They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Dividing Wall

“For he (Christ) himself is our peace, who has made the two one (Gentiles and Jews), and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” – Ephesians 2:14-15

“When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)” – Acts 21:27

In 19 B.C., when Herod the Great began his most ambitious building project to rebuild the Temple to YHWH, he wanted everything done on a grand scale. The Temple enclosure that he built was the largest religious structure in the world at that time by two and a half times. It was 1200′ long North to South, and 900′ wide East to West and the Temple itself was fifteen stories tall. The Temple grounds consisted of five different courts; the Gentile Court, Court of Women, Israelite Court, Priest’s Court, and the Holy of Holies. By far the largest of the courts was the Gentile Court. The Gentile Court was 1200′ in length and surrounded the entire Temple area. It was paved with marble and was surrounded by colonnades on all four sides. This court was the Jew’s way of responding to the Prophet Isaiah’s decree five hundreds years previous, in Isaiah 56:3-7, that all the nations of the world would come to Jerusalem to worship YHWH and that his House would be called a House of Prayer for all the nations. It was not called the Gentile court because Jews didn’t go there, but because this was as far as the Gentiles could go in the Temple enclosure to worship the Jewish God.

A low wall separated the Gentile Court from the Temple enclosure itself. This wall was called, ”Soreq”, in Hebrew, and had thirteen openings in it to allow Jews only to enter from the Gentile Court into the four other courts. No Gentile was permitted past this dividing wall. “No Entry” signs were posted on the wall in three different languages. In fact, one of these signs in stone has been found and is in the Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. It reads, “No foreigner is allowed past this point on penalty of death”.

This fits perfectly into the story in Acts 21:27-29 where Paul is accused by the Asian Jews of taking Trophimus past the barrier and into the place that was for ”Jews only”. All this took place during the Feast of Pentecost, so the entire Temple area was packed with pilgrims coming to the Feast. A riot started and the Romans had to step in to save Paul from being killed by the mob.

Now re-read the passage in Ephesians 2:14-15. The words of Paul suddenly jump off the page as we see the picture he is trying to present. Was Paul talking about the Soreq? Jesus’ coming was intended to break down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles and do away with a need for the two to be separated.  This story is another great example of how knowing about the world of the Bible helps us to understand better the words of the Bible.

Affecting our Culture: The Riot in Ephesus

Read Acts 19:23-41

Ephesus Theater

One of the most fascinating places to visit in the country of Turkey is the ancient port city of Ephesus. Although only one third of the city has been completely renovated and restored, its ruins are among the most magnificent of the ancient world. Ephesus during the time of Paul and John would have been equal to our New York City as far as importance and proportionate size. It was one of the three largest cities in the Roman Empire (250,000 est. pop.) and was the major seaport that served all of Asia Minor. Writers of that day referred to it as the “crown jewel” of the Roman Empire. Several biblical events took place here. Paul came here on his second missionary tour and left Priscilla and Aquila to start the church there (Acts 18:19). Paul then came back to Ephesus on his third missionary tour and stayed for almost three years (Acts 19). John, the youngest disciple of Jesus, also came here and was the bishop for all the churches in the area. He wrote to the church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, chapter 2. Church history also records that Timothy was here and later became a bishop in the Ephesian church. In addition, most scholars think that Paul wrote the epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and 1 Corinthians during his three year stay in Ephesus.

If you visit Ephesus you will be able to visit the huge theater that is mentioned in Acts 19. This is the same theater in which the riot described in Acts 19 occurred. This Roman masterpiece held 25,000 or more people and is in remarkable condition, even today. To hear the story of Acts re-read while you are sitting in the theater where it took place is a very moving experience. Let’s look at some history and background that will make this story in the Bible come alive.


The city of Ephesus was the “neokoris” (temple warden, or for comparison purposes in English, the Vatican) for the worship of the Greek Goddess Artemis. The huge temple of Artemis was just outside the city and was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. If you wanted to worship Artemis you needed to come to her temple in Ephesus. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto (an illegitimate relationship) and the twin sister of the male god Apollo. She was known as the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, and was a protector of young girls, virginity, and women in childbirth. In Ephesus, her image was portrayed as a many-breasted, mother goddess who took care of her children.

Artemis Temple in Ephesus

A huge industry grew up around the Artemis cult and silversmiths and carvers made a large profit by making images and figurines of Artemis. Every year a huge festival was held in April to honor Artemis. Estimates of over one million people have been given that appeared from all over the world to attend the festival and ceremonial events each year. During the festival, an enormous procession of people, led by Artemis’ eunuch priests, went through the city with the statue of Artemis in the lead. Against this backdrop, let’s now look at the story of the riot that occurred in Ephesus.

