Apostle Paul Mosaic

Apostle Paul Mosaic



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The Mosaic covenant – What is it?

The Mosaic covenant is an agreement that was made between God and His people, Israel. Because the covenant was made at Mount Sinai, it is sometimes called the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19—24). The Mosaic covenant was named after Moses, the man who God had chosen to lead Israel, and to whom the first Ten Commandments of the Law were given. The Mosaic covenant was a bilateral, or conditional covenant, meaning that both parties were responsible to fulfill a duty to the other. The people were responsible to follow the Law, and in return, God promised to abundantly bless and protect Israel (Exodus 19:5-8).

The conditional nature of the Mosaic covenant makes it very different from the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, which are unconditional. In the unconditional covenants, God's favor, promises and blessings are based on His decision, rather than on the actions of the people. In the Mosaic covenant, the blessing or lack thereof was a direct result of the obedience or disobedience of the people. This is outlined in detail in Deuteronomy 28.

There is a great deal of confusion over the Mosaic covenant. Why would the gracious God of the New Testament, who loves and forgives unconditionally, and whose salvation is not merit-based, create a conditional, merit-based covenant with His people in the Old Testament? Is this not contradictory? We can find the answer to this puzzle in several places in the New Testament epistles, where the Apostle Paul discusses the old covenant vs. the new covenant. The old covenant he is referring to is the Mosaic covenant, also called "the Law." The purpose of the Law, says Paul, was to make people aware of their inability, so that when Christ came, they would recognize their need for Him (Galatians 3:24-25). When the Mosaic covenant was formed, the people of Israel responded to God's reminder to obey with the words "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8). However, the rest of the biblical history of that nation shows that they never obeyed Him for long. They were hopelessly unable to accomplish the requirements of the Law. Sacrifices and offerings were prescribed for sins, but even these were done incorrectly or half-heartedly (Malachi 1:6-10). Also, there was always a remnant in Israel, even under the old covenant, who understood their inability to please God. King David was one of these. It is clear from the Psalms that he knew himself to be sinful in a way that could only be forgiven by God's mercy (Psalm 51:1-12). Also, we know that Abraham and the other patriarchs were men of faith, believing in God for their salvation, rather than trusting in works (Hebrews 11:4-12). Therefore, the existence of the Mosaic covenant is not a contradiction of God's grace, but instead it is an illumination of man's need for that grace (Ephesians 2:8-9 Romans 1:16-17).


Don’t Forget the Background Geopolitics

We start with Paul. According to Galatians 1:17, Paul departed Damascus shortly after accepting Christian membership and journeyed briefly into “Arabia,” presumably going south towards Nabatea to preach the new salvation. From there, he soon returned to Damascus (possibly due to hostile reception), where as per 1:18 he stayed three years.

Then suddenly, according to 2 Corinthians 11:33 (in response to the threat of arrest by Aretas IV Philopatris) and Acts 9:25, he escaped from Damascus when colleagues surreptitiously lowered him over the city’s defensive wall. From there, he journeyed to Jerusalem to meet with elders of the nascent church. We can ascertain when these events happened by examining the geopolitical background in the Levant.

Why had Paul been in a hurry? Paul seemed to surmise that his excursion into Nabatea, where Aretas IV ruled from Petra, had provoked hostility, making his presence unwelcome. To understand why requires a geopolitical refresher. After Herod died in 4 BC, Caesar Augustus divided the kingdom among three of Herod’s sons: Archelaus as ethnarch of Judea (including Samaria and Idumea), Antipas as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and Phillip as tetrarch of Ithurea and Trachonitis (southwestern Syria).

Rome deposed Archelaus in AD 6 and administered Judea as a province. Aretas IV ruled Nabatea from its capital at Petra—his daughter Phasaelis married Antipas. On a visit to Rome, Antipas met Herodias, his niece and then wife of Boethus (called Philip in Mark 6:17 and Matthew 14:3). They agreed to marry conditional on Antipas divorcing the Nabatean princess.

Upon learning of her marital repudiation, Phasaelis retreated to Machaerus (where John the Baptist was beheaded) and then escaped to Petra. (One could surmise that her father’s anger at the rude treatment Phasaelis received may have inflamed hostility to Jews and contributed to Paul’s unpleasant reception some years later.) In the winter of AD 36/37 following Philip’s death in AD 34, Aretas crushingly defeated Antipas over a border dispute in Gamalitis (present-day Golan), according to Josephus in “Antiquities” 18.113-115. Presumably, Aretas secured a trading mission in Damascus following his victory, possibly after the death of Tiberius in March AD 37.

Paul recognized the changing political landscape. Endangered by agents of Aretas, he fled Damascus in AD 37 after his three-year residence. Thus, counting back from that departure, Paul had encountered his epiphanous vision on the Damascus road in AD 34.


