Greetings from Paul
1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 2 God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. 3 The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4 and he was shown to be[a] the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.[b] He is Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through Christ, God has given us the privilege[c] and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.
6 And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
God’s Good News
8 Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. 9 God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart[d] by spreading the Good News about his Son.
10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.
13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,[e] that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world,[f] to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.
16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.[g] 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”[h]
God’s Anger at Sin
18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.[i] 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
This view claims that Luke was uninterested in the politics of the Roman Empire but rather his main focus is on the power of God and building up the Kingdom of God. Supporters of this view believe that the Roman Empire does not threaten the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ because Luke “simply recognizes its existence as a political reality, but he is clear that God is greater.”Throughout Acts, believers like Paul are being charged with spiritual crimes concerning “teaching against Israel, the law, and the temple”(Acts 21:21, 28; 23:29; 24:5; 25:8, 19; 28:17) or being a civil disturbance (Acts 16:20, 21:38, 25:8) rather than political charges. “Charges of sedition come from the Jews” (Acts 17:6–7; 24:5) which shows that Luke’s emphasis was not on the politics of the Empire but rather on the spiritual matters of believers. Furthermore, when on trial, the church responds to the authorities by professing the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:20, 28–29; 5:29–32). Franklin agrees that Luke’s work is apolitical and believes that Luke’s main concern was the “triumph of God in Paul’s arrival in Rome."(Acts 28:14–15) While Walton agrees that Luke’s main concern is apolitical, he believes that “there is too much politically sensitive material for this view to be tenable when Luke-Acts is read in its first-century settings, both Jewish and Greco-Roman.”
Acts of the Apostles
This study started with the Ascension and the election of St. Matthias to complete the number of twelve Apostles. The Church at this point did not really exist. There were approximately one hundred and twenty disciples lamenting the second time Jesus was taken from them. They huddled behind closed doors in fear of further persecution by the leaders of the temple.
We then recounted the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Ghost and the birth of the Church. Immediately we see a change in all the Apostles. Peter started healing and preaching in the temple. We see them start to share their resources and they began to lead a communal life. The Apostles were imprisoned and rescued by an Angel. When they returned to the temple they were warned to quit preaching in the Name of Jesus. When they refused, the leaders of the temple plotted to kill the Apostles but were restrained by Gamaliel who said, "If they are of God we could not stop them. If they are not of God, their efforts will come to naught."
We saw the beginning of the spread of Christianity and the creation of the Order of Deacons. Stephen’s martyrdom was recounted and Philip’s mission to Samaria was described. It was interesting to note that the Apostles came to review Philip’s work and to perform the confirmations. We heard of Saul’s approval of the stoning of Stephen and his intent to persecute the Christians at Damascus. We read of Peter’s missionary efforts around Jerusalem, Samaria and Damascus. He was the first to contend with the Apostles about whether circumcision was required of the Gentiles before they could be admitted to Christianity.
The description of St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was repeated several times throughout this book as Paul explained why he was so dedicated to preaching Christ crucified throughout the world. Initially the Apostles at Jerusalem were not willing to meet with Paul because of his reputation. Paul was forced to return to Tarsus where Barnabus found him and brought him back to the church at Antioch. Only at the insistence of Barnabus was he allowed to meet the Apostles and tell his story. Barnabus and Paul were selected to deliver relief to those suffering the famine in Palestine.
Herod killed James and when he saw it pleased the leaders of the temple, he put Peter in prison with the intent of killing him as soon as the feast of Unleavened Bread was past. Peter was rescued by an Angel and departed from Jerusalem for some time. Barnabus and Paul were sent from the Church in Antioch to spread the word to Cyprus and their efforts were directed to the Jews who understood the prophecies of the Old Testament. At this point, Barnabus was the primary spokesman with Paul as an assistant.
When Paul and Barnabus moved on to Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, Paul began taking a more assertive role. They always started preaching in the temple and among the Jews but the number of converts were minimal. For the most part, the Jews not only rejected their message but refused to allow them to speak at all. Thus the mission to the Gentiles became the most productive field. Gradually the resistance of the Jews to Paul’s message grew into full persecution. They followed them from town to town to drive them out repeatedly. Paul was actually stoned in Lystra but survived and they moved on to Derbe.
