my books: friends & counselors #9

C.K. Barrett gives us a crucial, timeless reminder in his comments on 2 Cor. 1.9

Physical illness, the shadow of death, the failure of his work in Corinth, were among the causes that led to the breaking down of a man who, if any had ground for confidence in the flesh, had more (Phil. 3.4; cf. 2 Cor. 11.22f). The church at Corinth, like many another since, thought it could by-pass affliction on the way to comfort; the theme of the epistle is that this is impossible (cf. Acts 14.22). Christian discipline means, for an apostle and for the church as a whole, a progressive weakening of man’s instinctive self-confidence, and of the self-despair to which this leads, and the growth of radical confidence in God.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Kingsley Barrett (Hendrickson, 1987); p.66

Caesarea Maritima: palace of the procurators (5)


Imagine you are entering the Palace of the Procurators in Caesarea Maritima. Walking west, toward the Mediterranean Sea, you make your way into a large, colonnaded garden/courtyard. This courtyard, and the rooms on either side of it (along the northern and southern edges of the courtyard), form what is known as the Upper Palace. You note that here the daily administrative work of the palace is conducted.

Continuing your walk through the courtyard to its western end, you come to a well. Upon passing the well and crossing a colonnaded walkway that surrounds the courtyard, you step down into the Lower Palace, the entertainment area and living quarters for the procurator and his guests.

As you look around, you’re immediately awe of the sheer luxury of the Lower Palace. To speak nothing of its appointments, its sheer size is impressive: a two-story building measuring a bit larger than a modern-day American football field (360×180 feet). Then the beauty and genius of its enthralls you as you take in the fact that the entire building surrounds a huge pool 144×59 feet in size (not much smaller than a modern-day Olympic swimming pool; 164×82 feet).

You realize that as you stand just inside the entrance to the Lower Place, you’re standing in a large banquet hall (or triclinium). Looking west, the triclinium overlooks the pool and your attention is inexorably drawn to a large statute standing in the center of the freshwater pool. The attire, the face, and the pose of the one depicted in the statue is unmistakable and known to all.

To all then, no doubt, but not with certainty to us today. Time, the elements, the sea, and people, have long since carried away the statue and most of the palace complex. Still, it’s not hard to speculate that the statue was a likeness of Augustus Caesar, Herod the Great’s patron, or perhaps the goddess Roma (the patron goddess of Rome). After all, the city itself was given to Herod by Caesar, Herod named the city after him (Caesarea is Latin for “Caesar’s city”), had a temple constructed there to Augustus and Roma, and named Caesarea’s harbor “Sebaste” (which is Greek for “imperial harbor”).

And so we’re left to wonder what must have pooled up in the mind of the apostle Paul when he was led to Caesarea Maritima, spent two years there in confinement, and had more than one audience before Roman officials there (Acts 23.21-26.32).

In the photograph above, the view is looking to the southwest across the pool, standing near the northwest corner of the triclinium in the Lower Palace. Clearly in view in the photo’s center is the pedestal on which the pool’s statute once stood.

links to the land


Ashdod: * Rare, Preserved Fortifications Found at the Harbor of Ashdod; * Ashdod-Yam Excavations 2013; * The Philistine City of Ashdod in the Bible

* “Rare and unique discoveries were found this summer at the Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology excavation site in Tel Ashdod-Yam – located in the harbor city of Ashdod. The institute uncovered a system of fortifications which date back to the 8th century BCE, the remains of buildings, as well as coins and weights from the Hellenistic period.”

* “Starting in summer 2013, we are planning to excavate an Iron Age compound (known also as an ‘Assyrian enclosure’) at the site of Ashdod-Yam (South) (Ashdod on the Sea; Asdudimmu in the neo-Assyrian sources; a part of Azotos Paralios in Byzantine times), which is located on the coast of Israel (within the boundaries of the modern city of Ashdod), ca. 5 km north-west of Tel Ashdod. The excavations are planned as a joint venture of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and the Institut für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft of the Leipzig University, who are going to be the major partners.”

* “When Israel lost the Ark of the Covenant at Ebenezer, the Philistines brought it to Ashdod and placed it in the temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-8). … The prophets Jeremiah, Amos, Zephaniah, and Zechariah spoke against Ashdod (Jeremiah 25:20; Amos 1:8; 3:9; Zephaniah 2:4; Zechariah 9:6). … Ashdod was known as Azotus in New Testament times (Acts 8:40).”