Paul, an Example of Fortitude

My favorite book in the Bible is Philippians. The first time I read it, I was 14 years old and had recently heard the gospel for the first time. I knew I wanted to know Jesus and serve him, but I had no idea how to go about it. I started reading the Bible and quickly became confused by all the unfamiliar names and phrases, but when I got to Philippians, I felt as if I’d found the prize in a scavenger hunt. Aha! So this is how you do it! This is how to live like Jesus!

To understand Philippians, you have to understand Paul, the man who wrote it. As a young man from Tarsus, Paul (also known as Saul) had everything going for him. He was a Greek-speaking Jew and a Roman citizen during a time when Rome was the world’s superpower. He was an ultrareligious Jew who came from a well respected family and meticulously followed all the rules. He was well educated and skilled at tent making, which allowed him to find work anywhere. But he’d chosen to use his privileged position to mercilessly torment and abuse Jewish converts to Christianity (see Gal. 1:13–14 Phil. 3:6).

But one day as he was traveling to a town called Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision and confronted him about his actions. After Paul experienced three days of blindness, God restored his physical eyesight and also gave him the ability to see spiritual things clearly (see Acts 9:1–19).

Paul’s immediate and lifelong reaction was to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. For the rest of his days, he used every ounce of his experiences—both positive and shameful—to add credence to his claims about Jesus. Paul explained in his own words why he didn’t shy away from any part of his life story: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:22–23).

I think it’s safe to say that Paul endured more tough times than most of us ever will. You think you’ve had a hard life? In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he listed some of the challenges he’d faced. Paul …

• was flogged by Jews five times with 39 lashes.
• was beaten by Roman rods three times.
• was pummeled with rocks.
• was shipwrecked three times.
• was adrift on the open sea for a night and a day.
• traveled hard year in and year out.
• forded rivers.
• fought off robbers.
• struggled with friends and enemies.
• endured risky conditions in the city, in the wilderness and during storms at sea.
• was betrayed by people he thought were dear friends.
• served hard labor.
• was often lonely, sleepless, hungry and freezing cold.
• felt the constant weight of responsibility for supporting, training and encouraging all the churches.
• experienced deep desperation.

And this list was written just partway through his ministry! Paul’s words take on new meaning when we know what he went through. As he wrote the book of Philippians, he was between a rock and a hard place once again—this time shackled in a Roman jail cell. I’ve been inside the cave-like prison in Rome where Paul most likely sat as he penned this letter. Two thousand years later, it’s still incredibly depressing, even without the foul smell.

Paul wrote the short four-chapter letter to the Philippians under these conditions. You’d expect it to be overflowing with complaints. Bitterness. Fear. But no, against every set of odds in the universe, Paul was bursting with joy.

His friends had no doubt heard he was chained up in prison, and he wanted to be sure they understood the plain truth about his situation.

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” (1:12–18)

Paul explained that they were looking at his chains all wrong! The only goal of his life, he reminded them, was to advance the gospel. It wasn’t just his top priority it was the only one. And as a direct result of his imprisonment, the gospel was being heard by more people. Paul said in effect, “My chains are a huge win! My pain and limitations are so valuable because they’re enabling me to achieve my goal.”

When I first read this, I was blown away by Paul’s perspective. I still am, even as I write this. Let me be honest: While it’s easy to recognize the upside of other people’s limitations, I am nearly incapable of seeing the value of my own. Just like you and me, Paul had made plans. His missionary journeys and international church visits had to have involved a huge number of details. But Paul never lost sight of the overriding goal of his life. Instead of complaining about how his current situation prevented him from continuing with his plans to tell people about Jesus, he saw his imprisonment as a divine appointment. Paul knew what he was to do—share Christ’s story. He left it to God to decide to whom, where, when and how that would unfold. He trusted that God had him right where he wanted him.

Have you ever stopped to consider how many decisions in your life are dictated by fear? Fear of failure. Fear of shame. Fear of hurt. We try to manage our lives in such a way that we will avoid fresh hurt. The problem is that no matter how hard we try to avoid it, pain finds us. I appreciate that Jesus was straightforward about this, acknowledging, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Paul’s jail sentence was a great thing for the prison guards because they got to hear all about Jesus. And his imprisonment is a great thing for you and me too! If Philippians had been written by a guy who was relaxing on a Mediterranean beach, it wouldn’t mean much to me. I’d think, Well, of course you’re happy. I would be too if I were in your sandals! But I have real problems going on in my life right now. Bills to pay, sick kids to care for, struggles to work out in my relationships … stuff you clearly don’t understand. And I’d close the book.

Seeing a clear picture of what Paul endured gives his testimony the weight of truth. This guy simply wouldn’t have been in prison if he wasn’t positive that the one who stopped him on the road to Damascus was the Son of the living God. His absolute faith and confidence in this Jesus had jettisoned every scrap of fear from his mind.

