Three Keys to 1 Timothy

So, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on just one verse of the Bible. Three weeks (so far) might seem like a crazy long time to sit and think about 12 Greek words (about 18 words, give or take, in English). Yet, so far, with this steady pace, I’ve learned the following:

  • The Greek word “authentein (found only once in the Bible, in this passage) was so rare people were not sure what it meant. For the longest time, translators thought it was some kind of exercise of authority. However, archaeological discoveries in the past fifty years have brought greater clarity: it means “autonomous use or possession of unrestricted force/power.” (see αὐθεντέω)
  • The Greek word “epitrepo,” often translated as“permit” or “suffer,” has also got a rather different flavor to it in many other contexts. A better reading of what Paul wrote would be, “I am not allowing,” with a more in-the-moment feeling to it, as a temporary measure.
  • Deep dive with Marg Mowzcko’s scholarship provided further insight into the word “authentein,” and a possible understanding as to why Paul would give this particular instruction to Timothy. I’ll give you Marg’s suggested reading of this verse, but I hope you go to her website and read through her work. It is truly comprehensive. (see 1 Timothy 2:12)

But I am not allowing a woman to teach (a heretical version of Genesis 2-3) nor to bully her husband (by denying him sex because of false notions of piety).


  • Better translation for 1 Timothy 2:12: Up to now, I’ve been searching for a better translation of this sentence. Here’s what I have so far: “And, I am not allowing a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.”
  • Deep dive with Jeremiah Vance’s Chiastic Structure opened up a whole new way to study the Bible, and helped me to understand how Paul composed his entire letter to Timothy. (I am keeping with the idea that Paul wrote this letter, but honestly, that’s a sidebar for me. The contents of the letter are more important to me, since it’s part of the Bible, than who actually penned it.)

    Through Jeremiah’s work, I learned the whole point of 1 Timothy 2:12  is not the point of chapter 2. It is only supporting the actual point—which is that everyone who desires to be a teacher and leader in the church, an elder, desires a good thing. But, in order to be a teacher and leader, one must first be a student, and learn about Jesus, His words and His ways. An elder must be mature in knowledge and understanding, as well as be of good character, and so on. (see What Is the point of 1 Timothy 2:12?)

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Bruce Fleming. Rev. Fleming has several graduate degrees, published a couple of books, and helped to found a number of churches. He’s married to Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming, who has been a seminary and college professor, and international speaker. Together they’ve created an online course called “Think Again,”  covering “The seven problem Bible passages on women and men in church, the family and the world. (Instructed by Bruce C. E. Fleming)”

Bruce Fleming’s material is well worth perusing! I learned a lot just about this one verse, but also about the general thrust of 1 Timothy itself, and what Paul was saying in chapter 2, in particular (and this is just the tip of the iceberg of material available in Rev. and Dr. Fleming’s seven session course).

Fleming also talks about the structure of the letter itself, and the structure of chapter 2, specifically. One caution he brings up is the artificiality of the chapters and verses. We take those things in stride, they’re so familiar. But the truth is, in the original Greek text, there isn’t even punctuation let alone chapters and verses. The person who inserted these markers (for an interesting aside, here’s a wiki article that talks about the history of these divisions) based it on his own idea about what belonged with what. That was his interpretation of the scriptures.

Fleming, therefore, offers some keys to unlock the meaning of 1 Timothy, and these keys are based on the original Greek text, not necessarily the chapters we have today.

The following is just a brief summary of the material Rev. Bruce Fleming has put together on this subject.

KEY #1 has to do with the reason for 1 Timothy: to correct some of the leaders in the church who had gone astray. Timothy was to be sure these leaders would no longer teach false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3), to practice love (1 Timothy 1:5), and to have good character (1 Timothy 1:19).

KEY #2 highlights a particular phrase placed strategically three times throughout I Timothy, “Faithful is the word.” (in Greek: “pistos ho logos”). Very briefly, this phrase can be understood in two different ways, and Paul left it to the reader to understand which meaning he intended. The Greek phrase could mean “faithful is the Word” (Jesus) or it could mean “trustworthy is the saying” in which case, the phrase would be followed by a saying.

  1. 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul meant both meanings. Jesus had been faithful to Paul and had made Paul into a faithful servant. The saying Paul attached to the phrase underscores the first meaning.
  2. 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul primarily wanted Timothy to see “Faithful is the Word, Jesus.” The NRSV is the only version (I just briefly checked about a half dozen random translations) that hints at that.
  3. 1 Timothy 4:9 Again, Paul intended Timothy to read, “Faithful is the Word, Jesus.”

The overall intention is to understand that just as Jesus was able to turn Paul around, Jesus would enable Timothy, and conform and transform the wayward leaders Timothy was training and coaching.

KEY #3 Paul uses three of his own sins, or failings, to outline for Timothy the work he is to do with these errant leaders, and the work Jesus will be doing as well with them.

The first sin Paul talked about was blaspheming, later enjoining Timothy to deal with two blasphemers in his church.  

The second sin was persecution of the church, which Paul gave instructions about in the first half of 1 Timothy 2

The third sin had to do with violent injury to the church, which is why Paul used such a strong word—“authentein”—to describe what he wanted Timothy to deal with, in the second half of 1 Timothy 2.

I hope you’re intrigued! Next week I’ll show you how Rev. Fleming organized the material in 1 Timothy, particularly the second chapter, in order to really see how these three keys are at work. It is not only fascinating, but very convincing.

[Door and keys | Zakaria370z [CC BY-SA 4.0 (] and Pixabay]

The Sign of the Rainbow

In biblical language, a covenant was a promise made by God, given to a person or group of people, which God often accompanied with a sign. 

It can be conditional: “If you obey My commandments, I will bless you; if you disobey my commandments, I will punish you.”

It can be unconditional: such as the promise God delivered to Noah’s clan, “I will never again destroy all life with a flood.” No strings attached.

But really, even conditional covenants are based on God’s grace. There is honestly nothing to obligate God to enter into a pact with humankind. As supreme and ultimate Creator and Sovereign Lord, God may do as He sees fit with His creation. Every living thing, every -thing- owes God its very existence. The Lord God therefore has authority over every person, all people are dependent on God and morally obligated to obey God without thought of reward.


We need to get our heads wrapped around that.

