floating around the early writings, with them not always regarded as the same person (such as we find in Clement of Alexandria or the Epistle of the Apostles).

    Acts 15:13-21. James position as depicted in Acts is actually closest to that of Peter, according to Paul, whereas James' real position was that of the Pharisees.

    Acts 15:16-18. How does this establish that Gentiles don't need to be circumcised. Remember, nobody is arguing about whether Gentiles should be accepted as Xians, the question was whether they would have to live like Jews. The quotes from Septuagint Amos (the Hebrew wouldn't be suitable for his point) and Isiah don't address this issue.

    Acts 15:19-20. If James is only concerned not to make it difficult for Gentiles to convert, why not just have no constraints on them at all? But actually, the Apostolic Decree that he advocates just consists of requirements that were already placed on Gentiles to live among Jews, supposedly going back to Noah.

    Acts 15:22. Barsabbas's given name was Justus in Acts 1:23. Were there 2 members of the inner circle named Judas Barsabbas and Justus Barsabbas? Brothers?

    Acts 15:28. How did they get the Holy Spirit's opinion, and how did they distinguish that from their own?

    Ats 15:32. Judas and Silas were prophets? What did they prophesy?

  3. Bryan,
    Everybody was so disturbed by people saying that you must be circumcised (and follow the rest of the Mosaic law) to be saved because almost no Gentiles would be willing to go along wit that, and thus they wouldn't attract many converts. Not many men would want to cut off a part of their penis, especially as adults.

    Also, the 4 parts of the decree correspond to some rules for Gentiles living in Israel, found in Leviticus 17-18. Note that the part about blood was not that Xians cannot drink blood (otherwise, what about the eucharist?); rather it was that they couldn't eat the blood of an animal, i.e., an animal must be drained of its blood before it could be eaten (cf. Gen 9:4, Lev 17:10-14).



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