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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Are Paul's Writings as Authoritative as Jesus' Words?

Many years ago as a young man, I heard it said by a young lady of my own age that the apostle Paul just had a thing against women with the idea being that what he wrote on the subject of women had no authority but was merely the expression of personal prejudice on his part.  That young lady many years later became a preacher within her denominational body contrary to Paul's teaching on the subject in 1 Tim. 2:12.

Over the course of the many years that have transpired since that time, I have heard the same or similar comments regarding things Paul wrote.  It seems many believe he lacked the authority of Christ in the words he spoke or wrote.  That is the subject I wish to pursue in this article.  I add that the reality is that if what Paul wrote is not authoritative then we cannot stop there but have to go right down the line and ask about what Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, and Jude wrote. 

The truth of the matter is every single word of the New Testament excepting only those words added by translators for clarification (usually marked by being printed in italics) came directly from God the Father including the words of Jesus himself.  In John 1:1 Jesus is called "the Word" (NKJV) and he is recorded as saying, "He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that his command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak." (John 12:48-50 NKJV)  He says again, "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." (John 14:24 NKJV)  One could add to these references but the point has been made. 

Before Jesus ascended back to heaven he promised to send the Holy Spirit to his apostles.  "But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26 NKJV)  "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper (the Holy Spirit--DS) … even the Spirit of truth." (John 14:16-17 NKJV)  "But when the helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, … he will testify of me." (John 15:26 NKJV)  Now here is where one needs to pay special attention.  Did the Holy Spirit speak free-lance style?  Listen carefully. 

"However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are mine.  Therefore I said that he will take of mine and declare it to you." (John 16:13-15 NKJV)  The apostles were commanded by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5 NKJV).  That day came on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. 

The important thing to see thus far is the chain of command.  Even though God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one, all being equally God, they have an order in which they of their own accord have chosen to work.  Jesus, "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant." (Philippians 2:6-7 NKJV)  Jesus thus submitted himself to God the Father and spoke only the Father's words.  When the Holy Spirit came after Jesus returned to heaven it is clear from the passage just quoted in the prior paragraph (John 16:13-15) that he did not originate truth for he did not speak on his own authority but spoke what he heard.  He glorified Jesus by taking what was of or from Jesus and declared it to them. 

Thus when an apostle spoke by means of the Holy Spirit he spoke not out of himself but rather spoke the very words of God.  Peter speaks of "those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." (1 Peter 1:12 NKJV)  On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter himself spoke just such a gospel sermon after the Holy Spirit fell on him and the other apostles.  Paul says, "No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. 2:11-13 NKJV) 

If Paul was not an inspired writer (as well as a gospel preacher) then Peter was in error for he said of Paul's writings that some twisted them "to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the scriptures." (2 Peter 3:15 NKJV)  Not only does Peter compare Paul's writings with the rest of the scriptures but also says his writings can be twisted to one's destruction.  That would be a little hard to do if they were uninspired writings would it not?  If one recalls correctly Ananias was sent to Paul at his conversion with one reason being that Paul might be "filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  

Sometimes people latch on to a few statements made by Paul in 1 Cor. 7 and read into them more than they should in that they feel Paul is there giving uninspired advice or giving only his own judgment or opinion apart from any direction of the Spirit.  For example, Paul says in verse 12, "I, not the Lord, say," (NKJV) and then in verse 25 he says, "I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in his mercy has made trustworthy." (1 Cor. 7:25 NKJV)  Well, is Paul trustworthy or not?  He closes this very chapter with these words, "According to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 7:40 NKJV)  Do you think Paul had the Spirit of God?  Do you think he was questioning himself by making that statement?  You know better. 

Here is the bind that those get themselves into when they begin questioning scripture and taking some of it as inspired and other parts of it as not inspired—how do you decide which is which?  Are you that all wise and knowing so that you can declare beyond doubt that this scripture is inspired while that one is not?  How do the rest of us know you are that smart, even God-like, in your declarations?  How did you come to possess these mighty powers of discernment?  Maybe showing us a miracle would help the rest of us build confidence in you.  In New Testament times miracles were performed to confirm the word as being from God (Heb. 2:1-4).  We need confirmation of like nature if you are going to start cutting out scripture from the Bible for proof is needed that your word is from God when you do such cutting.   After all, you will be giving us a new Bible when your cutting is done. 

