• Psalms of the Sons of Korah Comments Off on Psalm 42/43: “Captive For The Lord’s Sake”

    By Gordon Franz


    Have you ever been deeply in love with someone when all of a sudden an external force shattered the relationship? Perhaps it was the death of the spouse or a divorce. Or perhaps your boyfriend or girlfriend unexpectedly and unceremoniously “dumped” you for someone else. Remember the pain you felt? The questions that went through your mind, “How did this happen? Lord why?” Do you remember the struggles that you had with your attitudes toward the Lord and other people? The love you still had for the other person? These are human emotions and attitudes we experience throughout life.

    The psalmist, a Levite and one of the sons of Korah, went through a similar experience. At one point in his life he led pilgrims up to Jerusalem for the three feasts of the Lord (Lev. 23; Deut. 16:16) and he served as a doorkeeper in the house of his God (Ps. 84:10). He loved going to the House of the Lord in order to worship Him. Yet in 701 BC, tragedy struck. The psalmist, rather than leading pilgrims to Jerusalem, was being led into captivity by the Assyrians and marched off to a foreign land. This trilogy of psalms expresses the inner most feelings and attitudes of the psalmist as he went through this traumatic experience.

    Historical Background

    The year 701 BC was a mixture of tragedy and blessing for the Kingdom of Judah. It was a year that saw the mighty Assyrian army, led by King Sennacherib, march against Judah and destroy most of King Hezekiah’s kingdom. In his annals he boasts that he destroyed 46 strong walled cities of Judah as well as the small cities that surrounded them (Luckenbill 1989:II:120). On the other hand, there was a miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the part of the Assyrian army that had encircled the city. The Angel of the Lord intervened and destroyed 185,000 Assyrians soldiers at night (2 Kings 18:17-19:36; 2 Chron. 32:9-21; Isa. 36:2-37:36).

    The historical books, Kings and Chronicles, in the Bible are silent as to what happened after the destruction of the cities of Judah. The prophet Micah, a contemporary of King Hezekiah, hinted that some were taken captive and resettled in Babylon according to Assyrian resettlement policy (4:10). Sennacherib himself boasts that he took an exaggerated number of 200,150 Judeans captive, “great and small, male and female”, the daughters of King Hezekiah, his harem and male and female musicians (Luckenbill 1989:II: 120, 121). A wall relief was found in Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh depicting the siege and fall of Lachish (2 Kings 19:8; 2 Chron. 32:9; Isa. 37:8). This relief showed Judeans being taken captive from that city along with their personal possessions (Ussishkin 1982: 108-113). Another wall relief from his palace showed some Judeans building his palace in Nineveh. Another wall relief, its provenience unknown, but most likely came from Sennacherib’s palace, depicts three Judean musicians playing their harps being marched off by an Assyrian soldier. They appear to be in a mountainous region, possibly in the region of Lebanon. It is clear, there was a Judean captivity in the year 701 BC.

    The inspired Scriptures preserve a trilogy of psalms (Ps. 42/3. 44. 45) that relate to this event by one who went through it.

    Overview of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah

    The theme of these three psalms is the lessons to be learned from suffering while in captivity. The next three psalms (45-48) describe the joy of salvation by those who were in Jerusalem when the Lord delivered the city from the Assyrians. Psalm 49 stands alone in this section, but reflects an incident that happened earlier in the reign of King Hezekiah. In the “fourteenth year” (713/12 BC) he bribed Crown Prince Sennacherib to leave Judah (2 Kings 20:12-19; 2 Chron. 32:24-31; Isa. 39). The principle lesson from this psalm is not to trust in material possessions for salvation.

    There are at least three more companion psalms written by the sons of Korah. Psalm 82 compliments Psalm 42/3 and describes the return of the psalmist from captivity to the House of the Lord that he loved. Psalm 85 is the companion psalm for Psalm 44. It expresses the praise and worship of that answered prayer for salvation. Psalm 87 is the companion psalm for Psalms 46-48. This psalm ascribes praise to Zion (Jerusalem).

    Literary Structure and Theme of Psalm 42/3

    In the English Bible this psalm is divided into two separate psalms. Originally it was one psalm. The evidence for that is twofold: First, some ancient manuscripts have it as one psalm. Second, internal evidence points in this direction. The psalm is divided into three stanzas, each ending with a common refrain (42:5, 11; 43:5). Each stanza has a progressive time sequence: past, present and future. The absence of a title in Ps. 43 seems to suggest it was once part of Ps. 42.

    The theme of this psalm is the desire of the psalmist for the House of the Lord; in spite of external circumstances that hinder him from going there, he relies solely upon the Lord to return him to the place that he loved.

    Exposition of Psalm 42/43

    The Past Experience of Worship. 42:1-5.

    The psalmist was taken from his home, probably Beth Shemesh (Josh. 21:15), at the beginning of the Assyrian campaign against Judah during the late spring of 701 BC. As he is being carried away captive, he realized he might never see the House of the Lord in Jerusalem again. He is going into captivity and the Assyrian army was threatening the capital, Jerusalem. He did not what the future would hold. The Lord and His House had been the desire of his heart all his life (2 Kings 8:22-30). Thus he used the analogy of a deer panting after scare water in the dry wilderness of Judah to express his deep yearning and desire for the Lord and His House. As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (42:1,2).

    This was an emotional experience for him because he had many unanswered questions. He wept because the place he loved was inaccessible to him. Apparently he declared to his captors his faith in the Lord God of Israel as the only true God, and not the Assyrian deity, Ashur. The Assyrians, not wanting to be mocked, taunted him, “Where is you God?” In Assyrian theology, the side that won the battle had the stronger God. They thought Ashur was stronger than Yahweh because they had conquered a number of Judean cities. The psalmist let his theology slip for a few minutes and raised the question in his mind: How could his God be real if he was in captivity and the kingdom was on the verge of defeat? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” (43:3).

    To combat his fears and doubts, he recalled the pleasant times he had leading the pilgrims up to Jerusalem. If his home were in Beth Shemesh, he would lead the throngs, as he played his harp, up into the Hill Country of Judah. There were two possible roads up to Jerusalem from his hometown. One road went up via Nahal Kesalon and Kiriath-Jearim (Dorsey 1991:186-188, Route J5). This is the road the Ark of the Covenant was taken up into the Hill Country after it was returned by the Philistines (I Sam. 6:20-7:2). The second road went up via some ridges going through the upper reaches of the Sorek Valley to Bethlehem. At Husan, they would turn and go through the Valley of Rephaim into Jerusalem (Dorsey 1991:189, Route J8). Along the way, they would admire the lovely vineyards situated on the hillsides (Isa. 5:1,2). If they approached the city from the south, the fertile Valley of Rephaim, with its rich agriculture of wheat, barley grapes and olives would come into view (Isa. 17:4-6). Guarding the southern approach to Jerusalem was the administrative center of “MMST” (today Ramat Rachel) where King Hezekiah had recently completed a beautiful palace complex. Then they went on to Jerusalem to visit the historic sites there as well as the House of the Lord. Ah, such pleasant memories of the sweet time of fellowship with the Lord’s people as they went on pilgrimage. As he remembered these things, the psalmist poured out his heart to the Lord. When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast (42:4).

    All Judean males, 20 years old and older, were required to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to worship the Lord (Ex. 23:14-19; 34:23; Deut. 16:16). The first feast was Passach (Passover), the second was Shavuot (Pentecost), and the last was Succoth (Tabernacles).

    This stanza ends with the refrain, Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance (42:5). Throughout his ordeal there was a “still small voice” encouraging him not to be in despair; for somehow, someway, the Lord would answer his prayer and bring him back to Jerusalem. He had to be patient and wait on (i.e. hope in) the Lord.

    The Present Exclusion from Worship. 42:6-11.

    As the psalmist was marched toward Assyria, he realized each stop took him further and further away from the place he longed for and loved. When he reached the northern part of Israel, near the city of Dan, he was in turmoil. His soul was depressed, yet he struggled to keep his mind on the Lord. O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from Hill Mizar (42:6). As he was forced to leave the Land of Israel he saw the springs and streams of the Jordan River (“the land of the Jordan”), the three peaks of Mt. Hermon, and another mountain, Mt. Mizar. George Adam Smith, a Bible geographer has observed, “Hermon (not Hermonites) must refer to the triple peaks of Hermon. … The standpoint of the Psalmist is fixed in the corner between Hermon and Jordan, where Banias stands. To the two localities the Hill Mis’ar, is placed in apposition. It may mean, as it stands, Hill of Littleness. But it may also be a proper name; and it is remarkable that in the neighborhood there should be two or three names with the same kindred radicals: (1) Za’ura; (2) Wady Za’arah, above Banias; (3) Khurbet Mezara. I suggest these may be reminiscent of a hill in this district, called Mis’ar” (1931:476, footnote 1).

    His life was in turmoil. Calamity filled his soul like the waters tumbling down the waterfalls of the Jordan River. Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me (42:7). His soul was tossed between depression and contemplation of the Lord, between questioning God and trusting Him. Is it wrong to question God? No, but it is wrong to doubt His goodness and love.

    Yet the Lord reassured him of His loving kindness in the daytime. The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me – a prayer to the God of my life (42:8). The Hebrew word for loving kindness is hesed and can be translated a number of ways. Usually it is translated mercy, loving kindness, goodness or lovingly loyal. One way the Lord could remind the psalmist was by a flock of storks flying overhead as they migrated south for the winter through the Jordan Rift Valley. The Hebrew word of stork is chasidah. The Hebrews noted a quality characteristic in the stork of “devoted maternal and filial affection” toward its young (Tristram 1873:244). The LORD was the same way. He was lovingly loyal to His people based on His covenant that He made with Abraham.

    In the night, he would sing the songs that he learned in the House of the Lord. Many of the psalms, especially the Davidic ones, have as their theme the loving kindness or mercy of the Lord (Ps. 63:3; 101:1; 106:1; 107:1; 115:1; 117:1; 118:; 136). These songs, Scripture put to music, reminded him of the promises of God, so that he could pray in faith that God would comfort and deliver him.

    The Assyrians intensified their taunting, and the psalmist was emotionally crushed. This led him to question the Lord, “Have you forgotten me?” I will say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with the breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (42:9,10). Verse 10 might hint as physical torture by the Assyrians, they were masters at it. Yet through it all, that “still small voice” came back to remind him not to despair, but to wait upon God because one day he would praise the Lord. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (42:11).

    Over 700 years later, the Lord Jesus Christ was in the same area, i.e. Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13). It was at this point in His ministry that He began to plainly tell His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer at the hands of sinful men, be killed and be raised again the third day (Matt. 16:21 // Mark 8:31 // Luke 9:22). This psalm must have gone through His mind as He contemplated the striking contrast between Himself and the psalmist. The psalmist was taken into captivity because of the nations sinfulness, yet the loving kindness of the Lord sustained him during the time he was hindered from going to Jerusalem for the feasts of the Lord. On the other hand, because of humankind’s sinfulness, the loving kindness of the Lord compelled the Lord Jesus to go to Jerusalem to be the Passover Lamb (Luke 9:44,45,51; I Cor. 5:7).

    The Lord Jesus takes one phrase from the refrain of this psalm (42:5,11; 43:5) and applies it to Himself. While He is in Gethsemane He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful” (Matt. 26:38 // Mark 14:34; Archer and Chirichigno 1983: 69,71).

    The Future Expectation to Worship. 43:1-5.

    The Assyrians had continually taunted the psalmist as to where his God was. The psalmist, in desperation, turns to the Lord and pleads with Him to vindicate, and plead his cause against the Assyrians, and to deliver him from the clutches of Sennacherib. Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! (43:1).

    The psalmist acknowledges that God is his strength but wants some tough questions answered; such as, “Why did you do this to me Lord?” and “Why am I going through this? What is the purpose?” For you are the god of my strength; Why do you cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? (43:2).

    The psalm ends with the psalmist praying to the Lord to send His light and truth to lead him back to the Temple in Jerusalem and the place that he loved. Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to your tabernacle (43:3). The light and truth could refer to one of two things. The first possibility is the Word of God. The Scriptures have been called light (Ps. 119:105) and truth (Ps. 119: 43,142,160). The second possibility is the Son of God. As we will see in Psalm 45, the King of Israel is a preincarnate appearance, called a Christophany, of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus says He is the Light of the World (John 8:12) and the Truth (John 14:6).

    The psalmist makes a vow and promises the Lord that when he returns to Jerusalem he will offer a sacrifice and praise the Lord is song, thanking Him for the salvation that He accomplished and the answer to his prayer. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God (43:4).

    The refrain repeats itself again. This reinforces and encourages the psalmist through this crisis situation. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (43:5).

    Personal Applications

    Facts often seem to contradict faith. The psalmist questioned the Lord, “God, if you are real, why are you allowing this to happen to me?” The Lord’s loving kindness and the Word of God encouraged him to “walk by faith and not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7). He fully believed that God had a purpose for this ordeal and that one day He would answer his prayer for deliverance. As we will see later, the answer is seen in Psalm 84. Yet until that happens he must keep in mind that “God’s grace does not lead where His grace does not sustain.”

    As the psalmist went through this ordeal, his love for the Lord and His House deepened. Someone once said, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Sometimes we do not realize how much we love something or someone until it is taken away from us. We should not take the things of the Lord for granted.

    Finally, realizing that God was in control of his life, the psalmist began the psalm by “panting” (desiring the Lord and His House); but ends by “praising” when God heard and answered his prayer for deliverance.


    Archer, G., and Chirichigno, G.
    1983 Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey. Chicago: Moody.

    Dorsey, D.
    1991 The roads and Highways of Ancient Israel. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

    Luckenbill, D.
    1989 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man.

    Tristram, H.

    1873 The Natural history of the Bible. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

    Smith, G.
    1931 The Historical Geography of the Holy Land. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

    Ussishkin, D.
    1982 The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.

  • Psalms of the Sons of Korah Comments Off on Archaeology, Assyrian Reliefs and the Psalms of the Sons of Korah

    By Gordon Franz


    The Psalms of the Sons of Korah, like the other psalms, express the inner most feelings of the psalmists as they experience real life events. Psalms 42-49 and 84-89 reflect the end of the eighth century BC when the Assyrians afflicted the Kingdom of Judah. This article will briefly look at these psalms from a literary perspective and then place them in their historical context at the end of the eighth century BC. Some archaeological material that has been excavated in the Land of Judah, as well as Assyrian reliefs, will be employed to illustrate portions of these psalms.

    The year 701 BC was a traumatic, bittersweet one for Judah. A large portion of the Judean population was deported to Assyria, yet the Lord delivered Jerusalem from the hands of the Assyrian army that encircled the city.

    The Psalms of the Sons of Korah as a Literary Unit

    Michael Goulder, in his book entitled The Psalms of the Sons of Korah (1982), suggests that these psalms were in sequential order and were employed as liturgical psalms for the fall festival or pilgrimage that was conducted to the Israelite cultic shrine, or high place, at Dan (1 Kings 12:26-33). He points out that these psalms are a literary unit and should be looked at from that perspective. The main body of liturgy was Psalm 42-48 with Psalms 84, 85 and 87 as supplementary psalms to the main corpus. He suggests that Psalm 42/43 and 84 were psalms of longing for Yahweh’s “tabernacles”; Psalm 44 and 85 are national laments. Psalms 46, 47, 48 and 87 are “songs of Zion”. He goes on to say, “Psalms 45 and 47 have no counterpart in the 80’s, but the parallel ordering of the remaining psalms can hardly be accidental” (1982:12).

    I disagree with Goulder’s hypothesis that these are liturgical psalms for the fall cultic festival at Dan, but would go further than he does in seeing a unity of these psalms. Nevertheless, his ideas are stimulating, original, and creative. His scholarly efforts were appreciated. However, I think the primary interpretation of the psalms is to Zion / Jerusalem and another historical situation more aptly fits the context of the psalms. However, Goulder has broken new ground in suggesting the order and literary units.

    I would like to expand on some of his thoughts and propose my own understanding of the order. Psalms 42-45 form a trilogy regarding suffering and exile composed by the psalmist as he goes into the Assyrian captivity in 701 BC. Psalms 46-48 form a trilogy of psalms exalting and praising the Lord for His deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians in that year. Psalm 49, a wisdom psalm, points out the shortcomings of the wealthy who do not trust the Lord. Psalms 84-89 are the answer to the prayers of the psalmists expressed in Psalms 42-49.

    Psalm 84 describes the psalmist returning to the Temple after having been away for a long time. This return is the answer to the petition and vow made in Psalm 42/43, “Oh send out you light and your truth! Let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God” (43:3, 4). Psalms 44 and 85 are lament psalms, both individual and national, regarding the captivity and the return. The subject of Psalms 45 and 86 is the King, the Lord Himself. Psalms 46-48 and 87 are “Songs of Zion.”

    The Historical Background to the Psalms of the Sons of Korah

    Psalms 46-48 record a miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem at the hands of a powerful enemy. The only time this miraculous deliverance occurred was in 701 BC. The Angel of the Lord destroyed the Assyrian army that was besieging Jerusalem.

