Podcast Date: May 21, 2018
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Imagine you're an ancient peasant living in a row. Life for you is pretty tough. Death
and disease are common, people are crammed into slums of cities that smell
disgusting and are ruled by violent men. You're just trying to survive.
Today you're at the local temple making sacrifices because you know that if you're
going to survive, you need the god's protection. Problem is the gods are
temperamental, and you're not sure if they like you or not. So you spend time and
money sacrificing, hoping the gods will be on your side. It's a cold and unpredictable
world, just like the gods who rule it.
But then imagine you walk out of the temple and see a crowd gathered around a
guy on the street. It's a guy you have heard of before. He's a Jewish fanatic. Those
people who worship the one true God, they say. But now he's talking about
something different. Something they call "the way." You stop and listen, and you
realize he's talking about a different world altogether.
Tim: The kind of different world that Jews and Christians invited Greeks and Romans to
live in. It's not a world governed by volatile, unpredictable gods, but it's a world
that's stable and safe and the one Creator God has shared with us. Totally different
view of the universe.
Jon: This is the Bible Project podcast. I'm Jon Collins. Today we're going to wrap up our
series of conversations on the book of Acts. Acts has chronicled the beginning of
Christianity. And when it began, Christian were viewed as threats. They were
disrupting the world order. Why?
Tim: Refusal to participate in worship and acknowledgment of the gods would have been
taken as acts of disloyalty against one's family, the city, and disregarding the welfare
of your neighbors.
Jon: And when you're disloyal to your culture, drama is going to ensue. People are killed,
riots happen, but the Christians stay banded together. They took care of each other
and they took care of the people that the Empire overlooked: the poor, the orphan,
Tim: So the social capital that people found in these communities was worth all the other
Jon: And so ancient world became split. Were the Christians a threat? They pay taxes,
they take care of the poor, but they keep insisting that this man Jesus is the true
King, not Caesar.
Tim: This dynamic that the whole New Testament it's trying to invite people into is a way
of existing in any culture and participating in it, but also calling it to become the best
version of yourself, which you think is really only possible if people acknowledge
Jon: So today on the show: Mobs, riots and the subversive nature of Christianity. Thanks
for joining us. Here we go. We're talking about the book of Acts and in the last
episode we talked a lot about 8 through 12 and setting us up to talk about the next
section. And 8 through 12 is all about going to Samaria and Judea.
Tim: Yeah, the region right around Jerusalem. The key character that's introduced is a guy
named Saul of Tarsus, who's going to become Paul the Apostle. Saul is Hebrew
name "Shaul" and then Paul is his Greek name. That's very common, many Jewish
people had. It's like your home team name, and then your public name when you're
talking with people who aren't of your people.
Jon: Like "Won" down in Mexico.
Tim: Yeah, something like that.
Jon: But I was always told this his conversion name.
Tim: It's not the case.
Jon: It's not the case?
Tim: He was known by both. Luke, however, does use it as a device for his transition from
Jon: Got it.
Tim: ...Well, never stopped being a Pharisee necessarily, someone who cared about the
story of Israel or governance. But he uses that to transition him from his pre-Jesus to
post Jesus phase and becomes an international missionary.
Jon: So he changes his name.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: Got it.
Tim: So he's a key character. He's introduced in this transition section in the book of Acts.
So we're going have to develop him, talk about him. He described himself in one of
his letters. He talks about his pre-Jesus self in the letter to the Philippians, and he
talks about how with regard to the laws of the Torah, he was blameless, he was
super devout. He uses this line where he says, "I was a Pharisee," so he identified
with this religious-political pressure, movement.
Jon: What do you mean pressure movement?
Tim: Well, like a pressure group. They weren't an official institution, the Pharisees. They're
the equivalent to in any culture where there is a hyper-conservative religious political
movement that's trying to get the whole populace to adopt the really passionate,
rigorous piety that normally is just a few people. They were trying to take the
holiness rituals of the temple priests and create equivalence in people's everyday
Jon: Got it.
Tim: So the priests wash their hands before doing things in the temple, so every Jew
should wash their hands for mealtimes, before prayer. The priests say these kinds of
blessings over the sacrifice, every Jewish should say these kinds of prayers before
Jon: They're zealot.
Tim: Yeah, they're zealots, which is how he describes himself. In Philippians, this is
important. He says, "Regarding the Torah, I was Pharisee; as for zeal, I persecuted the
church." So he connects his zeal, the passion with the violent suppression of
anybody who will threaten Israel's faithfulness to its God. Zeal. And this is hyperlink
phrases. He's recalling the story of the first zealot Israelite in the Hebrew Bible. This
is a good Bible trivia.
Jon: The first zealous?
Tim: The first Zealot.
Jon: The first zealot in the whole Bible?
Tim: The first person who is called zealous.
Jon: Oh, I'm going to go with judges.
Tim: Ah, I can see.
Jon: There are judges called a zealot?
Tim: No. It's a priest and it's in the book of Numbers.
Tim: In the Torah, Numbers chapter 25. Israelites are in the wilderness and a whole bunch
we're told to start sleeping with Moabite women and then adopting the worship of
Jon: Not good.
Tim: Which is not good to covenant faithful Israelites. There's a story about one particular
Israelite who takes a Moabite woman and goes in with his tent to sleep with her, and
the grandson of the high priest, Aaron - his son's name is Phinehas - he's so
disturbed, he takes a spear and follows them into the tent and spears both of them
into the ground. And he is called full of zeal for Yahweh.
So what's important is that this narrative is about someone who has violent passion
to preserve the purity and faithfulness of Israel's commitment to Yahweh their God.
Jon: That's what this term is loaded with?
Tim: That's what the term zeal means. So for Paul to say, "As for zeal, I was willing...
Jon: I'll throw down the spear.
Tim: ...to get people killed," it tells you about his view of Jesus. It tells you of the pre-
Paul's view of Jesus and how an average Israelite or Jewish person might have
viewed Jesus in this movement as a distortion, misleading people. So that's the zeal,
driving Paul when we first meet him in the book of Acts.