Yet, God instead chooses out of His love and goodness to make Himself vulnerable to covenant with people. These covenants are solely for the benefit of humankind, and continue to be active until they have been fulfilled, until God’s purpose for them has been accomplished.

All of God’s covenants have been cut in blood. After Noah’s sacrifice, God blessed and commissioned Noah and his family, then established His covenant with all living things, which is where we pick up the story today.

After over a year of silence, of simply sitting and waiting, with no idea when this period of waiting would end, or even if it would end, with their resources shriveling up before their eyes, and the relentless hard work of caring for the entire world’s treasure of life forms wearying them a little more every day, Noah and his family must have felt overwhelmed by God’s voice. From silence to a wall of sound, from no words to a whole stream of words: blessing, instruction, promises, commissioning. And now, God would speak with them about a lasting covenant.  

This covenant actually begins clear back in Genesis, chapter 6, when God said, “I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” The first provision of God’s unconditional covenant was to preserve a remnant from His judgment. 

Now God gave reassurance that whenever the clouds came, or whenever it rained, it would not be like it had been for the Great Flood. God’s promise of protection would now be there as a reminder. A rainbow is a particularly apt sign of God’s grace. As I’m sure you know, rainbows are produced by the very elements that threaten—clouds and rain.

God already knew “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” God knew eventually Noah and his family would involve themselves in doing wrong, because the source of their motivations (and ours, too) was their hearts. There is nothing you and I can do, either, about this situation, not on our own steam. We are never going to be able to kick the sin problem on our own, not by sheer dint of will, not by strength of character, not by becoming an ascetic hermit, not by spending every moment doing good deeds.

All our best efforts to correct sin will only make it worse, because now we will be locked into the great deception that it can be done. We’ll end up down the road of denial, or rationalizations, or legalism, or antinomianism, or you name it.  But, God has a solution to the sin problem, His covenant of grace through Jesus.

The word “testament” in Greek means covenant: Old Covenant, New Covenant. God’s conditional covenant of law, the “old testament,” was fulfilled in the Messiah, Whose work on the cross, and His resurrection, inaugurated an unconditional covenant, the “new testament,” of grace. If the promises attached to the coming and work of the Messiah had been conditional, you and I could never have lived up to them. From Adam on down, people have been covenant breakers.

So, God established His new covenant purely on grace, the precursor of which is this rainbow covenant. That’s the amazing spiritual component to the sign of the rainbow. One day, the very elements that threaten storm and destruction, God’s cleansing power (often called God’s “wrath”), will become what transforms us into the stuff of life by the mighty work of the Holy Spirit, through the eternal work of Jesus, made possible by the gracious work of the Father.  

Because, filled with the Spirit, our faith anchored in Jesus, those storms become the proving ground of the inner transformation already at work.

The rainbow ends up being the longest section of this covenant, it’s where God put His emphasis.  Noah and his family had endured the loss of everything they knew. They had endured the hardship of living in the ark for over a year, wondering what would happen next. Would they have to live in there forever? Had God forgotten them? 

Now, God gave them every reassurance of His love and careful protection, and He gave something beautiful to sign and seal His promise. In the same way, Jesus’ sacrifice and the pouring out of His blood establishes the covenant of grace you and I can enter into, and the rainbow sign is the seal of His Holy Spirit Who enlivens and empowers us.

I look forward to that and let God’s beautiful sign give me comfort and encouragement.

God knows life is filled with tragedy. Sin is ugly, but God is the God of beauty, and in Him you and I can overcome these things.

At the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, God is sitting on His throne and all around is a perfect rainbow, not half an arc, but a whole circle, heaven and earth finally made one.

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 

At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 

And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald.

Revelation 4:1-3

europa rainbow | Robert Couse-Baker, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


Thanksgiving is one of the foundational principles of living by faith,

“Always be joyful, pray continuously, in all things give thanks, for this is God’s desire for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Years ago, I read a fascinating article called “How the New Science of Thank You Can Change Your Life.”  Apparently, scientific research has now been able to prove what God has been teaching people since the days of Cain: practicing gratitude can actually make us healthier – literally!!

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, was able to prove, in his lab, that being thankful can change us for the better. He took three groups of volunteers and assigned each group to focus on one thing:

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
All that’s wrong in life All that makes life better Ordinary life

1) The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong, or irritated them

2) The second group homed in on situations they felt made their lives better

3) The third group was asked to think about ordinary life events

After the experiment was over, the people who focused on gratitude discovered they were happier – in fact, the difference was so noticeable that others recognized it too.

  1. We’ll sleep better
  2. We’ll be more enthusiastic, more interested, more determined
  3. We’ll be less materialistic, less apt to connect life satisfaction with material things
  4. We’ll be more energetic and actually exercise more
  5. We’ll feel more optimistic and joyful, better resilience during tough times
  6. We’re more likely to share what we have with others
  7. We’ll have fewer headaches and colds and a stronger immune system
  8. We’ll be less envious, less anxious, less prone to feel the blues and less stressed
  9. We’ll be more alert and active
  10. We’ll be more likely to help other people
  11. We’ll actually live longer
  12. We’ll have closer family ties
  13. We’ll have a deeper spirituality
  14. And if we’re willing to stick to it, being thankful, practicing gratitude, we’ll realize we’re making progress toward our life goals.

Paul was no stranger to pain and hardship. He knew what it was to be hated, persecuted, beaten and left for dead. He did time in prison, dealt with chronic physical disability, and extended emotional distress. Sometimes, Paul was left holding the bag, when all his friends and fellow workers simply abandoned him.

There was a lot about his life that you and I might find hard to be grateful for.

So how could Paul even write this sentence to the believers in Thessalonica? How in the world are we to remain joyful and give thanks when the person closest to us has betrayed us? When we’re facing an incurable disease, or live with constant pain? When our hopes or dreams are crushed? When someone close to us is dying? When we lose something, or someone, and we wonder how we’re going to make it, now? When we are facing ruin, or disaster, or calamity?

Let’s look at what Paul wrote, again,

Always be joyful pray continuously in all things give thanks

But, you might be thinking, but sometimes it feels like God isn’t answering my prayers. Why didn’t God prevent this awful thing that’s happening? I asked Him to, I saw it coming. Why doesn’t God provide for my bills?  I work hard, I’m doing the best I can, but God seems not to care. Why won’t God give me a friend when I am so lonely?  I reach out, I’m nice to everyone. But here I am, still alone. Why hasn’t God healed me, or at least given me some relief from my suffering?