    In order to put these psalms in their proper context, a brief overview of the life of King Hezekiah is in order. King Hezekiah was enthroned in the year 727 BC. He began his reign on the “right foot” by reinstituting the Passover, which led to a great revival (2 Chron. 29-31). In the “fourteenth year” (713/12 BC) of his reign, events began to sour. He had a near death experience, which he recovered from, and the Lord promised him fifteen extra years to live (2 Kings 20:1-11; Isa. 38:10-20).

    Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon, sent emissaries to congratulate him on his recovery and also to see if he would join the Babylonian coalition against the Assyrians. Hezekiah was apparently part of this revolt, which the Assyrians put down (Isa. 20:1), probably under the leadership of Sennacherib, then the crown prince and tartan. Hezekiah, along with the Philistines, Moabites and Edomites, paid tribute to Sargon II (2 Kings 18:14-16). This disaster for Hezekiah and Judah was apparently because of the influence of the royal steward (prime minister), Shebna, who most likely was a foreigner in the courts of Judah (Isa. 22; 2 Kings 18:14-16).

    In 701 BC, Hezekiah revolted again. This time, Sennacherib, now king of Assyria, was bent on the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. He began his “third” campaign down the coast of Phoenicia and took part of Philistia before he turned his attention on Judah.

    The first phase of his Judean campaign was to secure the Shephelah. After Lachish, the capital of the Shephelah, fell, he felt confident enough to split his army. One part of his army, under the leadership of the Rabshakeh, laid siege to Jerusalem, and the other part continued with Sennacherib in the Shephelah and attacked Libnah. Most likely Libnah is located at Tel Goded.

    The Angel of the Lord destroyed the part of the army encircling Jerusalem. When Sennacherib got word of this defeat in Jerusalem, he returned shame-faced to Nineveh. In his annals, Sennacherib describes this campaign in these words: “As for Hezekiah, the Judean, who had not submitted to my yoke, 46 of his strong, walled cities and the cities of their environs, which were numberless, I besieged, I captured, I plundered, as booty I counted them. Him, like a cage bird, in Jerusalem, his royal city, I shut up” (Luckenbill 1927:II: 143). “Caged up like a bird” is diplomatic code word for “We lost.” Sennacherib then lists the “tribute” that Hezekiah sent to him, which included 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, along with male and female singers. I suspect that since Sennacherib could not admit defeat, this “tribute” was actually booty that he plundered from the earlier part of his campaign.

    This campaign was bittersweet for the Judeans. Jerusalem was delivered, but many Judeans deported, including the psalmist who composed Psalms 42-45. These psalms were his “musical diary” while going into captivity. The Biblical records only hint of this captivity in 701 BC and it was probably downplayed for theological reasons. According to Sennacherib’s annals, he deported “200,150 people, young and old, male and female … as booty” (ANET 288). Whether this number is exaggerated or not is beyond the scope of this article. The point is, there was a deportation of Judeans in 701 BC. For a discussion of the Judean exile in 701 BC, consult Stohlmann (1983). For a discussion of the chronology of the reign of King Hezekiah, see Franz 1987.

    An ancient “photograph” depicting some Lachishites going into captivity is found on a wall relief from Nineveh (Ussishkin 1982).

    The historical texts of the Bible seem to downplay the Assyrian captivity of 701 BC, however, the prophet’s hint at it. Isa. 24:1 says, “Behold, the LORD makes the land [of Judah] empty and makes it waste, distorts its surface and scatters abroad its inhabitants.” The end of the so-called “Isaiah Apocalypse” has the captives returning from Assyria and Egypt (Isa. 27:12, 13). Hosea promises that some Judeans will return from Assyria and Egypt (11:11). Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, seems to describe the 701 BC campaign of Sennacherib in chapter 1. He ends the chapter with the words, “…because of your precious children … for they shall go from you into captivity” (1:16). They apparently were taken to Babylon as part of the Assyrian “resettlement” policy. However, Micah promises them that the Lord would rescue and redeem them (4:10).

    One intriguing relief is a fragment in the British Museum. This relief is a depiction of three musicians, apparently Judeans, playing their harps, as they are being taken captive (Barnett, Bleibtreu and Turner 1998: 116; Plate 398, 399). Behind them is an Assyrian officer. [Assyrian with three musicians] My “sanctified imagination” would like to suggest we have an “ancient photograph” of a Biblical personage. Among other things, the Korahite family was musicians. At one time they lead the people of Judah in praise to the Lord during the conflict with the “Eastern Confederacy” during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:14-19). One of the sons of Korah had vowed to praise the Lord in the Temple with his harp if he was delivered from captivity (Ps. 43:4). Could one of these musicians be one of the sons of Korah who composed Psalms 42-45 and 84?

    The “Sons of Korah” also appear in another late 8th century BC context. Yohanan Aharoni excavated part of a bowl at Tel Arad that had an inscription on the bottom that listed several families, among which were “the sons of Korah.” This bowl, inscription #49, was found in Stratum VIII of the building next to the sanctuary. Aharoni conjectures that this was “a list of contributions to the sanctuary. The letter het adds weight to this hypothesis, whether interpreted as wheat or as a sin-offering” (1981:82). According to Aharoni, Stratum VIII was destroyed at the end of the 8th century BC (1981:149). Orna Zimhoni, of the Lachish Excavations, has re-evaluated the Arad material and has suggested that all the pottery of Arad Stratum X-VIII is paralleled to Lachish III pottery, which was destroyed by Sennacherib. Thus, she would also agree that the inscription should be dated to the end of the eighth century BC (Zimhoni 1985:84-88). Two questions should be raised at this point: first, what is a Levitical family doing in a non-Levitical city? Second, what was the nature of this sanctuary? Was it kosher or not? Was it a bamah (high place) or a pure Yahwistic shrine?

    There is one other piece of archaeological evidence that relates to the sons of Korah. A figurine of a musician playing a harp was discovered in a burial cave at Beth Shemesh. I understand it dates to the end of the 8th century BC as well. The Korahites were allotted cities in the Land of Ephraim and Manasseh. Apparently they moved south after Jeroboam I set up the cultic shrines at Dan and Bethel and made a priesthood of anybody who was not a Levite (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33). Some Korahites settled in Arad. Perhaps some settled in Beth Shemesh as well.

    An Archaeological Exposition of These Psalms

    Psalm 42/43, originally one psalm, begins the set of psalms recounting the Assyrian captivity in 701 BC. In Psalm 42:6-8, the psalmist uses geographical terms to pinpoint where he is as he reflects on his departure from the Land of Israel. George Adam Smith points out “The Land of Jordan usually means in O.T. land across Jordan [The Jordan River – gf]. Hermons (not Hermonites) must refer to the triple peaks of Hermon. If these two identifications hold, the standpoint of the Psalmist is fixed in the corner between Hermon and Jordan, where Banias stands. To the two localities the Hill Mis’ar, is placed in apposition. It may mean, as it stands, Hill of Littleness. But it may also be a proper name; and it is remarkable that in the neighborhood there should be two or three names with the same or kindred radicals: (1) Za’ura; (2) Wady Za’arah, above Banias; (3) Khubet Mezara. I suggest these may be reminiscent of a hill in this district, called Mis’ar” (1931: 476, footnote 1). As he describes the waters rolling over the waterfalls, he may be referring to the Banias waterfalls in that region. As he leaves the Land of Israel he prays for deliverance and vows he will play his harp in Jerusalem again. As previously pointed out, the alabaster relief from Sennacherib’s palace depicts three barefooted musicians going through a mountainous region, possibly the Lebanon mountain range.

    A good example of a lyre is displayed on a beautiful seal of the seventh century BC with the inscription “Belonging to Ma’adanah the king’s daughter” (Avigad 1978: 146-151).

    The psalmist declared his trust in the Lord for deliverance from his Assyrian captors. In the 44th Psalm, during his captivity, he received word that the Lord miraculously delivered Jerusalem from the hands of the Assyrians (44:7, cf. Isa. 37:36). The psalmist, however, struggles within himself, “Lord, you answered their prayers, but what about mine?” (44:9-21). After this internal struggle, he came to the point where he realized this test was “for the Lord’s sake” (44:22). He finally renewed his confidence in the Lord (44:25, 26).

    Two statements in this psalm are of interest to our study. The first is his statement in verse 11, “You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations.” In Sennacherib’s annals, he states, “From the booty of those lands which I plundered, [Phoenicia, Philistia and Judah – gf] … and added them to my royal equipment. The rest, the heavy spoil of enemy (captives). I divided like sheep among my whole camp (army) as well as my governors and the inhabitants of my large cities” (Luckenbill 1927:II: 137). There was also a relief in Sennacherib’s palace showing Assyrian soldiers slaughtering sheep (Barnett, Bleibtreu and Turner 1998: 113; Plate 381; Parpola and Watanabe 1988:9).

    The second statement of interest is the psalmist’s declaration of innocence regarding idolatry. “If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign god, would not God search this out?” (44:20). He may have been innocent, but the truth of the matter is, Judah was not. They were involved in idolatry. The Lachish relief depicts Assyrian soldiers carrying off at least two metallic incense burners. Micah describes Lachish in these terms, “O inhabitants of Lachish … (She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion), for the transgressions of Israel were found in you” (1:13). The transgressions of Israel could hint at the alternative place of worship set up at Dan and Bethel by Jeroboam. Micah goes on to say that Judah was involved in sorcery, soothsaying, and idolatry (5:12-14).

    After a struggle within himself, the psalmist finally acknowledges the captivity he was going through was “for your sake we are killed all day long” (44:22), a verse that the apostle Paul will quote in Romans 8:36.

    The 45th psalm expresses the theme of worship in spite of the circumstances that the worshipper is in. After submitting himself to the sovereignty of God, the psalmist’s heart is over flowing with a good theme concerning the King (45:1). He describes himself as a “ready writer”. One is reminded of the Assyrian reliefs depicting scribes writing down lists of booty that had been captured. Usually there were two scribes, one scribe writing on papyrus and the other on a cuneiform tablet.

    In the context of the Korah psalms, the king is not an earthly king, but rather, the Lord Himself (44:4; 47:2,6,7; 48:2,3; 84:3; Isa. 33:17,22; 44:6,8; 6:5, cf. John 12:37-41). The book of Hebrew identifies the King as the Lord Jesus (1:8, cf. 45:6, 7). The composer of this psalm describes the King as a warrior who fights for His people and the city of Jerusalem, with sword, chariots and arrows. It was the Angel of the Lord that destroyed the Assyrian army that was encircling Jerusalem that night (Isa. 37:36; 2 Kings 19:35). Ironically, this psalm may be an answer to the Lachish relief with Sennacherib sitting on his ivory throne, holding arrows in his right hand, his war chariots on display and his feet on his footstool with his enemies bowing down to him. It will ultimately be, however, the Lord Jesus who will win the final victory (Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:8-14).

    Psalm 45:8 mentions the ivory palaces. Ivory was used to adorn palaces of the eighth century BC. Some ivory has been found in the excavations at Ramat Rachel, probably the administrative palace built by Hezekiah called “MMST” (Barnett 1982:47,88, footnote 44, unpublished; Barkay 2006: 34-44). Sennacherib also paneled his palace with ivories (Smith 1878:147).

    Psalms 46-48 were composed as songs of praise and thanksgiving after the Lord delivered Jerusalem from the hands of the Assyrians. Jerusalem took on a special connotation because the God who acted in the affairs of human history was residing in the city. Psalm 48 was composed in Jerusalem, and more specifically in the city of David, so he used the geography of the city in the opening of the song. “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, in His holy mountain [the Temple Mount]. Beautiful in elevation [the 600 meters walk from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount with a 95 meter elevation change], the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north [from the City of David, the Temple mount is north], the city of the great King” (48:1,2). The term “great king” is also a title that the Assyrians kings used for themselves.

    Psalm 49 ends this section with a wisdom psalm regarding rich fools who think their wealth came bring them salvation. Verses 10 and 11 say, “For he [the rich fool] sees that the wise men dies; likewise the fool and the senseless persons perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses will continue forever, and their dwelling place to all generations.” Most commentators suggest the “house” in verse 11 refers to the dynasties of the wealthy individuals. I would like to suggest that the phrase should be taken more literally. In the second half of the verse, “houses” are paralleled with “dwelling places”, a literal structure. The materialistic fool knows his earthly house, made of stones and mud brick, will eventually collapse. He hewn’s out of bedrock a burial cave [an “eternal house” – Eccl. 12:5] patterned after his earthly house so he will feel “at home in death” (pardon the pun).

    It is interesting to note the parallels between the Iron Age burial caves and the typical Israelite “four-room house”. The pattern is quite similar. The burial cave has an entrance, a central depression, and two benches on either side and one in the back. The “four-room house” has an entrance leading to a central courtyard with two long rooms on both sides of the courtyard, and a broad room in the back. Sunken panels have been observed in some of the large tombs of Jerusalem. Some of the royal structures had panels of cedar on their walls (1 Kings 6:9; Jer. 22:13-15; Hag. 1:4). Parapets on the benches are reminders of parapets on the roof to prevent people from falling off the house (Deut. 22:8). For a further exposition of this passage, see Franz 2002: 85-91.

    Psalm 84 begins the second set of Korah psalms (Psalms 84-89). These psalms complement the first set. In this psalm, the procession to the House of the Lord is described as going up through the Valley of Baca. Josephus, the first century AD Jewish historian, seems to situate this valley close to the Valley of Rephaim (Antiquities 7:71-77; LCL 5: 397-399; Feliks 1981: 49-51). Quite possibly the psalmist has returned from his captivity in Nineveh and is making his first pilgrimage to the Temple for the Feast of Succoth. The date for this feast is hinted at with the mentioning of the “early rains” (84:6). The psalmist also seems to hint at where he has been in Nineveh. He says, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (84:10). Judean captives worked as slave laborers on Sennacherib’s “palace without rival” (Ussishkin 1982: 127-130). Was the psalmist one of them? If so, he saw the wickedness that was inherent in the palace and pledged he would rather be a humble doorkeeper in the Temple than to hang around Sennacherib’s palace.

    The historical circumstances surrounding the return of at least some of the Judeans from the Assyrian captivity is uncertain. After Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh reigned. He was a vassal of the Assyrian kings, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. Any one of these kings could have released Judean captives because of Manasseh’s subjection.

    The Conclusion of the Matter

    This article has tried to demonstrate that the psalms of the sons of Korah should be taken as a literary unit and the order in which they are grouped is significant. It has also placed these psalms in the year 701 BC, a traumatic year for the people of Judah. The first group of psalms (42-48) express the inner most thoughts and feelings of one going into captivity as well as the rejoicing of those who stood still to see the salvation of their God in Jerusalem. Psalm 49, a wisdom psalm, stands alone and is set in the 14th year, 713/12 BC. The second set of psalms (84-89) compliment the first set and showed God faithfulness to His people and the answered prayer of the psalmist. The Assyrian reliefs and archaeology are used to illustrate the words of the psalmist.

    It is my impression that more of the psalms belong to the end of the 8th century BC. More attention should be placed on this period. The commentary writers or expositor of the Scriptures should utilize more of the Assyrian reliefs and archaeological data to illustrate the Word of God. For an interesting attempt at this, see Keel (1985).


    Aharoni, Yohanan
    1981 Arad Inscriptions. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration society.

    Avigad, Nahman
    1978 The King’s Daughter and the Lyre. Israel Exploration Journal 28/3: 146-151.

    Barkay, Gabriel
    2006 Royal Palace, Royal Portrait? The Tantalizing Possibilities of Ramat Rachel. Biblical Archaeology Review 32/5: 34-44.

    Barnett, Richard
    1981 Ancient Ivories in the Middle East. Qedem 14. Jerusalem: Hebrew University.

    Barnett, Richard; Bleibtreu, Erika; and Turner, Geoffrey
    1998 Sculptures from the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh. 2 vols. London: British Museum.

    Feliks, Yehuda
    1981 Nature and Man in the Bible. Chapters in Biblical Ecology. London: Soncino.

    Franz, Gordon
    1987 The Hezekiah / Sennacherib Chronology Problem Reconsidered. Unpublished MA thesis. Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions.

    ______2002 “At Home in Death”: An Archaeological Exposition of Psalm 49:11. Bible and Spade 15/3: 85-91.

    Goulder, Michael
    1981 The Psalms of the Sons of Korah. Sheffield: University of Sheffield.

    Keel, Othmar
    1985 The Symbols of the Biblical World. Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms. New York: Crossroad.

    Luckenbill, Daniel
    1927 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. Vol. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago.

    Parpola, Simo, and Watanabe, Kazuko
    1987 Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths. State Archives of Assyria II. Helsinki: Helsinki University.

    Smith, George
    1878 The History of Sennacherib. London: Williams and Norgate.

    Smith, George A.
    1931 The Historical Geography of the Holy Land. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

    Stohlmann, Stephen
    1981 The Judean Exile After 701 B.C.E. Pp. 147-175 in Scripture in Context II. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

    Ussishkin, David
    1982 The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.

    Zimhoni, Orna
    1985 The Iron Age Pottery of Tel ‘Eton and its Relation to the Lachish, Tell Beit Mirsim and Arad Assemblages. Tel Aviv 12/1: 63-90.