Then the next chapter is the story of his knockdown conversion where he meets the
risen Jesus personally. And what he realizes is that this one, whose followers I'm
persecuting, is actually the one that the whole story of Israel is finding its fulfillment
in. So he goes into isolation for a season. It's a lot of debate on where and what
exactly. In Galatians, he mentions going to Arabia for a season of time. I assume it's
to just go reread his Bible about 500 times.
Jon: Make some new connections.
Tim: Just like my whole life and worldview just got locked and everything I thought I
knew I need to rethink. Then he comes out on the scene in the next chapter of Acts,
and he is announcing Jesus is King of the world and it's the best news you could
ever hear as far as he's concerned. Then ironically, he's going to, for the rest of the
book, face the same kind of persecution that he was dishing out when we first met
So he's a rich character. One of the richest characters in the New Testament. So we
have a great opportunity to, I think, sympathetically present him. Present his
Pharisee identity. I'm just trying to think of how—
Jon: Well, it's not a great thing to do is go and kill people.
Tim: I completely agree. I'm just making a sociological observation that when religious
violence is portrayed, in the news or through the media...
Jon: It's never a sympathetic character.
Tim: ...we never make an attempt to see the world through why would somebody be
motivated to do that? The trick is that Paul throughout the story never drops his
Jewish identity. For him, what he's rediscovering is "Oh, Jesus..." His deep conviction
is that Jesus movement and this multicultural New Covenant family, this is what the
God of Israel was up to all along.
He's going say near the end of the book, "I'm in chains because of my hope in the
promises God made to Abraham."
Jon: He redirects his zeal both to what he is zealous for but also and how he is zealous.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, that's right.
Jon: Violence to nonviolence.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. The moment that Paul is presented as "Oh, there was the Jewish
Paul," then he became a Christian, completely distorting the nature of the Jesus
movement. It's a Jewish messianic movement and it's never stopped being that. It's
just mostly full of non-Jews who have forgotten that.
Jon: So were you saying then that that story of Phinehas, it's a good scroll moment. "We
saw Saul, let's show you why Saul was this way, and how for him this was a part of a
deep tradition of protecting the way of God?"
Jon: And that will create a little bit of sympathy, a little bit of like, 'Oh, okay, he's not just
some vengeful guy. He cares about something—
Tim: That's right. Bigger than himself.
Jon: Bigger than himself.
Tim: This is just about personal hatred he is trying to be faithful to the God of Israel.
Jon: So he's really just one step away from redirecting that desire for faithfulness to
Tim: To encountering Jesus. And then when he realizes is that he's been a part of a
movement whose passion for God has actually murdered the very one that their God
has sent to fulfill the whole storyline. And you can see that. Like that would just
wreck your whole view of the world, your ability to even think how you discern truth.
Jon: Man, that's big.
Tim: I've been fundamentally wrong about everything I believe—
Jon: But not only was I wrong but by being wrong, I actually—
Tim: Opposed the very work of the God I say I love.
Jon: I missed and opposed the thing I was for.
Jon: Because you could be wrong and then you can just be like, "Oh, shoot, that's the
thing I was supposed to be right about," versus being wrong and actually opposing
and being a threat to the thing that you actually care about?
Tim: Correct. And you only come to see that after you've done a lot of damage.
Jon: I think parents can relate to that a lot, especially when the kids are older and you
realize "My love for my kids was strong but it was coming out in a way that was
really pushing them away." And it was creating later this reconciliation where you
realize, "My motives were good, but I was actually I was creating the problem that I
didn't want. Namely, like ruining our relationship and making you hate me."
Tim: Yeah, totally. That's a decent analogy. Paul's one of the most complex characters in
the whole New Testament aside from Jesus. He certainly gets as much page length
dedicated to him second only to Jesus in terms of the narratives and the letters.
Jon: In Acts 13 is the major hinge in the storyline, where now you have a fully
transformed Paul. The base of operations for this Jesus movement is now fully
working out of Antioch.
Jon: And the apostles have agreed.
Tim: The apostles are thumbs up "Go for it, you guys. Take these things in the world."
Jon: They're not going to start eating pork but they're down with others Jesus followers
Tim: Correct. There's that. Then the narrative just focuses and Luke wants to present the
Missionary Journeys of Paul and his co-workers like an emblematic of the whole
movement. It's not the only thing that was going on. The thing was spreading in all
directions, but he focuses in on this particular part. Likely because he was a coworker
of Paul, he used to have a lot of source material. But he sees in the story of Paul—
Jon: You mean there are other people traveling around as well?
Tim: Oh, yeah. It's not preserved in the record of the apostles, but yeah, there were
missionaries going east out to Persia and whole cities getting converted and so on.
Yeah, remarkable stories.
Jon: Where do you read these stories?
Tim: Well, they're mostly preserved in the early church fathers and early church traditions
they come from, you know, two centuries later, you have important churches in like
Edessa, ancient Edessa, which was the eastern Syrian Kingdom. They have their own
traditions and writings of the origin of what apostles came there, what missionaries
sent by the apostles came there, and their early traditions.
There's a scholar named Philip Jenkins, who wrote this wonderful book called "Lost
Christianities." It's like our lost brothers and sisters of the Middle Eastern Church. So
this is pre-Islam. Islam is starting to really become a cultural force not until like the
600s. So we're talking about half a millennium.
Jon: So the predominant religions in these Eastern countries were just whatever—
Tim: Mostly local or regional.
Jon: Local-regional gods.
Tim: And the early Christian movement was incredibly effective. We're talking about half
Millennium of Christian history and culture and really important stuff. And it's mostly
unknown to Christians who have mostly been a part of the Western.
Jon: The Western tradition.
Tim: Yeah, the Catholic and Protestant tradition.
Jon: And this is even a tradition apart from Eastern Orthodox tradition then?