I’ve been on my knees, pleading with God in tears. I’m at my most vulnerable, and I feel like nothing’s happening. So what’s the point of praying continuously?

Here’s the point. When you have Jesus’ Spirit within you, then He is there, with you.

The Lord is here.

He is with us. His comfort, His strength, His compassion, His encouragement. When you and I pray continuously, we are remembering we’re not alone, and we can survive even this because God is with us, and in us. He has wisdom for this moment, He has courage and wherewithal for what we are experiencing.

Sometimes you and I are not asking the right questions and we’re not looking for the answers that God is giving. Sometimes the answer is something we don’t want to hear. Part of the reason is that you and I might be looking at prayer in a distorted way. We’re using the consumer mentality which has a list of things we’ve decided are good and we should have.

When God doesn’t deliver, it feels like rejection, doesn’t it.

Yet, God has our ultimate good, our eternal good, in mind, as well as God’s ultimate plan for all creation. Every prayer is weighed against this good.

So what can we pray, then? In a spirit of joyfulness, in a spirit of thanksgiving, when everything seems to be going up in flames? Can we cry? Is it okay to be sad, or angry, or afraid?

Thank You God by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Thank You for being with me.

Thank You for Your Spirit, Who gives me strength for this moment

For giving me wisdom

For giving me love

Thank You for giving my life meaning

And for giving all life meaning

Thank You for giving me the capacity to feel

For the capacity for sorrow,  I understand worth

For anger, I understand justice

For fear, I understand danger

Thank You that I experience all this with You.

Thank You for getting me through this

Thank you for the signs of Your love everywhere

For beauty in hidden places, and in bleak places

Thank you for being You

And for making me me.

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 8, The Ethiopian Eunuch

It must have been such a rich and glorious time for Philip, experiencing the marvelous work of God among His beloved, seeing Peter’s and John’s amazement and great joy in the work of the Spirit. Now, God drew Philip aside and asked him to start walking down a lonely desert road, to be scattered once again.

In Philip’s day Ethiopia was a much bigger region of North Africa, just south of Egypt, the same area that was once ruled by the Queen of Sheba. Tales of Solomon’s splendor must have been handed down through the ages and now a high official in the current queen’s court had taken a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see with his own eyes the celebrated temple of Jehovah, covered entirely in gold.  He had probably started out in life as a commoner, but showed a great deal of promise. As he rose in prominence, he was presented with an opportunity to serve in the royal court. However, in order to work in the palace, he had to submit to castration. 

Over the years he attained a position of great wealth and influence, finally to handling the queen’s entire treasury. Imagine his sorrow and regret to discover even though he was an important and honored man in his own country, he was not considered fit to enter the temple of God, because of his mutilated condition. This was not because of some later addition to God’s Law, by the way, as so much of the rule-keeping was in 1st century Judaism. This was not because of the oral law traditions, this came from the written law of God:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 23:1

Yet, he still hungered for closeness with God.

As the Ethiopian eunuch walked slowly back down the temple steps, his head hung in desponcy, his shoulders slumped with chagrin, perhaps some kind Christian noticed him and spoke a few comforting words from the Prophet Isaiah to him, a prophet often referenced by the apostles. It seems the Ethiopian eunuch actually happened to have acquired a copy of Isaiah’s scroll. Now, as he began his sorrowful return trip to Africa, he read from Isaiah 53, hoping against hope these words were for him, too.

By a serendipity only God can arrange, Philip and the eunuch met, and Philip knew the Spirit was prompting him to run up to the eunuch’s chariot, to hop inside and begin a conversation.

Yet, rather than start in on a practiced spiel of morality or religion, or whip out a pamphlet, or dominate the discussion with some other formula or device, Philip took the Spirit’s lead by meeting the Ethiopian where he was, in his chariot, reading Isaiah. Rather than begin a discourse, or start with his usual (so effective in Samaria) sermon, Philip simply answered the question the Ethiopian asked.

Who is this person being led to slaughter? Who is this one like a lamb?

I picture Philip’s face lighting up, overjoyed with the beautiful opening God had provided him. And, considering the believers’ warm familiarity with the Prophet Isaiah, I like to think Philip was even more delighted to see the scroll in the Ethiopian’s hands. I can almost hear Philip saying, after he had explained about Jesus,

Five hundred years before you would ever read them, God inspired Isaiah to write something especially for you to read, today.

I see Philip gently unrolling the scroll, still in the eunuch’s hands, just a little further down the parchment, just three chapters’ worth of space, a few inches. As I close my eyes and watch with inner vision, I see the eunuch softly reading the words out loud, his eyes filling with tears, and Philip beaming beside him,

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and do not let the eunuch say,
    “I am just a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord:

To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,

I will give, in my house and within my walls,
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 56:3-5

Prophetic words written during a time when it was utterly inconceivable for a eunuch to be accepted into the sanctuary of God.

This is a word for you and me today, who have, at one time or another, felt irrevocably condemned by something in our past, knowing with a certitude almost as hard-and-fast as Deuteronomy, that we don’t belong, that we have been permanently scarred or mutilated by something (or someone) unspeakable. Or, we know in our hearts it was us who did the unspeakable thing, and it can never be undone.

God inspired the writing of those words for you and me, too.

Yes, the Ethiopian, because of his castration, would remain ineligible to enter the physical temple in Jerusalem. It’s not as though the eunuch was restored to his pre-castrated self. He was to go back into his life as most honored treasurer to the queen. But God considered him worthy to be a living temple in whom God would put His Own Holy Spirit, as the eunuch put his faith in the risen Jesus. God made the Ethiopian into a new man within himself, the place that lasts forever, a process the Bible calls “regeneration,” or “rebirth.”

Being born again is not just “turning over a new leaf,” it is the beginning of a new life as a radically, supernaturally, renewed person.

The Ethiopian stopped his caravan as soon as he saw some water and asked Philip to baptize him, then “went on his way rejoicing.”

And Philip? He had proven himself ready to follow wherever the Lord pointed, and being especially attuned to the Lord’s voice, just the right person for God’s special missions. God had a new place to scatter Philip,

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away…

Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Acts 8:39-40

Ethiopian Eunuch | Uoaei1 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

What is the Point of 1 Timothy 2:12?