  • Psalms of the Sons of Korah Comments Off on “At Home In Death”: –An Archaeological Exposition of Psalm 49:11

    By Gordon Franz

    Death is a subject that intrigues and frightens. Death is discussed, debated, covered-up and ignored. I remember visiting the Egyptian wing of the Brooklyn Museum several years ago. In one of the far back rooms a mummy was on display. While I was looking at other objects in the room, a group of senior citizens entered. The elderly guide never talked about, nor did the people in the group look at, the mummy. They were deathly afraid of that object (no pun intended). After they left, a group of elementary school children came in on a class outing. What was the first, and only, thing they wanted to look at? You guessed it, the mummy. The mummy intrigued them.

    The psalmist, one of the sons of Korah, writing at the end of the 8th century BC, describes the thoughts of wealthy fools who put their trust in material possession for their redemption. He wrote, “Their inner thought is that their house will continue forever, and their dwelling place to all generations; they call their land after their own name” (49:11).

    This article will examine the background to this statement by the psalmist. The common interpretation will be discussed, but then archaeological material will be brought to bear to shed light on this passage. It is my contention that the architectural patterns of the burial caves of the Iron Age (Judean Monarchy) reflect the architectural patterns of the typical Iron Age “Four-Room House”. Iron Age burial caves from Jerusalem, mainly St. Etienne and Ketef Hinnom will be examined to demonstrate this proposition.

    The Common Interpretation

    In the psalmist’s statement, “Their inner thought is that their houses will continue forever”, what is the “house” referring to? Most commentators assume that “house” is the “dynasty” of the wealthy person. One commentator puts it this way: “If they do face the fact that they must die, they console themselves with the thought that the dynasties they have built will last forever” (Phillips 1986:74). This is done on the basis of the double meaning for the word “house” given in the Davidic covenant, II Samuel 7:16 (Goulder 1982:189). “And your house (dynasty) and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” Based on the word use, the dynastic interpretation is possible. However, the context suggests a more literal meaning. In the Hebrew parallelism of the poetic structure, “house” would be synonymous to “dwelling places” in the second half of the verse. Also, King Solomon, writing during the Iron Age, calls burial caves “eternal homes.” “For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets” (Eccl. 12:5).

    Another Proposal

    During the summer of 1979, I worked as an area supervisor on the Ketef Hinnom excavation, just below the St. Andrews Scottish Presbyterian Church in Jerusalem. One of my responsibilities was the supervision of the excavation of Cave 25. It contained the first intact repository of the Iron Age ever found in the archaeology of Jerusalem (Barkay 1986). The most important discoveries in this repository were two silver amulets with the oldest Biblical texts discovered to date (Barkay 1992; Coogan 1995:45).

    After the excavation I had time to reflect on the burial practices of the Judean monarchy and its implication for understanding the Biblical text. Several years later, with the kind permission of the excavator, Dr. Gabriel Barkay, I published a summary of the excavation (Franz 1986). In that article, I suggested one of the implications of the excavations of the Iron Age burial caves at Ketef Hinnom was that it reflects the theology of the afterlife. I observed that the pattern of the burial caves was similar to the “four room house” of the Iron Age. “The psalmist indicated that the desire of materialistic people was their, ‘… inner thought is that their houses will continue forever, and their dwelling places to all generation’ (Ps. 49:11). However, they knew that their houses, made of stone and mudbricks, would eventually collapse. Their desire would be achieved by hewning a burial cave out of solid rock patterned after the floor plan of their earthly house” (Franz 1986:16). I would like to expand on these thoughts in this article.

    Parallels Between the Iron Age Burials and the “Four Room House”

    The first obvious parallel is the pattern of the burial caves and the Iron Age “four room house.” The typical Iron Age burial cave consists of an entrance with a central depression in front of it and three benches forming a “U” (horseshoe) shape around the central depression. In describing the Israelite four-room house, Y. Shiloh states, “The principle feature of the four-room house and its subtypes is a back room the width of the building, with three long rooms stemming forward from it. The time span of this plan is from the end of the eleventh century BC down to the destruction of Judah” (1970:180, see also Shiloh 1987). Some have discerned this pattern in Egypt during the time of the Israelite sojourn in Goshen (Wood 1997:55,56). The benches in the burial cave would correspond to the two long rooms on the side and the broad room in the back of the house. The central depression would correspond to the open-air courtyard in the middle of the house.

    Another parallel is the sunken panel. This can be clearly seen in the Cave Complex 1 of the St. Etienne Burial Caves. The surveyors of this cave, Gabriel Barkay and Amos Kloner, describe their findings. “A careful examination of the walls of the entrance chamber reveals that they are decorated with shallow sunken panels, rectangular in shape, that were hewn into the rock faces of the walls. These rectangular panels are probably stone copies of wooden panels that typically covered the walls of Judean palaces during the Israelite period. Until this discovery, archaeologists had not seen any Israelite or Judean palaces (or other building) of this period with a preserved superstructure of walls. At best, they had found only wall stubs. The walls of the St. Etienne burial cave can therefore teach us a great deal about how palace walls were decorated in Iron Age II. Such decoration was probably used on the walls of Solomon’s Temple. In I Kings 6:9, we read that after Solomon finished building the Temple, he covered the walls with ‘beams and planks of cedar’. … The Hebrew word translated as ‘beam’ is gebim; for ‘planks’ the word is sderot. Gebim probably refers to the sunken panels, and sderot to the raised strips between the panels.” Their description goes on to say that the “wall decoration continued to be used to the end of the Divided Monarchy (586 BC). Jeremiah prophesies against Jehoikim, King of Judah: ‘Ha! He who builds his house with unfairness and his upper chambers with injustice, who makes his fellowman work without pay and does not give him his wages, who thinks: I will build me a vast palace with spacious upper chambers, provided with windows, paneled in cedar, painted with vermilion! Do you think you are more a king because you compete in cedars?’ (Jer. 22:13-15)” (Barkay and Kloner 1986:27). Haggai, a post-exilic prophet, also rebukes the people of Jerusalem for misdirecting their priorities. They were dwelling in paneled houses and the House of the LORD was still not rebuilt (1:4).

    The cornice is a third architectural feature that is common to some of the burial caves in Jerusalem. They decorated the top of the walls where the ceiling meets the walls. Hewn out of rock, this probably reflects the support beams in the house.

    A fourth parallel is the parapets that surround the edge of each bench in some of the Iron Age tombs. “Each burial bench has a low parapet about two inches high around its outer edge, carved from rock, presumably to prevent the body and burial gifts from rolling off the bench” (Barkay and Kloner 1986:29). The parapet served a practical function in the burial caves just as they did on a house. Deut. 22:8 states, “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring bloodguiltiness on your house if anyone falls from it.” The parapets on the bench serve as a reminder of their function in the house.

    A fifth architectural feature common to both the house and the burial cave is the threshold as illustrated by Cave Complex 1 at St. Etienne. Barkay and Kloner describe this threshold, “In this rock-hewn step there are carved two three-quarter-circle sockets; these sockets originally held the hinges of a double door that controlled access to the burial cave. Steps like this one, with similar sockets, are known from various Iron Age II (eighth to seventh century BC) structures. They are usually found at palace throne room entrance – for example, at Arsalan-Tash, at Zincirli (ancient Samal) and Tel Halaf in northern Syria; at Nimrud (Biblical Calah) (Gen. 10:11,12), and Ninevah in Assyria, and at Megiddo and Gezer in Israel” (1986:27). The door served a functional use in the burial cave, just as doors do in a house.

    The final architectural feature is the headrest. As Barkay has observed, “[The] Iron Age burial benches with their headrests in the Jerusalemite and Judean burial caves were rock-cut copies of beds commonly used in ancient Israelite houses” (1988:50). The living would sleep on beds with pillows. Similarly, when the dead “sleep in death”, they were laid out on the stone bench with their head in the headrest. However, I’m sure the dead were not overly concerned with the hardness of the “pillow”!

    An Intriguing Possibility

    During the excavation of Cave 25 at Ketef Hinnom, the director, Goby Barkay said, “Gordon, I want you to find me an inscription in this cave!” I laughed at his request because he had taught me in his Archaeology of Jerusalem class that inscriptions, in situ, are very rare in the archaeology of Iron Age Jerusalem. I half jokingly said I would find him one on the last day of the dig. Ironically, toward the end of the dig, we discovered a private seal with a family name on it in the repository. Goby, with “play-doe” from his son, made an impression of the seal. On it was the family name “Palta” (peh-lamed-tet-he). Apparently the Palta family was buried in this cave (Barkay 1986: 29,34).

    The following year at the City of David excavation a lintel from the “Ahiel” house was discovered in Area G. This lintel had the name “Palta” on it as well (Shiloh 1984:18). Did the family have a house in the City of David and a burial cave on the escarpment overlooking the Hinnom Valley? We will never know for sure, but it is an intriguing possibility.

    Perhaps this is also what the psalmist had in mind when he said, “And their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling” (49:14). The family burials were outside and away from the city.

    The Conclusion of the Matter

    The wealthy materialistic person at the end of the 8th century BC knew that their earthly dwelling place would one-day collapse because it was made of stone, mudbrick, wooden beams and a dried mud roof with grass on top. This person desired to “live eternally” in his earthly body (Ps. 49:9), yet reality told him otherwise. Desiring a more permanent dwelling, knowing that one-day death would be the end results, a burial cave was hewn out of the rocky escarpment outside the city and was patterned after his earthly house. He wanted to feel “at home in death!”

    By contrast, the psalmist puts materialism in it’s proper perspective when he concludes the psalm by saying, “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave (Sheol), for He shall receive me. Selah. Do not be afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lives he blesses himself (for men will praise you when you do well for yourself), he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man who is in honor, yet does not understand, is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:15-20).


    Barkay, G.
    1986 Ketef Hinnom, A Treasure Facing Jerusalem’s Walls. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum.

    ______1988 Burial Headrests As a Return to the Womb – A Reevaluation. Biblical Archaeology Review 14/2: 48-50.

    ______1992 The Priestly Benediction on Silver Plaques from Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem. Tel Aviv 19/2: 139-192.

    Barkay, G. and Kloner, A.
    1986 Jerusalem Tombs from the Days of the First Temple. Biblical Archaeology Review 12/2: 22-39.

    Coogan, M.
    1995 10 Great Finds. Biblical Archaeology Review 21/3: 36-47.

    Franz, G.
    1986 The Excavations at St. Andrews Church in Jerusalem. Near East Archaeology Society Bulletin 27: 5-24.

    Goulder, M.
    1982 The Psalms of the Sons of Korah. Sheffield: JSOT, Supplement Series 20.

    Phillips, J.
    1986 Exploring the Psalms. Psalm 42-72. Vol. 2. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.

    Shiloh, Y.
    1970 The Four-Room House – Its Situation and Function in the Israelite City. Israel Exploration Society 20/3-4: 180-190.

    ______1982 Excavations at the City of David I: 1978-1982. Qedem 19. Jerusalem: Hebrew University.

    ______1986 The Casemate Wall, the Four Room House, and Early Planning in the Israelite City. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 268:3-15.

    Wood, B.
    1997 Bible Personage in Archaeology. The Sons of Jacob. Bible and Spade 10/2-3:53-65.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on Silas: A Faithful And Fearless Man

    By Gordon Franz


    During the last week of the Lord Jesus’ earthly ministry, He spoke a parable on faithfulness while He and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 24, 25). This parable is called the parable of the talents (25:14-30) and was given in the context of the Olivet Discourse.

    In this parable, Jesus describes a wealthy man who was leaving on a long trip. He gave each of his servants’ talents (money). “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability” (25:15). Please notice the master gave each servant what he could handle and no more. The Lord Jesus is the same way with us. He knows what responsibilities we can handle and does not give us any more than we can bear.

    The first servant was a good businessman and turned his five talents into ten. The second took his two talents and turned them into four. Yet interestingly, the master gave both servants the same commendation. “Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (25:21, 23). The third servant took his one talent and buried it. When the master returned, the servant was thoroughly rebuked by his master (25:24-30).

    The implication of this parable is that a great preacher who is articulate and has a tremendous ability to communicate to a large audience and is mightily used of the Lord, may receive the same amount of rewards as an unknown faithful believer. For example, a Sunday School teacher (or AWANA leader) who may not be a public speaker, but who quietly, yet faithfully teaches his or her Sunday School class (or AWANA program). This individual does it week after week, year after year, praying for each student, visiting them in their homes and keeping in contact with them long after they have moved on to another grade, or even moved out of the area. The criteria for rewards seem to be faithfulness based on the God given ability of an individual.

    On the other hand, this parable also seems to teach, based on the actions of the third servant and the rebuke by the master, that believers who squander the opportunities that God has given to use their God-given abilities to serve Him, will be embarrassed at the return of Christ and will suffer the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 John 2:28; I Cor. 3:11-15). This includes the privilege of reigning with Him during the Millennium (2 Tim. 2:11-13). For a discussion of the parable and related topics, see Lang 1985: 283-291, 320, 321; McCoy 1988.

    This paper will examine the Apostle Silas who was characterized as a faithful and fearless believer who exercised his prophetic gift for the furtherance of the gospel and the edification of the Church.

    The life of Silas is a fascinating study. We will begin by giving a brief sketch of his life and then will ask two questions about Silas. First, why does Paul choose him as his partner on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40)? And second, was Paul satisfied with his selection of Silas over the other possible co-workers?

    Most students of the Scripture know Silas as the Apostle Paul’s co-worker on his second missionary journey. Yet most people might not be aware that Silas (or Silvanus, as he is also known) co-authored or tri-authored three epistles found in the New Testament. Credit is usually given to the great apostles, Peter and Paul, for these epistles and not Silas.

    Silas, the Man

    His Name

    Silas had two names used in the Scripture, Silas and Silvanus. The name Silas is used 13 times in the New Testament, all in the book of Acts (15:22, 27, 32, 34, 40; 16:19, 25, 29; 17:4, 10, 14, 15; 18:5). His other name, Silvanus, is used only four times and only in the epistles (1 Pet. 5:12; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:19). Edmond Hiebert has noted: “Silas is apparently the Greek form of the Aramaic name for Saul, a Jewish name, while Silvanus was his Latin name. Silas may have chosen that Latin name because of its similarity in sound to his Jewish name” (1992: 79). Others have suggested: “The name Silvanus is a Roman cognomen, a Latinized form of Silas” (Gillman 1992: 6: 22). His Latin name indicated he had Roman citizenship. Note Paul’s words to the magistrates in Philippi: “They have beaten us [Paul and Silas] openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out” (Acts 16:37). Like Paul, Silas had Roman citizenship. How he got it, we are not told.

    Biographical Sketch of His Life

    Let’s start with a brief sketch of this apostle’s life. The early part of Silas’ life is a bit hazy. We have hints in the Bible as well as statements in the writings of the early church fathers as to what he did. According to church tradition, Silas was one of the seventy disciples sent out to Perea by the Lord Jesus around the time of Succoth in AD 29. Luke wrote of this event, but does not provide us with the names of these individuals: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them out two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1). We have no way of confirming this tradition, but it is interesting to note, whenever Silas traveled on a missions trip, he always followed that “two by two” principle set forth by the Lord Jesus and had someone else with him, i.e. Silas and Peter, Silas and Judas, Silas and Paul, or Silas and Timothy (cf. Mark 6:7).

    We have a hint in Acts 15 of the role that Silas played in the formative years of the church in Jerusalem. Luke again writes, this time with regards to the decision by the church council in AD 49: “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren” (15:22). Notice two things about Judas and Silas, they were chosen men from within the church in Jerusalem as well as leading men in the assembly. This indicates that Silas was actively involved in the work of the Lord in Jerusalem.

    We can also assume, because the make up of the early church in Jerusalem was Jewish, that Silas was Jewish as well.

    One of the early church fathers, named Eusebius Hieronymus, also known as Jerome (ca. 347-419/20), coauthored an interesting book called Lives of Illustrious Men. Jerome was the secretary to Pope Damascus I from AD 382-385 and apparently had access to some of the early Vatican records which would have helped him in the composition of this work, written in Bethlehem about AD 492. In Lives, Jerome and Gennadius give biographical sketches of 135 Christian authors from the time of Peter to the end of the 5th century AD.

    In the biography of Peter, Jerome writes: “Simon Peter the son of John, from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, brother of Andrew the apostle, and himself chief of the apostles, after having been bishop of the church of Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion-the believers in circumcision, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia-pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius to overthrow Simon Magus” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, 3: 361). Emperor Claudius reigned from AD 41-54, so the second year was AD 42.

    If Jerome is correct in this chronological statement, it has a direct bearing on the chronology of the life of Silas and the date of the composition of I Peter. According to I Peter 5:12, Silas was either with Paul in Rome in AD 42 writing this epistle for him back to the believers that they had just evangelized in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia [hereafter these will be called the regions visited on Peter’s first missionary journey], and / or Silas was the letter carrier of this epistle back to the newly established churches in these regions. I suspect Silas both wrote the letter (I Peter) with Peter in Rome as well as carried it back to the churches in AD 42.

    Every commentary on I Peter and Acts, as well as every article I’ve read on Silas dates the writing of I Peter in the early 60’s. They also suggest Silas travels with Peter after Silas ministered in Corinth in the early 50’s. I do not share these views.

    The Apostle Peter zeroed in on one outstanding characteristic of Silas when he penned his first epistle. Silas was faithful to the Lord and to His work. “Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him” (5:12).

    After Silas delivered the epistle, we can assume he went back to Jerusalem in order to continue his ministry in that city. Seven years later, he is in the city for the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:22, 27, 32-34, 40-41).