Tim: Yeah. Many of them are connected to the Orthodox, like a Syrian orthodox or
Assyrian orthodox. Their language is Aramaic, which became a little hybrid into
another cousin of Aramaic called Syriac. Basically, just Aramaic. There's an important
translation of the Hebrew Bible into Syriac in like the 200 AD. There's this all this
literature, theology, poetry, narratives, all these brilliant, awesome followers of Jesus
Jon: It's all written in Syriac?
Tim: All written in Syriac.
Jon: And they have their own church fathers and traditions?
Tim: Yeah, totally. I actually had to take a year of Syriac.
Jon: Oh, you did?
Tim: Yeah, in my graduate program. It was just like—
Jon: I don't know anything about these traditions at all.
Tim: It's remarkable. There's all these early church fathers; Jacob of Nyssa, and just
brilliant theologians, Bible commentaries. That's why Philip Jenkins started writing
about it. He calls it "Lost Christianities" not because they were suppressed. They're
just unknown to most modern Christians. It's like a big part of our Persian Christians,
Jon: Yeah. Because when we think of those parts of the world, we just think of Islam.
Tim: We associate those Persian or Arab ethnicities with Islam.
Jon: There was 500, 600 years before that took root, and there was a big Christian revival.
Tim: Correct. And what's interesting, Luke doesn't tell us those stories. Apparently, he
wasn't a part of those circles. It's clear he was a part of the circles that were on the
mission west, but there was a whole other part of the movement going east. So cool.
Jon: Right. The whole riff came from looking at a map.
Tim: Paul's missionary journeys because they are all—
Jon: They are all heading west.
Tim: They're all heading into west which is in what we call modern-day Turkey, Greece,
and Italy. So this section is packed with narratives. Just episode after episode. There
are three large circles that Luke follows tracing Paul's movements.
The first one, he does a tour of the interior of modern-day Turkey. It's called Asia
Minor. Then goes into Western Turkey, then up into what we call modern-day
Greece. Then his third journey takes him over the same territory again. And each
time he's going through he's revisiting church communities that he's planted. His
basic method, he goes to a city...he has a trade. He's a tradesman or a craftsman. He
makes tents out of animal skin. So he can go into any city and start generating
Jon: That's the term tentmaker in the Christian culture.
Tim: That's right. Tentmaker. He has a skill that he can generate income, and that puts
them right in the hub of any city. The marketplace. So he can go into any city and
just start meeting people and making connections instantly. Luke tells us, he always
goes to the synagogue, Jewish synagogue first. And of course, he's Jewish.
Jon: And there are usually a Jewish synagogue and any of these cities?
Tim: Yeah. I mean, the Babylonian exile was half a millennium ago. So—
Jon: They're everywhere.
Tim: Yeah, Jewish communities are all over. The longest story is the first one. He goes into
a synagogue and they're like, "You know, one of our brothers." They'll invite him to
give a short homily...
Jon: Yeah, that was a mistake.
Tim: ...listens to Acts 13. It's awesome. It's one of the speeches, long speeches in Acts.
And he just does this walk-through, this super hyper theme walk-through, the Hebrew
Bible, all leading up to the seed of David, he died and was resurrected like the
Prophet said. And it’s great news. He's the king of the world. Everybody's stoked,
come back next week, but there were some. And then those some end up running
him out of town, and then they keep—
Jon: There's a problem with open mic nights.
Tim: Totally. So then he goes to the next city. In the next one, outside the City of Lystra,
they haul them off in handcuffs and they stone him to death. Right?
Tim: It's Stephen's death all over again. And then the narrative just says, the disciples stood
around Paul's body and then Paul just gets up, he gets up, and he walked back into
Jon: So Paul's interaction with Jewish people in synagogues, it doesn't always go this
poorly, right? He's going to all different types of cities and teaching.
Tim: He's mostly going to big cities and then he makes connection. What Luke tells us is
lots of Jews believe. They are so excited to hear about Jesus. Again, it isn't about
Christianity becoming non-Jewish. That's not what this story is about. It's about the
Jewish hope spreading to include non-Jews.
Here's just a short hit list of just little vignettes of cool people. We have Timothy,
who's going to have letters addressed to him find their way into the New Testament.
He's the son of a Jewish mother, but he has a Greek father. So he represents a whole
Jon: He's bridging the gap.
Tim: Yeah. He represents a whole layer of people in the early Jesus movement through
roots but also cosmopolitan Greek roots. When they go to Philippi...this one is my
favorites is Lydia. So upper class. She's a mover and shaker, a purple fabric merchant.
Jon: Which is the expensive fabrics.
Tim: Yeah, like the most expensive. Royal. She's selling fabrics to the upper crust kind of
thing. And we're told she fears God, and then she invites Paul and Barnabas. She's
the connection maker.
Jon: Is she Jewish then?
Tim: She's called God-fearer, which means she's not Jewish but she's attracted to the
Jewish way of life and the Jewish gods. But she hasn't adopted the full package deal.
And as a female, it was a different level because males could at least be circumcised
if you wanted to. If you were Greek, you could become circumcised. For women, it
would mean just taking on tour observant since Sabbath and the food laws.
It doesn't seem like she's done that, but she's down for the Jewish God. Then she's
like, "Oh, the Jewish God became human, and died for me, and was raised for me,
wants to make me into a new human? I'm down." Lydia.
Jon: Yeah, she was in.
Tim: Actually I love the line Luke uses to talk about her. Acts chapter 16:14 "A woman
named Lydia from the city of Thyatira was a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of
God." And she was listening when Paul gone on the Sabbath to a public place and
started meeting people and got a little Bible study group together. It says, "She was
listening." Then it says, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken
of by Paul."
Luke also offers different kinds of conversion portraits. So you have a Paul but God
like bunks him on the head, but here Lydia - she hardly needed anything.
Jon: She overhears a little Bible study.
Tim: Yeah, she overhears and she's ready. The moment she hears the story, she's just like,
"Jesus, I love it." She's just down. Her whole household are baptized, knows that
she's not...Her husband's nowhere named. Then she invites Paul and Barnabas to
stay at her house., and then it's her hospitality that launches the church community
in that city. So cool.