As a follow-up on last week’s post, I read an excellent blog about the Greek word “epitrepo,” often translated as “I do not permit” in 1 Timothy 2:12, but much better translated as “I am not allowing.” Thank you to Marg Mowczko for her invaluable help with my question, and for her careful scholarship in researching the uses of this word in the New Testament.

From here on in, I am going to use my own translation of 1 Timothy 2:12, regardless of whatever actual Bible translation I quote from, and I will always mark that I have done so:

And, I am not allowing a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.*

Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer’s translation of 1 Timothy 2:12

In studying 1 Timothy 2:12, I recently came across a very interesting and new-to-me idea in a proposal put forward by a scholar named Jeremiah Vance. I asked him to give me a little bit of his background, and found out he’s been through seminary, having majored in Hebrew while in grad school.  But, as a little boy he had already started learning Greek at his father’s knee.

Vance suggests 1 Timothy 2 was written using a chiastic structure, saying that as a Hebrew reader, it’s a pattern easily recognized, even (I’m presuming) when seen in a nonHebrew text such as 1 Timothy, which was written in Greek. In fact, he added, “Every chapter is chiastic except the last which is a pattern in the 5 chiastic chapters too, to parallel every verse except the last verse/paragraph as a tag on the structure.”

But, before I could even think about whether this chiastic thing makes sense, I had to look up what “chiastic structure” even means!  According to Wikipedia, “Chiastic structure, or chiastic pattern, is a literary technique in narrative motifs and other textual passages. An example of chiastic structure would be two ideas, A and B, together with variants A’ and B’, being presented as A, B, B’, A’.”

Intriguing, right? It almost looks like poetry structure, where words are chosen in a particular way to rhyme, where the rhyming is just as important, and sometimes even more important, than exactly the meaning or nuance of the selected words.

For example, if I want to say, “the equine animal was the obvious option,” poetically (well, or doggerelly, but let’s not split hairs) I might say, “of course, I chose the horse.”


‘Course/horse,’ with a phonetically selected ‘chose’ as a nice transition.

The very basic way you can try this for yourself is to pull back far enough from the text to see patterns—matching words, phrases, and/or themes. Some are more hidden than others, but from what I understand, this was considered a time-honored and appropriate way to structure a letter or teaching narrative.

I found a site created by a retired software engineer that helps students to discover, identify, and understand chiasms in biblical passages, because, as the author points out, “The center point of a chiasm in the Bible usually points to the passage’s emphasis.”

So, is there another way to understand what 1 Timothy 2:12 was intended to get across, by applying this chiastic structure tool to the letter?

Vance says there’s every chance. (See what I did there?)

In his words, as we were IMing back and forth on this,

Each chapter in 1 Timothy except the last (chapter 6 by design) is chiastic in structure like much good Hebrew literature. When the structure guides interpretation, the chapter and book read completely differently and it becomes clear that Paul gives the same instructions to both genders and is using Adam in chapter 2 as example of a shepherd that didn’t manage his flock which is his point in chapter 3.

“Here’s the chiastic structure of 1 Tim 2. It’s clear that Paul is speaking the same instructions to both genders regarding submission. Submission and quietness is given to both genders in verse 2. Also there is an additional chiasm in verses 10-15 regarding the Adam and Eve analogy:

Text Box: A: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people

     B: for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and    

          C: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a 
               knowledge of the truth.

               D: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

                    E: who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the 
                        proper time.

                         X: And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle

                    E': I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

                 D': Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or 
                       disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,    
                       adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

            C': but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

      B': A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. And, I am not allowing a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.*

A': For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who   
      was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they     
      continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Jeremiah Vance: Chiastic Structure for 1 Timothy 2:1-15 (NIV)

It makes for a fascinating rereading of the passage when you match up each of the pairs: As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es.

I decided I would do a little research of my own and see if other varieties of chiastic patterns were applied to 1 Timothy 2—I did find a few. Some split the chapter in half in order to (you guessed it) make 1 Timothy 2:12 the “X” of the structure, but that seems arbitrary to me, searching first for what one would prefer to be the “X” and working outwards from there.

So, I searched on and came across this site which arranged the entire letter of 1 Timothy into Chiastic Structures, and here’s what they did with chapter 2

Literary Structure of the Bible by Hajime Murai is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Citations of the Bible are from New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version and New Jerusalem Bible.

Finally, I found a scholarly paper written just last year (only 14 pages, so a relatively quick read) which arranges the whole letter of 1 Timothy in this way:

The author of this paper shows how the language used to describe elders is—for Greek—entirely gender neutral except for the saying that simply means “monogamous.” Paul stated being an elder as a good calling for anyone to desire, therefore must be granted only to those who live and teach truth in Christ.

The Implications of the Chiastic Structure of 1 Timothy on the Question of Women in Church Leadership
Mako A. Nagasawa
Last modified: June 1, 2018

If you notice, chapter 2 in the above paper houses 1 Timothy 2:12 in a discussion about how wives and husbands are to interact, not whether women are to be leaders in the church. In fact, he quotes two well-known complementarian theologians who admit 1 Timothy doesn’t necessarily preclude women from serving as elders, or in leadership positions. (Douglas Moo and Thomas R. Schreiner, look for the footnote on page 2).

The Chiastic Structure or Pattern shows a different emphasis in 1 Timothy, one in which proto-gnostic teaching was becoming a problem that must be addressed head on. Timothy was to make sure everyone was properly educated before they were entrusted with being deacons and elders, teachers and leaders within the church.

Next week I’ll be taking a deep dive into Bruce Fleming’s work

Catacombe Di San Gennaro Fresco | Wikimedia Commons

God’s Commission

God interacted with Noah’s clan at the altar, blessing them, commissioning them and covenanting with them. Our prayer life is where God is going to interact with us too, where you and I are able to hear the Lord’s voice speaking to us, blessing us, giving us God’s instruction and commission, and reassuring us of the Lord’s promises as we study God’s word.

God’s Commission:

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”

There is reason to believe that Adam and Eve’s descendants had so far failed to fill the earth, but had remained in the fertile crescent

The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.”