    It was decided at the Jerusalem Council that a Gentile did not have to be circumcised in order to be saved. The apostles and elders of the Jerusalem assembly wrote a letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch (on the Orontes), Syria and Cilicia and sent it with Paul and Barnabas, but gave instructions for Judas and Silas to go with them and give a verbal confirmation of the content of the letter and clarify any questions people might have (Acts 15:22, 27).

    While in Antioch, Judas and Silas “exhorted and strengthened” the church in that city (Acts 15:32). After a time, they were sent back to Jerusalem, but Silas decided to stay on a little longer (15:33, 34).

    During his extended stay, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they return to the cities that they had planted churches during their first missionary journey and see how they were doing. Barnabas agreed and wanted to take John Mark with them. Paul said, “Nothing doing!” and they split over this issue. Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas to revisit the churches in Syria, Cilicia and Galatia (15:36-41).

    Silas was Paul’s co-worker from Antioch on the Orontes all the way to Corinth (Acts 15:41-18:17). Along the way, they picked up a young man named Timothy in order to disciple him (16:3; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2) and delivered to the churches in the cities they visited the decrees by the Jerusalem Council (16:4). During their stay in Corinth, Silas was engaged in evangelistic work (2 Cor. 1:19) as well as tri-authored two epistles to the church in Thessalonica, along with Paul and Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).

    Why Does Paul Choose Silas as His Co-worker for the Second Missionary Journey?

    Luke writes that: “Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God” (Acts 15:40). Hiebert points out that; “The verb implies that there were others whom Paul might have selected and who would have been willing to go with him” (1992: 82). It was Silas’ character and past experience that made him so desirable as a co-worker.

    There are at least six factors that influenced Paul’s decision to wisely choose Silas as his co-worker on his second missionary journey. In this selection, Silas was not the “junior missionary” and Paul the “senior missionary.” Paul was choosing a man to be on equal footing with him as they traveled, planting churches and making disciples of believers.

    Silas was a Faithful Brother

    The first reason Paul chose Silas was that he was a faithful brother (I Pet. 5:12). The statement that Silas is a brother indicates that he was born again into God’s family. The Apostle John wrote: “But as many as receive Him [the Lord Jesus], to them He gave the right [authority] to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12, 13).

    The Scripture is silent as to when and how Silas came to faith in the Lord Jesus as his Messiah and Savior. If the church tradition is correct that he was one of the seventy, then Silas might have heard the gospel from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself and put his trust in Christ alone for his salvation during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus. Jesus said on one occasion: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last days. … Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:40, 47).

    The adjective used by Peter to describe Silas was “faithful” (I Peter 5:12). This was something that Lord Jesus prized in a believer (Matt. 25:14-30). Paul admonished the believers in Corinth to develop this characteristic in their own life (I Cor. 4:1, 2). At one point in his life, Paul wrote that he thanked the Lord Jesus for giving him the power to live the Christian life. As a result of this, Jesus counted Paul faithful and put him in the ministry (1 Tim. 1:12).

    This faithfulness was in sharp contrast to John Mark who “bagged” Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 15: 38; cf. Acts 13:13). There is a bit of irony in Paul choosing Silas for the second missionary journey after Paul’s contention with Barnabas over John Mark. Both Silas and John Mark had been with Peter on his first missionary journey eight years prior. A few years later, John Mark left Paul and Barnabas at Perge when he found out they were going back to Galatia again. Scripture does not say why John Mark left, but we can surmise that something happened in Galatia during their missionary journey with Peter that caused John Mark to baulk at returning to the area. Silas had been through the same thing, whatever it was, that John Mark had been through in Galatia. Yet Silas was faithful and fearless, everything John Mark was not. Perhaps Paul used this selection of Silas as a subtle way to prod John Mark to faithfulness.

    Silas was a Fearless Person

    The second reason Paul chose Silas was that he was a fearless person. In the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, Judas and Silas are described as “men who have risked their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Unfortunately we are not told how and when they risked their lives for the sake of Christ. There are several instances of persecution of believers in Jerusalem recorded in the book of Acts (Acts 8:1; 11:19; Acts 12:1, 2). This raises an interesting possibility. Did Rabbi Saul, the Pharisee, throw Judas and Silas into prison? Now Silas would be working with a man who at one time persecuted him! That would be a powerful testimony to the forgiveness Silas had for someone who had done him wrong.

    Perhaps Silas was fearless when something happened with Peter on his first missionary trip. It is interesting that when Peter addresses the believers in these areas in his first epistle, he writes about persecution. Silas would have known about this first hand.

    Silas Was Familiar With the Churches Where They Were Planning to Visit

    The third reason Paul chose Silas was that he was with Peter on his first missionary journey, so he knew the churches of the circumcision in those locations, and especially Galatia. More importantly, the churches knew Silas.

    Silas was Exercising His Spiritual Gift

    The fourth reason Paul chose Silas was that Silas was exercising his spiritual gift (Acts 15:30-35). Silas was a prophet with the gift of prophecy (15:32; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28). This spiritual gift was the communication of God’s Word to His people. The prophet was to interpret and apply God’s Word to the life of the church. In the practical outworking of this in Antioch, Judas and Silas “exhorted and strengthen” the believers in that church.

    One of the foundational gifts to the Church is that of prophet (Eph. 4:11). Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “[After the ascension] And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

    The church at Antioch sent Judas and Silas back to Jerusalem, but Silas decided to remain in Antioch and exercised his spiritual gift (Acts 15:34, 35). While he was there, Paul got a good look at him in action and must have liked what he saw.

    One of the things that Paul considered was a team that was balance with spiritual gifts. Paul had the gift of teaching and of an apostle. Silas had the gift of prophecy and was a prophet and apostle. I Thess. 2:6 said that Silas was an apostle. In Lystra, they invited Timothy to join them and he had the gift of evangelist (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). You will notice from the list in Ephesians 4, all the bases were covered: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor / teacher. There was a balanced team.

    Silas had the Authoritative Backing of the Jerusalem Church

    The fifth reason Paul chose Silas was that he had the authoritative backing of the Jerusalem church. As has been mentioned before, Silas was a leading man in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22), possibly one of the “seventy” (Luke 10:1), and an “apostle” (1 Thess. 2:6). On this second missionary journey, Silas would report and confirm the letter from the Jerusalem Council. In essence, he would be the personal representative of the Jerusalem church and apostles and represented their authority when he delivered the “decrees” (Acts 15:25-27; 16:4).

    Silas had Roman Citizenship

    The final reason Paul chose Silas was that he had Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37). Paul and Silas could plead their Roman citizenship if they were confronted by the “perils of the Gentiles” (2 Cor. 11:26). On at least one occasion, at Philippi, they had to do this (Acts 16:37). Where Timothy was at this point, we are not told. I suspect there was a wave of anti-Semitism caused by the decree of Claudius when he expelled the Jews from Rome. Paul and Silas were hauled before the magistrate by the owners of the slave girl with the accusation that “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe” (Acts 16:20, 21). It would also give them access to the aristocracy in Roman colonies, i.e. the “up and outers.” If they could reach the wealthy people in the community, then perhaps they might open their homes (villas) for the church to meet in. For example, Priscilla and Aquila opened their home in Rome (Rom. 16:3-5), and likewise Gaius in Corinth (Rom. 16:23). These were people that Silas had an influence in their lives.

    Was Paul Satisfied with His Selection of Silas? Absolutely!

    Silas at Lystra

    Paul was satisfied with his selection of Silas on the second missionary journey because Silas used his prophetic gift for the furtherance of the ministry in Galatia. He apparently was the one God used to prophesy about Timothy in Lystra. 1 Tim. 1:18, 19a says: “The charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience.”

    More than likely it was Silas the Holy Spirit used to redirect the route of the missionary journey. In Acts 16:6, 7 we read: “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia. After they came to Mysia, they tried to go through Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” Paul did not have the gift of prophecy but Silas did, so he would have used his prophetic gift to determine the mind of God on the direction to travel. It is interesting to notice, however, when they got to Alexandria Troas, it was Paul who had the vision of a man from Macedonia who said “Come over and help us” (Acts 16:9).

    Silas at Philippi

    Paul was satisfied with his selection of Silas because Silas was fearless in the face of danger. A good example of this was when Paul and Silas were on the Philippi jail. Here Silas was fearless. He was not moping and groaning about the prison conditions, nor was he trying to call his lawyer to get them sprung from jail. No, they were having a prayer and praise service, in spite of their adverse circumstances.

    When they wrote to the Thessalonians, they reminded them of the difficult situation in Philippi. They wrote: “But you yourselves know, brethren that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict” (1 Thess. 2:1, 2).

    Meanwhile, back at the jail, at midnight an earthquake hit. The Philippian jailer tried to commit suicide, but Paul stopped him before he could harm himself. When the jailer realized they were still inside the prison and had not escaped, he came into the chamber and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Please notice that the jailer is asking both of them the question. Luke writes that “They (plural) answered him …” Their response in unison indicated that they were on the same page theological and had the gospel presentation down pat.

    What did they say? Was it, “Have you ever heard of the four spiritual laws?” Nope, they did not say that. Did they say, “Repent, confess your sins, and commit your life to Christ?” No, they did not say that either. Did they say, “Believe and be baptized?” No, that was not the condition for salvation either. Did they say, “Let Jesus into your heart and life?” No. They said in unison, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

    One can not present the gospel any plainer or clearer than what Paul and Silas did in Philippi. Some today would falsely accuse them of “easy believe-ism”, but in fact, it should be called “only believe-ism” because that is the only thing a person has to do, in fact, the only thing a person can do, in order to get saved. “Believe”, put their trust in, rely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on Calvary’s cross where the complete payment for sins were made.

    Silas at Thessalonica

    Paul was satisfied with his selection of Silas when they were ministering in Thessalonica because Silas was not a financial burden on the church in that city. When they wrote back to the church at Thessalonica, they reminded them: “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:9, 10). We know that Paul’s “secular” occupation was that of a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), but what Silas did, we are not told. Yet he engaged in “secular” employment in Thessalonica so as not to be a financial burden on the church. This strategy apparently paid off with much spiritual success in the city (Acts 17:4).

    Silas at Berea, Athens and Thessalonica

    Paul was satisfied with his selection of Silas when they were ministering in Berea because he could be trusted to stabilize the new church as well as carry a financial gift to Paul.

    Paul, Silas and Timothy found a very receptive audience in the synagogue at Berea. These Jews “searched the Scriptures daily” to see whether the Scriptures said what Paul said it said about the Lord Jesus. Unfortunately some agitators from Thessalonica came and stirred up the people of Berea. Paul was forced to leave, and departed for Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea to stabilize the new church and helped to build it up (Acts 17:10-14).

    When Paul got to Athens, he sent for Silas and Timothy (Acts 17:15). When Paul, Silas and Timothy wrote the Thessalonian believers from Corinth they said: “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith” (1 Thess. 3:1, 2). Timothy, and apparently Silas, left Athens and returned to Thessalonica to encourage the believers there. Some have suggested Silas went on to Philippi to encourage those believers as well and bring back a financial gift (Hiebert 1992: 85), but the Scripture is silent on this possible visit to Philippi. We do know that Silas and Timothy journeyed together from Macedonia to meet Paul in Corinth. Nor are we told which church or churches in Macedonia sent the gift back to Paul (Phil. 4:15, 16; 2 Cor. 11:9).

    Silas at Corinth

    Paul was satisfied with his decision to invite Silas with him because in Corinth he was actively involved in their evangelistic outreach. They ministered in the city from AD 50 – 52 (Acts 18:1-18). When Paul wrote back to the church at Corinth he reminds them that “the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us – by me, Silvanus, and Timothy” (2 Cor. 1:19).

    The three not only did evangelistic work in Corinth, they also tri-authored two epistles to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). In these two epistles they try to correct some doctrinal errors that had crept into the church concerning the return of Christ.

    It is interesting to speculate if Silas might have known Aquila from his visit to Pontus during Peter’s first missionary journey, or when he visited the province on his return trip with the letter. Aquila was originally from Pontus, up near the Black Sea, but later moved to Rome until he and his wife Priscilla were expelled by Claudius in AD 49 (Acts 18:2). Meeting him in Corinth would have been a pleasant surprise and there would have been a cheerful reunion. Perhaps Silas was the one who introduced the couple to Paul.

    Perhaps it was Silas, who had been to Rome with Peter, who put the seed of desire in Paul’s mind to go to Rome. When he met Aquila and Priscilla, who had lived in Rome, this reinforced Paul’s desire to go to the Eternal City (Rom. 1:7-13; 15:24; Acts 19:21; 23:11)

    After Paul left Corinth, we do not know what happened to Silas. Luke does not indicate that he continued with Paul, Aquila and Priscilla to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). On the other hand, he apparently does not stay in Corinth for long either because when Paul wrote back to the church, he sent no greetings to him in any of the epistles (1 Cor. 1:12). We can only guess what happened to Silas. He either died, or he went back to Jerusalem, or went somewhere else that is unrecorded in the Scriptures. Silas goes quietly off the scene of Biblical history, yet there is much we can learn from his life.



    Silas’ faithfulness stands in stark contrast with the lack of faithfulness by John Mark. The apostle Paul thought faithfulness was very important for believers. He wrote: “Let a man so consider us [Paul, Timothy, and Silas], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:1, 2). Believers need to work on this area constantly. We should set aside time for our daily reading of the Scriptures and prayer. We should make it a priority to be at the meetings of the assembly: the Lord’s Supper, the Bible hour and prayer meeting.


    Silas and Judas risked their lives for the sake of Christ. What they did we are not told, but they were bold in their witness for Him and fearless. We should take a stand for Christ at home, at work, at school, in the market place. Opposition will come and persecution for those who live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12), but like Silas, we should be fearless.

    Exercising Spiritual Gifts

    Silas was exercising his spiritual gift of prophecy and that of a prophet, that God in His sovereignty, had given him (1 Cor. 12: 11), for the edification, or building up, of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:12, 13). Today, believers should know what their spiritual gift is, and exercise it, so the Body of Christ is built up.

    Clarity of the Gospel

    Silas clearly understood and boldly proclaimed the simplicity of the gospel message. He did not muddy up the gospel with unclear phrases and unbiblical terminology. Paul and Silas were on same page as Jesus, with regards to this issue. The gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sins. Any and all who “believe” (put’s their trust in, relies upon) the Lord Jesus will be given a home in Heaven, the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God. We as believers in the Lord Jesus need to make that message crystal clear so people can understand the message and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

    The Work of Evangelism and Discipleship

    Silas was a prophet and had the gift of prophecy, yet he was actively involved in evangelism and making disciples. He exercised his gift of prophecy to build up the Body of Christ, but he shared the gospel and made disciples because it was a command from the Lord Jesus. Silas went on the mission trip with Paul, following the “two-by-two” pattern set forth by the Lord Jesus. Along the way, they gathered disciples in order to train them, Timothy being an example (2 Tim. 2:2). Yet they engaged in evangelistic work wherever they went.


    Bruce, F. F.
    1985 The Pauline Circle. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman.

    ______1995 Paul. Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

    Elliot, John H.
    1980 Peter, Silvanus and Mark in I Peter and Acts. Pp. 250-267 in Wort in Der Zeit. Edited by W. Haubeck and M. Bachmann. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

    Finegan, Jack
    1998 Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Revised Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Frew, D.
    1918 Silas or Silvanus. Pp. 492, 493 in Dictionary of the Apostolic Church. Vol. 2. Edited by J. Hasting. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    Gillman, John

    1992 Silas. Pp. 22, 23 in Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. Edited by D. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1992 In Paul’s Shadow. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

    1994Lives of Illustrious Men. Pp. 353-402 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second series. Vol. 3. Edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Kaye, B. N.
    1979 Acts’ Portrait of Silas. Novum Testamentum 31/1: 13-26.

    Lang, G. H.
    1985 Pictures and Parables. Studies in the Parabolic Teaching of Holy Scripture. Miami Springs, FL: Conley and Schoetle.

    1988 Secure Yet Scrutinized. 2 Timothy 2:11-13. Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 1/1. http://www.faithalone.org/journal/1988ii/McCoy.html

    Redlich, E. Basil
    1913 S. Paul and His Companions. London: Macmillan.

    Wainwright, Allan
    1979 Where Did Silas Go? (And What Was His Connection With Galatians?). Journal for the Study of the New Testament 8: 66-70.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on Epaphras: A Man of Fervent Prayer

    By Gordon Franz


    What kind of reputation does each of us have in our local church? Are we known as a person who knows the Word of God and can teach it? Or, are we known as a person of prayer? Or, are we known as a person who helps others in times of need and can counsel those who have problems and comfort the broken hearted? What is our reputation?

