Ephesians Study Part 1: Paul the Apostle


Before we get to Ephesians I need to cover a few leftovers from last week, and the conclusion of our study of the history of our Bible and the evaluation of the modern versions.

During class, you asked for some examples of the problems that arise from the special effort to make the Bible gender-inclusive. I went back to my resources and I did not find specific verses or specific problems outlined -- just the general concern.  My conclusion is that the gender inclusive effort is not necessarily bad, but it can confuse more than it fixes anything.

The second question raised last week was in response to my caution that although any Bible you use is better than none, or not using one, that when I say that, I assumed you were not using a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness Bible or any other that has been intentionally altered to support the theology of some man as the leader of a cult. The question asked was, “What is the name of the Bible of the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?”  So that you can avoid them, in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their Bible is called the New World Translation.  There are a number of changes they have made to it.   At one time I understand that they issued an Interlineated Bible, showing their Bible parallel with the Protestant Bible, making it obvious what had been changed.   They have since removed that from the market, and I am told it is not available at all.  It made the changes too obvious, and was used to discount their Bible version.

The case of the Mormon Bible is less clear. All of the Mormon advertisements offer a free King James Bible if you will call in. They claim the King James to be their Bible.   But they have a group of four holy books:

  1. The King James Bible
  2. The Doctrine and Covenants which is a book of clarification written by Church elders to tell the members what they need to understand, much like the Jews have books of Rabbinical instruction and clarification to the Old Testament.
  3. And The Pearl of Great Price which is Joseph’s Smith’s story of his meeting with the angels who gave him the golden plates and told him that Christianity was all messed up.
  4. The Book of Mormon, Which is the book form of the messages on the golden plates that Joseph Smith says the angel Moroni gave him.

So from one perspective, the Mormon Bible is the King James, a valid translation although it is not based on the best of source documents. It is the other three "Holy books" that we consider to be the problem.

Several years ago there was a public announcement that the Mormon Church was publishing a Mormon Bible, which was presumed to be a King James Bible, edited to what they consider to be the proper translation.  This comes from their statement that the King James Bible is a "part" of the word of God.  Note…it is only a part of the word of God. But they add another qualifier, saying that the King James Bible is a part of the word of God, “insofar as it is correctly translated”, which infers that the King James that the rest of us have, is not correctly translated.   This statement is not foreign to our thinking, because we too believe that the Word of God is the original documents, what we call the autographs. And we do not have any of them, so we understand the risk of human error in transcription or translation. But their qualification raises it to a higher level of criticism, that they do not think what we have is correct.

I have not been able to find any reference to the new translation, or a name for their Bible other than just the King James Version.  The danger is that you might come across a King James Bible that has been altered as the Mormons think it should be altered, without knowing it.  I assume that there would be some reference to the Mormon Church in the intro or title page, but I do not know for sure.  In searching the Web, I found no reference to any Bible other than the King James.  But I cannot tell you if it is the unedited King James, or an edited one.  If the introduction pages refer to the Mormon Church, I would be suspect.

Introduction to Ephesians:

Today we start the study of the Book of Ephesians.  This book is often called one of the high points -- the mountaintop -- of Christian teaching. To understand it is to comprehend what it means to have Jesus live in us.

Paul the Apostle:

But to fully appreciate the Book, I think we need to understand the man who wrote it for the Ephesian believers, and for our use today.

So first I want to do a study of the man Paul. I want us to be able to see him, visualize him, and to understand his mind, his personality, how he thought. I am convinced that if we have that foundation we can better comprehend what he wrote to us.

Of course we all know about Paul, the great evangelist to the Gentiles.  We call him the Apostle Paul. The word apostle can create a lot of debate and confusion.  Hebrews 3:1 calls Jesus an apostle, referring to his representing the Father. "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.  He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God's house."

The Twelve Disciples, whom Jesus commissioned and sent out to preach, are referred to as apostles several times in the New Testament. In Acts 1:26, these men, less Judas but with Matthias in his place, are considered primary witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Their assignment was to proclaim the gospel, establish churches and to teach sound doctrine.

The confusing part is that the New Testament calls several other people apostles, who were not personally commissioned by Jesus. So the term is also used to include less official representatives of Jesus. James, brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19 & 2:9), Barnabas, worker with Paul (Acts 14:4, 14), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), and Silas (1 Thessalonians 2:6). So there are two levels of apostles. Those of the first tier were commissioned by Jesus personally, and Paul was one, and so were the other ambassadors, teachers, evangelists, active in the spread of his word.

A good way to think about it is to think of the word "apostle" [Greek: "sent-one"] as about the same as "ambassador".   If I have a relationship to some institution or entity, like the United States, and I go somewhere else in the world and make a good impression, etc., I might be considered a "good ambassador" of the United States, even though I have no official position. On the other hand, if the president of the United States names Ed Romero from New Mexico to be the Ambassador to Spain, he is an official, designated Ambassador.

