August 29 – September 5

Friday, August 29

Acts 26:12-23: Paul continues recounting his own history, not omitting his earlier persecutions of Christians, and then goes on to describe his conversion. We have here the third and most elaborate account of that event in the Acts of the Apostles and the only version of the story to contain the detail about Paul’s “kicking against the goad,” a metaphor for resistance to divine grace. This detail insinuates that Paul had already been feeling the pangs of conscience for his grievous mistreatment of Christians. This verse suggests, then, that Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus represented a sort of climax to a spiritual struggle already being waged in his own soul.

In this experience Paul was “grabbed” by Christ (Philippians 3:12), and a radical destiny was laid upon him (1 Corinthians 9:15-18). Like Ezekiel (2:1-2), he is told to stand on his feet (verse 16).  Indeed, this account of Paul’s calling should be compared with the stories of the callings of several of the Old Testament prophets, chiefly Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. What Paul is called to preach is the fulfillment of all that the prophets wrote. Thus, various prophetic themes appear in this account of his call. For example, the metaphor of the opening of the eyes from darkness to light (cf. Isaiah 42:7,16). Paul clearly regards his ministry as a completion of the work of Moses and the prophets (verse 22).

Paul’s conscience was obliged to reassess his entire life up to that point. And what, beginning rather early, did he conclude? His encounter with Christ caused him to perceive, not only that all which had gone before, especially his vaunted zeal for the Mosaic Law, was worthless in God’s sight, but it had also provided him the occasion to offend God even more. Consequently those things that he had counted as gain in his prior life he now counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7). He could never again seek righteousness from the observance of the Law, "but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God" (3:9).

It was in this realization that Paul discovered the mission to the Gentiles. At this point in his discourse before Festus his listener began to think him mad. This is how tomorrow’s reading will begin.

Saturday, August 30

Job 11: Because he was the last to speak among Job’s (alleged!) comforters, we should presume that Zophar was the youngest of those three. Whereas the Masoretic text speaks of him as a “Naamathite,” likely in reference to a site in northwestern Arabia called Jebel-el-Na‘ameh, the much older Septuagint version identifies him as “the king of the Mineans,” a tribe in southern Arabia. Zophar was, in either case, an Arab.

Rather Arabian, too, was his attitude toward Job’s problem, because
Zophar’s was a God experienced in the starkness of the desert. Arabs and other ancient nomads, unlike the tillers of the soil who were their contemporaries, were not people accustomed to thinking of God in terms of agricultural cycles and seasons. Gods of fertility, to say nothing of goddesses, were not much worshipped in the desert. While the nomad certainly invoked a Sky Father, that invocation normally had nothing to do with an Earth Mother, for only seldom did the desert dweller witness the rain that prompted the farmer to think of the Sky Father as a god of fertility.

Little preoccupied with earth, the religion of the Arabian nomad was not burdened with the complex and intricate rites and narratives associated with the agricultural divinities. It was, rather, a simpler religion concentrated on heaven, that vast vault overarching the trackless sands. For if the desert provided the Arabian with no constant and discernible path, heaven certainly did, because across its face moved the myriad celestial bodies in their appointed rotations and everlasting courses. The dweller in the desert would very quickly become lost unless he took his guidance from the stars above, so the religion of the desert was at once less complex and more predictable, its lines marked by a steadiness and predetermination unfamiliar to the rather undependable and often uncertain future of the farmer. And while the vastness and height of the sky proclaimed its independence from every human hope and need, the order—even the punctuality—of its regular gyrations conveyed the stable transcendence of solidly simple truths, entirely dependable because utterly unalterable. It was from the relentless desert that the mind of mankind learned the eternal and apodictic moral law.

Zophar, whose arguments are found in chapters 11 and 20 of the Book of Job, was the spokesman for that stern, demanding, moral religion learned across the sands beneath the vaulted heavens. He argued that if Job was suffering, then Job most certainly deserved to suffer: “The heavens will reveal his iniquity, / And the earth will rise up against him” (20:27). Eternally just is the moral structure of the universe. Indeed, he tells Job, “God exacts from you / Less than your iniquity deserves” (11:6).

Even Zophar’s abrupt rhetorical style resembles some turbaned rider from the desert, swooping down swiftly from the dunes, camel at the gallop, robes flowing in the wind, scimitar whirling aloft and menacing. Speaking of “my anxious thoughts” and “the turmoil within me” (20:2), Zophar’s is the fierce, impetuous voice of the sandstorm. Whereas Bildad and Eliphaz speculated about Job’s afflictions as a philosophical problem, Zophar will have none of this, but is even insulting to the sufferer. Job accuses Zophar of mockery (cf. 21:3, where the verb is in the singular) and the insensitivity of someone unfamiliar with personal affliction (12:4–5).

Zophar, in short, is not much given to calm, detached dialogue. Unlike Eliphaz the Temanite, he makes no appeal to his personal experience, nor, like Bildad the Shuhite, does he argue from the studies of the ancients. Zophar believes that things are what they are. The laws overarching the world are unalterable, and if Job cannot accept that fact, then he is “a man full of talk” (11:2), “an empty-headed man” (11:12), to be numbered among the “deceitful” (11:11) and “the wicked” (11:20). In the book’s structure, Zophar’s fierce impatience with Job functions as a major foil to Job’s patience.