    There was an elderly gentleman, who has since gone to be with the Lord, in the church that I fellowship with, named Ted Bolkema. He had a solid reputation of being a man of prayer, and could he ever pray! It was always interesting to hear him pray at the Thursday night prayer meeting. He would pray geographically. He would start by praying for the needs of the assembly at Valley Bible Chapel in Washington Township, NJ. Then he would pray for the outreach into the surrounding communities in Bergen County. He would then turn his attention to missionaries. Starting in Mexico, he would pray down Central America to South America, praying for missionaries by name and the specific needs that they had. These needs were gleaned from the prayer letters read earlier in the prayer meeting, or from “Missions” magazine or his own personal knowledge of the missionaries. He would then hop over to South Africa and pray up to the Mediterranean coast interceding for missionaries and the work in Africa. Then he would then go to Europe, praying for that spiritually Dark Continent. His attention would turn east and he would pray for those behind the Iron Curtin (this was before the fall of the Soviet Union) and further east to Asia as well as the Subcontinent, India and Southeast Asia. He would either cross the Bering Strait in Alaska or hop to Hawaii on his way to the mainland in order to pray for the home workers in the United States. All this in ten to fifteen minutes! He had a well earned reputation as a man of prayer.

    The Apostle Paul wrote to the saints in the Lycus Valley commending one of their own, Epaphras of Colossae, as “always laboring fervently for you in prayers” (Col. 4:12). What brought Epaphras to the point of being such a devout man of prayer, earnestly praying for the people in the Lycus Valley?

    The Bible gives few biographical clues to this fascinating individual. Epaphras’ name is mentioned only three times in the Bible (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 23). There are six verses that actually make reference to him (Col. 1:7, 8; 4:12-14 and Philemon 23). From these verses and the historical-geography of the Lycus Valley, we can glean hints about this man with a reputation for praying for specific needs in the churches where he ministered (Morgan-Gillman 1992: 2: 533).

    Colossae was located in the Lycus Valley. This valley was situated on a very strategic road that went from Ephesus on the Aegean Sea eastward to Syria. It is located at the eastern end of the Meander River. Within this valley there are two other major cities, Laodicea and Hierapolis, within the region of Phrygia.

    Epaphras’ Ethnicity and Hometown

    The name Epaphras is a shortened form of the name Epaphroditus, the meaning of which is “handsome” or “charming.” The Epaphras mentioned in Colossians and Philemon should not be associated with, or confused with the Epaphroditus mentioned in Philippians 4:18.

    The Apostle Paul hints at the fact that Epaphras was a Gentile in Colossians 4. In the verses preceding the mention of Epaphras, Paul lists three individuals: Aristarchus, John Mark, and Yeshus called Justus, and identifies them as “my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision” (4:10, 11). Those of the circumcision are Jewish individuals. The three that are mentioned next: Epaphras, Dr. Luke and Demas, would not be included in the “only” of the “circumcision”, thus they were Gentiles.

    Paul also points out that Epaphras is “one of you” in the epistle written to the Church at Colossae (4:12), indicating that Colossae was his home town and that he was in fellowship in the assembly in that city.

    Epaphras’ Relationship to Christ

    When Paul and Timothy penned the epistle to the Colossians about AD 62 they gave four descriptions of Epaphras. He is first called “our dear fellow servant [sundoulos]” (1:7a). Then he is called “a faithful minister [diakonos] of Christ” (1:7b). The third designation is “a bondservant [doulos] of Christ” (4:12a). And finally “my [Paul’s] fellow prisoner [sunaixmalotos] in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 23). Twice Epaphras is described as a servant, or slave [doulos]. The emphasis of this word seems to be on the relationship between the slave and his master.

    William Hendriksen eloquently describes this relationship: “A servant of Jesus Christ is one who has been bought with a price and is therefore owned by his Master, on whom he is completely dependent, to whom he owes undivided allegiance and to whom he ministers with gladness of heart, in newness of spirit, and in the enjoyment of perfect freedom, receiving from him a glorious reward” (1964: 191).

    Epaphras is also called a “faithful minister.” The word minister is the Greek word for deacon. Perhaps Epaphras served in this office as one of deacon in the church at Colossae (cf. I Tim. 3:8-13). If that is the case, and Epaphras met the qualifications of this office, we can surmise that he was a family man with a wife and children. The fact that he held the office of deacon in the church at Colossae should not be confused with his exercising his spiritual gift of that of an evangelist in the Lycus Valley (cf. Eph. 4:11). Paul noted that he was faithful in carrying out his responsibilities as a deacon.

    Paul also points out in his letter to Philemon that Epaphras is a “fellow prisoner.” Apparently Epaphras was put in prison along with the Apostle Paul for one reason or another and was incarcerated when Paul sent the letters to the churches at Laodicea and Colossae, as well as the epistle to Philemon, back to the Lycus Valley with Tychicus and Onesinus (Col. 4:7-9, 16).

    Epaphrus’ Salvation

    The Bible does not state when Epaphras trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, or who shared the good news of the gospel with him. One can only speculate on the answer to these questions. Most likely we can say that the Apostle Paul did not lead him to Christ. Otherwise, he would have called Epaphras his son in the faith, like he did Titus (Tit. 1:4) and Timothy (I Tim. 1:2; II Tim. 1:2; 2:2). More than likely someone else shared the greatest news Epaphras had ever heard. This individual pointed out to Epaphras that he was a sinner and had come short of God’s mark of perfection (Rom. 3:23), and the wages of sin was death, or separation from God for all eternity in Hell (Rom. 6:23). Yet the good news is that the Lord Jesus died on Calvary’s cross to pay for his sins and rose again from the dead three days later. All Epaphras had to do, in fact, all he could do, was to trust the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior; and not his works, good deeds, or any merit of his own (Eph. 2:8, 9; Tit. 3:5). When he trusted Christ alone, he was given the righteousness of God, the forgiveness of all his sins, a home in heaven, and the free gift of eternal life (Phil. 3:9).

    There are two possibilities as to who brought the gospel to the Lycus Valley. The first would be some Jewish pilgrims from the Lycus Valley (Phrygia, cf. Acts 2:10) who went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) in AD 30 and heard Peter’s sermon that is recorded in Acts 2:14-41. They could have returned with the gospel message. The second possibility could be Peter or Silas (also known as Silvanus) if they came through the Lycus Valley on their way to Asia during their missionary journey to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (I Pet. 1:1; 5:12). One of the early church fathers, Jerome, dates this journey to the second year of Emperor Claudius which would be the year AD 42 (1994: 3: 361). Peter was an apostle to the circumcision (Gal. 2:7-9) and there were Jewish communities in the Lycus Valley that he and his team would want to evangelize (Bruce 1984a).

    Paul hints at others bringing the gospel to the Lycus Valley before Epaphras began his ministry there in the mid-50’s of the First Century AD. Paul reminds them of the grace of God and says: “as you also learned from Epaphras” (Col. 1:7 NKJV). The word “also” indicates that others, most likely Peter, Silas and John Mark, brought the gospel to the Lycus Valley first. At the end of the epistle to the Colossians, as well as Philemon, Paul gives them greetings from John Mark and tells them to prepare for his possible visit (4:10; Philemon 24), suggesting that they already knew him from a previous visit.

    There is, however, a textual problem that would effects the interpretation of this passage. The text underlying the RSV, NRSV, NASB and the NIV all omit the word “also.” If that is the case, then Epaphras was the first one who brought the gospel to the Lycus Valley (Hiebert 1979:55; 1992:139). I believe that the word “also” has stronger textual support and belongs in the text, and that Peter and company were the first to bring the gospel to the Valley.

    Epaphras’ Training

    Ephesus was a thriving metropolis in the mid-1st century AD. People flocked to the city for business (trade and commerce), pleasure (the brothels) or pilgrimage and sightseeing. The Temple of Artemis / Diana was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and would have been the main attraction. Paul went there because it was a very strategic city for the furtherance of the Gospel. More than likely, Epaphras met the Apostle Paul while visiting Ephesus when Paul was there on his third missionary journey, sometime between AD 52 and 55 (Acts 19).

    Paul and Timothy had set up a daily “discipleship training program” at the School of Tyrannus, next to the synagogue of Ephesus (Acts 19:9). As a result of this daily teaching program, Dr. Luke records: “And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).

    Paul and Timothy modeled an effective tool to reach a large area with the gospel. As Paul reminded Timothy, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2:2). They committed the Word of God to faithful men who returned to their own communities, or went out to other areas with the gospel in order to plant churches and establish a Christian witness, and these men were able to teach others also.

    Paul states that he had not been to the Lycus Valley (Col. 2:1). Most likely Epaphras met Paul in Ephesus when Paul was ministering in the School of Tyrannus. Perhaps Epaphras was visiting Ephesus on business and met Paul, or he heard of the school via travelers through the Lycus Valley and sought out the apostle so he could learn more of the Word of God. More than likely, Epaphras was trained by Paul and Timothy in Ephesus before he returned home with a new zeal, and better knowledge, for sharing the gospel.

    Epaphras Exercised His Spiritual Gift as an Evangelist in Planting Churches in the Lycus Valley

    Jesus, when He sent out His disciples, sent them out two-by-two. Peter and Paul followed that example as well when they went on their missionary journeys. In the New Testament, there are no “Lone Ranger Missionaries” (even the Lone Ranger had his side-kick Tonto!).

    I am sure that Epaphras followed this pattern as well. More than likely he returned to the Lycus Valley with, a fellow Colossian, named Philemon. Paul knew Philemon well. In fact, Paul rescued him from physical harm at one point in his life (Philemon 19). Where and when this event took place, and the nature of the harm, we are not told, but more than likely it occurred in Ephesus. Perhaps Philemon was studying in the School of Tyrannus as well.

    Paul reminded the saints in the Valley that the truth of the gospel came to them “as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Col. 1:5b-7).

    There is another textual problem in verse 7. The text underlying the KJV and the NKJV identify Epaphras as a “faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.” If this is correct, perhaps the churches in the Lycus Valley sent him and Philemon to the School of Tyrannus to get further education from Paul and Timothy so they could be more effective in their outreach in the Valley. On the other hand, the text underlying the NIV, RSV, NASB have the word “on our behalf.” This would seem to indicate that Paul sent Epaphras (and Philemon) back home as his personal representative because he was heavily engaged in the work at Ephesus (Hiebert 1979:56; 1992:140, 141). I think the former usage, “on your behalf” is correct, and Epaphras went to Ephesus to sharpen his knowledge in the Word of God from Paul, and his skills in evangelism from Timothy (cf. II Tim. 4:5).

    When Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Ephesus, he developed his thoughts on spiritual gifts (4:7-16). He has already written about spiritual gifts elsewhere (Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:6-10, 28-30), and so had Peter (I Pet. 4:11). He states that the Ascended Lord Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelist, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (4:11, 12). These gifted individuals to the Body of Christ were given so that the individuals in the local church could be taught to carry on the ministry in the local church and that the church would be built up numerically as well as spiritually.

    The local church has only two offices (Phil 1:1): elders (I Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-11) and deacons (I Tim. 3: 8-13). These are not to be confused with spiritual gifts that God, in His sovereignty, has given to individuals in the church. Apostle, prophets, evangelists and pastor / teachers are gifted individuals that God has given to His Church, not offices in the local church.

    One must also distinguish between the gift of evangelist which some believers may have (Eph. 4:11), and the command to evangelize which was given by the Lord Jesus to all believers in Him (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16).

    Eusebius (ca. AD 260-340), described the evangelist in his Ecclesiastical History this way: “[They] took up the work of evangelists and were zealous to preach to all who had not yet heard the word of faith, and to transmit the writing of the divine Gospels. As soon as they had no more than laid the foundations of the faith in some strange place, they appointed others as shepherds [poimevas] and committed to them the task of tending those who had been just brought in, but they themselves passed on again to other lands and peoples, helped by the grace and co-operation of God” (3: 37; LCL 1:287).

    One scholar suggests that “the role of evangelist included the preservation of true foundational doctrine. This could be the reason that ‘evangelists’ are found among the ‘equippers’ of Ephesians 4:11 just before Paul warns them not to be deceived by false doctrine (4:14) and is listed in 2 Timothy 4 just after Paul emphasizes the preservation of doctrine (vv. 3-4)” (Berding 2006: 327, footnote 9).

    Epaphras ministered with Philemon in Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col. 4:12, 13). They used Colossae as their home base and traveled to the other two cities conducting evangelistic campaigns. Their walk from Colossae to Laodicea was about ten miles. From Laodicea to Hierapolis was about six miles. “The three cities lie so near to each other, that it would be quite possible to visit them all in the course of a single day” (Lightfoot 1892: 2).

    Epaphras Confers with the Apostle Paul in Rome about the Theological Problems in the Lycus Valley

    About five years after Epaphras and Philemon started their evangelistic work, planting churches in the Lycus Valley, some theological problems arose. Epaphras had a good handle on the Word of God, but there were some issues he could not deal with. He sought out his mentor, the Apostle Paul, who was older, wiser and more knowledgeable then himself in the Scriptures. After making some inquiries, he found out Paul was in prison in Rome (Philemon 1, 9, 10, 13). Epaphras took the long journey to the Eternal City in order to consult with Paul about the “Colossian Heresy” because he was concerned for the spiritual well-being of the churches in the Valley.

    Scholars have debated the nature of the Colossian Heresy (DeMaris 1994; Bruce 1984b). An important study was done by Dr. Clinton Arnold of Talbot School of Theology, entitled The Colossian Syncretism. The Interface Between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae (1996). He points out that the people of Colossae “lived in an environment of religious pluralism. They coexisted with people who worshiped Anatolian, Persian, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities and with Jews who were devoted to the worship of one god and the observance of Torah. The manner of devotion and religious expression were quite varied among the different groups” (1996: 310).

    Rather than use the word “heresy” to describe the “philosophy” (Col. 2:8) that was permeating the churches in the Lycus Valley, Arnold prefers the word “syncretism.” This is the blending of the different thoughts and practices of the various religious beliefs in the area to make a comprehensive belief system, sort of like a theological hobo stew. Each group brings a little of this and a little of that from their religious beliefs and drops them into the kettle, stirs, and hopes that they all blend well and that the stew is tasty to the eater.

    Arnold describes the syncretism this way: “Some of the beliefs and practices held in common can be attributed to the strength of the local Phrygian religious traditions. What many scholars have called the ‘Lydian-Phrygian spirit’ permeated many of the cults, and to some degree, even Judaism. This local tradition included a tendency toward the worship of one high god served by many intermediary beings, ecstatic forms of worship that sometimes led to the abuse of the body, a strong belief in dangerous spirits and powers, and the practice of invoking divine intermediaries for deliverance, protection and assistance” (1996: 310).

    Arnold goes on to say that this “new teaching emerged within the Christian community at Colossae. Referring to itself as ‘the philosophy,’ the leaders of this faction had adapted the Pauline gospel to aspects of Phrygian-Lydian beliefs and practices as well as to the local Judaism. The advocated the invocation of angels for protection from hostile powers. They appear to have overemphasized the transcendence of God and under emphasized the exalted position of Christ, functionally viewing him as a mediator, perhaps on the same level as the angels” (1996: 311).

    The solution to this syncretism, according to Arnold, is a “cosmic Christology” by the Apostle Paul. In this theology, “Jesus existed before the powers, he in fact created them, he defeated the hostile powers on the cross, and he will intervene in the future and bring about a universal peace in heaven as well as on earth” (1996: 311).

    Scholars have debated the origin of the “Colossian Heresy”: What was its real cause? One summer I was visiting Turkey with some friends. As we approached Colossae I could see from a distance a thin line of purple covering the top of the acropolis of the city. I thought that strange and wondered what kind of flower could produce such a beautiful color. On my previous visit, the acropolis was covered with wheat. Once we got to the top of the site, I could see it was a field of opium with the purple flowers in full bloom. The neighbors did not seem too pleased with our visit, so we took our pictures and left. When I got home, I sent Clint Arnold a photograph of the opium plants with a note, “Here is the real cause of the Colossian Heresy!” J

    Paul realized that the Colossian syncretism was more than Epaphras could handle on his own. So he wrote several letters back to the Lycus Valley attempting to straighten out the problem and ground the believers in sound doctrine. His desire was “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2, 3).

    Tychicus and Onesimus took the three letters back to the Valley. One letter, which no longer exists, was dropped off at Laodicea (Col. 4:16), and the other two were read in the church that was meeting in the house of Philemon at Colossae (Col. 1:2; Philemon 2).

    Epaphras Prayed Fervently for the Lord to Intervene Concerning the Problems in the Churches in the Lycus Valley

    While Epaphras was in Rome, he spent many hours with the Apostle Paul as well as Dr. Luke. Something he learned about the Lord Jesus from Dr. Luke was a statement that Jesus made, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Epaphras took this to heart because when Paul wrote back to the church at Colossae and said: “Epaphras … [was] always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).

    There are three things to notice about Epaphras’ prayer life and prayers. First, it was constant. He was always praying. Does this mean he was shut in his prayer closet, down on bended knees, praying 24 hours a day for seven days a week? Probably not. But I am sure that Epaphras, Paul and the other believers that were with him in Rome had long prayer session where they prayed for specific needs of individuals and churches. But, his heart was always in the attitude of prayer and when the Lord prompted him with individuals or situations, he prayed for them. On the other hand, when Paul wrote to Philemon, he identified Epaphras as his “fellow-prisoner.” If they were confined to chains, they did not have too many places to go, or much else to do! But they could go boldly to the Throne of Grace and pray for the needs of the churches in the Lycus Valley (Heb. 4:16).

