Sunday, December 28, 2008

Was The Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) The Rich Young Ruler? (3)

Read all posts on this idea here.

After posting part 2 of this series last night, and reviewing comments left by a reader named Chadwick, many new angles to this idea popped into my head and I had a hard time sleeping. After church today I hit up my pastor with a theological question. I occasionally broadside him with something theological out of the blue, so he humorously braced himself. "Is there a reason you know of off the top of your head that prohibits the rich young ruler from being Saul of Tarsus?" His reply floored me. He was just discussing this very thing with his wife last night!

So, here I'm going to outline what I suspect so far as briefly as I can, and I will include my new thoughts. I may save detailed explanations until later. So, here goes...

A few years ago I started wondering about the Apostle Paul's past. Where did he come from and why did he persecute the church so much? Specifically, since he is first mentioned in the bible as Saul of Tarsus who was standing by during the stoning of Stephen, could he have been both alive and in Jerusalem during Christ's ministry? The early happenings in the book of Acts occurred just weeks or months after Christ's death, and revolved around the temple in Jerusalem. If so, would he ever have had occasion to meet Christ? He was after all a Pharisee, and the Pharisees spent much time in Jesus' face as He ministered. Specifically, I wondered (I don't know why) if he could have been the rich young ruler that asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. People just don't wake up one morning and decide to persecute followers of a religion, so Paul would have had a good understanding of Christianity and a fairly large chip on his shoulder to persecute it the way he did.

The rich young ruler encounters Jesus in the passage of Matthew 19, asking him how to inherit eternal life. When Jesus replies that he needed to keep the commandments, he asked which ones. Jesus read the second table and its summary, to love one's neighbor. But he purposely left out the tenth commandment against coveting, which was the rich young ruler's problem. Rather than picking up on this, he used his own keeping of Jesus' list to justify himself. Jesus told him to sell all and give to the poor and follow Him. He left disappointed because he owned much. But after the rich young ruler leaves, Jesus and His disciples continue to talk about him. He is the context for the subsequent conversation.

Jesus said to His disciples that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The context here was... the rich young ruler. In fact, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter. The context here was... the rich young ruler. The disciples asked then who could be saved, if a rich young ruler couldn't. Jesus' reply was "With men this is impossible..." This is in reference to the man who just claimed to have kept all the commandments, the context here being... the rich young ruler. By now you might be noticing a pattern here. Each statement has as its context Jesus' interaction with the rich young ruler. I believe this pattern continues throughout the discussion. Jesus continued with, "...but with God, all things are possible." Now, contrary to many commentaries I've read about the rich young ruler leaving Christ for good, and God never desiring to save him because of his attempt at salvation by law, I'm now convinced that Jesus might be secretly prophesying to His disciples that this young man who they just heard would in fact enter the kingdom. There is grace even for him. So when Jesus said that all things are possible with God, the context was... the rich young ruler.

The reason I believe this is because the very next statement by Peter has, again, as its context... the rich young ruler. He said, "Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What then will there be for us?" Jesus just said the same thing to the rich young ruler, selling everything and following Him; he is still the context. Now for the exciting part. In answering Peter, Jesus told them about the kingdom, " also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Okay, there's a minor glitch here that the disciples didn't know about yet. Only eleven of them would sit upon the thrones. Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus and commit suicide. A substitute apostle would need to be selected (personally by Christ, like the others, and not by men casting lots - sorry, Matthias). Since the context hasn't changed yet, why should we expect it to change right now in the middle of Jesus' discussion? The context would still be... the rich young ruler. Yes, the rich young ruler, whom the disciples just met a few minutes ago, would be the twelfth apostle to sit on the thrones. This apostle would later be recognized as Paul. Jesus then concludes this section of His discussion with something very interesting. "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." Interesting indeed, if just like throughout the entire discussion so far the context is still... the rich young ruler. This rich young ruler would be the last apostle appointed by Christ, yet in some way would be first. It is necessary to point out that Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, and wrote the majority of epistles in the New Testament. He is the poster child for persecution and the major player in hashing out major doctrines. He is the key instigator of church planting, and writes extensively about church life and his relationship to the churches in the New Testament. He has become an apostle of first importance.