Ephesus: The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

“At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.”

Hazor: Hazor in the Tenth Century BCE

“Few topics are more controversial than the biblical kingdoms of David and Solomon. Were they and their rulers real, and if so, what archaeological remains did they leave? Or were they literary creations, exaggerations or even fabrications of later biblical writers? The arguments have raged for almost three decades without end, polarizing biblical Archaeology—and the public—like no other issue.”

Jerusalem: * Jerusalem: The Movie; * National Geographic Jerusalem and Its Stunning Photography Releases Soon; * Jerusalem – The Movie [the movie’s 2 min. YouTube video trailer; essential viewing]; * The Jerusalem Movie Trailer [you’ll want to read this in conjunction with viewing the movie trailer]

* “National Geographic Entertainment is proud to announce the release of JERUSALEM in IMAX® and giant screen theaters in both 3D and 2D.” [It is scheduled to appear at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in October.]

* “For the first time on the world’s largest screens, experience this ancient city through the stories of people who call it home.”

* “…  official trailer for the movie. It is fantastic.” [essential viewing; I’ll be seeing this movie more than once!]

* “If you are interested, here is a run-down of all of the locations in the trailer …”

Nazareth: Nazareth—Jesus’ Hometown with a View to the Past and the Future

“Not many people can say they grew up on a hill that overlooked the battlefields of history. But Jesus could.”

violence & my Lord: what did Jesus’ apostle, Paul, do? (1)


V-for-violenceWhen we dig into the New Testament (NT) to mine out how Christ’s apostles dealt with violence, we’re immediately struck with the fact that fully one-fourth of the NT text was authored by a single apostle, namely Paul, a man whose life was saturated with violence.

One-fourth of the NT. A man dripping with violence. Let all of that soak into your mind a bit.

Further, add to that the observation that this apostle’s frequent sidekick, Luke, authored even more of the NT material (28%) and that over one-fourth of his writings record in detail some of Paul’s experiences in ministry.

Is the full force of the tremendous influence this single apostle wielded starting to come home to you?

Now for anyone who believes God himself was involved in the creation, content, and collection of the NT writings, the point should be obvious: God wants us to focus – at length and in detail – on how this particular Christian conducted his life in a world, at the very least, every bit as violent as our own. Paul was “God’s man of the hour” and the hour was a bloody one.

After all, God promised Paul, known formerly as Saul (cf. Acts 13.9), that he would personally show Paul just how very much he “must suffer” in this life as a Christian (Acts 9:16). And, quite arguably, the lion’s share of that misery was to be the result of the actions of people who either threatened, or acted with, physical violence toward him.

Naturally then, as we continue our digging into the doings of Christ’s apostles as they faced violence, we must not stroll quickly by Paul. Rather, we must pay special attention to Paul for God himself had a hand in making this man’s life an open book for us to note.

It’s in the midst of a scene of grave injustice and murderous violence when Paul, first known as Saul, first appears on the scene in Luke’s second work, known as the Acts of the Apostles. In that scene, Stephen, a leader in the early church, is in the process of being stoned to death for his preaching of Jesus as the promised Christ and risen Lord. Luke’s record concisely and candidly puts it this way:

“… they threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul [Paul]. Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.” (Acts 7.58-8.1)

As much as we might hope, we’re told this isn’t a one-off situation, but only a milestone down the way of an ever tightening downward spiral into increasing participation in the use of violence by Saul/Paul. Luke’s record continues:

“At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. … Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.” (Acts 8.1b,3)

Not to worry; it gets even worse. Not content to limit his violent work to the Christians in Judea and Samaria, Luke tells us Saul/Paul extended his efforts to Syria.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9.1-2)

It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Saul/Paul is a man in full agreement with murder, wreaking havoc in the lives of Christians across a large expanse, dragging innocent people away to prison, issuing murderous threats, and generally looking for every sanction possible to continue his dark ways of violence.

It’s safe to say that Saul/Paul was a man given over completely to the exercise of even the darkest side of all that is violence. And his reputation was such you could say he was something of the poster boy for sanctioned violence in his place and time.

But God refused to let him stay that way! And it’s precisely that point we’ll note in our next installment.

