Paul’s Debate in Thessalonica

04 Feb

When Paul and company arrived at Thessalonica and settled in they entered the synagogue, whereupon Paul began reasoning with the local Jews and God-fearing gentiles according to the Scriptures. Paul’s argument took the form of a logical analysis concerning the identity of the Messiah. Luke states two of Paul’s probably three premises concluding that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

First, Paul began opening the Scriptures to those who listened, that is, he revealed in the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer death at the hand of an enemy and rise again, thus showing how the then current understanding that the Messiah would come and free Israel by removing the foreign, Roman, threat was a false doctrine. Some of the probable Scriptures that Paul could have used to prove his point are: Genesis 3:14-15 showing he would be bruised; Isaiah 53:3-4, 8-12 in order to see Messiah would be at first rejected, suffer and die, but his days would be prolonged (i.e. rise from the dead); Psalm 16:10 showing the Holy One would die, but his body would not see corruption (he would rise to life); Daniel 9:26-27 showing Messiah would be cut in the middle of the week, yet would make a firm covenant for a full week (i.e. 7 years).

Secondly, the implied but obvious premise that Luke did not record here in Acts is, that Paul would have told his listeners that Jesus was crucified according to the Scriptures (Psalm 22:16) and rose again according to the eye-witness testimony of many at Jerusalem, including Paul, to whom the glorified Jesus appeared on the Damascus road.

Finally, Paul’s conclusion, according to Luke, is that this same Jesus, whom Paul preached, was indeed the Messiah for whom the Jews waited (Acts 17:3).

The problem is, as Luke shows later when Paul and company would visit Berea, that the Jews were divided in their receptivity of Paul’s method of looking at the Scriptures and in how they should respond to the eye-witness claims about Jesus’ resurrection, and these two problems are intimately related. For example, Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that, if his gospel is hid, it is hidden from them who are perishing (2Corinthians 4:3), for his method of preaching was quiet straightforward (2Corinthians 4:2); he didn’t seek to hide anything from anyone. Therefore, Paul’s interpretation of the Scriptures, showing the Messiah would suffer and die but also be resurrected, should have been understood and received. However, false doctrine, if emotionally clung to, will hide the truth. The Jewish leaders didn’t want that kind of Messiah—they wanted the glorious leader of all nations who would make Israel the first nation in the world (cp. Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 4:5-6; John 12:34).

On the other hand, Paul also clearly says that the veil of false doctrine is destroyed once one receives and devotes himself to Jesus (2Corintians 3:14). By desiring what is false, Paul shows us that the wrath of God would bring the unbeliever ever deeper into falsehood (cp. Romans 1:18, 21, 24, 28 with 2Thessalonians 2:11). Only by receiving Jesus are we able to recognize the Truth, because all truth is understood first by viewing it through the lens of Christ (cp. John 14:6; 8:31-32).

Therefore, the Scriptures clearly show the Messiah would suffer and die but would rise again. However, if one clings to a beloved false doctrine, he will not accept the clear revelation in the text. It is only by accepting the testimony of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, and in receiving Jesus as one’s Savior that one is able to see the truth of Scripture clearly. The two are intimately related and one cannot accept one without also accepting the other. If both are accepted then it follows that Jesus, whom Paul preached, is the one and only Messiah and Savior of the world.

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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Gospel, Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey


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