If there had been such harmony in the early days of creation, there was a question that had to be answered: why do animals now fear and dread people? Maybe God’s lesson here, is that humankind is not what it once was—lords of creation, made to have the animal world in loving, obedient subjection to benevolent human rulership. Love and trust would now be displaced by fear because of sin.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” 

When you and I ask God to bless the food we are about to eat, and thank Him for His provision, maybe we can also thank Him for the lives that were given up in order for us to be nourished. This thought has often prevented me from wasting food and has drawn me into the world of sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry. Lives are being given so my life can be nourished and revived.

 “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

God had a purpose for the blood of sacrifice, that it would be recognized as the life poured out for sin. Life is God’s domain. He alone has created life, and He alone has authority over life’s beginning and end. God has shared a limited authority over life with humankind, but there are boundaries and requirements.

Even if an animal’s life is taken, as permitted by God, you and I still must recognize the sovereignty and authority of God over life. The first time I studied Genesis God convicted me about how carelessly I killed little lives, ants, flies, spiders, and such. My eyes were opened to how each of these creatures is a beautiful little life, created by God for His pleasure.

The Lord has given me permission to have dominion over this little life, and so if I take the life of a creature, it must be with honor and respect to its Creator, and for a purpose I can defend with a clear conscience before our Sovereign.

“For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.”

Initially you can read this as God giving to Noah and his descendants a way to govern human behavior and establish a barrier to the kind of murder and mayhem that Cain’s line had initiated in the pre-Flood days. But, it is not intended to be that alone, because an animal’s blood was also to be shed if it killed a person, even accidentally.

So, more importantly, this early commandment identified every person’s life as sacred to God; only God has the right to take it. If anyone violates God’s right in this, the Lord says He will require a reckoning, and it is a terrible price.

I’ve been told this is where our death sentence laws come from, and why the United States is the last western nation on earth to still use the death penalty. It is from this sentence, right here, in Genesis, spoken to an extended family who had just witnessed and survived the most horrendous loss of life the planet has ever experienced.

One would think Noah and his clan were, by now, so sickened and horrified by the loss of life, they would have readily agreed to this commandment. They might have thought to themselves, “Why would God ever need to say this? We are so tearfully grateful for life, life is so incredibly precious to us. How could we ever imagine the taking of a human life? We hate even the taking of animal life.”

Jesus would later teach that even hating one’s brother (or sister) is murder in God’s eyes. So, I will be held accountable for hating in the same way I would be held accountable for murder. Because I belong to God, I can trust the Holy Spirit will convict me, in order to draw me into confession of hating someone, repentance of letting go of that hatred, and the holiness of allowing God to cleanse me of all hatred through the pouring out of His love and forgiveness into me and through me to that other person. 

This is such a hard teaching in our polarized culture, where our computers and iPads, tablets and phones burst into flames on a regular basis, where every one of us—whether knowingly or unwittingly—has acted as a troll in another’s story, and where each of us has also been wounded and torn down by another’s callousness, cruelty, or cutting sarcasm.

Somehow, hate and rage appears to have become our culture’s leading edge. As believers in Jesus, filled with His beautiful pure life by His Spirit, we are to become the revelation of His goodness and grace, of his compassion and love, when we respond to hate and rage with graciousness, empathy, and wise love.

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 8, Simon the Sorcerer

The church had been growing steadily for five years in Jerusalem, in numbers, in spiritual maturity, in power, and in diversity.

But now, triggered by Stephen’s assassination, the fiery young Pharisee Saul was forging an intensive, ruthless, violent campaign against the church. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to read that the church went into hiding, went underground for fear of their lives. But instead, they did the exact oppositethose who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.” the word for “scatter,” here, in Greek means “scattered in order to be planted,” like our word “sow,” like a farmer sowing seed.

It was a painful impetus, bringing trauma and tragedy to so many. Yet, though the Sanhedrin meant harm to Christians, God used this great wrong to bring about the saving of many lives.

Philip, like Stephen, was one of the seven Hellenistic deacons, selected because he was known to be full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. Bitter persecution now sowed Phillip to Samaria where he became an evangelizer.

Jesus had, in fact, laid the foundation five or six years earlier when He passed through Samaria Himself. Therefore, Philip’s mission was a very successful evangelism campaign, with a great response to the gospel, accompanied by many miracles and signs, and the signature joy that wells up in the hearts of those who put their faith in Jesus and receive Him into their hearts and lives.

God working miracles through Philip drew the attention of a powerful sorcerer named Simon. He was the proud resident magician of Samaria, even considered by many people to be divine, and he had a wide and loyal following. But now, Simon was losing many of his followers to the gospel of Jesus Christ, so he came to investigate this new phenomenon.

What he heard and observed prompted Simon to profess belief and be baptized. Yet it seems what really fascinated Simon wasn’t the resurrected Jesus. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. Scholars go either way, trying to understand what Luke was saying about Simon. Was he truly saved? Was he only pretending?

Meanwhile, news of the great revival happening in Samaria reached the apostles, still in Jerusalem. You see, though Jesus had been very clear about His intention for the gospel, so far it had remained a purely Jewish movement. With the gospel now going out to Samaria, there was a real danger there would be a split church, of Jews and Samaritans.

Peter and John, so often the leaders and forerunners among the disciples, were sent to investigate. When they arrived in Samaria, there was no question Jesus was at work among His beloved ones, and they joyfully acknowledged the Samaritans had been given the same gospel, the same faith and the same baptism. Now, Peter prayed they might receive the same Holy Spirit, being joined into the one church, the one body of Christ.

This was the kindness of God, to ensure Peter and John were there to see Him pour out His Spirit on these who were also His sons and daughters. They would return to Jerusalem as eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic instructions. Peter would be present again in Acts chapter 10 to see the kindness of God spread out ever further, embracing even gentile believers.

But, imagine Simon’s crushing disappointment when he did not receive the same rush of power and spiritual insight all those around him were experiencing with the baptism of the Spirit. What had always made him special, his renowned metaphysical potency, now seemed like parlor tricks compared to the work of the Holy Spirit. Envy began to seethe, like a dark flame, a craving stirred, and Simon found himself growing near desperate to have that spiritual energy, whatever it cost him.

What Simon did not seem to fathom was the personhood of the Spirit, He is the Spirit of Christ, not simply a magical power pack to be used whatever way you want. He is God the Holy Spirit. Being indwelt with the Holy Spirit is about being in an intimate love relationship with the Lord. The power to live by faith, for God, to be the conduit of God’s love, healing, and restoration, is all part of this interrelationship.