God’s spirit had worked in such a remarkable way in Ephesus that large numbers of people were coming to believe in the Jewish God and His Son, Messiah Jesus. They were bringing their pagan articles and scrolls and burning them in front of the whole city. The Artemis craftsmen were losing all their business because no one was worshiping Artemis any more. The leader of the silversmiths guild, Demetrius, stirred up a riot and they drug some of Paul’s companions into the theater to work them over. The crowd was going wild, with some shouting one thing and some another. The Text says, for two hours they shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Finally, the mayor of the city was able to get the crowd under control and disassembled.

A couple of faith lessons jump out from this story. First, when was the last time that we got people so excited that they shouted something for two hours? By and large, we have little passion for Christ or spiritual things. Our church experience is usually ho hum; we go to Sunday School and church and then go home. We reserve our passion and excitement for sporting events! For the most part, we aren’t even bothering the devil’s crowd, we don’t want to stir the waters and cause a problem. Look at the chutzpah of Paul. He was willing to take on 25,000 Artemis worshipers! We need to be stirring the pot for Christ!

Another thought that jumps out at you is, “What business or activity of the devil is suffering because of our walk and testimony?” What industry (drug, pornography, etc.) are we shutting down because of our impact? What effect is is our personal influence having on the dark side? As Christian businessmen, what are we doing when evil comes to our city in the form of gay pride parades, etc? Can we even have an impact on our city and our state? All these are sobering thoughts that come out of this moving story of one man’s impact on a city and culture. May God give us the courage to be the kind of testimony that we need to be in a world that is dark and full of the same kinds of things that were going on in Ephesus.

The Temple to the Unknown God; Paul in Athens

Ref . Acts 17:16-34

The Parthenon in Athens

On Paul’s second missionary tour, he decided to go alone to the most famous of the ancient Greek cities, Athens. Named after the patron Greek goddess Athena, Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, with recorded history of over three thousand years. During the time period that Paul would have visited Athens (50-51 CE), it probably had a population of fifty to seventy five thousand people and was home to many of the great Greek thinkers of the day. The city prided itself on being intellectual and had several buildings where the leading men of the city debated the great theological ideas of the time.

The city of Athens was absolutely full of temples to the various Greek gods. An ancient proverb said, “In Athens, there are more Gods than men”. There were temples to at least twelve different gods, plus hordes of statues to lesser deities throughout the city. The main attraction in Athens was the acropolis, the highest point in the city. On top of the acropolis stood one of the most magnificent structures in antiquity, the Parthenon. Already over four hundred years old when Paul would have seen it, it was one of the most famous temples in the world. With a height of over 50′ and 70 beautiful marble columns, it could be seen for miles in every direction. Inside the temple stood a forty foot statue of the goddess Athena.

With this backdrop, Paul began to debate with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, trying to convince them that YHVH was the one true God and that his son Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. Paul was taken to a meeting of the Aeropagus, a prestigious council of the elders of Athens. Here, he was asked to present his case to explain to them about this Jewish God and the claim of His resurrected Son. In Acts 17:22, Paul stands up to address the men of the Aeropagus. What follows is one of the most amazing exchanges in all of the Bible. When you read the verses, read them as if a member of the Aeropagus had just asked Paul this question – ”We are not familiar with this particular deity that you talk about sir, tell us again what he is called and where may his temple be found?” Paul then tells them,(paraphrasing) “I perceive that you are very religious here in Athens because I have walked around and seen all the temples and statues to your gods. I even found one that had an inscription to an unknown god. Well let me tell you who this unknown god is….. It is YHVH and He is the one who made the world and everything in it and He’s is much too big to live in a mere temple like these that are made with human hands!”

Then Paul does something in Acts 17:26-28 that really gets their attention. Instead of quoting to them from the Hebrew Scriptures to try to convince them, Paul quotes from their own Greek poets to describe the creator of the universe. He gives lines from two of their well known scholars, Epimenides and Cleanthes to present YHVH as the creator of all, giver of all, and ruler of all nations and all of history. He used their philosopher’s own words to support his claims! Then to sum it up, Paul tells these great intellects that his God is not some object made of gold or marble to look like man’s image, but that He is much bigger than a mere statue and is immortal, invisible, indescribable, and His name is unspeakable! Then Paul tells them that in the past they were ignorant of this and God overlooked it, but now that I am telling you the truth, you must repent! There is a day coming and you will be judged!

What was their reaction? Some sneered at Paul and some said,”We’ll hear more later”. It also says that a few men believed. In all, Paul doesn’t get run out of town like he usually does, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of big changes in the hearts of the people of Athens. There is no other written evidence that Paul ever returns to Athens. Paul may be speaking to these same type of people when he wrote to another Greek city in 1 Corinthians 1: 20-31, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”.

