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A Plan Sensitive to the Spirit of God

11 Feb

I often wonder if Biblical scholars actually believe Jesus is Lord of anything or, for that matter, Lord of anyone. I suppose, since many Biblical scholars don’t even believe in God, it is not surprising that these otherwise dedicated men and women see so many contradictions between Paul’s letters and Luke’s Acts. Nevertheless, I agree with the contemporary wisdom of a seldom quoted man—at least not in scholarly circles: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”[1]

Scholars tend to disagree as to whether Timothy went to Athens with Paul (1Thessalonians 3:1-2) or stayed in Beroea with Silas (Acts 17:14-15). Yet, it is quite probable that Paul left both Timothy and Silas at Beroea, but telling his Beroean guides to send Timothy and Silas to Athens as soon as they returned there. Meanwhile, word came to Beroea that trouble was brewing for the brethren at Thessalonica, and Silas and Timothy brought this news with them to Athens. When further word concerning the trouble at Thessalonica didn’t reach Paul, while the team ministered in Athens, Paul wrote a letter to the Thessalonians and sent it along with Timothy (1Thessalonians 3:1-2).

That is the probable scenario, but many scholars seem to be in love with the questions they ask about the text more than they value the possible or probable truth about it. I agree with Jefferson White who writes about this very problem:

They (biblical scholarship) wish to understand the problematic, rather than the probable. This is why scholars are often less capable of weighing evidence than are non-scholars… (They should be treated as) expert witnesses in a court of law. At trial, experts are only allowed to testify according to the legal rules of evidence, and not according to the – often subjective standards of their profession. [Jefferson White: Evidence and Paul’s Journeys; “The Problem of Evidence” page 5—parenthesis mine]

The epistles of Paul are arranged mainly according to a descending order of length rather than relative to the time they were written. For this reason some scholars believe (and I agree) 2Thessalonians probably precedes 1Thessalonians according to its dating. The reason for this is that Paul’s second letter describes the persecution the brethren there were at that time enduring (2Thessalonians 1:4-8) but, seemingly, this same trouble is put in the past in 1Thessalonians 1:6 and 2:14!

Therefore, it was this persecution that the brethren at Thessalonica endured that worried Paul at Athens (1Thessalonians 3:1-2), but how could he have learned this, if he had to leave Beroea stealthily in the night to avoid both danger to himself and trouble for the brethren at Beroea like that which occurred in Thessalonica—causing one or more of them to post bond with the local magistrates? In other words, Paul had a plan to evangelize Athens, but the Spirit of God troubled him, until he sent Timothy and Silas back to Macedonia—Timothy to Thessalonica (because Silas, like Paul, probably couldn’t return there (cp. Acts 17:5-10)—and Silas may have been sent either to Beroea or Philippi. Later, Luke tells us that both Silas and Timothy caught up with Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:5), and encouraged Paul with their good report (1Thessalonians 3:6-7).


[1] The man is Theodor Geisel who was born March 2, 1904 in Springfield, MA. He graduated Dartmouth College in 1925, and proceeded on to Oxford University with the intent of acquiring a doctorate in literature. In May of 1954, Life published a report concerning illiteracy among school children. The report said, among other things, that children were having trouble to read, because their books were boring. This inspired Geisel’s publisher, and prompted him to send Geisel a list of 400 words he felt were important, asked him to cut the list to 250 words (the publishers idea of how many words at one time a first grader could absorb), and write a book. Nine months later, Geisel, using 220 of the words given to him published The Cat in the Hat, which went on to instant success. That’s correct the authority quoted above is Dr. Seuss! :-)

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