    The second thing to notice about his prayers is that they were intense. He was “laboring fervently” in prayer. The Greek word “laboring fervently” is an athletic term for an athlete competing in some event and striving to win the prize. In Greek athletic competition an athlete either won or lost a competition, there was no second or third place. As Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers used to say: “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” The only ways to win an event was to labor, or strive fervently. Epaphras made it to the Bema Seat (rewarding stand) when Paul reminded the people in the Lycus Valley that Epaphras was laboring fervently for them in prayer.

    The third thing that should be noticed about Epaphras’ prayers is that they were specific; they were “for you.” I am sure they were not the sort: “God bless the people in the churches in the Lycus Valley.” No, they were specific, for individuals and the situations they found themselves in. He would pray specifically for Brother so and so who was dabbling in the Colossian syncretism and Epaphras interceded on his behalf that the Lord would ground this brother in the Word of God and he would see the errors of the syncretism. Or he would pray for Sister so and so who was setting up images of angels in her house in order to worship them and invoke their protection. Epaphras prayed that the Lord would intervene and remove them and she would see the uselessness of worshiping mere objects when she could be worshiping the Creator of the Universe, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    When I was a new Christian, I remember hearing the founder of the Slavic Gospel Association, Peter Deyneka, speak on prayer. One phrase he repeated over and over again in his Russian accent was “mucha prayer, mucha power!” Epaphras understood this as well. He was always praying for the work in the Lycus Valley and he expected God to do great things among the saints in the churches. He prayed specifically that they would: First, stand perfect in the face of heresy; and second, be complete is all the will of God (4:12). In essence, what he was praying for is that they would be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:27-30). Epaphras was Paul’s “true scholar in the school of intercessory prayer.” How is our prayer life? Do we spend time praying for specific individuals and specific needs of those being prayed for?

    Paul concludes this section by using a legal word picture of a witness who appears before a court and gives testimony to an event (4:13). In this case, he testifies to the saints in the Lycus Valley that Epaphras had a “great zeal for you.” In other words, Epaphras gave 100% of his effort in prayer and work, for the people in the three churches in the valley: Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.


    Apparently Epaphras does not return with Tychicus and Philemon when they took the letters to the Lycus Valley. What happens to him after that, we do not know. Does he stay with Paul in Rome? Was he eventually martyred? Does he return to the Lycus Valley after Paul is released from his imprisonment? Scripture and church history are silent on these questions. There are, however, at least three things we can learn from the life of this man of prayer.

    First, he exercised his gift as an evangelist in planting churches in the Lycus Valley. It seems that churches today hire somebody to be called the pastor and pay him to exercise all the spiritual gifts so they can sit back and be entertained! The New Testament Church did not function that way. God gave gifted men and women to the Body of Christ and each individual believer was given at least one spiritual gift that could be exercised in order to build up the local church. Epaphras had the gift of an evangelist. Not all of us have that gift. The gift is not to be confused with the command to evangelize. To evangelize is for all believers. Believers in the Lord Jesus should know their gift and exercise it.

    Second, when he saw a problem in the church he made it his priority to pray about the situation. His prayers were not just, “God bless the people at Colossae,” but rather fervent, continuous prayers for the people and situation that arose in the churches of the Lycus Valley. Epaphras knew that God changes the hearts of men and women and that is why he labored much in prayer. How much emphasis do we put on intercessory prayer? What are our priorities for the mid-week prayer meeting?

    Someone once remarked: “Have you ever heard of a church named the Church of St. Epaphras”? In all my travels, I have never seen one, nor am I aware of one in early Church literature or archaeological excavations. In fact, I Googled the name, “Church of St. Epaphras”, and got nothing! Now that does not mean there never was one. The ancient mound of Colossae has not been excavated … yet. Knowing those Byzantine church builders, however, there might be a church of St. Epaphras somewhere underneath the opium fields of Colossae!

    Third, when he realized his lack of understanding on certain issues, he sought godly counsel from an individual who knew the Word of God better than he did and who knew what the issues were.

    Well might we learn some practical lessons from this man of fervent prayer and apply them to our own lives and go out and build up the Body of Christ for His honor and glory.


    Arnold, Clinton E.
    1996 The Colossian Syncretism. The Interface Between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae. Grand Rapids: Baker.

    Berding, Kenneth
    2006 What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional View. Grand Rapids: Kregel.

    Bruce, F. F.
    1984a Jews and Christians in the Lycus Valley. Bibliotheca Sacra 141:3-15.

    ______1984b The Colossian Heresy. Bibliotheca Sacra 141: 195-208.

    DeMaris, Richard E.
    1994 The Colossian Controversy. Wisdom in Dispute at Colossae. Sheffield: JSOT. JSNTSS 96.

    1980 Ecclesiastical History. Vol. 1. Trans. by K. Lake. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 153.

    Hadidian, Dikran
    1966 Shorter Communications. Eph. 4:11. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28/3: 317-321.

    Hendriksen, William
    1964 Exposition of Colossians and Philemon. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1979 Epaphras, Man of Prayer. Bibliotheca Sacra 136: 54-64.

    1992 In Paul’s Shadow. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

    1994 Lives of Illustrious Men. Pp. 353-402 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second series. Vol. 3. Edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Johnson, Sherman E.
    1950 Laodicea and Its Neighbors. Biblical Archaeologist 13/1: 1-18.

    Kreitzer, Larry J.
    2003 Epaphras and Philip: The Undercover Evangelists of Hierapolis. Pp. 127-143 in “You Will Be My Witnesses”: A Festschrift in Honor of the Reverend Dr. Allison A. Trites on the Occasion of His Retirement. Edited by R. G. Wooden; T. R. Ashley; and R. S. Wilson. Macon, GA: Mercer University.

    Lees, Harrington C.
    1917 St. Paul’s Friends. London: Religious Tract Society.

    Morgan-Gillman, Florence
    1992 Epaphras. P. 533 in Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2. Edited by D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

    Rolston, Holmes
    1954 Personalities Around Paul. Richmond, VA: John Knox.

    Seekings, Herbert S.
    1914 The Men of the Pauline Circle. London: Charles H. Kelly.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on Barnabas: A Good Man

    By Gordon Franz


    If I mentioned the name Barney, who would come to mind? If you belong to the Geritole crowd you would probably think of that goofy sheriff’s deputy from Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show (Don Knotts). For those with money as the love of their life, they would probably think of the investment firm, Smith-Barney. If you are a young person or parents of children you would probably think of that purple dinosaur that goes around singing, “I love you, you love me; we’re one big happy family.” (My parents are into the genealogy scene big time. The last time I check with them, we did not have any reptilian ancestors climbing around in our family tree!).

    The Bible mentions a fellow named Barney. Actually his name was Yosef ha-Levi. We would say in English, Joseph the Levite. The apostles gave this man from the island of Cyprus the nickname, Barnabas, which in Aramaic means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4: 36). The nickname was well deserved because he had a solid reputation of encouraging people in the things of the Lord.

    Barney was a lesser-known apostle, but greatly used of the Lord. You see, if Barnabas did not go around encouraging people and seeing potential in them, in spite of their past track record of failures, we may not have half of our New Testament! Now I realize this statement is made apart from the sovereignty of God, and no doubt, God would have risen up others for the task, but Barnabas encouraged Saul, (later known as Paul) and John Mark at crucial points in their spiritual lives. If he had not encouraged Paul and John Mark, we might not have had the Pauline epistles, or the gospel of Mark.

    Luke characterizes Barnabas as a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). I would like to ask the question, “What made him good?” The immediate context says he was full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.

    The Apostle Paul sets forth the doctrinal truth of the filling of the Holy Spirit in Eph. 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” When a person comes to faith in the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells that person’s life. The believer has all the Holy Spirit he / she will ever get. The issue Paul raises with the command to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” is not how much of the Holy Spirit a believer has, but how much the Holy Spirit controls the believer. The illustration that Paul uses is that of wine controlling the actions of an individual, so the Holy Spirit should control every action of a believer. Paul commands every believer in the Lord Jesus to be controlled by, or yielded to, the Holy Spirit’s control of his or her lives. The “faith” refers to trusting the Lord in his daily life.

    The Introduction to a Good Man

    When we first meet Barnabas we learn that he is a Levite from the Island of Cyprus, off the coast of present day Lebanon. What do we know about Levites? They were the priestly family that ministered in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and in the First and Second Temples. After the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land and conquered it, they met at Shiloh to divide up the Land. Each tribe received an allotment, except the tribe of Levi. The Levites were scattered throughout the rest of the tribes so they could teach the Word of God as well as lead travelers to Jerusalem for the pilgrimages. The Levites had no land of their own and were dependent upon the people of the tribes to supply their daily bread. That is why it is stated of the Levites, “the LORD is their portion, or inheritance.” Ultimately they were dependant upon the Lord for their daily food.

    What was unusual about Barnabas was that he was not living in Eretz Israel, but in the Diaspora, outside the Land of Israel. In addition, he was a property owner!

    Barnabas was part of a sizable Jewish community on the island of Cyprus (Safrai and Stern 1974: 154,155; 1976: 711,712). Philo, the First Century AD Jewish philosopher living in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote a letter to Emperor Gaius Caligula in AD 38. In it, he recounts all the places where there are Jewish colonies. Of the islands he says, “And not only are the mainlands full of Jewish colonies but also the most highly esteemed of the islands Euboea, Cyprus, Crete” (Embassy to Gaius 282; LCL 10:143).

    Barnabas was good because he had a Biblical view of financial stewardship – Acts 4:32-37

    The early church had “all things in common”. In other words, they voluntarily shared their possessions with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Please note this is not communism or socialism. Under communism the state forces individuals, against their will, to give up their possessions or income in order to provide for others. Communism is a government induced, forced redistribution of wealth.

    The voluntary sharing of their goods was a manifestation of their “oneness in Christ” and was a powerful testimony to the words of the Lord Jesus in His High Priestly prayer in John 17. In this prayer, He prayed, “I do not pray for these alone [the eleven disciples], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me” (17:20,21).

    Barnabas put his money where his mouth was. He sold his land and gave all the money to the apostles for sharing with others. He exemplified what Paul would later state, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. … So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 8:9: 9:7). Barnabas did not give ten percent [actually the OT tithe was 20.6% when all the different tithes are added up] he gave 100%. In so doing, Barnabas also lived up to his Levitical heritage, “the LORD is your portion, or inheritance”. He was now living in total dependence upon the Lord for his daily needs.

    Perhaps it was his example that encouraged the believers in the church at Antioch to help in the relief effort of the Jerusalem church during the famine in the days of Emperor Claudius (Acts 11:27-30). The elders in Antioch chose Barnabas and Saul to deliver the food and money to Jerusalem (11:30; 12:25).

    Do we have God’s perspective on giving? Are we giving 100% of ourselves?

    Isaac Watts (1674-1748) caught the essence of New Testament giving in one of his hymns, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

    Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were an offering far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

    Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical view of building up the Body of Christ – Acts 11:19-26.

    I’m sure most of you have been out driving around and gotten lost at one time or another. If you are a man, you said to yourself, “I can find it myself.” If you are a woman, you probably asked for directions. The principle is this, “When you can not do the task yourself, seek help.” Barnabas saw a need in the church at Antioch. Gentiles were getting saved and needed to be instructed in the Word of God. He knew he could not do it himself, so he sought out and found Paul. Barnabas knew Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Gal. 2:7).

    Do we seek help when we know we cannot do the job ourselves? A number of years ago I was working with the young peoples group at church. One time I proposed a conference for the young people in the area. One of the leaders was quick to say that he would organize the conference. He knew I did not have the gift of administration because I am one of the most disorganized individuals there is. He had the gift of administration and did a tremendous job in organizing the event.

    Barnabas was good because he had a Biblical view of disciplining others – Acts 12:25; 13:1,13.

    God’s pattern of discipleship is sending out men, two-by-two, disciplining others who will continue the work (2 Tim. 2:2). Early Church tradition holds that Barnabas was one of the Seventy sent out by Jesus two-by-two (Luke 10:1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 12:1). If this was the case, Barnabas learned the Biblical pattern of discipleship from the Lord Himself. When some of the apostles went out on a mission trip, they took their wives (1 Cor. 9:5,6). But the husband and wife are “one flesh” and do not constitute a team of “two-by-two”. God has no “Lone Ranger” missionaries in the New Testament.

    Another aspect of discipleship is following up on those who have trusted Christ as Savior and to encourage them to get into a local fellowship. After Barnabas and Paul finished their work in Derbe they returned to the other cities that they had previously visited and strengthened the souls of the disciples and exhorted them to continue in the faith. They also appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:21-23).

    On their first missionary journey in AD 47, Barnabas and Paul were partners in evangelism and discipleship. They practiced the “two-by-two” approach and had disciples along with them, John Mark and possibly Dr. Luke.

    Barnabas was good because he had a Biblical view of missions – Acts 13:4,5.

    The first stop on the missionary journey was the island of Cyprus. Most likely the reason they went to Cyprus first was that it was the home of Barnabas and the relatives of John Mark (cf. Acts 4: 36; Col. 4:10). The pattern for missions seems to be to reach family and friends first.

    As noted before, there were Jewish colonies on the island of Cyprus. Paul was establishing a precedent that he states in Rom. 1:16, “to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles” with the Gospel. The Jewish people already had the Scriptures and would be easier to reason with than the Gentiles about their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The apostle Paul had a heart for the Jewish people to come to faith in the Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:1), even though he and Barnabas were apostles to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9).

    Another aspect of missions is keeping the home church informed of the activities of the missionaries. Upon their return to Antioch they “reported all that God had with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).

    A third aspect of missions is that Paul and Barnabas took “secular employment” while on their missionary journeys even though, as apostles, they could refrain from working (1 Cor. 9:6). They did not want to be a burden on the churches (2 Thess. 3:7-9).

    Do we have a Biblical view of missions?

    Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical view of idolatry – Acts 14:11-18.

    During their first missionary journey (Acts 13, 14), Barnabas and Paul stopped at the city of Lystra in the district of Lycaonia (Acts 14:5-20). While there, they encountered a crippled man from birth who had never walked. Paul commands him to walk. He got up, leaped and walked.

    The people of Lystra began to sacrifice oxen in honor of Barnabas and Paul. Paul and Barnabas thought it was a big cookout and said, “Hot dog (kosher, of course), we’re going to have a big bar-be-que today, sirloin streak, prime rib, and filet minion.” Unbeknownst to them, because the people were speaking in the Lycaonian language, Barnabas and Paul were about to be worshipped as gods. They thought Barnabas was Zeus perhaps because he looked older and had a long distinguished beard. They thought Paul was Hermes, the messenger god of Zeus, because Paul was the one doing all the talking. When they realize what was going on, they tried to stop it. They said they were human beings just like the people of Lystra were. Why did the people of Lystra act this way?

    There was a Roman poet named Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) who was educated in Rome. Upon the completion of his studies he toured the Greek lands, collecting local stories of the activities of the Greek gods and goddesses. One or two of his poems offended Emperor Augustus and Ovid was exiled to the provincial town of Tomis on the Black Sea in AD 8. Just before he was exiled, he wrote a poem called Metamorphoses, which means “transformation”. In it, he described objects that were transformed from one state to another. Sometimes the transformation involved gods that took on human form.

    The story is told that Jupiter and Mercury (their Greek counterparts are Zeus and Hermes) visited the region of Phrygia, to the west of Lyconia. They were incognito, disguised as human beings. Nobody showed them hospitality until they came to the small hut of an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis. This couple welcomed their unknown guests and showed hospitality by serving them a cabbage and pork stew without knowing their true identity. Zeus rewarded their kindness and hospitality by removing them before a flood washed away their neighbors. After the flood, their hut was made into a temple and the couple became the priests of the temple (Metamorphoses 8: 606-721; Slavitt 1994: 165-168).

    It is understandable why the Lyconians from Lystra called out, “The gods have come down to visit us.” The people thought they knew a god when they saw one and did not want to mess up this time! There is an archaeological basis for this story because there is archaeological evidence that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped in the area.

    Most of us do not bow down to a statue or an idol, yet Paul says “idolatry which is covetousness” (Col. 3:5). How many of us are greedy and want what others have? Or are we content with what the Lord has given us (Phil. 4:11; 1 Tim. 6:8; Heb. 13:5)?

    Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical view of salvation – Acts 15:1-35.

    From Genesis to Revelation, salvation has always been by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. In the Old Testament, a person trusted that the LORD would send a Savior, the Lamb of God (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-5; Isa. 53:6). In the New Testament a person looks back to Calvary and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died and paid for all sin. When people put their trust in Him, and Him alone, for their salvation, they have the forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven and the righteousness of God (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8,9; Tit. 3:8; Phil. 3:9).

    Certain men of the sect of the Pharisees came from Judea to the church at Antioch to inform them that a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved (15:1). Paul and Barnabas took strong exception to this teaching. In order to resolve this theological conflict, the church sent them to Jerusalem for a ruling from the apostles and elders concerning this issue. The apostles agreed with Barnabas and Paul that a Gentile does not have to be circumcised for salvation. It was around this time that Paul wrote the epistle to the Galatians, either slightly before the Jerusalem Council, or soon after.

    Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical approach to conflict management – Acts 15:36-41.

    John Mark left Barnabas and Paul after they had visited Cyprus. We are not told why he left. When Paul suggested to Barnabas that they visit the churches of Cyprus and Galatia, Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark. Paul would hear nothing of it and there was a sharp contention between the two. How was this resolved? I can imagine part of the conversation. Probably Barnabas said, “Paul, I vouched for you before the Jerusalem brethren when nobody believed your conversion!” (Acts 9:27).