The Holy Spirit gave Peter unusual discernment straight into Simon’s heart, to show Simon the way back into the light.[1]

And so, plans to exterminate the church actually led to a huge increase in the church, proving God’s purpose is never frustrated.

Great persecution only led to a greater propagation of the gospel.

To a certain extent you and I are also scattered (really, sown). We’ve been scattered into our families, into our communities, into all kinds of life situations, and we’re not always in the places we want to be. Where you and I end up we might be facing difficulties in health, discrimination, career, finances, children, and more.

Yet, we must see ourselves as scattered seeds of the gospel, to be planted wherever we have been sown.

[1] Interestingly, early church historians such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius claimed Simon the Great, as he called himself, started the gnostic heresies. He was further attributed with having opposed the teaching of the resurrected Jesus everywhere he could, even making it to the Roman court and turning the Romans against Christians.

Paul, Peter, Simon Magus and Nero | Sibeaster [Public domain]

1 Timothy 2:11-12

Okay, before we get underway, here’s the Greek text, for those of you who read Greek and would like to glance through the passage:

1 Timothy 2:11-12

11 γυνὴ ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ·

12 ⸂διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ⸃ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

When you look at verse 12, you see the word αὐθεντεῖν. If you follow the link I embedded, there, you’ll see last week’s post which summarizes the scholar Cynthia Long Westfall’s translation of what that word means. Her conclusion, after exhaustive research, defines ‘authentein’ as “to use or possess unrestricted force or power.”

Now, as a second year student in Greek (not an expert), looking at the text, here’s what I see, as I translate it:

11 (a woman | in | quiet disposition | let her learn | in | all | willing arrangement under)

A woman is to learn in quiet disposition, in a full and willing arrangement of herself under [the instructor, or perhaps under the instruction].

This word, ὑποταγῇ, there at the end of verse 11, is a form of what’s translated as “submission,” but doesn’t mean in Koine Greek what that word has come to mean in English. In Koine Greek it always carries a sense of willingness, and of cooperation, making ourselves receptive and available to, placing ourselves under the protection of, sometimes.

In this case, it’s describing how a woman is to be in the classroom—being of a quiet disposition, and willingly receptive to and cooperative with the teacher and what’s being taught.

The part people often miss is that Paul wanted women in the classroom, learning scripture, theology, Greek and Hebrew, reading and writing, and presumably teaching and evangelizing, right alongside the men.

Just sit with that for a minute.

Paul wanted everyone, all believers, to have seminary courses, and to become fully equipped, fully mature, lacking in nothing, when it came to handling the scriptures. Interestingly, not everyone in Paul’s day felt they needed that—for example, people who already thought they had all the necessary training and learning. (I’ll get to that in about three weeks, stay tuned, that’s Dr. A. Nyland’s compelling work on this chapter.)

Here’s the next verse:

12 (To teach | and/but | to a woman/wife | not | I am yielding to OR I yield to OR I would/may yield to | nor | [to possess unrestricted force or power] | of/over a man/husband | but rather | to be | in | quiet disposition.)

And, I would not yield to a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.

I came across a surprise (to me) when I was working on the translation. The Greek Word Study Tool I was using gave me this for one of the words:


(Show lexicon entry in LSJ Middle Liddell Slater Autenrieth) (search)

ἐπιτρέπωverb 1st sg pres ind act
ἐπιτρέπωverb 1st sg pres subj act

This word, ἐπιτρέπω, in the middle of the verse, could be what Koine Greek grammar has as “present indicative,” which means I am doing this right now.

OR it could be “present subjunctive,” meaning it’s possible I do this, but it’s also possible I don’t. It’s in the “possibilities” box. It’s still hypothetical.

Here’s an example I got from grammarly, “We asked that he listen carefully to the directions.” It’s a suggestion for something to happen, but it isn’t actually happening, at the moment. Chances are it will happen. But, then again, it might not. It’s in the “possibilities” box. It’s still hypothetical.

Also, there are a ton of possible definitions for this word!

To overturn upon, turn over, transfer, bequeath, commit, entrust, leave it to, rely upon, leave to, entrust to, give up, yield, permit, suffer, give away, indulge, command.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s a lot of interpretation to choose “permit” or “suffer” instead of, say, “leave to” or “indulge.” A LOT of interpretation.

Okay , you Greek experts! Can we get to the bottom of this?

Also, there seems to be some idiomatic definitions surrounding the clause “not/nor” that might make it more emphatic? Like, “I would clearly not…nor” or “I would most certainly not…nor”? Would love to have you all weigh in on that.

What this second verse means is where we’ll camp out today, with Marg Mowczko.

First, here is how she interprets this verse 12 (I completely recommend you read the blog attached to that embedded link. I learned a lot, and it only took me about five minutes. Plus, you will get her very convincing reasons and translation/interpretation of the strange verses following this one, vv13-15.)

But I am not allowing a woman to teach (a heretical version of Genesis 2-3) nor to bully her husband (by denying him sex because of false notions of piety).


Mowczko has also spent a good deal of time researching the word αὐθεντεῖν. This time, the embedded link leads back to her technical analysis on ‘authenteo’ words, keying in on their meaning and usage during Paul’s time.

Many Bible translations will give ‘authentein’ some form of the word “authority” in its meaning, and it does seem, at first glance, that would make sense. After all, the Greek transliteration of the word and the English word look awfully similar, don’t they? Often there is a correlation like that between Koine Greek and modern English words, but not always. I’ve been fooled more than once trying to make that be an overarching rule while trying to memorize my Greek vocabulary words.

The word that means authority in the way you and I understand it in English is the Greek “exousia.” Paul used that word often enough in his other letters. He only used ‘authentein’ once, in this letter, in this verse, which already alerts us he meant something specific. In fact, this is the only place in the whole Bible ‘authentein’ shows up, and for the longest time, Bible scholars had to rely on “best guess” based on the context to figure out what Paul was saying, because the word itself was rarely seen anywhere else in ancient Greek texts.

In any case, Mowczko found that right around the 1st to 2nd centuries A.D., the meaning of ‘authentein’ was evolving into the sense of perpetrator or mastermind, from an earlier meaning that involved murder. A related noun, “authentia” was also coined around this time, that seems to have meant “sovereignty” or “absolute power.”