Excerpted from The Gift of One Day: How to Find Hope When Life Gets Hard. Copyright © 2020 by Kerry Shook & Chris Shook. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


Saint Paul & Seneca Letters

“While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia (c. 51, 52), the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. ‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, ‘If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’

…So he drove them off. Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul and Gallio (c. 5 BC—65 AD) showed no concern whatever.” Acts 18:12-18 NIV

Marble bust of Seneca the Younger, c. 200’s AD part of double-herm (Seneca and Socrates)

The Proconsul Junius Gallio was the delegated Roman authority of that area. He was an older brother of the famous Roman Stoic philosopher and writer Seneca the Younger (4 BC—65 AD) who was, supposedly, a Christian according to Tertullian, Jerome and Augustine. Seneca’s brother Junius Gallio did not seem to be sympathetic to Christians in Corinth.

According to a long tradition, Seneca called The Younger (4 BC—65 AD) allegedly wrote 8 letters to Paul the Apostle (c. 5 BC—c. 64–67 AD) and Paul wrote 6 letters to Seneca. As can be seen, the two men were contemporaries. The copies of Seneca’s/Paul’s letters now exist only in manuscripts from the 800’s. However, Tertullian (160—220) does mention Seneca’s letters to Paul and calls Seneca “our own.” And Jerome (347—420) mentions letters from Seneca to Paul which were still extant in his day. This information, if true, is intriguing.

From a letter of Paul to the believers in Philippi: “Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. ”Philippians 4:21, 22

Paul and Silas first visited Philippi in Greece during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, which occurred between approximately 49 to 51 AD. Philippi was the location of the first Christian community established in Europe. Biblical scholars are in general agreement that Philippians was written by Paul of Tarsus, although some consider that the letter was written from Ephesus in 52–55 AD or Caesarea Maritima in 57–59.

Bust of Nero – Musei Capitolini in Rome

During the time of Paul’s letter to the new believers in Philippi, the Caesar was Nero who reigned in Rome from 54-68. Seneca known as a Stoic philosopher was Nero’s tutor and later advisor. When Paul wrote that letter, “those who belong to Caesar’s (Nero’s) household” were with him and sent their greetings to the Philippians.

It is established that Paul knew people who were members of Nero’s household. The Apostle to the Gentiles would have known what was going on in Nero’s palace and could have known Nero’s confidant Seneca.

Saint Jerome in Desert — Bernardino Pinturicchio (1454—1513)

The ascetic-in-later-life Jerome (347—420 AD AD) completed his book On Illustrious Men in Bethlehem c. 392-394. He mentions the Epistles of Seneca and Paul were extant in his time. He includes Seneca among his “illustrious” Christian men in his book De Viris Illustribus 12:

“Lucius Annæus Seneca of Cordova, disciple of the Stoic Sotion and uncle of Lucan the Poet, was a man of most continent life, whom I should not place in the category of saints were it not that those Epistles of Paul to Seneca and Seneca to Paul, which are read by many, provoke me. In these, written when (Seneca) was tutor of Nero and the most powerful man of that time, he says that he would like to hold such a place among his countrymen as Paul held among Christians. He was put to death by Nero two years before Peter and Paul were crowned with martyrdom.”

Claudio Moreschini (born 1938), an Italian expert in philology and Patristics writes:

“Seneca’s renown among Christians appeared quite early. Tertullian (160-220 AD) speaks of him as a writer who is ‘often one of ours.’ Lactantius (240-320) opines that ‘Seneca could have been a true devotee of God if someone had shown God to him’ (Inst. 6.24). It is not surprising, then, that during the Constantinian period one product of the typical religious syncretism of that age was this apocryphal correspondence. The letters were known as early as Jerome (Vir. ill. 12), who was thereby confirmed in his persuasion that there had been a real affinity between Seneca and Christianity, so much so that he included Seneca among the ‘famous men’ of the Christian religion.”

The letters between Seneca and Paul were extant from the Tertullian 100’s through the 200’s with Lactantius until the 300’s and 400’s with Jerome. The fact that those three ancient men who are regarded as sane and reliable all saw and read these communications between Paul and Seneca is persuasive as to their genuineness.

Many modern scholars dismiss these letters as “forgeries.” But a scholar this writer respects, J.B. Lightfoot (1828-1889), says of them: “It appears that Christian parallels in Seneca’s writings become more frequent as he advances in life.” Lightfoot cites de Providentia, de Otio, de Vita beata, de Beneficiis, and the Epistolae Morales as Seneca’s works that most closely resemble Christian belief. Nonetheless, Lightfoot is still skeptical. The reader can assess the genuineness for him/her self.