Now I'd like to back up and discuss how the rich young ruler encountered Christ. Matthew 19:16 says, "And behold, one came to Him and said, 'Teacher...' " But just before this (the first half of Matthew 19), Jesus had an encounter with the Pharisees that ended with, "And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there." It seems most likely to me that the rich young ruler wouldn't have come out of nowhere to meet Christ just after He left the place where He talked to the Pharisees. The rich young ruler would most likely have been one of the Pharisees interacting with Jesus, who then followed Jesus when He left and asked his question shortly thereafter. It is human nature for the most inquisitive among us to follow an authority figure out after his speech to engage in a smaller Q and A session. Saul was a Pharisee, so if he were the rich young ruler, he would fit this account.

More evidence for me that this is true comes from very striking parallels between topics in Matthew 19 and in Paul's writings in Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7. When we encounter several things together in important events in life, we have a tendency to repeat those things together when we tell other stories or make certain points later on in life. First, Jesus pointed out to the rich young ruler that coveting was his problem. Paul mentions in Romans 7 that coveting was his problem. It is the only commandment of the Law that he says that about. Now, if Saul were present at Jesus' discussion in the first part of Matthew 19, he would also have heard Jesus discuss God's Law with respect to marriage and divorce. A discussion of marriage laws followed by a discussion of the law against coveting. How coincidental, then, that in Romans 7 Paul discusses God's law concerning marriage followed by his own struggle with the law against coveting. Paul personalizes coveting, which is what Jesus was pointing out to him. Coincidence? Or is the rich young ruler the one and same as the Apostle Paul? He would be recalling his encounter with Jesus - a life changing one at that - in his writings to others.

Another parallel occurs between Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. After Jesus discusses marriage according to God's Law, noting that Moses' inclusion of a divorce clause in the Law was only for the purpose of showing grace to those who were burdened with a marriage to heard hearted people, His disciples question whether it would be good to never marry. Jesus' response is mystical and personal. "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given...there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." Paul was unmarried. Hmmm. In Matthew 19, Jesus combines talk of marriage with talk of remaining single for the sake of the kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul combines talk of God's law regarding marriage with talk of remaining single for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus' reply to His disciples would also have been a personal message to a listening Saul that Saul would use years later in writing to a church. Additionally, when Paul writes, "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord..." and, "But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever...", I believe he has his personal encounter with Christ in mind. Jesus gave instructions that divorce shouldn't happen. Paul would have been there to hear this command directly from Jesus. This is why he could say, "...I give instructions, not I, but the Lord" because he was there that day to hear it directly from the Lord's mouth. But, when he says, "But to the rest I say, not the Lord...", he means that Jesus didn't teach that day on what to do in case you are married to an unbeliever. Jesus came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and not to the Gentiles. Marriages that Jesus would have come in contact with would have been between two members of the covenant. He ministered in Judea. Paul now had to deal with Gentile marriages where one became a Christian. He was now proclaiming his authority as an apostle to state that there should still be no divorce if the other party desired to remain.

One last thing. Matthew 20, a continuation of the discussion in Matthew 19, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Jesus pointed out that the first laborers who were paid last shouldn't be envious because the late comers were paid first. They were simply getting what was agreed to earlier. This could have been a lesson to the eleven to not be envious of Paul who arrived last, thus working fewer hours.

Okay, I'm pretty certain given all this that the rich young ruler was Saul of Tarsus who would later become the Apostle Paul. The coincidences are simply too freaky to me to suggest otherwise. All comments are welcome and especially solicited. More later?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Was The Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) The Rich Young Ruler? (2)

Over the last few years I have compiled a small number of fascinating pieces of circumstantial evidence that suggest that the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was the rich young ruler spoken to by Jesus in Matthew 19. I've already written short posts about a few pieces of evidence here and here. Take a minute to read them before proceeding.

With Paul alive at the time of Christ's ministry, and asking Him what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus' reply to keep the commandments wouldn't have needed to include the first table of the law. Paul, being a Hebrew of Hebrews and a Pharisee, blameless in the keeping of the law (or at least the letter of the law) wouldn't need to be told to love God as a summary of the first table. When Saul asked which commandments to keep, Jesus replied with the list of commandments in the second table - all except one - and the summary of the table, to love one's neighbor as himself. Jesus left out the tenth commandment against coveting. Saul, being a ruler, would have known the law well. He surely would have noticed that Jesus left one commandment out. At this point, Jesus was helping him out by leaving that commandment out. Saul should have replied, "Hey, you left one commandment out, thou shalt not cov... Oh, I see. Coveting is my problem!"