Mowczko did a deep dive with eight texts that contain the infinitive form ‘authentein,’ since that’s the exact word in 1 Timothy 2:12. It makes for some excellent reading, and her writing is very readable—she has the rare gift of making scholarly work engaging and accessible to regular people like you and me. And what she found, I think, is gripping.

I’ll give you her sum-up, in her words, but really, it will only take you a few minutes to read her research:

authenteō could have the sense of being powerful (P.Herc 220), of being the author (Aristronicus), of using force (BGU 1208), of rulership and dominance (in astrological texts), of self-determination or acting on one’s own (Moeris), and perhaps of murdering someone (scholion on Eumenides).

Belleville sums up and states that the meaning of the verb authenteō in Koine Greek is “to dominate, to get one’s way.” [Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority,” 216.]


In her final summary, Mowczko quotes Cynthia Long Westfall from her 2016 book, “Paul and Gender,” with the conclusion ‘authentein’ means to override another’s will by force, in ways that could harm them, in order to serve the agent’s self-interests. She also points out the often de-emphasized fact that Paul was speaking of “a woman” not “women.” Was he referring to a specific woman? Was he speaking in the abstract? Did he mean a wife with her husband?

In her footnotes, (look for number [49]) Marg Mowczko offers an intriguing theory that would make sense in light of Gnostic teachings then starting to gain traction in Ephesus and possibly also Corinth. (for more on this theory, read her provocative treatise, “3 REASONS WHY IT’S A WOMAN, NOT ALL WOMEN, IN 1 TIMOTHY 2:12.”)

Marg Mowczko also wrote a much shorter blog called, “Authentein (in 1 Timothy 2:12), In a Nutshell,” which  provides about a half dozen different sources for ‘authentein’ definitions. If you need a quick resource, this one’s great.

Having now spent some significant time with ‘authentein,’ and having established a convincingly dependable definition for this word, we’ll spread out to the chapter as a whole, with Jeremiah Vance’s chiastic model, before drawing back in to look more closely at the remaining verses.  

Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia I Laurentius de Voltolina [Public domain]

Mercy and Grace

Think of all that Noah and his family had lost as they went through the flood of God’s judgment. They were utterly alone, without home or possessions, friends or family. Did they have some sort of writing system then, scrolls with instructions on how to farm, do carpentry and animal husbandry, how to weave and make clothing, tan hides into leather, chip flint into tools, and so on and so on? Did they just know those things? Were any of them creative with artistry, to beautify their homes, to make music, and tell stories, to paint and sculpt?

Think of all they had suffered and grieved over, their sense of loss, their profound loneliness in this immense, newly empty world. And yet, Noah and his family were deeply grateful to God, even to the point of sacrificing from among the few, and therefore particularly valuable, animals they had left. 

Giving thanks recognizes the reality of God’s presence in the midst of life, and his control over the affairs of life. 

Your life and mine depends on the kindness and goodness of our all-powerful Creator. Listen to yourself as you say thank you today—how often will you say it at all? How many times will you say it to God?

Noah and his clan’s humble thanksgiving was a desire to worship and please God for God’s

  • grace, His undeserved favor, that saved Noah and his family in the ark.
  • gifts, all the creatures that were saved.
  • groundwork, dry land and an opportunity to build a new life.

There is reason to believe God had explained about blood sacrifice to Adam and Eve when He made skins for them to wear. Abel and Cain understood God would desire blood sacrifice as a symbolic expiation for sin. When Seth’s descendants began “calling on the name of the Lord” it must have included the kind of sacrifice that pleased God, a return to their old ways as given to them through Adam and Eve. Noah accepted without question God’s instructions to bring seven pairs of clean animals, those appropriate for sacrifice, which seems to imply an understanding they were to be used for burnt offering.

This was not a developing idea of God’s, though it may appear that way from the developing details in these first nine chapters. God had a plan from before time to expiate for people’s sin with the ultimate blood sacrifice. Here in these first chapters, the redactors of the fifth century B.C. were faithfully laying down the foundation for explaining why the shedding of blood would be necessary. Their original sources—now lost to us—surely came through Moses, as their  traditions of old asserted.  

Through sacrifices, God provided a sort of visual aid to help people understand the awfulness of sin, the price that it exacts and what would eventually be exacted of God Himself in order to fully satisfy the penalty for sin.  A person had to take a yearling lamb, without any blemish of any kind, lay their hands upon the head of the animal, confess their sin, and symbolically, the sin would be transferred to this innocent and perfect living being. They then killed the lamb, pouring out its life blood in a symbolic pouring out of one’s own life in payment for the sin—the judgment of death transferred to the sacrifice along with the confessed sin.

The experience had to have shaken the confessor, creating an indelible recollection of every awful moment tightly knit with their repentance.

From this account, we know God delighted in Noah’s thanksgiving and praise, and approved the sacrifices made by Noah and his family. God promised to hold back His hand even though,

The inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.

Genesis 8:21

Noah and his family carried within themselves the inheritance of sin, there was no getting away from it. Even in a fresh new world, to be filled with a fresh new humanity, there would be sin. Some warm to the largely comforting and hopeful philosophy that babies are born pure and innocent, and it’s the morally unhealthy culture, the surrounding society, that inclines us to sin. Others argue that to believe such a theory takes a person off the hook, my sin is always someone else’s fault, rather than owning we are born sinful.

But honestly, either way, whether by nature or by nurture, we can’t escape this ancient declaration. Every person is capable of and indeed culpable of a heart with sinful inclinations.

This makes God’s proclamation all the more powerful. Despite the truth of our own deep-seated blemish, God will deal with us differently.

I will never again destroy every living creature as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
    seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
    shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:21-22

No, instead of destroying sin in the earth, God will find a way to destroy sin by taking it within Himself, and by His very Godness make sin as though it never was. How?

By offering Himself as the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice for sin.

You and I offer our thanksgiving to God by believing Jesus, putting our faith in Jesus, and by entering into the reality of Jesus’ faithfulness to us.  Our thanksgiving offering is to lay our hands upon Jesus and experience the transfer into Jesus of all the guilt and shame that our sin has built up in us. Jesus has taken it all, and He has made you and me free.

Our thank offering comes in our willingness to be humble, admit our sin, and then release it up to God. When you and I do this, Jesus fills that inner, newly emptied place with His Spirit, His life, flooding you and me with His love and forgiveness and making us absolutely, freshly pure and clean. 