Sixtus Senensis (1520-1569), a Jewish convert to Christ, published the Letters in his Bibliotheque. The correspondence consists of 8 letters from Seneca and 6 letters from Paul. The following letters in English are from Sixtus’ translation. Sixtus divided each letter into a chapter and each line into a cardinal number. They were not so, of course, in the original.

THE EPISTLES OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO SENECA, WITH SENECA’S TO PAUL

CHAPTER I: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I suppose, Paul, you have been informed of that conversation which passed yesterday between me and my Lucilius, concerning hypocrisy and other subjects for there were some of your disciples in company with us
2. For when we were retired into the Sallustian gardens, through which they (disciples of Paul) were also passing and would have gone another way, by our persuasion they joined company with us.
3. I desire you to believe that we much wish for your conversation:
4. We were much delighted with your book of many Epistles, which you have written to some cities and chief towns of provinces, and contain wonderful instructions for moral conduct:
5. Such sentiments, as I suppose you were not the author of, but only the instrument of conveying, though sometimes both the author and the instrument.
6. For such is the sublimity of those doctrines, and their grandeur, that I suppose the age of a man is scarcely sufficient to be instructed and perfected in the knowledge of them. I wish your welfare, my brother. Farewell.

NOTES: “Lucilius Junior (fl. 1st century), was the procurator of Sicily during the reign of Nero, a friend and correspondent of Seneca….The information known about Lucilius comes from Seneca’s writings, especially his Moral Letters, which are addressed to Lucilius. Seneca also dedicated his Naturales Quaestiones and his essay De Providentia to Lucilius.” Wikipedia
The Gardens of Sallust were “pleasure gardens” that occupied a large area in the northwestern sector of Rome near the Via Salaria.

CHAPTER 2: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. I received your letter yesterday with pleasure: to which I could immediately have written an answer, had the young man (Timothy?) been at home, whom I intended to have sent to you:
2. For you know when, and by whom, at what seasons, and to whom I must deliver everything I send.
3. I desire therefore you would not charge me with negligence, if I wait for a proper person.
4. I reckon myself very happy in having the judgment of so valuable a person, that you are delighted with my Epistles:
5. For you would not be esteemed a censor, a philosopher, or be the tutor of so great a prince, and a master of everything (Nero), if you were not sincere. I wish you a lasting prosperity.

CHAPTER 3: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I have completed some volumes and divided them into their proper parts.
2. I am determined to read them to Caesar (Nero), and if any favorable opportunity happens, you also shall be present when they are read
3. But if that cannot be, I will appoint and give you notice of a day when we will together read over the performance.
4. I had determined, if I could with safety, first to have your opinion of it before I published it to Caesar, that you might be convinced of my affection to you. Farewell, dearest Paul.

LETTER 4: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. As often as I read your letters, I imagine you present with me nor indeed to do I think any other, than that you are always with us.
2. As soon therefore as you begin to come, we shall presently see each other. I wish you all prosperity.

CHAPTER 5: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. We are very much concerned at your too long absence from us.
2. What is it, or what affairs are they, which obstruct your coming?
3. If you fear the anger of Caesar (Nero), because you have abandoned your former religion (Judaism), and made proselytes also of others, you have this to plead, that your acting thus proceeded not from inconstancy, but judgment. Farewell.

CHAPTER 6: Paul to Seneca and Lucilius, Greeting.

1. Concerning those things about which you wrote to me, it is not proper for me to mention anything with pen and ink: the one of which leaves marks, and the other evidently declares things.
2. Especially since I know that there are near you, as well as me, those who will understand my meaning.
3. Deference is to be paid to all men, and so much the more, as they are more likely to take occasions of quarreling.
4. And if we show a submissive temper, we shall overcome effectually in all points, if so be they are capable of seeing and acknowledging themselves to have been in the wrong. Farewell.

CHAPTER 7: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I profess myself extremely pleased with the reading your letters to the Galatians, Corinthians, and the people of Achaia (part of Greece).
2. For the Holy Spirit has in them by you delivered those sentiments which are very lofty, sublime, deserving of all respect, and beyond your own invention.
3. I could wish therefore, that when you are writing things so extraordinary, there might not be lacking an elegancy of speech agreeable to their majesty.
4. And I must admit, my brother, so that I may not at once dishonestly conceal anything from you and be unfaithful to my own conscience, that the emperor (Nero) is extremely pleased with the sentiments of your Epistles
5. For when he heard the beginning of them read, he declared that he was surprised to find such notions in a person who had not had a regular education.
6. To which I replied, that the gods sometimes made use of humble persons to speak by, and gave him an instance of this in a simple countryman, named Vatienus, who, when he was in the country of Reate, had two men appear to him, called Castor and Pollux, and received a revelation from the gods. Farewell.

NOTE: Cicero (106 BC—43 BC) in his book Nature of the Gods 2.2 mentions that Castor and Pollux alerted an ignorant countryman named Vatienus to the defeat of the Macedonian King Perseus by the Romans in 168 BC at the Battle of Pydne.