Tim: It's great. So you got Lydia, there's Paul and Barnabas who gets thrown into jail, and
the jailer in Philippi, he becomes a follower of Jesus - he and his household. This is
like gruff jails were not good places. Then he goes to Athens and gives the famous
speech using the—
Jon: The Mars Hill.
Tim: Yeah, totally in the marketplace and so on. He has a Mars Hill speech. Luke tells us
Dionysius the Areopagite - and the Areopagus is the name of this famous gathering
place of philosophers. So he's a significant figure.
Jon: They are called Areopagite?
Tim: Totally. It's like being called Jon the Harvardite.
Jon: Like if I had gone to Harvard and not only that, but I was known for having gone to
Tim: Yeah. Jon the Yaleite. This is Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named
Damaris, and a number of Greek-speaking men and women became followers. Then
in Chapter 18, he tells us, a guy named Crispus, he's the leader of a synagogue. So
Luke's given us the whole...A jailer, you know, a half Jewish—
Jon: These Greek philosophers.
Tim: Totally, wonderful. That's a cool element in Paul's mission out there to the
synagogue first. But then to the marketplace, all kinds of people are coming out of
Jon: So all sorts of people are coming out of the woodwork to follow Jesus, including
Gentiles, non-Jewish people, and this is going to create a conflict. And this conflict
comes to a head in chapter 15.
Tim: Acts 15 opens. I'll let you read it. I have the text right there in the notes.
Jon: Okay. Acts 15 "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren,
"Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses you cannot be
saved"." So some men meaning some Jesus followers?
Tim: Yeah, the context is this is happening up in Antioch. This is Jewish Christians from
Jerusalem who've come up to the major church center in Antioch and they represent
the culturally conservative line.
Jon: Got it. So hey, guys, snippet. Let's get on the program. "And when Paul and Barnabas
had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determine that Paul and
Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and
elders concerning this issue." Cool, Yeah. Bring it to the head guys.
Tim: Home team.
Jon: "Let's figure this out."
Tim: So you can see Antioch and Jerusalem become these symbolic centers for both all
about Jesus but the Jerusalem church.
Jon: So Paul and Barnabas are back at home base. Is this after the third journey then?
Tim: Yeah, it's after the first missionary journey.
Jon: It's after the first journey?
Tim: Yeah. They've done the first missionary journey, all these non-Jews responding and
Jon: You got these followers from Judea come up and they're like talking about "guys
come on. You're not doing it completely correct yet. There are some other customs."
Tim: Yes. And it represents a logic. This is a Jewish messianic movement. Jesus is the
Messiah of Israel. So—
Jon: And this is how you show your allegiance to it?
Tim: Yeah. Read your Bible bro. It's the regathered tribes of Israel who inherit the New
Jerusalem. If you want to get inside Paul's heart and mind on this issue from the
same time period, the letter to the Galatians is situated right in the context of this
very debate. There's some disagreement among scholars about chronology if
Galatians coincides with this very period or post—
Jon: Paul gets fired up about this issue.
Tim: Yeah. In Galatians, Paul's very angry at people saying that you have to adopt ethnic
Jewish identity totally.
Jon: To cut it out.
Tim: Completely cut off the deal. It's vulgar. He's intent.
Jon: He's mad.
Tim: That's right. He's not just being a jerk. I mean, it's that he has such a strong
conviction about the overwhelming generosity of God's love, and he sees this as
Jon: He's so zealous. This is his zealous—
Tim: Totally. He's the same guy.
Jon: He's the same guy.
Tim: He's the same guy, just redirected deal. So instead of killing people he just verbally
Jon: With clever tons of phrases.
Tim: That's right. Acts 15 is a key moment. It's a groundbreaking decision where the
Jewish leaders: Peter and James and John, they are with Jesus, they represent it and
they settled the matter through prayer, debate, and opening up the Bible. The
biblical texts that Luke represents being the deal clincher is the end of the book of
Amos, Amos scroll, where it's this poem about how God is going to restore the
kingdom of David over the nations.
In the Hebrew text, it says, "over Edom" which is one of one minor, small nation state
to the southeast of Israel. But the letters for Edom [unintelligible 00:29:39] are the
same letters as the word for "Adam" - humanity. Even in pre-Christian interpretation
and the early Jewish interpretation, Edom became this icon. The kingdom of David
over Edom became an icon of the kingdom of God restored over humanity.
So that's the text that they use to say, "Listen, God always wanted to bring non-
Israelites into the tent of David, and it's happened through Jesus, and so we
shouldn't make circumcision or food laws a barrier." It's momentous. I mean, had
that not happened, or had that—
Jon: There'd have been a total rift in the early Christianity.
Tim: Yeah. So they give Paul and Barnabas the blessing. They do give some basic
guidelines like, "But you should tell people 'totally don't participate in the sacrificial
thing happening in Roman temples.'"
Jon: Yeah, that's the thing is like, this isn't just about what you're eating, and you're not
eating. It's become this whole cultural thing about how it protects you from certain
ways of life.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: It's so fascinating. So for them, to kind of relent on it is to open up the possibilities.
And I'm sure that so many are freaked out like, "Oh, now they're all going to go to
Jesus temple and big out."
Tim: That's right. So they said, "Listen, don't go to idol temples and don't adopt the
sexual ethic. Just maintain the classic Israelite covenantal monogamous, male-female
sexual ethic, and don't worship other gods." In that sense, it sounds still like the 10
commandments but Jesus style.
Though from there, then it's like this thing is gone fully multi-ethnic and international.
It's about Jews and non-Jews discovering their new humanity through the truly
human one Jesus and becomes Paul's heartbeat. He develops his theology of the
story of the Bible culminating in Jesus as the new human one. This is all Paul's
language: the new human, new humanity, the new image of God, the life of the
Spirit, the life of Jesus being lived through his body. It's scriptural language but he
freshly minted all this new vocabulary for...
