Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Silas/Silvanus: Leader, Writer, Missionary

     Silas of the Acts narrative1 is Silvanus of the epistles2 (cp. Acts 18:5; 2 Cor. 1:19). Having more than one name in the ancient Greco-Roman world was fairly common (e.g. Saul/Paul, Tabitha/Dorcas, John/Mark, etc.). The name “Silvanus” is Latin,3 which is not unusual for a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37, 38), while the name “Silas” is Greek, evidently favored by the Greek Dr. Luke in his historical account. It is possible that the name “Silas” is simply an abbreviated version of “Silvanus.”
     Silas first appears in the biblical record in Acts 15, involved in the meeting of the Jerusalem elders and apostles discussing the circumcision controversy. He is mentioned with Judas Barsabas,4 both described as “leading men among the brethren” (v. 22b NKJV). Being a recognized leader in a congregation that has apostles and elders is pretty impressive.
     After discussing the issue and reaching a consensus under the Holy Spirit’s guidance (Acts 15:28), it was determined that Judas Barsabas and Silas would put the decision into writing on the group’s behalf (vv. 22-23). Note that the verbal form grapsantes is from graphō, which means to “write” (ASV, ERV, HCSB, ISV, N/KJV, WEB),5 although several English translations have curiously rendered it “sent” (ESV, NASB, NET, NIV, N/RSV, cf. NLT). Granted, Judas Barsabas and Silas were the letter carriers (vv. 22a, 27), but someone had to do the writing, and the verb graphō identifies these two men as the designated scribes.
     Not everyone in the ancient Greco-Roman world (even among the educated) was capable of writing, much less writing well. The typical procedure in these predominantly oral cultures was to verbally dictate information to a trained amanuensis (secretary) who was responsible for putting it into writing. Note that Baruch wrote for Jeremiah (Jer. 36:1-32), Tertius wrote for Paul (Rom. 16:22), and Silvanus wrote for Peter (1 Pet. 5:12, discussed further below).6 If multiple copies of the Jerusalem-conference letter were needed to send to multiple congregations (cf. Acts 15:23, 30, 41; 16:4), more than one amanuensis would be preferable. The point is, Silas (as well as Judas B.) was a skilled writer, a fact that becomes even more significant as this study continues.
     The document was hand-delivered and read, and Judas B. and Silas are identified as “prophets” who gave additional instruction as they “exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words” (Acts 15:27, 32). Here we learn that Silas (as well as Judas B.) was a divinely inspired and adept teacher, as well as an encourager.
     When the apostle Paul needed a new missionary partner after he and Barnabas parted ways (Acts 15:36-39), Silas was chosen to fill the void (v. 40). Evidently he was someone in whom the apostle had a great deal of confidence and is never depicted as a subordinate or understudy but as an equal partner. After adding a couple more teammates, the mission team headed to Macedonia (Acts 16:1-12).
     In Philippi Silas participated in preaching Christ’s gospel, leading to the first converts on European soil (Acts 16:13-15). It was Silas who was working with Paul when the two were apprehended, dragged before the magistrates, and accused of disturbing the peace (a very serious charge under Roman law!). They were beaten with rods and with many stripes, then thrown into the inner prison with their feet secured in stocks (vv. 19-24). “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25). The situation would have been much more daunting for Paul had Silas not been at his side.
     Later Paul and Silas together had the opportunity to teach the word of the Lord to the jailer and his family, resulting in more conversions (Acts 16:29-34). It is here we learn that Silas (like Paul) was an ethnic Jew and a Roman citizen (vv. 20, 37, 38). Silas also helped to evangelize the residents of Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth (Acts 17:1–18:5) – leaving behind established congregations7 – before fading out of the Acts narrative, only to reappear in the epistles.
     A relatively short time after Paul, Silas (a.k.a. Silvanus), and Timothy had departed from Thessalonica, they collectively wrote a letter to the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:1; 2:17), followed by a second letter not long thereafter (2 Thess. 1:1).8 Both documents are written almost entirely in the “we” form of address to “you” the Thessalonian readers. While Paul was obviously the leading correspondent, he kept his personal comments to a minimum in both 1 Thessalonians (2:18; 3:5; 5:27) and 2 Thessalonians (2:5; 3:17). Moreover, the implication of 2 Thess. 3:17 is that the actual writing of the material preceding the postscript was done by someone other than Paul himself. Seeing that Silvanus was both a prophet and an efficient writer, his contribution to the Thessalonian correspondence should not be ignored.
     Over a decade after his last known whereabouts in the biblical report, Silvanus reappears as the apostle Peter’s coworker. At the end of Peter’s first epistle, the acknowledgment is made: “By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written [graphō] to you briefly …” (1 Pet. 5:12). Simon Peter, an uneducated fisherman (Acts 4:13), partnered with Silvanus, a prophet and competent writer, in producing this inspired document.
     Beyond these few details, little else is known about Silas/Silvanus. The New Testament record shows that he was:
o   a capable leader
o   an inspired prophet
o   an encouraging teacher
o   a dedicated missionary
o   an invaluable coworker
o   a skilled writer
His writing projects included at least four biblical manuscripts: the letter embedded in Acts 15:23-29, the Thessalonian correspondence, and 1 Peter.9 His vital role in the establishment and spread of the early Christian movement cannot be denied, the effects of which are still being experienced today. How unfortunate that the extent of his work is often overlooked and underappreciated. May we be encouraged and motivated by his life of faithful service.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Acts 15:22–18:5.
     2 2 Cor. 1:19 [cf. 10:14]; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:12.
     3 Silvanus (meaning “of the woods” in Latin) was the name of a Roman deity considered to be the protector of forests and fields, including crops, herds, and flocks.
     5 Cf. Acts 1:20; 7:42; 13:29, 33; 15:15; 18:27; 23:5, 25; 24:14; 25:26.
     7 Cf. 1 Thess. 2:1-2, 13; 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 1:19. In addition to his initial evangelistic efforts, Silas’ ongoing follow-up work is indicated by his remaining in Berea (Acts 17:14), returning to Macedonia after meeting Paul in Athens (Acts 17:15; 1 Thess. 1:1; 3:1-2; Acts 18:5), and potentially remaining in Corinth after Paul’s departure (Acts 18:5, 18).
     9 For his potential involvement in the writing of Hebrews, see Plural Authorship of Hebrews Part 1, and Part 2.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