A Walk Through Galatia

Lyaconia and Galatia

Most scholars believe that the apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to the churches that he founded in that Roman province in Asia Minor on his first missionary journey in 45-47 A.D. Those churches were the ones he started in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as chronicled in Acts 13 and 14. Also, a majority of scholars think that Galatians was the very first book written of all the New Testament canon, possibly in 48 or 49 A.D., even before any of the four gospels were written down.

The book of Galatians has always been thought of as the premier work on the gospel of grace; that man is justified and saved only by faith in Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing that he can do to earn his salvation. Galatians 2:16 says, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we too have put our faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians if often referred to as, ”Luther’s book”, because Martin Luther relied so strongly on this book to refute the prevailing theology of his day. It is obviously a book worthy of our study and debate. What was it like in the province of Galatia during the time Paul and Barnabas made their fist trip there? What did they find and what were the people like when they visited these first churches to give them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let’s take a walk through Galatia and see if we can unlock some of the secrets of this marvelous book.

It’s hard to put into words or even on paper how being in the land of the Bible widens your perspective and understanding of the gospel text. Nowhere was this more evident than the two days we spent walking through the huge rural province of Galatia. Each day we were let off our bus in the middle of nowhere and spent the entire day walking and following our guide through the rural countryside. As best we could, we tried to follow the route that we thought that Paul and Barnabas would have taken as they walked to Pisidian Antioch from the coast, and then on to Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. Also, Paul came back through these same cities on both his second and third missionary tours. Amazingly, all four locations have been found and most have been archaeologically excavated at least to some degree. The whole area is very mountainous and remote even today and certainly even more so in Paul and Barnabas’ day. In two days of walking, we only came upon 3 or 4 rural villages. Just feeling the remoteness of the area with your boots was a real eye opener. Even the names of the land suggest how remote and rural the country side is. For example, Lycaonia, where Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, means “wolf land” and today is the home of the world famous sheep protecting dog, the Kangel. We saw these huge canines, but kept our distance, as they tended their flocks of goats in the rugged mountains. We began to get a feel for the people and the land as we observed the native Galatians in their home environment. A highlight of the trip was being invited to eat lunch with the townspeople of a local village, by the mayor of the town himself. Seated in the one room village school, we ate a simple but wonderful meal of home grown vegetables, fruits, and breads that they prepared for us. We spoke to them through an interpreter and they seemed so happy to have us as their guests.

We also learned many other lessons of the land. We stood in the remains of the synagogue at Antioch and read from the Bible Paul’s speech that he gave to the Jews and Gentiles that had gathered there to hear him speak (Acts 13:14-48). We had a faith lesson in a sheep fold (See “Kingdom of Heaven is Forcefully Advancing”) and sat under a linden tree near Lystra and heard the story (See “The Gods are Back!”). Also, we stood on top the tel of Lystra and heard the inspiring story of Timothy (See Timothy the Unlikely Disciple, Part 1Part 2, and Part 3). All of these stories are wonderful examples of how understanding the history and culture of the area makes such a difference in understanding these Bible stories. As we walked and read the scriptures in the land they were written to we began to wrestle with the idea of grace vs. works. What was Paul trying to say as he wrote to this group of rural and remote people? In our next session we will attempt to grapple with this age-old struggle in the church. Which one is it, or is there a way to reconcile the two?

Timothy, the Unlikely Disciple: Conclusion

Rembrandt's Timothy and his grandmother

In our first two lessons on Timothy we did a biographical sketch of his life and background to try to determine what made Paul pick him as one of his disciples. Although Timothy was an unlikely candidate to be a disciple because of his heritage and the surroundings he was brought up in, he nevertheless became not only a disciple of Paul, but one of the great pillars of the Christian faith. Once Timothy left his home and family in Lystra to follow Paul, what happened to him? Where did he go and what did he do in the succeeding years? The New Testament Scriptures give us some fascinating snapshots as to what life was like for this young man from nowhere as he followed his rabbi, Paul to the ends of the earth, making disciples in the name of his Messiah, Jesus.

Immediately after leaving his hometown of Lystra and the province of Galatia in which he grew up, Timothy went with Paul to Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 17: 14-15 and Acts 18:5). From what we can tell from Scripture he was with Paul for all of his second missionary journey as they went on to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus (Acts 17 and 18). When Paul took his third missionary journey, Timothy went with him as his aide. He stayed for most of the two and one half years that Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Timothy then traveled again with Paul to Corinth, back to Macedonia, Philippi, and back to Asia Minor (Acts 20:1-6).

When Paul was first imprisoned in Rome, Timothy was there as his friend (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, and Philemon 1:1). These epistles written to these cities were all penned while Paul was in prison in Rome. After Paul was released from prison, Timothy again traveled with Paul. At Paul’s request, he stayed in Ephesus to lead the church there (1 Timothy 1:3). Church tradition says Timothy later became the bishop of the church in Ephesus.