(Taken from Christ in His Saints by P. H. Reardon)

Sunday, August 31

Acts 27: 1-12: The trip to Rome, which will fill the two final chapters of the book, is the point to which the literary tension of the Acts of the Apostles has been building. This is the journey that matches the Aeneid of Vergil, for Rome is the goal of both books. Paul’s going to Rome is a matter of his destiny (cf. 19:21). Accordingly, Luke’s inclusion of so many nautical details obliges the reader to slow down and savor the significance of the event.

In this final voyage Paul will be accompanied by Aristarchus and Luke (verses 2-3), who had helped him bring the alms to Jerusalem over two years earlier (20:4,6), and who have been with him at Caesarea since that time (Colossians 4:10,14; Philemon 24).

They board a ship whose homeport is Adramyttium, just south of Troas, or Troy, from where Aeneas had set sail for Rome. Luke’s inclusion of this detail is thus significant. Leaving Phoenicia, they cruise along the east and north sides of Cyprus, against strong headwinds (verse 4), and then go north to Asia Minor. The ship is obviously returning to its homeport. At the city of Myra, on the south coast of Asia Minor, they change to an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy. It was perhaps a grain cargo ship, so many of which brought wheat to Rome at a fraction of the cost of transporting grain overland to Rome from elsewhere in Italy. Still fighting contrary winds, they make their way to Salmone on the northeastern tip of Crete, a port well known to ancient navigators (cf. Strabo, Geography 10.3.20; Pliny, Natural History 4.58.71).

The “Fair Havens” they reach on the south coast of Crete is still known by that name in Greek, Kali Limenes. In verse 9 Luke informs us that the Feast of the Atonement, or Yom Kippur, had already passed. If, as we are justified in suspecting, this was the year 59, then the Day of Atonement was October 5. That is to say, they were approaching the winter season when sailing on the Mediterranean was considered unsafe (November 11 to February 8 [Pliny] or March 10 [Josephus]). Phoenix, where they hope to winter, lies some forty miles further west on the south side of Crete (verse 12).

Monday, September 1

Acts 27:13-29: When a light wind begins to blow westward, the ship’s crew decides it is just what is needed to take the ship those forty miles west to Phoenix. They weigh anchor and continue the voyage, hugging the south coast of Crete. Not long after commencing this maneuver, however, the ship is hit by a “typhoon wind” (anemos typhonikos), a nor’easter blowing down from over Crete and sending the ship out to sea in a southwesterly direction. There is nothing to do but let her ride the storm.

Presently, some twenty-seven miles due south of Phoenix, the very port they had hoped to reach before the storm came, the ship runs under the lee of the island of Cauda (modern Gozzo). The reference to the ship’s dinghy in verse 16 indicates the old custom of towing such craft in order to save deck space. They now take the dinghy on board, lest it become lost at sea. A momentary relief from the storm, as the ship sits under the lee of Cauda, enables the sailors to undergird the ship’s hull with cables, to make the vessel’s planking tighter against the waves. To impede the ship’s wild movement in the storm, the kedge anchor is dropped, because the ship has been drifting south so fast that the crew fears running onto the reef shoals of the African coast at Syrtis (west of Cyrene; cf. Pliny, Natural History 5.4.27). To make the ship ride higher in the water and reduce the chances of her being swamped, the crew jettisons some of the cargo (verse 18), and on the next day they do the same with the ship’s rigging (verse 19).

The situation is clearly desperate. With no way to see the stars, navigation has become impossible, and soon they have no idea where they are or in which direction they are headed. With no sunlight, even the most basic sense of direction will be lost. (Indeed, as we shall presently find the ship in the Adriatic Sea, quite a bit further north, it is clear that a radical wind change takes place during all this darkness and confusion.)

Finally, Paul speaks up again. Though he foretells the loss of the ship, he reassures the crew and passengers of their survival.  The reason for this certainty, he says, is his own destiny to arrive at Rome. Once again we touch here the theme of Rome as the goal of this entire story. It is a matter of destiny — dei — “it must be” (verses 24,26; cf. 19:21; 23:11).

Still drifting in the darkness, the men on the ship do not know where they are or in which direction they are drifting. Still afraid of crashing in darkness on the shoals of Africa, they will only afterwards learn that the direction of the wind has unexpectedly shifted toward the north, driving them up to the southern reaches of the Adriatic Sea. The storm lasts two weeks.

At midnight on the fourteenth day, still unable to see or navigate, they think they hear breakers pounding on a shore to the west and realize that they may be coming to land. This impression is confirmed when they take repeated soundings of their depth. Not knowing where they are, but fearing that the ship may crash onto rocks that they cannot see, some panicking sailors rather imprudently plot to escape in the ship’s dinghy, which they lower off the bow. At Paul’s warning, however, the centurion orders the boat cut loose to float away into the night.