Jon: Around Jesus.
Tim: ...for these multi-ethnic Jesus communities. And it's Jewish language universalized to
embrace any human anywhere. It's really cool.
Jon: Yeah. Would he teach them how to be Christians together and give them some
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: I know that there's a verse where, I think he says, “And remember everything I taught
you." So it seems like they probably had some sort of discipleship school situation.
Tim: Yeah, totally. We don't have the core thing. In Ephesians, he's writing mostly to non-
Jews and so he talks a lot. There was clearly a core like, "Here's the message of the
good news about the new human who lived and died for you so you can become a
new human too."
Then along with that went the ethic of the new humanity. We get a short form in
Colossians and Ephesians and Romans Chapter 12 in Paul's letters, which are kind of
densest statements of it. It's really beautiful. He usually will contrast and say, "You
used to be Gentiles..." He's mostly writing to Gentiles and he says, "You used to be
Gentiles so you are new humans."
Jon: Your identity.
Tim: He'll almost always talk about sex, money, and language - verbal abuse. And all
that's completely remade. So instead of lying, you tell the truth, instead of using
vulgar language, we use language that's beautiful...
Jon: Builds people up.
Tim: ...and that makes people think higher and better thoughts. Instead of stealing, we're
the generosity people. Like that kind of stuff. And he talks about, "You were taught
the way of Jesus" is language that he'll use. You go into a church, announce the
story of Jesus, meet people in the marketplace.
Jon: By church you mean synagogue?
Tim: Oh, sorry. Yeah. He go to synagogue, or he'd be in the marketplace, start a Bible
study. People hear the story, they're on board for Jesus. He teaches them the Lord's
Prayer for sure. They're doing the Lord's Supper in this letter to the Corinthians. He's
like, "Remember the Lord's Supper." And he just recounts verbatim, the story of the
He's teaching them how to sing of the book of Psalms: psalms, hymns, and spiritual
songs. So they're developing a whole new poetry language to talk about God and
Jesus and themselves. Then for sure, you're learning the 10 commandments. He
appeals to them a handful of times. It's just like the core. It's so cool to think about
in starting these new communities.
Jon: How long would he stay and account for it?
Tim: Sometimes it seems like he breezes through within months, but a couple places he
hangs out. In Corinth, he's there a year and a half. Ephesus, I think it's almost two
years in Ephesus. Some places he stayed longer, wrote some letters. That's also like
weather dependent. If you're itinerant in the ancient world and you're on foot—
Tim: Yeah, you'll wait for few months somewhere. He mentions to Timothy that he carried
around some scrolls, he's got some stuff. Probably mostly he has the Bible in his
mind, he's not carrying around a whole scroll everywhere he goes. Bibles in one
volume didn't exist.
Jon: That's crazy to think about.
Tim: He's mostly got it in his head.
Jon: How are these Christians running around without a Bible?
Tim: They would be to us, "You mean you're dependent on a written version of it? What's
with you people? You don't memorize that thing?" That's what Paul would say to us.
Jon: Oh, yeah.
Tim: "Just memorize the Psalms."
Jon: I have it on my phone.
Tim: There you go. The culture conflict with some Jews build up in Acts 15, hits a boiling
point, and then boom, new part of the movement. Then there's the culture clash
building on the Greek and Roman front, and Luke's dedicated many stories to this.
And you can always spot them because they're the stories that end up with riots.
Just riot after riot that follows Paul everywhere he goes.
Luke really wants to help us understand the subversive appearance of the early Jesus
communities to your average Greek or Roman.
Jon: Tell me about the average Greek or Roman.
Tim: Well, the vast majority are poor, over half the population is in slavery or some form
of slavery. Over half. Over half, so the majority.
Jon: Which means they worked for some other families?
Tim: Yeah, which means they are the property of a landowner or an estate owner.
Jon: And do they live on that estate then or do they commute?
Tim: It depends on their job. So slavery works in some different ways in the Roman world.
I'm not an expert on this. But you can hold fairly high social positions, but still be the
property of another person. So some slaves are out on the road if they work for like
a merchant or something. It's like a sales team. It's like a landowner, you own a
bunch of vineyards and you also own your sales team. Lots of travel.
Jon: Yeah, a lot of people hitting the road.
Tim: They had a great mail delivery system. The thing is, is that what we conceive of as
the middle class, history of the middle class at least in American culture and some
modern Western cultures, there's the middle class and much of the infrastructure is
benefiting the economy in which the middle class lives. So roads, mail systems, all
The Roman system had all of that but the socio-economic scales were way different.
So it's small minority that owns land. It's a small minority that's free and owns other
people and that lives well. Lifespan's really short, city smell horrible.
Jon: Oh, man.
Tim: Oh, man. I remember reading these descriptions. There are all these descriptions just
Roman cities how they smelled. Horrible. Horrible.
Jon: Yeah, that was work.
Tim: I mean, they had sewer systems but some of them were above ground sewer system.
Jon: This was the case into much of human history.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: I think I read a description of London in like—
Tim: Sure. Probably like 1700s.
Jon: Right? It sounded horrible.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. And of course famously, if you want to know about the sewers, in
France of Paris, you read "Les Miserables."
Jon: I'm just trying to get them in my head.
Tim: The peasant lower class is the vast majority people.
Jon: But they are urbanites?
Tim: But they are urbanites in these packed cities. There you go. You're a polytheist, so
you've got the Greek and Roman Pantheon - many of which have been transferred
into the Roman Pantheon are added to the mix. The National god is Diorama Roma,
the Roman Empire deified. It's a goddess.
Jon: I know that.
Tim: The Emperors are lower level deities. They have temples built to them. So you've got
to Zeus temple down the corner, Aphrodite, Mars, mammon, money, sex, power, and
the state are all regular deities that you worship. They are smaller level deities.
Sorcerers, fortune tellers. You don't know if the gods like you or not. If you have
money, you can provide lots of offerings for them and things will go better for you.