How does “Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers” Apply to Marriage?

     In 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 six words are used interchangeably: heterozugéō (unequally yoked or matched; bound together), metochē (a sharing, partaking; partnership), koinōnía (communion, fellowship), sumphōnēsis (unison, agreement, concord, harmony), merís (a portion in common, a share), and sugkatáthesis (agreement, assent, accord, alliance). With these synonyms in mind, it is apparent that more than mere “external association” is involved here. These relationships have agreement, unity of mind and purpose, and certain things in common. Paul is not simply addressing physical union or calling for spatial separation (“since then you would need to go out of the world,” 1 Cor. 5:9-13; cf. 7:12-13; 10:27), but the focus is on spiritual, mental, and participatory alliance (cf. Col. 3:2; 1 John 2:15). 
     The metaphor “unequally yoked” may have been borrowed from Deut. 22:10, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” Not only is a close relationship indicated, but Paul’s usage would apply to the binding together of beliefs, priorities, pursuits, activities, et al.1 He is forbidding unholy alliances with the unbelieving world.
     The reason given is a list of contrasting opposites: “righteousness” vs. “lawlessness”; “light” vs. “darkness”; “Christ” vs. “Belial” [Satan]; “believing ones” vs. “unbelieving ones”; “temple of God” vs. “idols.” Everything contrasted here with Christian values is peculiar to the unbelieving world, particularly mid-first-century Corinth, from which believers are to be cognitively and behaviorally separated. The Christians of Corinth are being reminded to make a complete break, not with all their associations in the world (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-10; 7:13-14; 10:27; 14:23), but with their idolatrous and sinful past (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; 10:7, 14).
     How, then, does “unequally yoked” apply to marriage? While I am a strong advocate of faithful Christians marrying only faithful Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39; 9:5), this is not what is specifically being addressed here. I would argue that it is extremely unwise for a child of God to marry an unbeliever, and I would counsel against it. As a disciple of Jesus, why would I want to spend my life with someone with whom I won't spend eternity? Why would I choose to marry a person with whom I can’t pray? Why would I intentionally prearrange for my children to grow up in a religiously divided home and likely be influenced to take the wrong spiritual path? Why would I purposefully marry someone knowing we probably won’t be going to church together and certainly not serving the Lord together?
     However, what happens when a believer marries an unbeliever anyway? Paul has already affirmed to the Corinthians that a marriage involving a Christian and a non-Christian, though less than ideal, is sanctioned by God and must not be dissolved (1 Cor. 7:10-14;2 cf. Matt. 19:6). Therefore, if 2 Cor. 6:14-18 is to be applied to a religiously-mixed marriage, it would mean that the Christian wife or husband must not be in agreement with or participate in the sinful behavior of the non-Christian husband or wife. Leading one’s spouse to Christ should then be a top priority (1 Cor. 7:16; 1 Pet. 3:1-2).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Contextually, because of the strained relationship between the Corinthians on one hand, and Paul and his associates on the other (vv. 11-13), the readers are being encouraged to correct their attitudes and behavior and to restore unity with God’s faithful ones.
     2 Those who argue that 1 Cor. 7:12-14 is directed only to couples already married are making an assumption not explicit in the text. If a believer goes ahead and marries an unbeliever anyway, would these directives still apply? Would it be sinful to enter into such a union but not sinful to remain in such a union? This is similar to the casuistic or case law (“if … then”) in 1 Cor. 7:10-11, where the order is not to separate or divorce (v. 10), but if this happens anyway, the Lord still has certain expectations (v. 11).