CHAPTER 8: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. Although I know the emperor (Nero) is both an admirer and favorer of our (religion), yet permit me to advise you against your suffering any injury, (by showing favor to us).
2. I think indeed you ventured upon a very dangerous attempt, when you would declare (to the emperor) that which is so very contrary to his religion and way of worship, seeing he is a worshipper of the heathen gods.
3. I know not what you particularly had in view when you told him of this, but I suppose you did it out of a too great respect for me.
4. But I desire that for the future you would not do so for you need to be careful, for fear that by showing your affection for me, you could offend your master:
5. His anger indeed will do us no harm, if he continue a heathen nor will his not being angry be of any service to us:

Empress Octavia, Nero’s first wife

6. And if the empress act worthy of her character, she will not be angry, but if she acts as a woman, she will be affronted. Farewell.

NOTE: Octavia (39-62) was Nero’s first wife whom he ordered to commit suicide in 62. Paul was right to warn Seneca about Nero. He started the first Imperial persecution of Christians

CHAPTER 9: Antaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I know that my letter, wherein I acquainted you, what I had read to the Emperor your Epistles, does not so much affect you as the nature of the things (contained in them),
2. Which do so powerfully divert men’s minds from their former manners and practices that I have always been surprised, and have been fully convinced of it by many arguments until now.
3. Let us therefore begin afresh and if anything before has been imprudently acted, please forgive.
4. I have sent you a book de copia verborum. Farewell, dearest Paul.

CHAPTER 10: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. As often as I write to you, and place my name before yours, I do a thing both disagreeable to myself and contrary to our religion.
2. For I ought, as I have often declared, to become all things to all men (I Corinthians 9:22), and to have that regard to your quality, which the Roman law has honored all senators with namely, to put my name last in the (inscription of the) Epistle, that I may not at length with uneasiness and shame be obliged to do that which it was always my inclination to do. Farewell, most respected master. Dated the fifth of the calends of July, in the fourth consulship of Nero, and Messala.

CHAPTER 11: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. All happiness to you, my dearest Paul.
2. If a person so great, and in every way as agreeable as you are, become not only common, but a most intimate friend to me, how happy will be the case of Seneca!
3. You therefore, who are so eminent and so far exalted above all, even the greatest, do not think yourself unfit to be first named in the inscription of an Epistle.
4. For fear that I should suspect you intend not so much to test me, as to banter me for you know yourself to be a Roman citizen.
5. And I could wish to be in that circumstance or station which you are, and that you were in the same that I am. Farewell, dearest Paul. Dated the Xth of the calends of April, in the consulship of Apriann and Capito.

CHAPTER 12: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. All happiness to you, my dearest Paul. Do you not suppose that I am extremely concerned and grieved that your innocence should bring you into sufferings?
2. And that all the people should suppose you (Christians) so criminal, and imagine all the misfortunes that happen to the city, to be caused by you?
3. But let us bear the charge with a patient temper, appealing (for our innocence) to the court (above), which is the only one our hard fortune will allow us to address, till at length our misfortunes will end in unalterable happiness.
4. Former ages have produced (tyrants) Alexander the son of Philip, and Dionysius ours also has produced Caius Caesar whose inclinations were their only laws.
5. As to the frequent burnings of the city of Rome, the cause is manifest and if a person in my mean circumstances might be allowed to speak, and one might declare those dark things without danger, everyone should see the whole of the matter.
6. The Christians and Jews are indeed commonly punished for the crime of burning the city but that impious miscreant who delights in murders and butcheries, and disguises his villainies with lies, is appointed to, or reserved till, his proper time.
7. And as the life of every excellent person is now sacrificed instead of that one person (who is the author of the mischief), so this one shall be sacrificed for many, and he shall be devoted to be burnt with fire instead of all.
8. One hundred and thirty-two houses, and four whole squares were burnt down in six days: the seventh put an end to the burning. I wish you all happiness.
9. Dated the fifth of the calends of April, in the consulship of Frigius and Bassus.

Nero burned Rome in 64 AD

CLICK HERE for article on Nero the Arsonist

CHAPTER 13: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. All happiness to you, my dearest Paul.
2. You have written many volumes in an allegorical and mystical style, and therefore such mighty matters and business being committed to you, require not to be set off with any rhetorical flourishes of speech, but only with some proper elegance.
3. I remember you often say, that many by affecting such a style do injury to their subjects, and lose the force of the matters they treat of.
4. But in this I desire you to regard me, namely, to have respect to true Latin, and to choose just words, so you may the better manage the noble trust which is reposed in you.
5. Farewell. Dated Vth of the names of July, Leo and Savinus consuls.