There you go. It's life.
Jon: You grinded it out and it's stinky.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So into this world comes these communities who look Jewish. You
know what Jewish communities look like? There are synagogues in every city. You
have a category for them. The really ancient, they don't work—
Jon: On a certain day.
Tim: They don't work on Saturdays. I never see them around—
Jon: They're are pretty moral.
Tim: Yeah, really upstanding people. I never see them in any temples, never around
temples. They don't celebrate any of the holidays. But they're really great neighbors.
I'm happy to have them as my neighbors.
They are so quiet and I can trust my kids around them. That kind of thing. I trust
them around my kids.
Then comes another group, and it's multi-ethnic, and they talk—
Jon: They've got the same characteristics.
Tim: Yeah. They also don't go to the temples but many of them don't eat kosher. They
just eat normal food. In fact, some of them, I'll see them walking home with
packages of meat from the Zeus Temple.
Jon: They don't worship there but they'll eat the meat.
Tim: They don't worship there but they'll eat meat from there. Right?
Tim: And then they keep talking about this crucified king of the world, who's actually the
Creator of all things. I mean, just there's no—
Jon: And they're living very generously.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: And they're taking care of each other.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. All the poor people in our neighborhood know that they have a
place to sleep in the hard situation now. But they refuse to acknowledge any of the
gods and all that kind of stuff. So they're like Jews, but they're also not in any of the
Jon: And it's not in any way wrong or illegal to not acknowledge these gods, right? Or is
Tim: Here we go.
Jon: Here we go.
Tim: One of my favorite Acts scholars that I mentioned earlier, Kavin Rowe, he wrote one
of my favorite books on the Acts because he's trying to help modern readers get
into how Greeks and Romans would see the early Christians. There's another work I'll
refer to, but there are two books that are so helpful if this is something you're
Here's what Kevin Rowe says in kind of a summary statement. He says, "Luke
portrays the Christian mission to the nations as an apocalypse. A revelation from
God have a whole new way of human life." Like that. The apocalypse of Acts.
Remember, apocalypse means not end of the world but a revealing.
Jon: A revealing.
Tim: Yeah, a revelation of a whole new way of human life. "This revelation is carried in the
formation of a people, that is the church, who don't simply hold to a list of ideas or
beliefs. Their very way of life poses a challenge to the constitutive patterns of pagan
life in the early Roman world.
Embracing the Christian gospel meant creating a new cultural reality and inherently
destabilized the assumptions and practices of any and every culture. Luke highlights
this theme and emerges particularly in the stories in Lystra, Philippi, Athens, and
Ephesus, and all in them end up in riots." There's the story of where's the slave girl
who can channel other powers. Crazy story. And the emphasis is on these guys who
own this little girl, who were making bank.
Jon: So it's an economic threat.
Tim: Well, it's religious and economic. They wouldn't perceive—
Jon: Well, they get bombed because of that, because of money.
Tim: But the point is that there's a whole layer of their economy where people can
use...they can capitalize on people's fear of the gods. And so here's the way that
people give us money. A girl will give the mumbo-jumbo and we can make them
think that they're safe now.
Jon: But if this girl is no longer being crazy, then—
Tim: Yeah. This story is patterned after stories earlier in Luke's Gospel where the demons
recognize Jesus. And so here, the spirit that this girl is able to channel recognizes
that these guys work for the Most High God. So Paul gets really annoyed. It says.
"This happened for many days." That she's constantly yelling at Paul in the
marketplace when he walks by. He's just trying to make his tent for that day and tell
people about Jesus and this crazy girl keeps yelling at him.
It says, 'He got greatly annoyed and turned and said, I command you in the name of
Jesus come out of her." And that's what happened. "When the master saw that we
can't make any more money, they grabbed Paul and Silas, drag them into the
marketplace." And then look at their accusation. "These men are throwing our city
into confusion. They're Jews." That's what they say. That's the only category they
Tim: "And they're proclaiming customs that it's not lawful for us, Romans to accept or
observe." So this is my other favorite book on the early Christian movement and how
it would be perceived by Greeks and Romans. It's a legitimate book title by a guy
named Larry Hurtado. It's called "Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian
Distinctiveness in the Roman World"
So he says, "Early Christianity lacked any of the things that typically comprised
religion in the Roman world. No shrines or temples, therefore, no statues of the
Deity, no alter, no sacrifices and no priesthood. This was totally bizarre in a culture
saturated with temples and gods. And to deny the gods of worship, was effectively
to deny their reality." Again, think of what Paul...how he's presented in those stories.
"The withdrawal of newly converted Christians from the ubiquitous veneration of the
gods in public and in family environments would have been seen as abrupt,
arbitrary, unjustified, and deeply worrying." Think of the family dynamics.
Jon: Yeah, right.
Tim: All of these gods governed areas of human life and one's family. You have your
ancestral gods; these are gods of the city. National gods were the guardians against
plague, fire, and disaster. So refusal to participate in worship and acknowledgment
of the gods would have been taken as acts of disloyalty against one's family, and
city, and disregarding the welfare of your neighbors.
Jon: It would look like you don't care about your people and your heritage, and you're a
threat now to the way of life.
Tim: Yeah. You're not just withdrawing, you've embraced what...you're saying what our
family, parents, and grandparents believe and practice is all sham? And this is your
daughter who met this guy Paul in the marketplace and you're not even fully going
Jewish? You're something else? A crucified criminal who you think is alive from the
dead? And you're gonna say everything about our way of life?
Jon: But they are still paying taxes.
Tim: Totally, yeah. But the gods were—
Jon: But they're disrupting the economy, and they're disrupting—
Tim: The economy and the worship of the gods is completely interwoven. So that's what
Hurtado is trying to yeah help us imagine that culture.
Jon: Right. "By not participating in the worship of the gods, you're not participating in the
economy and I don't care about the social order that we've created around how this
whole thing works. I think there's a better social order and a better economy that we
can create a different way. And that's threatening."