Needless to say, all such approaches to scripture end up being faith-destroying.  How do you have faith if you do not know what to have faith in and what not to have faith in?  Yes, I know these types proclaim their faith but genuine faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17) and not by one's own “I think so.”  It does not come by one declaring himself to be God and thus able to give man the true scriptures versus the false ones. 

The bottom line ends up being that one either has to hold to the scriptures as being authoritative, and verbally inspired by God, or else he holds to the words of some man that declares otherwise but can work no miracle in proof of his declaration. 

In closing yes the words of Jesus in red are authoritative but no more so than the words in black in your New Testament for the truth is the source of all inspired writings is God the Father.  When Paul or Peter or whomever the New Testament writer was spoke with pen and ink or otherwise on matters of the faith his words came from the same source that Jesus' did while Jesus was on the earth.  The idea that Paul was writing for Paul's sake promoting his own doctrine contrary to what Jesus would have said is as unscriptural as it gets. 

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJV) 

Postscript:  This article is not meant to imply that Bible translations, man-made, are infallible.  However, to the extent a translation accurately represents the original manuscripts of the New Testament, it is reliable.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Conversion of Lydia – Acts 16:13-15

In Acts 16:13-15 we find the account of the conversion of Lydia in the city of Philippi.  This is a very interesting conversion account and one that men have debated as to what actually happened.  It is a short account so let us read it and see if there is anything to debate or to cause controversy. 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. (Act 16:13 NAS77) 

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Act 16:14 NAS77) 

And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Act 16:15 NAS77)”

Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as you recall, entered the city of Philippi to preach the gospel.  Their first opportunity, as far as we can tell, is to a group of women out at the riverside at a gathering place for prayer.  Lydia is one of the women assembled there. 

The first mystery to some people is found in the statement in verse 14 where it is said that "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."  Well, how did the Lord do that?  Did God take a kind of spiritual crowbar to her heart and mind and force conversion on her?  Did the Holy Spirit come upon her in some mysterious operation taking over her will and making her receptive to the gospel as Paul preached it?  Some think so.  The reality is there is no truth to such suppositions as will soon be shown. 

God opened Lydia's heart to the gospel simply by the preaching of the word.  How do I know?  That is a fair question.  If God acted miraculously on the heart of Lydia resulting in a sort of forced conversion, one of which she had no way of resisting, and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34 KJV), shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11, Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25), and teaches us that it is a sin to show partiality (James 2:9), then God did the very thing in converting Lydia that he says, through his word, that he does not do and that he condemns in us.  None of us believe that. 

Lydia's heart was opened by God's word in the same natural way yours and mine are.  For example, all of us have read passages in the Bible that condemn us for something we have done at one time or another resulting in a pang of guilt and sorrow within us.  Is that the Holy Spirit acting miraculously on my heart or is it the power of the word of God upon a man's heart?  Yes, it is the Spirit working but working through the word, not miraculously separate and apart from the word.  We retain the free will to either believe what we read thus allowing it to touch our hearts or the free will to pass it off and reject it.  

Our hearts are left free to choose either for or against the gospel thus we can be fairly condemned for choosing to reject it.  If it was otherwise how could it be said that God was fair to all?  In conversion, God treats all the same and does not play favorites. 

But, I want to make a note here about Paul's preaching that day.  In earlier articles, I have tried to show that in first-century accounts of gospel preaching all men who preached taught the same thing with the same results among those who believed.  Whether it was Peter, Philip, or Ananias doing the preaching, and now Paul the result was that in every case where the preaching was believed the result was that believers were baptized.  When we believe the words of Peter preaching by inspiration in Acts 2:38, we readily see why that was the case. 

What did Paul preach to Lydia?  We all agree he taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  With Paul, as with the other evangelists of his day, that included baptism for the remission of sins.  The text says Lydia was baptized along with her household (Acts 16:15) but when did she do this and why?  The verse before, verse 14, tells us that she was responding "to the things spoken by Paul." (NAS) 

Paul preached to her the gospel.  Paul preached baptism because Lydia was baptized in response to the things spoken by Paul (verse 14).  Baptism then is a part of the gospel.  The gospel cannot be preached without baptism being preached.  We see it preached by Peter, by Philip, by Ananias, and now by Paul. 