Timothy was the co-sender of six of Paul’s letters to the New Testament churches. Listen to the admiration of Paul for Timothy in Philippians 2:19-22:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

Paul often calls him, “my beloved son” and “my true son in the faith”. Based on the above quote, Timothy was certainly Paul’s adopted son in the faith.

At the end of his life Paul asks Timothy to join him in Rome (2 Timothy 4:9 and 2 Timothy 4:21) because he wants to see him before he dies. Like his rabbi, Timothy is also put into prison for his beliefs and his association with Paul (Hebrew 13:23). All this is not a bad resume for a backwoods boy from Lystra who was dealt a bad hand early in life. He was told that he was a “momzer”, an outcast, and that he had no chance to do anything in life. But, he had a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God chose him to be one of his disciples. If God can use Timothy, he can use each one of us. We are all without excuse. All it takes is a fire in the chest and a willingness to try to be like our rabbi.

If not now, when?

Timothy, The Unlikely Disciple: Part Two

From the study in our first lesson, we learned that Timothy’s mother, Eunice, was a Jewess and a believer, but Timothy’s father was a Greek. We will never know the story behind this relationship. Why did Eunice marry a Greek? Why did this devout Jewish woman get involved with a non-believer? From a twenty-first century perspective that doesn’t sound like anything that would be a real problem. We tend to think of it more like marrying someone from a different faith or maybe a mixed racial marriage, both of which are fairly common to us today. But, in first century Judaism, the consequences of a Jewish woman having a child by a Greek man were enormous. Deuteronomy 23:2 says, “No one born of a forbidden marriage, or his descendants, may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation”. Timothy was a product of a forbidden marriage! As a Jewish baby he should have been circumcised on the eight day, but Acts 16:3 says that he was still uncircumcised. Because of the Deuteronomy passage, his rabbi would not have been able to circumcise him. Timothy would have definitely been different than his Jewish playmates. He would have been ostracized and singled out by other Jewish families – cut off from God’s covenant family. In fact, he would have been called a “momzer”, which is a Jewish slang word for a bastard. Jews weren’t even supposed to eat with a Gentile, enter their home, or engage in commerce with them. Through no fault of his own, Timothy would have been an outcast and made fun of by the people of his village. He would not have been educated at synagogue school with the other Jewish boys. He would not have been able to read Torah with them or participate with them during any of the Jewish festivals. When it was time for him to marry, he would not have been able to marry a Jewish girl, only another momzer or a Greek. Because of his mother’s sin, Timothy was seemingly destined to be on the outside, looking in, for the rest of his life. Somehow, though, Timothy was able to rise above this label of an outcast as we will see from other references. He must have had a fire in his chest, a difference that let him overcome his handicaps in life.

Paul, when he wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5 said, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother, Eunice, and I am persuaded now lives in you also”, and in 2 Timothy 3:14-15, said, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from who you have learned it, and how from infancy you learned the Holy Scriptures…” How did he learn and receive this strong faith that Paul saw? The father was always the head of the Jewish home and was responsible for teaching the children Torah (See Deuteronomy 6:1-8). Unfortunately, Timothy’s father would have never filled that role. Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice must have been awesome teachers and must have had great knowledge of the Holy Scriptures that they were able to pass on to Timothy. Since he probably didn’t have access to scrolls, he must have memorized huge portions of the Text from his mother and grandmother. He must have been a quick learner and very smart. Acts 16:2 says that Timothy was well thought of by the brothers in both Lystra and the neighboring town of Iconium. Somehow, with all the cards stacked against him, he had risen above the obstacles of his early childhood.

Every Jewish boy’s dream was to be able to study under a famous rabbi. By the age of 15, most boys were relegated to learning the family trade. Only a few of the best and brightest were able to continue their studies with a rabbi. With Timothy’s background, it was only a pipe dream to think that he would have a chance to be asked to study with a rabbi. Then rabbi Paul comes back through Lystra again! Why? Is it possible that he was thinking about that young boy with a fire in his chest that he met a couple of years ago? Can you imagine the expression on Timothy’s face when Paul asked him, ”Come follow me. I think you can be like me.” Can’t you see Timothy running to tell his mother and grandmother? “I’ve been picked by rabbi Paul! He wants me to follow him!” Never in Timothy’s wildest imagination did he think that he would get to be a disciple of a rabbi like Paul! He was a “momzer”, an outcast! Timothy was an unlikely candidate for a disciple. He wasn’t supposedly qualified for a leadership role. Yet, Paul saw something in Timothy, a perseverance, a “never quit” attitude in the face of unfavorable obstacles, that made him think that Timothy could be what it took to be a disciple of Rabbi Jesus. Timothy not only became a follower of Paul and Rabbi Jesus, but he became one of the key figures in all of Christianity. To see what heights Timothy rose to, part three of our study will next look at Timothy’s life as he attempted to be like his father in the faith, Paul.