Paul and the Twelve were officially designated by Jesus as his ambassadors.  They are official ambassadors, official Apostles. On the other hand, the others that are referred to as apostles are representing him, but unofficially.

Paul the Man:

Now let’s learn about Paul the man. The best that the scholars can tell, Paul was born about the same time as Jesus, within a few years of 1 A.D.  He was born in the city of Tarsus, near the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea.

The city was a thriving city with major commerce routes running through it.  It was famous for its goat hair cloth produced there.  It was here that he learned his trade of tent making.

Tarsus was on the Seyhan River, about 10 miles from the Mediterranean coast, and a seaport via the river access. It was a city with a philosophy school and was colored by Greek philosophy. It was at the confluence of east and west as a junction of the trade routes.  It was the center of Greek thought and Roman rule and order. A keen minded Jew in this location would draw on the best of those worlds and the oriental influences from the east.

Paul was born into the minority Jewish population in Tarsus that had been there since around 171 B.C. He was also in the minority of the Jewish population who also had Roman citizenship. We know this from the time that Paul had been arrested by the Romans in Jerusalem. (He was actually in protective custody to keep the Jews from killing him.)

Paul’s birth name was Saul, a Jewish name, named after King Saul.  The Greek equivalent name was Paul, from the Latin Paulus which means "little".  He likely went by both names.

The fact that his Greek name meant "little" is interesting, since at birth his parents might or might not have realized that he would be short. I don’t have any idea if he was a little baby, so they named him Paul (because he was little) and the Hebrew equivalent was Saul, or vice versa. I suspect that as a good Jewish family, the Jewish name was the given name and the Greek equivalent just happened also to fit.

< Here is one scholar’s rendering of a painting of Paul. By church tradition, and by a line drawing of him in the Eastern Church copies of the New Testament, he was a short, bald, hook nosed, fat faced man with eyebrows that joined over the nose. He is thought to have been the perfect caricature of a little Jewish man. (Those are not my words, but those of research scholars.)

Here is a picture of a very early fresco of the picture of Paul. >

So as we study Paul, keep in mind that his success was not from his imposing physical presence.  He was no Billy Graham -- tall, handsome, imposing figure. He was a little bald Jewish man. And he was not even a good speaker. The New Testament indicates that he was not an imposing figure.

If you study all the trials he went through, you see that he had a strong constitution, if not a strong body. Remember he preached full time and supported himself as a tentmaker.

Paul's Thorn in the Flesh:

We also know that he had a physical ailment or affliction.  He referred to it as his thorn in the flesh.

There have been many speculations as to what the problem was.  Maybe poor eyesight, who knows? He never said. But whatever it was, it caused him to realize that everything that he accomplished was the work of God.

Saul ~ Paul:

In the New Testament, he is referred to as Saul, the Jewish zealot who was trying to kill the Christians, until he clashed with a guy by the name of Bar Jesus at Paphos.  On his first missionary trip, he left Antioch and sailed for the island of Cyprus.  There he met a Jewish Sorcerer by the name of Bar Jesus, which meant "Son of Jesus" in Aramaic.  Locally he was known as Elymas the Sorcerer. Luke writes:

From that time on, the New Testament calls him Paul, except when he or others are recounting his conversion prior to the Bar Jesus event, at which time he was being referred to as Saul.  In his letters, he refers to himself as Paul. So it seems that when he was relating to Jews or behaving as a Jew, he was called Saul. But when he became the Apostle to the Gentiles, the Greek culture, he was called and called himself Paul.

I don’t know about you, but I have previously had the idea that he was called Saul until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, at which time Jesus changed his name to Paul. Remember, that is what happened to Simon. In John 1:42 when Jesus was gathering the Disciples,

Jesus changed Simon’s name from Simon to Peter, and after that Peter was used as his name, and sometimes Simon Peter. That was not the case with Paul. Paul probably had both names from childhood, and the audience determined his name to a great extent.

Paul the Jew:

  So he was a Jew, and he used that when it served his purpose. He often first preached in the synagogues as he made his missionary journeys.

In every way, when he was a Jew or when it was to the advantage of his mission, he was a Jew’s Jew. But He was a Gentile when it served his purpose.  It was easier to relate to the Gentiles as a Gentile. So then he was Paul the Greek Gentile.

And he was a Roman when it served his purpose, like when he was in trouble with the Jews.

Paul the Christian:

And he was a Christian’s Christian. He did not consider that to be a conflict with his Jewishness. He considered Christianity a natural result of Judaism, the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah.

So this is the Paul who wrote the Book of Ephesians.


Next week:

We will see how this little Jewish-Gentile-Roman citizen became a Christian, and we'll scan his work which led up to his writing the letter we are going to study.  We will also see what we can learn about Ephesus, the city from which the letter takes its title.