But coveting was the rich young ruler's problem. It seems that he sought to justify himself by refusing to acknowledge the missing commandment, and instead confirming that he kept all the others that Jesus mentioned. It became obvious that coveting was Jesus' point, since He asked him to sell all his possessions and follow Him. The interesting tie-in with the Apostle Paul is that Paul singles out this very commandment in Romans 7 about coveting. "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'Thou shalt not covet.' ...and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me..." Romans 7:7, 10. [emphasis mine]

If Paul were the rich young ruler, his encounter with Jesus would have driven him away in sorrow, because he owned much property. He would have then used this tragic encounter to persecute Christ's followers. His coveting would have been too important to him to follow Jesus. But the Law would have convicted him of the magnitude of his problem, the pinnacle of conviction taking place on the Damascus road. That he would have allowed himself to persecute Christ Himself because of his coveting is why he could refer to himself as the chief of sinners. More circumstantial evidence to come in future posts. Read all posts on this topic here.

Friday Night Potpourri

Okay, it's early Saturday morning, but I'm still awake. It's still Friday night. Here are some odds and ends; random thoughts.

  • Having a liquid Christmas. I received an assortment set of winter beers from my "Secret Santa." (* indicates it's empty) *Spaten Optimator malt liquor; Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale; Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale; Mendocino Brewing Company's Blackhawk Stout; *Sierra Nevada Porter; Pyramid Snow Cap Ale; Warsteiner Dunkel; Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale; Mactarnahan's Blackwatch Cream Porter and Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA.
  • "Where is the church, that I might find it?" I read an interesting bio (fairly long) on RJ Rushdoony's early ministry to an Indian tribe in Nevada in the 40's, and how his depression turned to optimism.
  • It's 3am and the whole family was just awake. The two youngest played musical chairs sleeping places, rotating beds, cribs, chairs, sofas, and in bed with Mrs. Scott. All the crying woke up our oldest. Yawn.
  • Our seeded back lawn area is growing in, but it will be a while before it is up to normal use.
  • Our middle son is a baseball fanatic, and he received a self-pitch hitting machine for Christmas. He loves it. But it's cold out on the back patio, even in the sun.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

No holiday dinner would be complete without at least one child wearing his or her olives. This was at our third Christmas in 24 hours. We have at least four each year. Mrs. Scott's family (mom + sisters' families) traditionally have Christmas on the 24th, our "nuclear" family on Christmas morning, my family on Christmas day, and Mrs. Scott's dad's family in January. Tonight we had olives for dinner.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


"...and the women said, 'Is this Naomi?' And she said to them, 'Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me." Ruth 1:19b-20

Naomi's name meant "pleasant." Mara meant "bitter." Naomi had ventured into Moab with her husband, Elimelech because of a famine. Both her husband and two sons died there. She returned to Israel with only one daughter-in-law, Ruth. The other stayed behind with her gods. Both of Naomi's sons married Moabite women, and it appears from the passage that they did not worship Yahweh.

What was the cause of Naomi's bitterness? Was it her fault that she found herself in that situation, having lost everything? Was it Elimelech's fault? Her sons'? The passage doesn't say. Yet, she knew that God had dealt bitterly with her. Or did He really? Was that simply her perception? God turned the situation into a part of Jesus' genealogy. Ruth married Boaz and was David's great grandmother.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Did Jesus Go To Hell? An Explanation

The Apostle's Creed states that Jesus descended into hell. I've read less common alternate versions that say that he descended into hades, or descended to the dead. But did Jesus go to hell? I've never really heard an adequate explanation of this. I've read several books on the creed, with scores of comments and reference verses for every statement in the creed - except this one. I've also never seen any reference to it in the most important book of all, the bible.

I recently posted my concern on John Armstrong's blog as a comment, with one reply. Just today Andrew Sandlin posted this question with a letter reply to somebody who asked him, giving a different reply than the one on John's blog. Whatever the answer, something was lost in history, and the answer to this isn't cut and dried like the other statements in the creed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Re-Thinking The Sunday Church Service (Part 5) - If I Miss Church Am I Missed At Church?

Read the entire series here.

And the eye cannot sat to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it us much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 1 Corinthians 12:21-25

My family has missed a lot of church over the last six months or so. We had some issues in our family - some that were church related in a way - that were extremely difficult, and it left us physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. We decided to take a month off from church because we simply needed the extra day of rest. We were also out of town maybe a couple of weekends, and we've all been hit with nasty colds and flu between some or all of us so that we've missed a number of more Sundays at church. Sometimes, we've stayed home with sick kids, or brought sick kids with us (not letting them attend, but sat with them outside). We may have missed more than a third of Sundays during this time; I can't count now.