    There are two ways to resolve conflicts, either in a constructive or destructive manner. The constructive manner is always a win / win situation for both parties. The destructive manner could be either a win / lose or lose / lose proposition.

    Disagreements in the church will not hurt the testimony of the congregation as long as the leaders see the “big picture” of God’s redemptive purposes. What is really important? The goal of conflict resolution is to build up the Body of Christ.

    This was a win / win decision; there were two missionary teams.

    My sense is that John Mark realized he had “dropped the ball” and worked on being faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). Perhaps he had some rough edges that needed to be smoothed and Barnabas was the one to work with him. Somewhere along the line, John Mark and Paul are reconciled. During Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, we know that John Mark is with him because he sends greetings to the church in Colosse and to Philemon (Col. 4:10; Philemon 24). Paul, writing during his second imprisonment, instructs Timothy to “Get John Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11).

    Do we seek to resolve conflicts in a Biblical way? Are we seeking a win / win solution to our conflicts? Are we encouraging others and looking for the potential they have?

    Barnabas was a good man because he was teachable and we assume he corrected his unbiblical view of fellowship – Gal. 2:11-14.

    When the apostle Peter was in Antioch-on-the-Orontes, he ate with both Jewish believers and Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus. Once, when certain men from James came to visit, Peter separated himself from the Gentile believers and ate only with the Jewish believers. Barnabas, following the lead of Peter, separated himself as well. Paul rebuked both of them. The issue at sake is not what Barnabas and Peter ate, but whom they ate it with. In other words, fellowship, not the “kosher-ness” of the food, was the issue.

    Paul rebuked them because this issue was the “truth of the Gospel” (2:14). Peter was marring a beautiful picture that Paul would later write about, of Jews and Gentiles in One Body (Eph. 3). Barnabas had been hoodwinked by Peter, but corrected by Paul.

    Do we seek the fellowship of the Lord’s people? Is our fellowship based on our common life in the Lord Jesus or the light one has regarding the Scriptures? In other words, is my fellowship based on whether a person is a brother or sister in Christ or if the person agrees with all my theology?


    What happened to Barnabas after he and John Mark went back to Cyprus? When Paul wrote First Corinthians about AD 55, Barnabas was still active in the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 9:6). Where he was and what he was doing is not stated. According to Tertullian, a third Century early Church Father, Barnabas was the unnamed human author of the epistle to the Hebrews (On Modesty 20; ANF 4:97).

    Church tradition says that Barnabas and John Mark “continued their missionary work and Barnabas became the first Bishop of Salamis, his native city, where he is said to have been martyred and secretly buried by his cousin Mark” (Meinardus 1973: 11; Acts of Barnabas; Roberts and Donaldson 1994: 495,496). The Recognitions of Clement states that Barnabas was active in ministry in Rome, Alexandria in Egypt and Caesarea in Judea (1994: 78-80; Zahn 1907: 459, footnote 2).

    To the west of the ancient ruins of Salamis there is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to Barnabas. In the area is a tomb that is said to be that of Barnabas. Whether it is or not, only the resurrection will tell for sure.


    In our study of the Life of Barnabas, were discovered that he was a “good man” because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and a man of faith who trust the Lord for his daily needs. He was also good because he had a biblical view of financial giving, of building up the Body of Christ, and of disciplining others, missions, idolatry, conflict management and a teachable attitude when he was wrong.

    Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert summarizes the life and ministry of Barnabas in this way: “Barnabas stands out as one of the choicest saints of the early Christian Church. He had a gracious personality, characterized by a generous disposition, and possessed a gift of insight concerning the spiritual potential of others. He excelled in building bridges of sympathy and understanding across the chasms of difference which divided individuals, classes, and [ethnic groups]. He lived apart from petty narrowness and suspicion and had a largeness of heart that enabled him to encourage those who failed and to succor the friendless and needy. He did have his faults and shortcomings, but those faults arose out of the very traits that made him such a kind and generous man – his ready sympathy for others’ feelings and his eagerness to think the best of everyone” (1992: 52).


    Bruce, F. F.
    1995 Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

    1980 Ecclesiastical History. Vol. 1. Translated by K. Lake. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1992 In Paul’s Shadow. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

    Meinardus, Otto F. A.
    1973 St. Paul in Ephesus and the Cities of Galatia and Cyprus. Athens: Lycabettus.

    1991 The Embassy to Gaius. Vol. 10. Translated by F. H. Colson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard university. Loeb Classical Library.

    Roberts, Alexander, and Donaldson, James, eds.
    1994a The Acts of Barnabas. Pp. 355,493-496 in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 8. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    ______1994b Recognitions of Clement. Pp. 77-211 in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 8. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Safrai, S., and Stern, M.
    1974 The Jewish People in the First Century. Vol. 1. Assen: Van Gorcum and Philadelphia: Fortress.

    ______1975 1976 The Jewish People in the First Century. Vol. 2. Assen: Van Gorcum and Philadelphia: Fortress.

    Slavitt, David
    1994 The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

    1994 On Modesty. Pp. 74-101 in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 4. Peasbody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Zahn, Theod.
    1907 Missionary Methods in the Times of the Apostles. Expositor, 7th series. 4: 456-473.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on Apollos: Eloquent And Mighty In The Scriptures

    By Gordon Franz

    Dr. Luke described the itinerant preacher, Apollos as an “eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). It is a rare combination to find a preacher who is both eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures. Usually a preacher is one or the other, or neither! Several examples of ones who are both are Charles Spurgeon, Charles Stanley and Chuck Swindol. I guess if your name is Charlie you have a leg up on the competition!

    I would like to examine the life of a lesser-known apostle, Apollos, and ask three questions. First, what were the external influences in his life that helped him become eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures? Second, how did his knowledge of the Scriptures affect his personal ministry? Then of course, the obvious question, what can we learn from his life?

    Apollos first appears in the Scriptures in the city of Ephesus after the apostle Paul left his two friends, Aquilla and Priscilla to minister there while he returned to Jerusalem in AD 52. Apollos might have been a “commercial traveler who engaged in religious teaching as well as in a trade” (Bruce 1985: 52). He would be similar to a Jewish merchant named Ananias, who went to the Kingdom of Adiabene on business and converted the royal family to Judaism (Josephus, Antiquities 20:34-49; LCL 10:19-27).

    In Acts 18:24, 25 it says, “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born in Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.” I believe to key to understanding Apollos’ eloquence and being mighty in the Scriptures lies in where he was from … Alexandria, Egypt. Where he lived and whom he associated himself with had an impact on his preaching.

    External Influences

    Alexandria, Egypt

    Permit me to use my sanctified imagination as we take an imaginary trip to the city of Apollos’ birth. This city was the second largest city in the Roman world and the capital of the Roman province of Egypt. It is situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on the western edge of the Nile Delta.

    The city was founded by Alexander the Great in 332/1 BC after he conquered Egypt. It was his desire to establish a “large and populous Greek city which should bear his name” (Plutarch, Alexander 26:2; LCL 7:299). The ancient sources tell the story of Alexander the Great dreaming he should build a city near the island of Pharos. He gathered together his city planners and architects lead by Deinokrates of Rhodes. Since they did not have chalk to lay out the lines of the city they used barley grain. As they were admiring their work a large variety of birds came and ate up the seeds. Alexander was disturbed by this omen, but his seers calmed his nerves by saying it was a good sign because “the city founded by him would have most abundant and helpful resources and be a nursing mother for men of every nation” (Plutarch, Alexander 26:6; LCL 7:301). The seers’ guess turned out to e on the mark because in the days of Apollos, Egypt was the breadbasket for Rome and all of Egypt’s exported grain left from the ports at Alexandria. Strabo, the Greek geographer who lived in Alexandria from 24-20 BC, gave a detailed description of the city boasted that Alexandria was “the greatest emporium in the inhabited world” (Geography 17:1:13; LCL 8:53).

    The city was divided into five districts. Each labeled by the first five letters of the Greek alphabet, i.e. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. Most likely, Apollos lived in the Delta District located in the northeast part of the city. The largest Jewish community in the Diaspora, those living outside the Land of Israel, resided in this district. Philo, a First Century AD Jewish philosopher, living in Alexandria, said that the Jewish population of Egypt was about one million Jews and a large portion of them lived in Alexandria (Flaccus 43; 1993: 728).

    Alexandria was blessed with two harbors, one called the Great Harbor and the other called the Eunostus Harbor, or “Happy Landing Harbor”! At the mouth of the Great Harbor stood the Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the “Seven Wonders” of the ancient world (Strabo, Geography 17:1:6; LCL 8:23,25; Empereur 1998: 82-87).

    To the west of the Jewish District was the Beta District, or Bruchium. This Central District made up about a quarter of the city and contained temple, palaces and public buildings. They included the tomb of Alexander the Great and the later Ptolemaic kings and queens, the palaces of the Ptolemaic kings, a temple to Poseidon, the Caesarium (also called the Sebasteum) and the great library of Alexandria.


    I believe these last two buildings had an impact on the life of Apollos. The Caesarium began as an altar built by Cleopatra in order to worship Mark Antony. Later, after Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII committed suicide (30 BC), Octavian, known in the New Testament as Caesar Augustus, got rid of all the statues of Mark Antony and set up a temple in honor of the emperor, Julius Caesar because it was thought that Julius was the protectorate of the sailors. The emperors were worshipped as gods by the sailors and invoked for safe passage as they plied the seas.

    Philo, a Jewish philosopher living in Alexandria, describes this structure this way: “For there is elsewhere no precinct like that which is called the Sebasteum, a temple to Caesar on shipboard, situated on an eminence facing the harbours famed for their excellent moorage, huge and conspicuous, fitted on a scale not found elsewhere with dedicated offerings, around it a girdle of pictures and statues in gold and silver, forming a precinct of vast breadth, embellished with porticoes, libraries, chambers, groves, gateways and wide open courts and everything which lavish expenditure could produce to beautify it – the whole a hope of safety to the voyager either going into or out of the harbour” (Embassy to Gaius 151; LCL 10:77; Levy 1982-83: 102-117). There are very few archaeological remains of this great structure (Empereur 1998: 111-123).

    After Julius Caesar was assassinated, the Roman senate, as they did with almost all the Roman emperors, deified him. However, in the days of Apollos, the Emperor Gaius Caligula could not wait to die in order to be deified, so he deified himself. This act of arrogance led to the pogrom against the Jews in AD 38.

    The Greek Alexandrians wanted to put statues of Gaius Caligula in every synagogue in Alexandria in order to make the Jews worship him as a god. The Jewish population refused and rioting ensued and the Greeks attacked and massacred a number of Jews in the city (Antiquities 18: 257; LCL 9: 153).

    In AD 41, Gaius Caligula was assassinated in Rome. Upon hearing this news, the Jews of Alexandria armed themselves and sought revenge on the Greeks (Josephus, Antiquities 19: 278-279; LCL 9: 343, 345). The new emperor, Claudius, issued an edict to the Alexandrians to stop their fighting and restored the rights of the Jewish people of Alexandria (Antiquities 19: 380-389; LCL 9: 345-351).

    As Apollos departed from the harbor of Alexandria he could have looked back at the Caesarium and see two obelisks. Both had been made by Pharaoh Thutmose III (ca. 1500 BC) and brought to Alexandria by Octavian from the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis in 13 BC. In the 18th and 19th centuries the pilgrims and travelers to Egypt called these obelisks “Cleopatra’s needles”. Today these two obelisks have been removed: one to London and the other to New York City. The New York obelisk was re-erected in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1880 (D’Alton 1993). One day I visited this obelisk and thought, “I’ll bet Apollos looked at this obelisk from the ship he was on as he sailed from his home city.” Apollos was “instructed in the ways of the Lord”, and from his study of the Scriptures he understood that the LORD was God and not the Caesars.

    The Library of Alexandria

    The second building that could have influenced the life and ministry of Apollos was the famous library of Alexandria. Josephus Flavius, the first century Jewish historian, said the library was established by Ptolemy II (Philadelphus). He made Demetrius of Phalerum the head librarian because he was “anxious to collect, if he could, all the books in the inhabited world, and, if he heard of, or saw, any book worthy of study, he would buy it” (Antiquities 12:12; LCL 7:9). Over the years they collected books from Greece, Rome, Egypt and even as far away as India. For Biblical studies, Demetrius was instrumental in getting a number of Jewish writings translated from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek. His most important accomplishment was having the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek. This was called the Septuagint (LXX) after the seventy Jewish Alexandrians who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Josephus tells us there were up to a half a million volumes in this library. Part of the library was destroyed when Julias Caesar invaded Egypt in 48 BC, however the part in the Serapeum, the temple of Jupiter Serapis, was spared. Later, Mark Antony presented his girlfriend Cleopatra with a large gift of scrolls from the Pergamum library. The libraries of Alexandria were finally destroyed in AD 391 when Emperor Theodosius decreed that all the pagan temples in the Roman Empire be destroyed. The libraries in Alexandria were the largest in the ancient world and probably contained a section for Jewish studies (Casson 2001: 31-47). This section was a scholars’ paradise! I am sure that Apollos could have take advantage of this opportunity to study in the libraries.

    One of the secrets of being “mighty in the Scriptures” was studying and memorizing the Word of God. Apollos was in an environment that was conducive to studying the Scriptures. In antiquities, books could be found in public libraries, synagogues, and churches or in private libraries of the very wealthy. A good example of the latter is the Villa de Papiri outside of Herculaneum in Italy. This villa belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and contained 1,800 papyrus scrolls, mostly in Greek. The villa was covered and preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. These papyrus scrolls are being carefully preserved and translated by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

    The Apostle Paul made books a priority in his life. Even when he was in a Roman prison, he wrote to Timothy and requested he stop in Alexandria Troas and pick up his coat as well as the books and parchments before he came to Rome (1 Tim. 4:13).

    A number of years ago I was working with the young people at my home assembly. At a meeting of the counselors we decided to do First Timothy in the Bible study on Friday night. I suggested to my fellow counselors that we all go out and buy some good commentaries on the epistle. One counselor baulked and said, “What? Spend money on a book?” I looked him in the eye and said: “Don’t look at buying books as spending money. Look at it as an investment in your ministry to young people!”

    None of us will ever come close to being Paul, Peter or Apollos, but we can follow Paul’s admonition to Timothy. “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The secret to Apollos being mighty in the Scriptures can be summed up in three words: Study, study, and study!


    A possible influence on Apollos’s life was Philo, the Jewish philosopher who was an eloquent preacher. He was also known for his allegorical method of interpreting the Scriptures. This later had an influence on an Alexandrian church father, Augustine.

    Knowledge of the Scriptures and Personal Ministry

    The second question, how did his knowledge of the Scriptures affect his personal ministry?

    Luke goes on to say, “So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26).

    Open and Teachable

    The first way Apollos’ knowledge affected his ministry was that he was open and teachable to further truths from the Scriptures.

    Apollos could have gone up to Jerusalem for one of the three Jewish pilgrimages sometime between AD 26 and 28 (Deut. 16:16,17). If he was there, he could have heard a preacher, known amongst the Jewish people as Yohanan ben Zacharius. This firebrand preacher’s message was pointed: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-20; John 1:6-8,15-37). Apollos, from his studies of the Scriptures, would have known that the time of the coming of the Messiah was near. As an Israelite saint, he trusted in God and looked forward to the Messiah Who would completely take away his sins and offer him total forgiveness of all his sins (cf. Gen. 15; 6; Ps. 32:1,2; Rom. 4). Someone has described Apollos’s salvation as a credit card salvation. With credit cards: one buys now and pays later! Apparently he believed John the Baptizer’s message that Someone else would pay for his sins and understood what John’s baptism was about, but Apollos did not know that Jesus was the Messiah that John was pointing too.

    Apollos spoke “boldly in the synagogue” (18:26a). The text of his message that he so eloquently expounded was most likely Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3. Prepare the way for the Messiah. In the synagogue service was Aquila and Priscilla. They knew Apollos was on the right track, but had not gone far enough. He needed more light. They took him aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26b). Most likely, they invited him home for dinner and after a good meal they added to and clarified his understanding of the Scriptures. Apollos received the instruction gladly.

    Now Apollos had the complete message. The Messiah had already come and died on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem in order to pay for all the sins of all humanity. He rose from the dead three days later and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. The Lord Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins to any and all who will put their trust in Him. He provides His righteousness to believers in Him so they can stand before a holy God, clothed in a righteousness freely given by grace through faith alone in the Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:9; Eph. 2:8,9; 1 Cor. 15:1-4).

    Edify the Church and Defend the Faith

    The second way Apollos’ knowledge affected his ministry was that he exercised his spiritual gift, most likely teaching (Rom. 12:7), and went to Corinth in order to help the believers there (18:27).

    In Corinth, Apollos had a twofold ministry. First, he taught the Scriptures to those who “believed through grace” (18:27). Second, he had an apologetic ministry to the Jewish people in Corinth, using his considerable knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures (but most likely the Septuagint, the Greek version) to demonstrate that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the Prophets predicted (18:28). He would have shown how Isaiah prophesied His virgin birth (7:14) and the death of the Messiah for sin (52:13-53:12). Micah predicted His birth in Bethlehem of Judah (Micah 5:2). David predicted the Messiah’s death on a cruel cross (Ps. 22), and His subsequent resurrection (Ps. 16:9-11).

