Friday, August 17

Acts 28:1-16: Arriving on Malta, perhaps in mid-November, Paul and his companions must winter there until sailing again becomes possible in the spring, three months later (28:11). The apostle’s run-in with the snake, though regarded by the Maltese as miraculous, need not be interpreted that way. The Greek word here translated as “viper” (echidna) normally refers to non-poisonous snakes and is different from the word used in Mark 16:18.

Paul’s healing of Publius’s father, however, certainly is miraculous and leads to further healings on the island. When the time comes to depart, they once again sail an Alexandrian grain ship, which has wintered at Malta. Luke includes the detail that its prow is adorned with carved statues of Castor and Pollux, astral gods revered by the sailors who call upon them in times of storm.

They sail to Syracuse, on the east coast of Sicily, where they remain three days while the crew unloads old cargo and takes on new. They then cross over to a port on the Calabrian coast, Rhegium (modern Reggio), on the very toe of the Italian boot.

Taking advantage of a southerly wind, they then sail up to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) on the Bay of Naples, where they find a congregation of Christians. Some of these Christians immediately rush north to Rome, 125 miles away, to inform the Christians in the capital that Paul is on the way. The apostle and his company, meanwhile, spend a whole week at Puteoli, before continuing their journey overland. Eighty miles later they come to Appian Forum, and, ten miles further, to Three Taverns; in both places they are met by Christians who had been forewarned of Paul’s coming by the Christians from Puteoli. They are all glad to see him, of course. They may be thinking of the letter that he wrote them three years earlier from Corinth.

Saturday, August 18

Acts 28:17-31: Because he told them he was coming to see them (Romans 15:24), the Christians at Rome had had high hopes for his arrival. That was three years earlier, however, and those hopes had been lowered considerably by the rumor that Paul was languishing in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:22). Because the events at Caesarea the previous autumn, culminating in Paul’s to a higher court at Rome, had transpired so late in the year, precariously close to the winter, when sea travel and communication were no longer undertaken, apparently no one in Rome had learned of those distant events. We do know that the Jews in Rome knew nothing about them (28:21), so they gain their first information on the matter three days after Paul’s arrival in the city.

He invites the local Jewish leaders to meet at his lodging, where he is under house arrest (28:16-17). It is significant to Luke’s literary and theological purpose to record Paul’s last rejection by the Jews — the last of so many that he has recounted — in that very city which is the capital of the Gentile world, the city towards which the dynamism of this narrative has been directed. Paul is at last in the capital of the Roman Empire, the city so closely tie his and Peter’s destinies. It is precisely here that Paul declares to the unbelieving Jews that “this salvation has been sent to the Gentiles” (28:18).

Sunday, August 19

1 Timothy 1:1-11: As this epistle begins, Paul lays great stress on his own authority as an apostle (verse 1), because Timothy’s authority derives from his own. Here is one of our earliest illustrations of the principle of apostolic succession, in which those men appointed by the apostles (and who were very early called episkopoi, literally “overseers”) received their pastoral authority by a direct historical link derived from the first apostles.

Thus, Timothy’s pastoral authority over the church at Ephesus was rooted, not in the choice of the Ephesians, but in his personal representation of Paul. Paul pastored the Ephesians in virtue of the transmission of that authority. (The same held true for Titus in Crete, and so on.)

Timothy’s ministry at Ephesus involved a sacred stewardship of doctrine (verses 3-4), identical to what Jude 3 called “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Instead of “godly edification” in verse 4, read “God’s economy” (oikonomia Theou), meaning God’s plan of salvation, known by faith.

This faith is not possible except in a “pure heart” and a “good conscience” (verse 5); Paul never separates faith from the moral life. This internal moral quality is what was lacking in certain instructors about whom Timothy is here warned (verses 6-7), their heresy resulting from certain defects of heart and conscience.

The intellectual content of their heresy was a radical misunderstanding of the Holy Scriptures (verses 8-9). Those Scriptures, Paul insisted, can be correctly understood only in accord with “sound doctrine” (hygiainouse [“hygienic”!] didaskalia — verse 10). Holy Scripture, if left to individual and personal interpretations, is the source of all heresy. Holy Scripture comes forth from Christian doctrine; only thus does it become a source of Christian doctrine. In the present text Paul is appealing to “sound doctrine” in order to condemn someone else’s interpretation of Scripture.

Such expressions as “sound doctrine,” “sound words,” and “sound in faith” appear repeatedly in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9,13; 2:1,2,8). The source of this soundness is the Gospel itself (verse 11). This is described here as a Gospel of glory, because its essence is the glory of God shining on the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6); Colossians 1:27).