Some might respond by saying in earlier accounts found in earlier chapters of Paul's missionary efforts accounts are given where baptism is not mentioned - passages like Acts 13:12, 13:39, 48 and Acts 14:1, 14:21.  The reader ought to realize two things regarding such passages. 

(1) They are summary statements of what happened and not detailed accounts of conversion.  For example, Acts 14:21 simply says they "made many disciples."  There is no attempt to say how that was done.  Acts 13:39 says, "Everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." (NAS)  True, but what is not stated is what is to be believed.  In Acts 13:48 the text says "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (NAS)  Believed what?  If they believed what Paul preached then they believed, among other things, that they must be baptized.  But, the point is that such passages are just summary statements without details being provided. 

Let the reader ask himself this question.  None of these accounts mention a word about repentance nor should they given the fact they are, as has been stated, summary statements.  Do we believe that there is such a thing as salvation by faith without any repentance of sins?  Again, when it is simply stated that people believed it is a summary of what took place and not a detailed account of everything they believed and believed to the point of obedience. 

If we were studying the subject of biblical hermeneutics we would say the word "believed" when used in such passages as we have been talking about is used as a figure of speech called a "synecdoche."  A synecdoche is "a figure of speech by which we speak of the whole by a part." (Hermeneutics, by D. R. Dungan, page 300)  As Dungan says, "This is many times the case with the salvation of sinners.  The whole number of conditions are indicated by the use of one.  Generally the first one is mentioned-that of faith-because without it nothing else could follow." (page 305) 

In more detailed accounts we know what was preached and what was believed by what was done.  Lydia was baptized because the text says she was responding to what was preached and Paul was the preacher.  

(2)  Paul preached the same gospel wherever he went, not one thing in one place and something else in another.  If you can find what he preached once you know he always taught the same elsewhere.  Paul says, "But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8 NAS)  Paul did not preach different things in different places when it came to the gospel.  If he preached baptism to Lydia he preached the same wherever he went and we know he preached it to her. 

If Paul did not believe baptism for the remission of sins was essential to gospel obedience (and thus salvation) then please tell me how he could have written what he did in passages such as Rom. 6:3-4 and Gal. 3:26-27.  Tell me why when Ananias told him "now why do you delay?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16 NAS) that Paul did not object and respond to Ananias along the line of now look here Ananias, I know you have the Spirit of God but the minute I met Jesus on the road I believed and was saved and so both you and the Spirit are in error.  I need not be baptized to "wash away" any sins for they were forgiven me when Jesus appeared to me and I first believed.  Why did he not respond that way? 

It astounds me that people can claim to be saved by faith, apart from baptism, given the fact their claim to believe is fraud.  How can I believe in Jesus and yet deny what he taught?   Jesus taught both personally on the subject of baptism (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, John 3:5) and through his Holy Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets.  Believe in him, just not in what he has said, and you will be saved seems to be the idea.  What!  How does that work?  Someone needs to explain that. 

What does it mean to be faithful to God as a new convert?  Lydia says, as a new convert speaking to Paul and his party, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." (Acts 16:15 NAS)  That they did because they judged her, as she says, as one who was faithful to the Lord. 

What did she do to become faithful?  She believed what Paul preached (including baptism) and responded to it by acting upon it.  If one wants to become faithful to the Lord they need to do what she did assuming they have not already done so.  Would she have been judged faithful if she had not been baptized?  Think about that long and hard.  Paul taught it.  Let us say she refused to do it.  Would she then have been judged to be faithful? 

One final fact about Lydia's conversion that has caused trouble is that the text says "she and her household " were baptized (Acts 16:15 NAS).  The thought is that this means she and her young children maybe including infants.  It is easily seen that infants were not baptized for the simple reason that baptism is of no value to one who is not a sinner as its purpose is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and infants have no sin.  They are safe in the arms of God as is. 

But, there is another point as well confirming there was no infant baptism or baptism of very young children.  Baptism saves only when accompanied by faith (Mark 16:16) for it is "he who has believed and has been baptized" that shall be saved.  It is not he who is too young to believe and is baptized shall be saved.

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