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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

God’s Ability to Provide – Above and Beyond the Peck of Pickled Peppers Peter Piper Picked

     The British nursery rhyme “Peter Piper,” first published in 1813, is a well-known tongue twister wherein an inquiry is made into the whereabouts of the peck (¼ bushel) of pickled peppers allegedly picked by Peter Piper. Because of the repetitious sequence of words beginning with the letter “P,” the rhyme is easy to remember and hard to forget.
     The literary device that repeats the sound of the first letter in a series of words is called alliteration, an example of which can be found in the original Greek version of 2 Corinthians 9:8. Paul is reminding his readers that God is “able” [δυνατέω = sufficiently powerful],1 but in what ways? Lost in English translation, alliteration is used (whether intentional or not) in driving home the point with a succession of seven words beginning with the letter Π (the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet, corresponding to the English “P”):
     πᾶσαν [all] grace
     περισσεῦσαι [make abound] to you, that in
     παντὶ [every] -thing,
     πάντοτε [always], having
     πᾶσαν [all] sufficiency
     περισσεύητε [you might abound] to
     πᾶν [every] good work.
I wonder if first-century Greek-speaking Christians got tongue tied while reading this text!?
     Note the circumstances (“in everything”), the timeframe (always”), and the extent (“all sufficiency”) of God’s provision. In the previous verses there is a proverbial reminder, “the one sowing sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one sowing upon blessings, will also reap upon blessings (v. 6), and then applied: “each as he purposes in the heart, not out of grief or out of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7).
     Under the new covenant of Jesus Christ, each Christian is to give “as he purposes in the heart” in proportion to his or her own ability (2 Cor. 8:12).2 The ultimate example of giving is God himself (2 Cor. 9:15),3 exemplified through his Son Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 8:9).4 Accordingly, disciples of the Lord are to give willingly, liberally, sacrificially, and cheerfully (2 Cor. 8:1-5, 12; 9:7),5 with the assurance that it is impossible to out-give God (2 Cor. 9:8-10).6 It is not the physical act of giving or even the amount given with which God is chiefly concerned, but the joyous attitude that accompanies the gift (2 Cor. 8:2-4; cf. Deut. 15:10).
     Divine blessings are not meant to be accumulated for selfish indulgence but to be employed for “every good work.” I pray that our awareness of this alliteration in Paul’s original text is as readily remembered as the exploits of the fictitious Peter Piper.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation, corresponding as closely as possible to the original wording of the text as far as the translation process allows.
     2 See also Acts 5:4; 11:29; 1 Cor. 16:2.
     3 See also John 3:16, 27; Acts 17:25; 1 Cor. 4:7; Jas. 1:17.
     4 See also Matt. 20:28; Gal. 1:3-4; 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Acts 20:28.
     5 See also Matt. 20:25-28; Rom. 12:1-2; 15:26-27; 2 Cor. 8:7-8, 11, 12, 19; 9:2, 5; Gal. 6:6-10.
     6 See also Matt. 6:24-34; Mark 10:27-31; Luke 6:38; Eph. 2:20; Phil. 4:19.

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