NOTE: Paul wrote his Epistles in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of his world. But he was highly educated in Jerusalem and knew Latin, too. Seems Seneca wanted Paul “to have respect to true Latin.”

CHAPTER 14: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. Your serious consideration repaid [me] with these discoveries that the Divine Being has granted but to few.
2. I am thereby assured that I sow the most strong seed in a fertile soil, not anything material, which is subject to corruption, but the durable word of God, which shall increase and bring forth fruit to eternity.
3. That which by your wisdom you have attained to, shall abide without decay forever.
4. Believe that you ought to avoid the superstitions of Jews and Gentiles.
5. The things which you have in some measure arrived to, prudently make known to the emperor, his family, and to faithful friends
6. And though your sentiments will seem disagreeable and not be comprehended by them, seeing most of them will not regard your discourses, yet the Word of God once infused into them will at length make them become new men, aspiring towards God.
7. Farewell Seneca, who are most dear to us. Dated on the calends of August, in the consulship of Leo and Savinus.

Apostle Paul — circa 494–519 C.E. Mosaic, Museo arcivescovile di Ravenna, Italy

In the 1st mid-century AD Paul was the most famous person among the early Christians. During the exact same time, Seneca was the leading intellectual in his world of Rome. It is interesting to speculate whether these two important men and minds ever knew and communicated with each other. Perhaps they did?

“God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to rise?” Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and rhetorician Epistle 41.

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul, the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles, Epistle to the Romans 10:8,9— Article by Sandra Sweeny Silver


Insula in Ephesus, before renovations

The silver shrines of Artemis

Ephesus derived great wealth from commerce and religion. According to the bible, at least part of that came from making “silver shrines of Artemis” (also known as Diana), goddess of hunting, fertility, and childbirth, and patroness of Ephesus: "For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen. Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?" (Acts 19:24, 35)

Pilgrims would flock to Ephesus in March and in the beginning of May (the main Artemis Procession) to attend festivals honoring Artemis/Diana. The influx generated demand for cult objects, used either as souvenirs, amulets, or offerings to the goddess, or for family worship once the pilgrims returned home.

Ancient inscriptions from Ephesus speak of the manufacture of gold and silver statues of Artemis, and other inscriptions specifically mention the silver-worker’s guild: "Good Fortune! The silversmiths of the first and Greatest Metropolis of Asia, the thrice-honored temple guardian of the venerable Ephesians erected (this monument to) Valerius Festus, the flower of his ancestors, creator of many works in Asia and Ephesus"

The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century CE Wikimedia Commons

Alexander the God vs Artemis

The cult of Artemis was deeply entrenched in Ephesus. Before the time of King Croesus (595-546 BCE), the central character of religious life in that area was the mother-goddess Cybele.

By setting up a mythical genealogical link from Cybele to the Hellenic pantheon, King Croesus hoped to establish a religious figure acceptable to both Greeks and non-Greeks.

With his support, in the mid-sixth century BCE, work began on the temple of Cybele’s successor, Artemis.

The Roman historian Plutarch claims that Alexander the Great was born on the same night (July 21, 356 BCE) as Herostratus set fire to the Great Temple at Ephesus in order to achieve perpetual fame, which he did manage to do: the adjective “Herostratic fame” emblazons his name even to this day.

The priests in Ephesus interpreted the temple fire as an omen, that somewhere in the world a torch had been lit, that would set fire to the whole of the Orient.

Maybe they were right. In 334 BCE Alexander of Macedonia commenced his campaign against Persia, en route conquering Ephesus.

When he arrived, the Ephesians were in the process to rebuilding the temple to Artemis that Herostratus had burned down.

Alexander offered to cover the Ephesians' expenses on rebuilding if he was allowed to put his name on the work. His offer made the Ephesians writhe: it was a handsome offer, but they were jealous of the honor of their temple – yet feared to give him a blatant "No". Finally, they evaded the dilemma with such blandishment that anyone but Alexander would have seen through it: they told him that it was not right for a god to build a temple for another god.

Mosaic found in Pompeii showing Alexander the Great fighting king Darius III of Persia. The original is at the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Dated around 100 BCE. Getti Images, Wikimedia Commons

After Alexander’s untimely death in 323 BCE, Ephesus became involved in a power struggle among his generals. In 133 BCE, Attalus III, the childless king of Pergamum, bequeathed Ephesus to the Romans, making it part of the Roman province of Asia.

In the third century C.E., a severe earthquake rocked Ephesus and, compounding the city's sorrows, the riches of the temple of Artemis were plundered by seafaring Goths from the Black Sea, who then set the temple on fire. Again.

As the Temple of Artemis had formed the high point of this invasion, the belief in the Great Goddess and her invincibility was profoundly shaken. There would be long-term consequences for the economy of the region and for Ephesus' urban appearance.