Tim: Yeah. I like that you bring up the family dynamic too. So if you have a patron God of
your city, and you're going have annual holiday where everybody does this festival
procession down to the city square, you offer a bunch of rams and you're asking
whatever god it is to protect you from plague and disease and so on so.
So what Hurtado saying is, by saying that you don't think that God actually exists, or
worse you think that we're actually worshiping an evil being, you're actually
endangering our city. That's the god that protects us. And you're going to put our
city in danger by living here but not acknowledging that his power over you? It's
that kind of thing. This would be a deeply disturbing type of new people group in
So that's one front. So when Paul goes to Athens, similar thing. They're like, "What?"
He goes in and just trying to talk about Jesus and the resurrection and they're like,
"What is this babbler saying? He's promoting strange gods," it's what they said. And
that's the dangerous thing to do. We've got our Pantheon...
Jon: Don't mess with it.
Tim: ...they protect us. Zeus doesn't need a new neighbor just because this guy walked
into Athens and thinks that Jesus is God." It's not just religion, religion, politics,
economics, all of them together. The riot in Ephesus in Chapter 19 is a long story,
and it's again all about the idol.
So we're introduced to a silversmith, Demetrius, he made money making little silver
statues. So he gets together all these other craftsmen and make idol statues and he
gives the speech. So he says, "Listen, Paul has persuaded and turned away all these
people saying the gods that we make with our hands aren't even real. Not only is
there a danger that our trade will fall into dishonor, but also that the temple of the
goddess Artemis will be considered worthless, and that the one whom all of Asia and
the world worships will be dethroned."
You can see the threat there. And all Demetrius has to do is give that speech and all
of a sudden there's totally thousands of people who want Paul on the end of a rope.
And they fill a theatre for hours.
Jon: Don't mess with their way of life.
Tim: They're down there marching yelling and Paul wants to go there and give a speech -
it's the next paragraph - and his friends had to hold him back.
Jon: Paul is crazy.
Jon: It makes me wonder, you know, if that's what you're getting into by converting your
allegiance to Jesus, that's intense. Why would you do that? Why would you create all
that conflict? What was so compelling about what Paul was saying?
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Actually, Larry Hurtado has another book. It's called "Why on Earth
Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?" That's the title of the
Jon: That was my question. It's title of a book.
Tim: It's a set of lectures he gave. His argument is this. In the early Christian communities,
it's funny even though Paul's letters now bother most modern people when he talks
about marriage, in that culture, it's super progressive and liberating where men
would be held accountable along with women for sexual integrity. The double
standard was women—
Jon: If they're caught in adultery, they're in trouble.
Tim: Yeah, they're in trouble. But men, you can do whatever you want. It's encouraged.
And so these early Christian communities are shaping up guys to become really like
responsible, mature, awesome dads and husbands, which no other community
promoting that as a public virtue. But the Christians are doing that.
Women have a status in these communities that's much higher than they have in
most other public spaces. Slaves and their masters, both are part of these
communities and they eat at the same table. This weird thing they call the love feast,
Tim: The poor and the rich sit in the same room and they sing songs together. These
people take care of their widows and the orphans. You know?
Tim: There's nothing like this. The world has never seen anything like these communities.
So Hurtado's point is it was actually the Social Security web in these cities of highly
mobile people, lots of disconnected people, and they discovered families, new
families. And so the social capital that people found in these communities was worth
all of the other hospice. This is his argument, and it makes perfect sense to me. It's
powerful to think about.
Here's another awesome scholar of early Christianity, N.T. Wright, Nicholas Thomas
Wright. This is from his book on Paul. It really helps us understand what he's doing
in the book of Acts. This is about Paul's view of the idols in Roman, Greek and
Wright says, "One of the strongest convictions of early Judaism is that there was only
one true and good Creator God. And it's a mistake of the first order to suppose that
this God can be contained within or identified with anything in this present world,
namely making idols, with one exception written into the charter of Jewish
monotheism, what we call the opening chapters of Genesis.
There is one creature who was designed not to contain the Creator God, but to
reflect Him as an image of the Divine. And of course, that's humanity. Paul's radical
rejection of idolatry was based on the conviction that not only does it diminish God;
it also diminishes those who actually do bear the divine image." That's such a good
Jon: Yeah. By promoting these statues of Artemis, I am not acknowledging that the thing
I'm looking for is already reflected in who God made me.
Tim: Yeah. We are the divine image, not something that we make. Point is that it
dishonors God and it dishonors humans to give or ascribe exalted in honor to
something that we make. So this is what he flushes out in the rest of the quote.
He says, "It diminishes the divine image in humans. It steals humanity's privilege and
bestows it elsewhere. Humans were supposed to image God by running his world -
Page 1, Genesis - reflecting into the world the glory and the wisdom of its maker.
And Paul's Jewish reaction against the dehumanization that results from idolatry was
heightened by his belief that this one true God has come at last among us as the
truly human being whose aim it was to precisely re-humanize other humans and
rescue them from corruption that comes when sex, money, war, and power are
worshiped and given total allegiance."
Again, we're getting insight it wasn't just I worship that God because I think what I'm
worshiping is the embodiment of war. We're mammon. So he goes on. "Instead of
invoking Bacchus, the god of wine or Aphrodite, the goddess of sex by getting high
on liquor or sex, that's how you worship them. "Let's go down to the corner temple
and have an orgy,' is a form of worship, Aphrodite. Where instead of invoking Mars
or mammon by exalting or making money, it's now possible to invoke the Spirit of
the Living God and be remade in His likeness to become a renewed freshly image-bearing
Jon: It's so interesting that to worship Aphrodite is to get high on sex. It's like, what's the
difference then with someone who's still seeking that today? We don't call it
Aphrodite, but it's I guess the same form of worship.
Tim: That's right. Yeah, that's right. That's why I think this is so helpful and why authors
of...Like Timothy Keller, this has been a big theme of his writing and teaching is
helping Westerners, modern secular Westerners—
Jon: Understand that we are all idol worshipers.