Monday, August 20

1 Timothy 1:12-20: Paul realized a providential propriety in the fact that the circumstances of his own life forced him, specifically him, to insist on justification by divine grace, independent of the works of the Mosaic law. He had experienced in his own life the final and deep futility of attempting to be justified before God by a strict adherence to the code delivered on Mount Sinai. After all, Paul had given his whole life to that adherence, and what did he have to show for it? To what did that adherence finally lead him? To blasphemy and persecution (verse 13). He became “the first of sinners” (verse 15), “the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8).

In Paul’s own experience, that is to say, the Mosaic law became the occasion of sin, not the means of righteousness. This personal experience of Paul is what prepared him, under divine providence, to become supremely the preacher of justification by grace (verses 14-15). He thus became the “pattern [literally “hypotype”] of those who are going to believe on Him” (verse 16). This is why he refers so frequently to his own persecution of the Church, as he does here (cf. Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 15:8-10; Galatians 1:13-16; Philippians 3:5-7).

This doctrine of justification by grace does not mean, however, that Christians are justified through “faith alone.” Indeed, the expression “faith alone” appears only once in the New Testament, and then only in order to refute the formula (James 2:24). “Faith alone” is not only not a biblical way of expressing the correct faith; it is also a very misleading and erroneous way of expressing the New Testament doctrine of justification.

In fact, real faith is never found “alone.” As here (verse 14), the word “faith” is normally mentioned with love as its expected companion. Paul never says “faith alone,” but rather “faith and love” (Ephesians 3:17; 6:23; Philemon 5) or “faith, hope, and love” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 13:13). Faith, taken by itself, not even if it can move mountains, is sufficient without love (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Nor is faith given to us in such a way that it can never be lost (“once saved, always saved”). The present text, in fact, speaks of faith as being lost (verses 19-20). Those two men who lost it Paul “handed over to Satan,” that is, excommunicated (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5). One of them, Hymenaeus, held incorrect views on eschatology (cf. 2 Timothy 2:17), while the second, Alexander, had contumaciously taught doctrines contrary to what Paul was preaching (cf. 2 Timothy 4:14).

Finally, how is the faith handed down? One of the most important ways of its transmission is through the texts used in sacred worship. In the present passage Paul quotes at least two such texts, in verses 15 and 17, both of them apparently lines from hymns already well known to the readers.

Tuesday, August 21

1 Timothy 2:1-15: Outside of the Epistle to the Hebrews, this text from First Timothy (verse 5) is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is explicitly called the “Mediator” (Mesites). It is very important to remark that the word is a noun, not a verb. That is to say, it indicates primarily who Jesus is, rather than what He does. In other words, the mediation of Christ between God and man is matter of His identity before His activity.

There is no doubt, of course, that Jesus “always lives to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25), but He is not our Mediator because He makes intercession for us. Rather, He makes intercession for us because He is our Mediator. His mediation is a matter of His being. He mediates by reason of who He is. He is the Mediator because He, being fully divine, fully shares the integrity of our human nature. He, the eternal and consubstantial Son of God, is “the Man Jesus Christ” (verse 5). Ultimately, He is the only joining link between God and man, not primarily because of His intercession, but because of His being.

To the thinking of St. Paul, therefore, this unique mediation of Christ does not preclude other forms of mediation, particularly the mediation of Christians on behalf of one another by their intercession for one another and for the whole world (verses 1-4). It is precisely because there is only one Mediator between God and man that Christians ought to pray for one another. Moreover, it is entirely proper for the saints to ask other saints to pray for them, as in the New Testament we find them doing (Ephesians 6:18-19; Hebrews 13:18). The mediation of Christ is the very reason that the saints pray for one another and seek one another’s prayers.

The mediation of Christ, therefore, cannot rightly be used to by-pass our seeking the intercessions of the other saints, in order to “go directly to God.” On the contrary, the unique mediation of Christ is the foundation of the social prayer of the saints, both in heaven and on earth, for there is only one and the same family of God found in both of these two places. The mediation of Christ establishes what theology calls “the communion of the saints.” This is why, in Holy Scripture, we repeatedly find some saints acting as go-betweens with Christ on behalf of other saints (e.g., Matthew 8:5-7; Mark 5:22-23; 7:26; John 2:3).