Finally, toward the end of the fourth century C.E., Emperor Theodosius I confirmed Christianity as the State religion. Soon the walls of the once prestigious Temple of Artemis became a quarry for building materials.

The Christian Renaissance

During Byzantine times, a new flourishing civic center developed around the harbor, featuring newly built palaces, boulevards and sacred structures – but Christian this time.

The archaeologists have uncovered a large residential building dating to the 6th century CE, which obviously belonged to a wealthy Ephesian. Part has been excavated, including areas of the central courtyard and a staircase in the courtyard, which attests that the house had at least two storeys.

Three of its rooms had mosaic floors. In one of these mosaic rooms, a sword was found directly in front of a wall. “It should be interpreted as a status symbol and an insignium of the house owner, put on display and shown to guests in one of these very prestigious rooms,” Ladstätter told Haaretz.

A sword found in side a house in ancient Ephesus, shown front and back. N. Gail / OAW

Last year, in July 2015, Ephesus was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Already a focus of archaeological attention, the ancient city is now an international research platform with over 200 scientists from more than 20 countries. The power of the ruins definitely justify these endeavors.

A bird's eye view of the excavation of Byzantine houses, at ancient Ephesus. N. Gail / OAW


The Life of Paul Bible Timeline Made Easy!

Paul is thirty years old when he is an official witness at the stoning of Stephen. His Pharisaic zeal for God's law and dedication to stopping the early spread of Christianity knew no bounds. After seeing Stephen's life taken, he leads the first great wave of persecution against the early church. On reflecting on his pre-conversion days Paul says the following.

"For you heard of my (Paul is speaking) former conduct when I was in Judaism, how I was excessively persecuting the church of God and was destroying it And I was advancing in Judaism far beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more abundantly zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:13 - 14, HBFV)

How bad were the persecutions of Paul against the early New Testament church? His dedication to eradicating those believing in the teachings of Jesus led him to take bold actions, such as going from house to house in order to find believers (Acts 8:1, 3)!

After his efforts to stop the spread of early Christian beliefs in Jerusalem, he sets his sights on achieving the even more audacious goal of removing any Christian influence in the synagogues of Damascus. He receives written permission from the temple's High Priest to rid the city's synagogues of any who believe in "the way." His intention is to arrest those who believe Jesus is the Messiah and escort them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

It is during his trip to Damascus that the pivotal event in the life of Paul occurs. A spotlight from heaven shines on him (Saul) during his travel and the voice of Jesus asks "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4) God strikes him blind and his traveling companions must lead him to the city. These events lead to his total repentance and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. God also heals him of his blindness.

After his conversion, the same zeal and single-minded dedication Paul had against Christianity transforms into a hyperactive-like quest to spread the gospel worldwide. His amazing ministry lasts thirty-five years until his death at the age of sixty-six. His accomplishments are astonishing given the rudimentary (by today's standard) level of transportation and other difficulties that exist in the first century.

Important events and accomplishments in the life of Paul include his witnessing of the stoning of Stephen. He is personally taught by Jesus, for three years, while living in Arabia. During his ministry he resurrects at least one person from the dead and is resurrected himself after being stoned to death. Paul carries out at least five evangelistic journeys, visits more than 50 cities in his travels and preaches the gospel to Emperor Caesar and his entire household.

He also writes no less than fourteen books (epistles) of the Bible (the most of any author), trains other evangelists and gospel preachers like John Mark and Timothy, and endures a total of more than five years in prison.


The Present, Past, and Pre-History of Conversion

Longing to leave liberalism behind, everyone from Catholics to Communists is experimenting with self-transformation. What’s fueling that desire, and is it strong enough to make the break?


A protester on March 20, 2021 in London. Hollie Adams/Getty Images.

Nathan Shields, a composer whose works have been performed by various orchestras and chamber ensembles, is associate faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. He earned his doctorate at the Juilliard School in New York, and has received fellowships from Tanglewood and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

It is an image both grand and subtly comical: the man lies stunned on the ground onto which he has just been flung, head and torso thrust toward the viewer, arms thrown out in an ambiguous gesture as if he were trying either to embrace something or to ward it off. His face and body are starkly illuminated, his eyes shut vainly against the light. Above him stand a horse and an older man, who tends to the animal, seemingly oblivious to his fallen companion. The horse, its leg half-raised, glances toward the ground with an expression that might be annoyance.

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Apostolic Beheading the Death of Paul

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church, summed up his own contribution to Christianity better than anyone else could. "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." Wherever he carried the gospel, the church put down deep and enduring roots. He saw himself as primarily an apostle to the Gentile races.

Paul was ideally equipped for the role. In him three great cultures merged. A Roman citizen, he had entree to the entire Roman world. Steeped in Greek culture, he could convey his ideas across the Hellenized world. A Pharisee, strictest of the Jews, he carried in himself the Mosaic law and had points of contact in the synagogues of the empire.