Galatians: what’s going on here?


Read the literature of those who have dedicated huge chunks of their life to studying Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia and you’ll commonly hear them use words like the following to describe it:

In terms of the letter’s emotions: “angry,” “passionate,” “vehement,” and “warlike.”

As to the level of its thought: “lofty,” and “profound.”

Regarding its structure and/or ease of understanding: “complex,” “complicated,” and “difficult.”

Concerning the desired effects of the letter on its readers: “deliverance,” “freeing,” and “liberating.”

Now I hope none of that put you off about Galatians. After all, most of us tend to veer hard toward the “easy” and do all we can to avoid the “difficult.” But I do hope it alerts you to the fact that as we dive into out study of Galatians we’re actually diving off into something much closer to the deep end of the big people’s pool and not just splashing about in the kiddie section. Freedom isn’t free and it will cost us all something to extract the fine gold that is this letter. So man up and set your heart to the task!

Having said that, I’m all for having the complex stated in as simple a terms as possible. Who isn’t? And few writers I’m aware of are better at explaining difficult things in concise, clear terms as N.T. (Tom) Wright. And as it just so happens, there’s a brief video (7 min., 51 sec.) available to all of Tom Wright introducing the book of Galatians. If you do nothing else aside from reading Galatians, I’d strongly encourage you to view this clip, more than once throughout the course of our study this fall (Sept. 9 – Nov. 25). In it you’ll see Wright address six matters regarding Galatians: its setting, its date, where it was written from, the identity of Paul’s opponents (the people disrupting the Galatian Christians), Paul’s great, overarching concern in writing this letter – and why all of that matters a great deal.

Now such may sound as dry as the Sahara to some, but I assure you that Wright communicates it all not just in an engaging way, but with spot-on accuracy. You simply won’t find more information on Galatians compressed into a shorter piece of time without sacrificing clarity of communication and/or quality of scholarship than what you’ll find in this work. This is certainly most true of Wright’s remarks regarding the strain and tension of social and political pressures – the interplay between the Roman government, the Jews, and Christians – that prompts and colors all of Galatians (5.27-7.51 min. in the video clip). Wright will steer us the right way through the Galatian forest and bring us through to the other side and into the light of better understanding of his amazing letter.

And now, without any further ado, here’s the link to the video as it appears on YouTube:

Enjoy and prosper from it.

the Roman Empire & the NT (3)

By the first century, an important set of theological ideas was at work that expressed and legitimated Rome’s empire and power.

  • The gods have chosen Rome.
  • Rome and its emperor are agents of the gods’ rule, will, and presence among human beings.
  • Rome manifests the gods’ blessings – security, peace, justice, faithfulness, fertility – among those that submit to Rome’s rule.

Rome and its elite allies in the empire’s provinces actively promoted these claims. They expressed their understanding that Rome’s dominating place in the world was the will of the gods. …

[However], despite claims of “eternal Rome” that will rule its empire forever, the cross [of Christ] reveals the limits of Roman power. Rome cannot keep Jesus dead. God gives “life to the dead” (Rom. 4:17). Jesus’ resurrection anticipates the destruction of the ruling powers (1 Cor. 2:8), the general resurrection, and the establishment of God’s empire over all (1 Cor. 15:20-28). God will end this unjust and idolatrous imperial system at the final “coming” of Jesus (1 Thes. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 1 Cor. 15:23). Paul again takes an imperial term, parousia, which commonly referred to the arrival of an imperial official, general, or emperor …, and applies it to Jesus and the establishment of God’s purposes.

Paul identifies “the Lord Jesus Christ,” who will come from heaven to accomplish these purposes, as the “savior” (Phil. 3:20). Again he uses a term “savior” (soter) that was widely used for the emperor … By using it for Jesus, Paul indicates that he does not think Rome and its emperors have saved the world from anything. Rome’s claim to have brought security and safety, to have affected deliverance from danger (soteria), is false. Rather, God saves the world from Rome and its false claims. At Jesus’ coming, in a vision that imitates imperial triumphs, “every ruler and every authority and power” are destroyed; “all his enemies” are put “under his feet” and subjected to God’s reign (1 Cor. 15:23-28; Phil. 2:5-11).

The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide by Warren Carter (Abingdon Press, 2006), pp.83,88-89