Wednesday, August 22

1 Timothy 3:1-16: The “overseers” (episkopoi) in this text seem not to have been “bishops” as that word came to be used near the year 100 and has been used ever since. That is the say, when the New Testament uses the word episkopos, the word does not appear to refer to the monarchical episcopate as the Christian Church has traditionally designated that office. When the word episkopos (Greek equivalent to the mebaqqer of Judaism) is used in the New Testament, it has the same reference as elder or presbyteros (the term that Paul uses in 5:17-19). Indeed, in Titus 1 and Acts 20, both words, episkopoi and presbyteroi, are used interchangeably to refer to the identical persons. In the present passage, then, Paul was referring, not to “bishops” in the later sense, but to those ministers whom we have traditionally called “priests,” a term derived directly from the Greek word presbyteros.

Does this mean that the ministry of “bishop,” as we have known it since about A.D. 100, did not exist in New Testament times? Not a bit of it. Indeed, Timothy was an example of what we would now call a bishop, and so was Titus in Crete. We find both men exercising that same level and kind of authority traditionally associated with the office of bishop, namely, spokesman for the apostles. The evolution of the ordained ministry from the first to the second century, then, was one of vocabulary, not of substance. That is to say, the traditional ministry of “bishop” was clearly present in apostolic times, even though the use of the word “bishop” underwent an evolution during the second half of the first century.

The requirement that the “overseer” (episkopos) or “elder” (presbyteros) in the Church be a “man of one woman” was not a prohibition of polygamy. That sort of prohibition would have been unnecessary, since polygamy was forbidden to all Christians. The text refers, rather, to any second marriage, whether a second marriage following one’s conversion (the situation addressed in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16) or a second marriage after the death of one’s first wife. In either case, a second marriage, according to the present text, is a disqualification for ordination. The reason seems to be a practical one, namely, it has to do with the sorts of domestic and social complications often attendant on a second marriage and the establishment of a second family. It is a practical application of the more general principle that a man cannot be expected effectively to pastor a congregation unless his own household is completely in order (verses 3-5).

Thursday, August 23

1 Timothy 4:1-16: The opening verses of this chapter are concerned with what St. Paul saw as a general apostasy characteristic of his own times. He believed that he was living in the “latter times” predicted by the prophets (cf. also Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 4:3-4), a view shared widely by other New Testament sources (Matthew 24:10-12; Hebrews 1:2; 1 John 2:18; 4:1-3; 2 John 7).

We believe, of course, that they were correct, because the “latter times” are the years that separate the first and second comings of Christ. We Christians do not regard these “latter times” as a period of progress, but as a season of trial, in which the faith of the saints is put to the test. All of this the Holy Spirit foretold through the prophets (verse 1).

It is not surprising that some of the proponents who followed “deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,” such as Marcion, Tatian, and the Gnostics, did not accept the canonicity of First Timothy!

It is important to stress that doctrinal aberration comes from lying spirits, demons of deception and mendacity (cf. 2 Timothy 2:9-11; 2 Corinthians 2:11). Such doctrinal aberrations include prohibitions against marriage and the full range of the human diet (verses 3-5), both of which prohibitions have been common characteristics of some dualisms in all ages. (One thinks of Augustine’s conversion from Manichaeanism, for example, and his subsequent fights with them.)

The word “reading” (anagnosis) in verse 13 refers to the public proclamation of Holy Scripture, a synagogue practice (Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-16) taken over by the Christian Church and continued to the present day. Such reading was followed by “exhortation” (called halachah by the rabbis) and “doctrine” (known to the rabbis as haggadah), that is, a sermon or homily that was both practical and expository (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology 67). For such ministry was Timothy ordained (verse 14; cf. Acts 6:6; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Friday, August 24

1 Timothy 5:1-16: Pastoring a congregation requires not only didactic discipline and skills, such as those treated in the previous chapter, but also social discipline and skills, because a successful pastorate involves dealing with a considerable variety of people and needs. St. Paul speaks of this variety in the present chapter.

Sometimes a pastor must reprimand, but the Apostle forbids him to do it with violence. Older men and women in particular are to be treated with a special deference (verses 1-2), a deference all the more necessary Timothy’s case, in view of his young age (4:12). Young men and women are to be treated as brothers and sisters. In sum, the Christian congregation is to resemble an extended family, and Timothy is to “conduct [himself] in the house of God” (3:15).

A singular care is to be taken for those widows who are wards of the congregation (verse 6; Acts 6:1). This is a reference to consecrated women resolved to live in celibacy, prayer, and Christian service. These, along with consecrated virgins (1 Corinthians 7:32-38), are our earliest examples of Christian nuns, pursuing a special vocation that has been with the Church since the very beginning. Like the pastors and deacons, such consecrated widows should have been married only once (verse 9), and apparently for the same reason. In addition to constant prayer (verse 5; Luke 2:36-37), those women were to work at a variety of useful ministries on behalf of the Church (verse 10). Younger widows, out of fear for their immaturity, were not to receive this consecration (verses 11-14).