Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Closing a Chapter 2

Dear Romans 1

... Then we have about a ten year period where we know very little of what Paul was doing. Acts and Galatians indicate he was back in his home country, a region on the southeast side of modern day Turkey known as Cilicia. Finally, he was drawn to one of the most active Christian cities at the time, second only to Jerusalem. It was from Antioch in the northernmost part of Syria that Paul launched his missionary journeys recorded in Acts.

His so called first missionary journey took him and a coworker named Barnabas to the island of Cyprus then to the southcentral part of Turkey, or Asia Minor, as it was known at the time. Although we do not think so, many evangelicals believe that Paul wrote Galatians just after this trip. His "second" journey then took him to Greece for the first time, in the very early 50s. He would spend about two years in and around the city of Corinth. It was on this trip that most scholars think Paul wrote his first surviving letter, the one we call 1 Thessalonians. He may also have written 2 Thessalonians at this same time, a letter we will look at in chapter 6 of this book.

The mid-50s then saw Paul's "third" missionary journey, during which he spent about three years around the city of Ephesus. It was from here that he wrote 1 Corinthians and two other letters to Corinth that have not survived. Although many disagree, we also date Galatians to this period, as well as Philippians, suggesting that Paul's stay at Ephesus ended with an imprisonment that is not recorded in Acts. Paul then wrote 2 Corinthians not long after leaving the city, on his way around the northernmost part of Greece on his way back to Corinth.

We ended the first volume of this series there, with Paul on his way to Corinth again. He had first visited the city around the years AD50-52. He alludes to another visit in 2 Corinthians 13:1 that is not recorded in Acts. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 indicate that part of his trip to Corinth this time, perhaps his final time, was the taking of an offering for the less fortunate of Jerusalem Christianity. It is generally agreed that it was on this third trip to the city that Paul wrote Romans, the most complete expression of his theology.

We wonder if a comment in Romans 15 reveals a great deal of Paul's situation as he writes: "there is no more place for me to work in these regions" (Rom. 15:23). We know from 2 Corinthians 10-13 that Paul was still having conflict with the Corinthian church. He had earlier sent them a harsh letter from Ephesus, one perhaps so harsh that neither Paul nor the Corinthians preserved it. 2 Corinthians ends unsure of what Paul will find when he gets to the city (2 Cor. 12:21). It is striking that Acts 20:4 does not mention anyone from Corinth accompanying him on his way to Jerusalem with the offering he had raised for the poor.

It is also striking that Paul does not go back into the city of Ephesus on this final trip (Acts 20:16). If Paul ended his time there in imprisonment--if his brunt with death in 2 Corinthians 1:8 and Philippians 1:20-25 refers to this time--then Paul had even more reason to by-pass the city than simply being in a hurry. Paul's words in Romans, "there is no more place for me to work in these regions," may thus be full of pathos. He writes unable to return to Ephesus and its region. He has an uneasy presence at Corinth. Certainly he had many opponents in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:20-22) and perhaps even still at Antioch (cf. Gal. 2:11-13).

The long and short of it is that Romans seems to close one chapter of Paul's mission as he looks toward another. Paul is a church planter, not a long term pastor (Rom. 15:20-21), and he did not feel called to preach to Jews, but to non-Jews, Gentiles (e.g., Gal. 2:7-8; Rom. 15:16-18). The door had closed shut for Paul in Asia Minor and in Greece. He now looked west, to Rome and on to Spain.

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