Paul began his career as a persecutor of the faith. After meeting Christ in a daylight vision on the road to Damascus, where he was traveling to arrest Christians, his life was transformed. Christ ever after was all to him and he gave us insights into the Lord as deep as any found in the writings of the apostles who walked with the Lord. "I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ, and him crucified." "I am crucified with Christ nevertheless, I live Yet not I, but Christ lives in me." "He was the firstborn over all creation." "That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, both in heaven and the earth and under the earth."

In addition to his Christology, Paul pioneered the missionary tactics of the early church, brought the gospel to the Gentiles and came as close as any apostolic writer to creating a systematic theology. His Letter to the Romans has had a profound impact upon our understanding of guilt and grace, predestination and faith. Wherever reformation has come to the church the ideas of this epistle have played a leading part. His letters were prized by the early church. His fellow apostle Peter recognized their worth and included them with the other scriptures.

According to The People's Chronology, Paul was beheaded with a sword near Rome, possibly on this day, June 29, 67. This date is open to dispute. Paul's death has been variously placed between 62 and 67. We shall probably never know for sure.

What we do know is that he gave his life for the faith he had persecuted. At his conversion, a prophet named Ananias was sent to him to show him what things he must suffer. In an early letter he catalogued some of those sufferings. It is a long list. His beheading was but the culmination of a life of sacrifice "poured out as a drink offering" to his Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:6).


Why Did God Choose the Apostle Paul?

During interviews about my most recent book, “Jesus Is Risen: Paul and the Early Church,” many hosts have asked me why the greatest persecutor of Christians, Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul), became Christianity’s foremost evangelist.

This is a fascinating question because Paul, by all appearances, was the least likely person to pioneer early Christianity’s missionary efforts. He was born a Jew in Tarsus but raised and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a highly respected rabbi and Jewish scholar who mentored him on the “strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3). Paul touted his own Jewish bona fides, saying, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews as to the law, a Pharisee as to zeal, a persecutor of the church as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).

When Paul saw some of his Jewish brothers converting to Christianity, he was more than a little upset. He viewed Christianity not as some harmless competing religion but as one that was seeking to co-opt his religion, corrupt it at its core and twist it into something it was never intended to be. So he set out to bring to justice the heretics who were betraying the God he’d worshipped his entire life.

Why would God choose such a man to present the very Gospel that drove him to persecute and even execute early Christians? Scripture clarifies that God specifically chose Paul, before he was born, to proclaim the Gospel, mainly, but not exclusively, to the gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16).

When you study the Book of Acts — the history of the early church — and Paul’s Epistles, you can see quite clearly why God set Paul apart for this crucial role. Paul was fluent in the Greek language and Greek culture and learned in Greek literature, which enabled him to relate to the Greeks (gentiles) on their level. In some cases, he cited their poets to get his foot in the door as a prelude to revealing God to them.

He was a Roman citizen, which entitled him to legal protections unavailable to noncitizens and which, in some cases, facilitated his presentation of the message.

He was highly intelligent, and he would call on his intellect to expound on critical matters of Christian doctrine in his letters, 13 of which are preserved for us in the New Testament as Holy Scripture.

Ironically, Paul’s Jewish background greatly enhanced his evangelistic efforts. His intimate knowledge of the Old Testament and the Mosaic law perfectly equipped him to explain the Gospel as part two of God’s two-part story of His salvation plan for mankind. Paul confirmed that Christ had come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

Christ fulfilled the messianic promises of the Old Testament prophets. He inaugurated the New Covenant, which superseded the Old Covenant and provided a means for all mankind — Jews and gentiles alike — to be saved, by faith in Him. No one in human history understood better than Paul how God’s salvation plan was integrated from start to finish, and no one could better communicate it. Nor was anyone better positioned to articulate God’s free offer of grace, as no one, by his own admission, was less deserving of grace than he was — yet he received it in abundance.

Paul was also a passionate and relentless warrior for the truth who, following Christ’s example, willfully sacrificed himself and endured great suffering and persecution for the cause of his Savior. He would not be deterred from his singular mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth — in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission to the Twelve Apostles.

Finally, I believe God chose Paul because he was so real, so authentic, so personal and so loving. He was not merely a man of great intellect but one of heartfelt emotions, especially for his fellow Jews. He wore his emotions on his sleeve for all to see. In his letters to the churches he planted, you can feel his personal grief over some of the believers having been led astray by false teachers from the true Gospel and his earnest appeal for them to return. When reading his letters, you get a real sense that Paul loved these churches he had birthed as a parent treasures his own children, alternately giving praise, discipline, lessons and love.

I urge you to read or reread the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles and treat yourself to his unique story and his unsurpassed presentation of the Gospel and essential Christian doctrine. You’ll not regret it.


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