Meanwhile the crew, to prevent the ship’s continuing progress toward the unknown land, drop four poop anchors from the stern to hold it back.

Tuesday, September 2

Acts 27:30-44: The situation during the rest of the night is tense, and no one has eaten very much during the past two weeks of storm. Finally it begins to grow light, and Paul suggests that breakfast would be a capital idea. Accordingly, he says grace. Everyone takes heart and begins to eat.

Afterwards they throw the rest of the ship’s cargo overboard in order to make the ship ride higher in the waves as it approaches land. (That is to say, a lighter ship can be beached closer to the land.) They cut away the four anchors at the stern and endeavor, under foresail, to beach the ship on the shore of a bay. (This inlet, on the northeast coast of Malta, is still known locally as St. Paul’s Bay.) The ship, once its bow runs aground on a spar, begins to break up from the violence of the pooping waves. They all scramble for shore as best they can, and everyone arrives safely. It has been a very rough two weeks, and no one is sad that it is over.

Two years or so after St. Paul’s harrowing experience on the Adriatic, Flavius Josephus traveled to Rome on another ship that foundered in those very waters. His description is worth quoting at length:

“I arrived at Rome, after much peril at sea. When our ship sank (baptisthentos) in the middle of the Adriatic, some of us, around six hundred in number, swam through the whole night, and about daybreak, by God’s providence, there appeared a ship of Cyrene. Myself and some others, about eighty all together, outstripped the others and were taken aboard” (Vita 15).

Josephus went on to describe this ship’s landing at Puteoli, which the Italians, he noted, called Dicaearchia (Vita 16). This was the same port, on the Gulf of Naples, at which Paul had disembarked the previous year or so (Acts 28:13).

One is also struck, however, by a big difference between the descriptions that Josephus and Luke give us of their shipwrecks in the Adriatic. That of Josephus is very short and sparse in particulars, while Luke’s description is lengthy, dramatic, and very detailed. For Josephus, the shipwreck was an event; it happened and it was over. Luke’s shipwreck, however, was part of a larger epic, a historical saga of great significance. Therefore he takes particular care in his description of this experience that he shared with Paul.

As for Paul himself, he was no stranger to shipwreck. Indeed, prior to the incident so minutely described by Luke, Paul had already been shipwrecked on three different occasions, during one of which he had spent a night and a day clinging to some spar or other piece of ship’s rigging to stay afloat (2 Corinthians 11:25). Luke recorded none of those earlier disasters, though we suspect he knew of them. If he takes such care in his description of Paul’s shipwreck at Malta, then, he must see in it a special significance.

Wednesday, September 3

Acts 28:1-14: 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 epistle that he wrote them three years earlier from Corinth.

Thursday, September 4

Acts 28:15-21: 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 appeal 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 learn 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 tied to 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).

While Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in Jerusalem, the Acts of the Apostles begins at Jerusalem and climaxes in Rome. Indeed, Luke, who accompanied Paul to Rome (Acts 28:13–16; 2 Timothy 4:11), has had a Roman preoccupation from the very beginning of the story. After noting the presence of Romans at Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:10), Luke’s story follows the movement of the gospel relentlessly westward to the Empire’s capital.

Friday, September 5

Luke 5:17-26: In all three Synoptic Gospels, the healing of the paralytic (Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26) is followed immediately by the calling of the tax collector and the Lord’s eating with sinners (Matthew 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17; Luke 5:27–32). This common sequence of the two narratives probably reflects an early preaching pattern, explained by the fact that both stories deal with the same theme: Jesus’ relationship to sin and sinners. The paralytic was healed, after all, “that you may know that the Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sins,” and the point of the second story is that “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Thus, the most significant thing about the paralytic is not his paralysis, but his “sins,” so this is what Jesus addresses first. Indeed, even when He heals the paralysis, Jesus does so in order to demonstrate His authority over the man’s sins. In what He does in this scene, then, Jesus inserts Himself between God and the man, speaking to the man with God’s authority. It is not without significance that all three versions of the story also include the detail that Jesus could, like God, read His accusers’ inner thoughts.

In each of the three Synoptic Gospels, moreover, the Lord’s claim to authority over sin here becomes the first occasion on which His enemies accuse Him of blasphemy. This is significant, too, because at His judicial process before the Sanhedrin, blasphemy will be the crime of which He is accused. In a sense, then, Jesus’ trial begins with His healing of the paralytic, because this scene is recognized by even His enemies as the occasion on which He forcefully claims divine authority.

This more dramatic aspect of the account is perhaps clearest in the versions of Mark and Luke, where it is the first of five conflict stories that cast an ominous cloud over Jesus’ activity through the rest of those Gospels (Mark 2:1—3:5; Luke 5:17—6:11).

In all three Synoptic Gospels, the paralytic becomes the “type” of the sinner. He is helpless, carried by others because he cannot carry himself. He is utterly in need of mercy above all things. Indeed, even his forgiveness and his cure are not credited to his own faith. All three accounts mention that the Lord sees the faith, not of the paralytic, but of the men who carry him.