When Paul and Barnabus returned to Antioch, they were opposed by the Jews who favored circumcision for all Christians. They came from Jerusalem to Antioch just to oppose Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. They really wanted to keep Christianity as a subset or sect of Judaism. Paul and Barnabas were compelled to go to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles and Elders to decide the controversy. Peter pointed out that the Gentiles he converted received the Holy Spirit just as did the Jews. James announced the decision of the Apostles as a compromise. The Gentiles would not have to be circumcised, but they must abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication and from things strangled and from blood.
When Paul and Barnabus returned from Jerusalem, James sent others with them to verify and recount the decision of the Apostles. Paul then decided to check on the people he converted in Asia while Barnabus checked on the people in Cyprus. When he reached the west coast of Asia, he was advised in a vision to cross over to Macedonia where churches were established in Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens and Corinth.
After a return to Caesarea and Antioch, Paul again returned to the churches in Asia and then on to Macedonia. His last return to Jerusalem was fraught with danger because of the Jews who wished to kill him and take the relief money he was bringing to Jerusalem. Upon arriving in Rome, Paul agreed to sponsor two men in a purification ritual to show his continued respect for the Pharisaic traditions. Paul was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. He was arrested by the Roman authorities to avoid a riot. Once it was known that he was a Roman citizen, the authorities inherited the problem of satisfying the Jews claims against Paul while protecting the rights of a free Roman citizen. He was detained two years under the procurator Felix until Felix was removed from his position. Faustus replaced Felix and at Paul’s request granted his Roman privilege to be tried before Caesar. His appeal to Rome allowed him to escape the influence of the Jerusalem Jews who at this point no longer cared about circumcision or ceremonial law. At this point, they simply wanted to avoid his ability to affect their leadership of the temple.
The last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles does not tell us Paul’s fate. It implies that he was acquitted by the lack of any witnesses to oppose him. He taught there for two years. Luke was not interested in providing a biography for Paul. His only interest was the growth of the Church. Many people have examined all of Paul’s Epistles to glean further information on his activities and fate after reaching Rome. They are not conclusive. For example, many scholars believe that Luke would have made a big issue of Paul’s acquittal as a confirmation of God’s Will for his church. We do not know with any degree of certainty about the outcome of his trial in Rome.
Paul was born at Tarsus in Celicia. His father was a Roman citizen. The piety of the Pharisees was hereditary and he zealously followed their traditions and observances. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and was given the name Saul at his circumcision in memory of the first king of the Jews. He also carried the Roman name Paul. He learned how to make tents, or at least the mohair of which the tents were made. He was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel. His sister’s son saved his life from a planned attack by the leaders of the temple.
Paul’s last years are wrapped in obscurity. The account in Acts was not complete. Tradition is uncertain. His other Epistles give clues but are not definitive. He promised in Philemon to return after his captivity. He promised the Philippians that he will send them a messenger as soon as he learns the result of his trial. This indicates he was planning another journey before he returned to the East. Romans indicated a desire on his part to visit Spain.
There are compelling but incomplete arguments to support many theories, but they remain largely speculation. However, tradition and legend agree on one thing. They say that both Peter and Paul perished at the hands of the heathen, and that the Jews played no direct part in their fate. They did not die as renegade Jews. They died as Christian disturbers of the Roman peace.
Eusebius writes that Nero, as part of the general persecution of Christians, accused Peter and Paul of setting Rome on fire. The story relates that they were both executed around 64 or 65 AD. Peter was crucified upside down according to Caius. Paul, being a Roman citizen could not be crucified. He was beheaded as was more fitting for a noble citizen. According to Eusebius, the burial of both is reputed to be Via Ostiensis about two miles from Rome.
According to the most common opinion, Paul and Peter died on the same day near the end of the reign of Nero. Their saints’ days were originally both on June 29th but the five mile distance between the two basilicas was too exhausting for a double ceremony in a single day. Thus St. Paul’s celebration was moved to June 30th but we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul instead.
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