Then God will say to us, as well,

Be fruitful” by allowing your character to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s character.

Multiply and fill the earth” by giving this message of grace and freedom to everyone you meet.

Taken from God’s blessing to Noah and his family in Genesis 9:1

Image courtesy of

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 7, Stephen

The fulcrum of Acts’ cycle turns midchapter, as the explosion of growth in conversions began to affect even the inner sanctum of the temple mount itself. We read in Acts chapter 6 that “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” That must have rocked the Sanhedrin to its core!

Stephen, one of the foreign-born Hellenistic Christians, was on fire, and on a roll, as powerful and persuasive as any of the original disciples. Luke described him as “full of grace and power” and doing “great wonders and signs among the people.” Anywhere you looked in Jerusalem, if there was a crowd gathering, chances are that was Stephen, preaching and teaching, with God authenticating his message by signs and wonders.

Now, look carefully at the kind of people who began to join these crowds to strenuously contend with him—Luke wrote they “stood up and argued,” and later plotted Stephen’s arrest.

Do you see it?

Though Jerusalem had the temple (the only place where Jews could bring their sacrifices) there were still lots of synagogues: the Greek stem simply means “to gather together.” The Synagogue of the Freedmen may have been Jews whose families had once been slaves or prisoners of Rome, and had later settled in Jerusalem after being freed. Synagogue members were from North Africa (Cyrene and Alexandria are in Libya and Egypt, respectively) and modern-day Turkey (Cilicia and Asia). They, too, were foreign-born Hellenists.

There is one person, in particular, though, who will occupy most of the rest of Acts, whose hometown was located in Cilicia. Know who?

So, here is the cycle’s swing, prayer over the seven Hellenistic deacons, powerful increase in church membership, then opposition through the persecution of Stephen. The whole drama focused into a typical day when Stephen was teaching yet another rapt and growing audience. Suddenly, scribes and elders who had been stirred up by lies and slander (coming from the Synagogue of the Freedmen plotters), began pouring through the massive temple gates, down the grand stairway and out onto the plaza, where they abruptly seized Stephen and hauled him back up the stairs, back through the gates, and into the private chambers of the Sanhedrin council for trial.

Picture the scene. They accused him of speaking against Moses, the greatest of God’s prophets.

We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God!”

Then, they dusted off the false accusations that had gotten Jesus crucified.

“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.”

All eyes swiveled to glare at Stephen. With horror, they saw his face now radiated with supernatural light, purity, and power. Immediately, and ironically, it drew to mind the scripture’s record of how Moses’ face had glowed with the reflected glory of God, His Shekinah, whenever he had spoken face to face with the Lord of Hosts.

Then, with his face still shining, Stephen began his message. The charges against him were truths mixed with lies, so he began his defense by pointing out the great heroes of their faith. Abraham was a man of life-long faith who changed his whole life in order to obey God. Joseph was a man of faith who obeyed God regardless of his circumstances, even when his own family betrayed him.

Stephen spent most of his time talking about Moses, because his accusers had charged him with speaking out against Moses. Both Moses and Joseph had been rejected as deliverers, but they had persevered. The people rejected God, but God Himself persevered with them. Moses told the people to watch and wait for the prophet God would one day raise up for them. But what did God’s people really do?

Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of three things:

  1. They were resisting the Holy Spirit as they had always done.
  2. They were persecuting and killing the prophets, including The Messiah Himself, as they had always done.
  3. They were breaking the law of Moses, as they had always done.

The Sanhedrin was condemning Stephen for blaspheming against the law of Moses, but Stephen’s response was that God’s condemnation and judgment was on them for breaking the law of Moses and rejecting the truth about God’s Son.

It was not to be borne. “When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.” So overcome with a sense of righteous rage and virtuous fury! Here, clearly, was a case of blasphemy and heresy all rolled into one, a foreign Jew daring to come here and preach religion to them, the holy anointed judges and spiritual guardians of all Israel. A Hellenist having the brazen arrogance to tutor them in Judaism. And worst, to fling Jesus in their faces, that ragged itinerant street preacher.

It simply was not to be borne. As Stephen gazed into the realm of heaven, and began to describe the glory of God, and of Jesus standing at His right hand, perhaps raising His hand to receive Stephen, they frothed to a frenzy, surged forward and stoned him.

It was only the beginning of an extended and horrendous time of persecution soon to be led by a young man named Saul, native of Cilicia, hailing from Tarsus, in fact, a fervent Pharisee and champion of God.

Again, carefully note what happens: “the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Why? Why did the false witnesses, with their trumped-up lies, leave their things with Paul as they joined in the stoning? Add together Acts 6:9-14 with Acts 7:58-8:1 and you have the whole story. Saul was most likely one of the members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, his family having been granted Roman citizenship in Tarsus (a fact Paul would regularly return to throughout his life). When they sent their brilliant young gifted and talented son to Jerusalem, to study under the famous Gamaliel, they surely contacted their extended connections through the Synagogue of the Freedmen to secure a safe place for him to stay.

This fiery young phenom may have even led the delegation that “stood up and argued” with Stephen. His pride injured, and his sense of self-righteousness bruised at the unexpected failure of his arguments (I imagine Paul was not used to being outsmarted in a debate), the evidence supports Paul being the instigator of the secret plot to bring Stephen down.

And Saul “approved of their killing Stephen.”

Here was Saul, chief persecutor exulting over the demise of Stephen, faithful martyr. But who really had reason to celebrate?

Every trouble that it is met in the power of the Holy Spirit will result in spiritual victory.

Stephen, who had been steadily growing into the spiritual gifts given him by the Spirit of Christ, reached the apex of his spiritual maturity in those last moments, when the overlap of physical and spiritual realms became visible and real to him. He saw the glory of God, he was even reflecting the very Shekinah of Lord Most High, and he was personally received by Jesus.

It was his worst ordeal, his final ordeal, yet also his best, most glorious earthly moment. I think, for me, that means determining to see adversity and ordeals as opportunities to see the spiritual realm more clearly, and to expect God’s glory to be revealed in that moment, even in me. Growth is not the goal, it’s simply the side-effect. The goal is to incarnate Jesus, reveal Jesus, and to become ever closer to Jesus. This is life’s finest victory.

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