Tim: That's right. Our lives look identical in ancient Romans.
Jon: We just don't have the same mythology wrapped around it.
Tim: Correct. If anything, you could argue, especially sex because of the nature of the
digital image and the way that images find themselves into every part of our lives
now, sexualized images that we have deified sexual fulfillment in a way probably like
no other culture in the history of the human race.
Tim: The economy, national security.
Jon: Yeah, national security. We're exalting, we're making money. But that's exactly what
Jon: And we call it national security and we call it economic [inaudible 00:57:45].
Tim: That's right. Basically, all we're missing is a ritual of animal sacrifice.
Jon: Because that would just make it weird.
Tim: Yeah, totally. But in terms of giving your whole life to taking on huge amounts of
student loan, sacrificing your marriage for overworking to make money, in many
layers of our economy, that's just assumed. You'll give up the rest of your life to
come live in New York. We were together when somebody called it careerism.
Jon: Careerism, yeah.
Tim: You ruin your life, but you have a great career. That's exactly what NT Wright is
saying, Paul's rejection of idolatry is dethroning those human-made constructs as
being able to give us our true identity and true meaning and purpose. And that it's
when we recognize the life of Jesus given to me in His Kingdom announcement and
His death, His resurrection, and His spirit that's a way of being human that is true
life. So that's why the Gospels and the message of the apostles, sound as striking as
it does in the 21st century as it did the first. And if it doesn't have a political culture
cutting edge to it, then probably aren't—
Jon: We tamed it down too much.
Tim: We probably have mesquite it. Speaking of politics, that's the other front is like the
religious, economic, and then there's the political.
Jon: In terms of the Greek world?
Tim: The Greek and Roman world.
Jon: Greek and Roman world.
Jon: They're tied together. The politics is religious.
Tim: Totally tied together. But another theme Luke's going to highlight is that the early
Christians embodied by Paul could be heard as promoting treason, secession from
Rome, or revolution against the Empire.
Jon: Which were things people would have been going around doing - other people.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. For sure, the story where it perfectly expresses is in when Paul
goes to Thessalonica and he goes to the synagogue. This is in chapter 17. So he
goes to the synagogue and for three Sabbaths, so he's there for nearly a month and
he's just doing Bible study trying to show how the Hebrew Bible is about the
Messiah suffering being vindicated, and saying that the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible
is Jesus of Nazareth.
Many were persuaded, along with a large number of God-fearing Greeks and a
number of leading women. So now you've got really important city leaders who are
giving their allegiance to Jesus and withdrawing...Think of what they're withdrawing
from then. You have really public people withdrawing from all kinds of—
Jon: From the systems.
Tim: Yeah, systems. And so Jewish leaders being full of passion - it gets translated
becoming jealous, but it's becoming zealous - they take along some of bad guys
from the marketplace, formed a mob set the city in an uproar and they attacked the
house of Jason who was hosting these Bible studies. They were seeking to bring
everybody out to the mob, but they couldn't find Paul and Silas, so they dragged
Jason out before the city authorities. This would be like the mayor, police chief or
something like that.
And here's what they shout. "These men have turned the world upside down
elsewhere and now they've come to our town." What a description? You wouldn't
say that about somebody who's just offering, like, "Here's the new philosophy of life
you could try on." You would never say that to somebody who's turning the world
order upside down.
They go on. "Jason has welcomed them. They all act contrary to the decrease of
Caesar saying that there's another king that they call Jesus. They stirred up the
crowd, the city authorities, they heard all these things, but then they received a
pledge from Jason and the others and they release them." In other words, they
investigate and they're like, "There's nothing illegal. These groups aren't doing
Jon: That's the thing. It's what are they doing contrary to the decrease of Caesar? They're
Tim: That is rhetoric.
Jon: Yeah, that's rhetoric. They are saying there's another king—
Tim: Correct. Which can be perceived maliciously as—
Jon: They're not going to buy stuff and worship the temple or buy idols but that's not
illegal either. It's just kind of assume that you would and it's just baked into how
Tim: The Roman cultural order's built on very clear hierarchies power. There's the
demigod Emperor, there's the Senate under him, there are all these names. The
equestrian class, Roman something and then landowners. And that's like point 3% of
the population and then—
Jon: Everyone else.
Tim: But even there were laws. There was no legal punishment if a dad beat his children.
There's no legal recourse if somebody abuses their slave. There's nothing. But in the
early Christian communities, you're publicly shamed if a man does those things.
You'll be kicked out of the community. And it's like, what? They upset the power
structures and all the way up to the top saying there's a different King. It's like saying
there's a different president.
Jon: Right. That's the thing. If you went around saying that, you would worry some
people. But if you were running around saying, "Hey, there's a new chief police in
town or something," he might be called in and they'd be like, "You know, there isn't
another one." You're like, "But there is, but he's this dead guy who's alive." They'll be
like, 'All right, just go home."
Tim: That's right. But this is what Kavin Rowe row saying is, it's not just that they had new
beliefs, different beliefs, they actually would form these big communities gathering
in all these home with a way of life that embodies this different culture.
Jon: A bunch of hippies.
Tim: Yeah, totally. That's it. That's the full portrait that Luke's trying to give us in all these
stories. Well, actually, here's one other quote. This also a quote from Kavin Rowe. I
like the way he writes. He really stirred my imagination to come back to the book of
Acts and read in a new way.
He says, "The culturally destabilizing character of the Christian mission creates the
potential for outsiders to view Christianity as a form of treason, or sedition. Luke
anticipates this charge...This is part of Luke strategy as he's portraying Christian
movement. He anticipates this charge, and he narrates events that portray Jesus's
followers in the mold of Jesus Himself. Remember Jesus is innocent was a huge
Jon: In Luke.
Tim: In Luke. They're found innocent of criminal activity. So the key figure in Acts
corresponding to Jesus here is Paul, the representative Christians who stands before
the Roman state and its agents. So these two themes, Christianity is upsetting of the