In light of the above quote from the bible on the church meeting, I'm asking a question. If I miss church, am I missed at church? Does my presence matter? The passage makes it seem so. But is this the case only if abundant honor is bestowed upon me? Let's say, oh, about 238 people meet in the service on Sunday. If I'm missing, let's say, oh, about 237 people meet. Given the structure of the service - sitting down, standing up, singing, listening to the preaching, singing, listening to a prayer, going home - does one person missing make a difference? If I'm not there, does the rest of the congregation notice? Is one less voice during singing going to make a difference? Are two fewer ears listening to the sermon a big difference? Will somebody notice and say, "Hey, your presence was direly missed last week, and it affected our meeting. We really want to encourage you to be here next week, because we desperately need your caring, your gifts and your help"? If my experience is any clue, I doubt it. If my experience is reality, then, uhm, no.

As was pointed out in part 3 of this series, most people who attend church are passive. The pastor, the choir and maybe a few others do all the work, and the rest just sit there. Okay, there is singing, but like I asked above, is the difference between 238 and 237 going to make or break the worship of God? The pew sitters, it would seem from the passage I referenced at the top of this post, being less seemly in a great way, would have some kind of abundant honor bestowed upon them. But is this the case? I think not.

What is the difference between having your absence from church going completely unnoticed and some other member saying to you, "I have no need of you"? as is the case in the text? I can't see any difference. The passage claims that the minor players are cherished. Experience tells me that they are ignored or even dismissed. How did such a difference between God's word and reality come about? I'll discuss this more in upcoming parts to this series.

Part 4 . . . . . . . . Part 6

Monday, December 15, 2008

Re-Thinking The Sunday Church Service (Part 4) - Disconnectedness

Read the entire series here.

It is possible to feel loneliness, disconnectedness and a sense of helplessness in a large crowd of people. Many who live in the big city can attest to this. Some even find anonymity in large crowds. When one is in a group of people where they are supposed to be intimately connected - and yet aren't - the disconnectedness can be amplified. A bad marriage can be an example of this. Or a marriage where the two simply go through the motions. The marriage is supposed to be a close relationship, and when it isn't, it is much more obvious than if the two were mere roommates.

So it is with church. We are supposed to love one another, to bear one another's burdens, to fellowship with one another, to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. When this doesn't happen, the feeling of loss is increased. Something big should be happening here but it isn't. Like Solomon said, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up." Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.

Part 3> . . . . . . . . Part 5

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dense Fog

For the last week or so we've had some very dense fog, especially at night. I love the fog and the feeling of being socked in. Fog is peaceful and dampens noise. I've had the pleasure of jogging in the foggy morning several days this week and I could hear the fog horn at the marina in the distance. Okay, it can be less than fun to drive in, but I'm not always driving. Typically in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco and the coast get fog in the summer (higher fog) and inland areas get ground fog in the winter.

I always had first period PE class in high school, so we had many foggy mornings. The coach would send us out to run laps, and some would venture out only as far as the coach could see, then join the rest of the runners back on the way in, feigning being out of breath. I grew up between two ridges of hills, so the fog would settle in between. I had many experiences of sticking my head out of an open driver's door to see the dashed line on the road as the only way to navigate.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Re-Thinking The Sunday Church Service (Part 3)

Read the entire series here.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near." Hebrews 10:23-25.

It is interesting that this verse is quite often used as a biblical command to go to church. Is this what it says? Going to church is not even the context of the passage. The immediate context is loving one another. Stimulating one another to 1) love, 2) good deeds, and, 3) encouraging one another are the three actions that form the immediate context. The context requires community, or "one another." Forsaking assembly with others doesn't foster love towards others. For some, this was a habit that shouldn't be a habit. Assembling with one another seems to be a secondary thought to loving one another in this passage.

So, if this verse is used as a proof text for the command to go to church, and the greater context is stimulating one another to love, stimulating one another to good deeds and encouraging one another, doesn't it follow that these three things should be very prominent in the church meeting? As my friend Bruce asks on his blog: [Update: link is no longer available]

The above mentioned text gives three reasons for meeting together:
* Stir up one another to love
* Stir up one another to good works
* Encouraging one another
Pray tell me how going to a building to watch a paid religious worker perform even comes close to these three reasons for meeting together?

Most people who attend Church are passive. The staff does the work and they sit in the pew judging the performance based on their own personal feelings and preferences.
Maybe if the Sunday Church Service were much more geared toward Christians loving one another, fewer problems would exist in the church. Loving one another always seems to be expected outside of church, outside of the church meeting where meeting with one another is more difficult.

Part 2 . . . . . . . . Part 4