    Apollos’s eloquence led to a major problem in the church at Corinth. Paul describes the Corinthian believers as carnal because they followed personalities. Some in the church would say, “I am of Paul.” Others would say, “I am of Apollos or Peter.” And the real pious ones would say, “I am of Jesus.” Paul spent four chapters of his first epistle to this church trying to straighten out this problem (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4-6,22; 4:6).

    Paul uses three illustrations to rebuke their carnality and give them a Biblical perspective of the Lord’s work and workers. The first illustration he uses is an agricultural word picture. Corinth was famous for it’s grapes. In fact, the word “current” comes from the word Corinth. Paul points out that he planted, Apollos watered, but it was God who gave the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). Paul goes on to say that he and Apollos were farmers laboring together, but God is the one who ultimately gives the bountiful harvest and each is given a reward according to his labors (3:7).

    The second word picture is of a builder building a temple. There was plenty of building activity in Corinth during the 4th decade of the first century AD. Paul points out that he laid the foundation, which is Christ, but others, including Apollos, built on top of it (1 Cor. 3:9-11). It was a team effort and they were working together.

    The third illustration is a beautiful word picture found in 1 Cor. 4:1. “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” He invites the Corinthian believers to consider “us”, in the context, the people are Paul, Peter and Apollos and he says they are “servants.” This word is not the Greek word “dulos” used for slaves or domestic servants, but the word “huperetes” which should be translated “under-rowers”. The recipients of First Corinthians would have caught this powerful word picture because Corinth was a maritime city with two harbors: Lechaio on the Gulf of Corinth and Cenchrea on the Saronic Gulf. Trading vessels would dock at one, off load their cargo and carry it overland to the other port. Then they would drag the boat across the isthmus via the Diolkos. If the ship was too large, the cargo was off loaded and carried overland to the other port and placed on another large vessel.

    Some of the larger vessels that plied the Aegean Sea were the trireme vessels. This kind of ship had three decks of oarsmen, or “under-rowers”. These were freedmen, not slaves, who had volunteered for this job. They were seated on the three decks underneath the main deck and could not see where they were going or what was going on around them. They were to “row by faith and not by sight” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7). In order to do this, they had to trust the captain on the top deck to take them safely to their final destination. The captain had a drum at his side and the drummer would beat out the strokes. “Boom”, then they would take a stroke. “Boom”, then another stroke. The only thing the under-rowers listened for was the beat of the captains’ drum and not that of any other ships around them.

    The word-picture is clear: Paul, Peter and Apollos were under-rowers, listening to the drumbeat of the Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they could not see. They rowed together, by faith, so they could swiftly and safely reach their final destination. The believers in Corinth needed to get on board and row together with them as well, following the beat of the Captain’s drum. They needed to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.

    Apollos apparently was with Paul in Ephesus when he wrote First Corinthians. Paul encouraged him to return to Corinth in order to help straighten out the carnality in the assembly. Apollos, for whatever reason, declined this invitation (1 Cor. 16:12). Paul did write that Apollos would come at a more convenient time.

    New Testament Pattern of Missions

    The third way Apollos’s knowledge affected his ministry was that he followed the New Testament pattern of missions. When the Lord Jesus sent out His disciples, He sent them out “two-by-two” (Luke 10:1; Matt. 10:2-4). In the early church, the apostles followed this same pattern. Peter and Silvanus went to the Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asis and Bythinia (1 Pet. 1:1; 5:12). The Holy Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary endeavor (Acts 13:1-4). Later we see Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:39), Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40), Paul and Aquila / Pricilla (Acts 18:18), and Paul and Luke (Luke 27:1).

    This pattern of missions afforded both men who went out two-by-two, an opportunity to disciple a small group of men (2 Tim. 2:2) in sort of a “traveling seminary” with “on the job training” (Acts 20:4). They would both be accountable to each other and also a source of encouragement for one another. There were no “Lone Ranger” missionaries in the New Testament!

    Some Bible teachers believe that Paul wrote the epistle to Titus from Corinth. If that is the case, perhaps this was the “convenient time” (1 Cor. 16:12) when both Apollos and Paul could be at Corinth again so that together they could straighten out any lingering problems that might still exist in the church. Paul also took the opportunity to send the letter to Titus on Crete with Apollos and Zenus. They apparently were two itinerate preachers traveling from Corinth to an undisclosed destination, possibly Alexandria, via Crete.


    What can we learn from the life of this lesser known apostle who was so eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures?

    First, Apollos took advantage of the place where he lived in order to develop his understanding of the Scriptures. Alexandria had a great library and he apparently used it. A person who is serious about studying the Scriptures should avail oneself to resources that are available, i.e. a church library, perhaps even a public library, or borrow books from an elder or friend’s library (but do return them when you are done!), or even build up ones personal library.

    Second, Apollos took 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart. He studied, studied, studied! Perhaps his studying paid off in a big way. Martin Luther conjectured that Apollos was the unnamed author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of the epistle of Hebrews.

    Third, Apollos was open and teachable to the truths of the Word of God. As the hymn writer, Adelaide Pollard so eloquently composed:

    Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
    Thou art the Potter; I am the clay.
    Mould me and make me, after Thy will,
    While I am waiting, yielded and still.

    Fourth, Apollos made it his goal to use his gift of teaching the Word of God to build up the Body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:11-13). The apostle Paul was an evangelist, so he planted the seeds. Apollos was a teacher, so he watered the seeds. Yet it was God who brought forth the fruit for His honor and glory. Each gift is needed for the work of the ministry. Every believer in the Lord Jesus has at least one spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:4-11). These gifts are to be used to build up the Body of Christ. If you have trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, have you discovered your spiritual gift and are you using it to build up the Body of Christ?

    Fifth, Apollos had an apologetic ministry in which he used his knowledge of the Scriptures to defend historic / orthodox Christianity.

    Sixth, Apollos followed the NT pattern of missions when he traveled. He always went with at least one other believer for mutual encouragement as well as accountability.


    Bruce, F. F.
    1985 The Pauline Circle. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    Casson, Lionel
    2001 Libraries in the Ancient World. New Haven, CT: Yale University.

    D’Alton, Martina
    1993 The New York Obelisk or How Cleopatra’s Needle Came to New York and What Happened When It Got Here. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Empereur, Jean-Yves
    1998 Alexandria Rediscovered. London: British Muesum.

    Feldman, Louis
    1960 The Orthodoxy of the Jews in Hellenistic Egypt. Jewish Social Studies 22: 215-237.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1992 In Paul’s Shadow. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bib Jones University.

    1933 Jewish Antiquities. Books 12-14. Vol. 7. Translated by R. Marcus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library.

    ______1965aJewish Antiquities. Books 18-19. Vol. 9. Translated by L. H. Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 1981.

    ______1965bJewish Antiquities. Book 20. Vol. 10. Translated by L. H. Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 1981.

    Lees, Harrington
    1917St. Paul’s Friends. London: The Religious Tract Society.

    Levy, Brooks
    1982-83 Kaisar Epibaterios: A Seafarer’s Cult at Alexandria. Israel Numismatic Journal 6-7: 102-117.

    1986 The Geography of Strabo. Vol. 8. Translated by H. L. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library.

    1919 Lives. Alexander. Vol. 7. Translated by B. Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 1994.

    1962Philo, the Embassy to Gaius. Vol. 10. Translated by F. H. Colson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 1991.

    ______1993 The Works of Philo. Translated by C. D. Yonge. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Rolston, Holmes
    1954 Personalities Around Paul. Richmond, VA: John Knox.

    Seekings, Herbert
    1914The Men of the Pauline Circle. London: Charles H. Kelly.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on John Mark: Always Playing Second Fiddle

    By Gordon Franz


    There is a little ditty that describes John Mark perfectly. It goes like this:

    “It takes more grace than I can tell
    To play the second fiddle well.”

    A statement attributed to the late Leonard Bernstein, the famous conductor of the New York Philharmonic, states: “The hardest instrument in the orchestra to play is second fiddle.”

    A fellow named Bo Bradham attended a fiddle camp in September of 1996 and wrote about that experience. The story is recounted of a fiddler from Texas named Randy Elmore who was at a “jam session” the first night of camp. Bo states that “[Randy] sat there quietly, and every time Mark [O’Conner, an accomplish fiddler in his own right] played a tune, Randy was right there with the second fiddle part. ‘Playing second fiddle’ has become synonymous with being out of the limelight, not the lead dog, … but you know and I know just how hard it is to do, and how uncommon it is for someone to be really good at it. Moreover, it speaks volumes about someone to volunteer for that difficult but unglamorous part.”1 I was intrigued by Bo’s statement so I contacted Randy Elmore in order to get an understanding of what it means to play second fiddle.2

    I was fascinated to learn that the fiddle and the violin are the exact same instrument. The only difference between them, however, is the musician and the music being played on the instrument. For example, the instrument is called a violin when the musician plays classical music in an orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The same instrument is called a fiddle when the musician plays Bluegrass music or other “non-classical” music for events such as a square dance, or a ho-down, at the State Fair.

    The person playing first fiddle plays the melody. This is the tune that people know and the audience listens for at a concert. Mr. Elmore chuckled when he said that, in reality, the first fiddle is the boring part because the fiddler only plays the melody and should not deviate from it. The second fiddle, on the other hand, plays the harmony. Mr. Elmore thought this was the fun part because the fiddler could be creative with the harmony and do fancy finger work. This is the harder part because the fiddler must know how to harmonize the music as well as play higher notes as he moves his fingers up the throat of the fiddle. It takes much practice to play this part well. The purpose of the second fiddle is to play a supporting role and compliment the first fiddle, thus making the first fiddle look and sound good. The audience does not realize that the second fiddler is playing his heart out in order to make the first fiddler look good; yet the second fiddler does not get any credit for what is played. Thus, this part is unglamorous.

    John Mark seems to have been always played second fiddle (ah, Gospel bluegrass, of course! J). He played second fiddle for Peter, as a son in the faith and a disciple. He played second fiddle to Paul, as a helpful servant and later, a trusted confidant. He played second fiddle to Barnabas, his cousin and co-worker. He was good at this difficult but unglamorous task.

    I will meaningfully try to reconstruct the life of John Mark. He keeps popping up here and there in Scripture, so we will have to use some conjecture as well as rely upon two early church Fathers, Eusebius and Jerome, and the apocryphal book of The Acts of Barnabas which allegedly was written by John Mark.3 The apocryphal books should be used with caution, but could prove helpful.

    The Life and Ministry of John Mark

    First Mention

    Our first introduced to John Mark is in Acts 12. These events take place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem (12:3) in the year AD 44. At that time Peter miraculously was released from prison and he went to the house of Miriam / Mary (12:12). Because there are a number of Miriams in the early Church, Luke has to distinguish which one he is referring to, so he identifies her as the mother of John Mark. Whether John is there or not, we are not told. He could be in Jerusalem because it is the Passover, a festival where all Jewish males were required to go on pilgrimage to the Holy City (Deut. 16:1-12). Luke also tells us that many were gathered in Miriam’s house to pray for Peter (Acts 12:12).

    In the English Bible his name is given as “John.” This was his Hebrew name and it would be translated “Yohanan” which means “grace”. His Latin name was “Marcus.” This may indicate that he was a Roman citizen. Paul wrote his latter epistles in the AD 60’s and calls him Mark (Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24). Dr. Luke, also writing in the AD 60’s uses both names together three times (12:12, 25; 15:37), his Hebrew name alone, twice (13:5, 13), and his Latin name alone, only once (15:39).

    His Teen Years

    Alfred Edershim, in his monumental book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, suggests that Jesus and His disciples had their last Passover meal together at the home of Miriam and her husband (1976: 484, 485). This is conjecture, but it is a very strong possibility. Mark later would record the instructions that Jesus gave Peter, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘” (Mark 14:14).

    The master of the house would be John Mark’s father. In Acts 12, it is called the house of Miriam. One could surmise that John Mark’s father had passed away sometime between AD 30 and AD 44, either by natural causes or part of the persecution of the church (Acts 8:1; 9:1, 3; 26:10; Gal. 1:13).

    If the conjecture of Jesus and His disciples meeting in the home of John Mark’s family is correct, what can we learn about John Mark’s upbringing? The description of the house that John Mark lived in that is recorded in the Gospels and the book of Acts indicates that it was a well-to-do house in the Upper City of Jerusalem.

    In the excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem that were conducted after the Six Days War in 1967 several Herodian mansions were excavated by Prof. Nahman Avigad. These mansions were very impressive structures that attested to the wealth and high standard of living in Jerusalem up until the destruction of the city in AD 70 (Avigad 1980: 81-202).

    We are told that the house had an “upper room” (Mark 14:25 // Luke 22:12) At least one room was large enough to hold “many people” for a prayer meeting (Acts 12:12, 13). At one time the house had a male servant (Mark 14:13) as well as a female servant, Rhoda (Acts 12:14). John Mark, most likely, was raised in a well to do, financially secure family.

    John Mark also was surrounded with Christian influence in his teen years. He might have met Jesus as He came in for His last Passover with His disciples. After the Ascension of the Lord Jesus the disciples returned to the “upper room” for a prayer meeting (Acts 1:12-14). The house seems to be one of the places where the early church gathered in Jerusalem. When Peter miraculously was released from prison in Acts 12, he went to the prayer gathering at Miriam’s house. Rhoda recognized his voice. This seems to indicate that she knew him personally and that Peter was a frequent visitor to the house.

    John Mark, when he composed the gospel that bears his name, records the events that took place in Gethsemane. One event indicates that he was an eye-witness to what transpired on that Passover night and another event only he would have known about and recorded.

    After the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples left the Upper Room and went to the Temple and then on to Gethsemane on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley. Judas led the Temple guards to the place where Jesus was, and they arrested Him. Mark writes that “one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear” (Mark 14:47). Mark does not identify who wielded the sword and cut off the ear because when he wrote the gospel, Peter was still very much alive and visiting Jerusalem.

    Anything Mark wrote could and would be used against Peter in a court of law, and Mark did not want to rat on his friend and mentor. It is only after the death of Peter that the Apostle John, another eye-witness to the event, identifies Peter as the one who cut of the deputy high priest’s ear (18:10, 11).

    In this passage, Mark does not use the generic word for ear, but a specific term for the earlobe. This indicates that John Mark was an eye-witness to this event and tells us specifically what happened in the garden. Benjamin Viviano discusses the significance of the cutting-off of the earlobe in this account (1989: 71-80).

    After Jesus was arrested and His disciples fled (Mark 14:43-50), Mark records, “Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:51, 52). Mark had not heard about this incident from Peter because he already had fled the scene. Only John Mark knew who the first, and only, “streeker” was in the Bible; it was himself!

    John Mark apparently went to bed after the family Passover meal, but when he heard Jesus and His disciples departing, his curiosity was raised. He threw a linen cloth around his body and followed at a distance. Later, he recounts his story.

    Exactly how old John Mark was at this Passover in AD 30, we are not told. All Mark records is “a certain young man,” probably anywhere between 16 and 19 years old. I will assume he was 18 years old for the calculations of the chronology of his life.

    Eusebius, the early church historian, quotes Papias4, an Apostolic Father writing about AD 140, as saying John Mark “had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed Him” (Ecclesiastical History 3:39:15; LCL 1: 297). He was too young to have traveled with Jesus and to hear His parables, sermons and discourses. Yet he was a curious onlooker in Gethsemane.

    As a teenager, John Mark had godly Jewish parents who were interested and involved in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He knew the giants of the faith: Peter, the apostles, and his cousin from Cyprus, Barnabas (Col. 4:10). He saw godly people praying and saw prayers answered. These were good examples for him to see in his formative years.

    Peter, in his first epistle, calls John Mark, “my son” (5:13).5 This could be an indication that Peter was the one who had the privilege of sharing the gospel with him and leading him to put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. John Mark knew the traumatic events that took place in Jerusalem during Passover of AD 30, but he may not have understood the significance of the events. Perhaps he heard Peter preach to the Jewish people in Jerusalem from the Land of Israel as well as the Diaspora on the day of Pentecost, and he was one of the three thousand that trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior (Acts 2:14-41). In this sermon, Peter, using the Hebrew Scriptures, demonstrates that the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the fulfillment of what the Hebrew prophets had predicted years before (1 Pet. 1: 10-12). He concluded that the death of the Lord Jesus was important because He paid for all sins so that John Mark and all who believed on (put their trust in) the Lord Jesus could have the remission of those sins.

    John Mark’s First Missionary Tour

    When I said first missionary tour you probably are thinking of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary tour. Actually, John Mark had an earlier one. Jerome, the 4th century AD Church Father, wrote an interesting book called The Lives of Illustrious Men. In this book, he gives a short biography of the Apostle Peter. He says: “After having been bishop of the church at Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion [the Jewish Diaspora] – the believers in circumcision, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia – pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius” (1994: 3: 361). The second year of Emperor Claudius was the year AD 42.

    Peter sends an epistle back to the churches which were established on this missionary journey as a follow-up letter. The letter was carried by the good services of his partner on that journey, Silvanus (1 Pet. 4:12). As mentioned before, he sends John Mark’s greeting along with the letter. The implication of this passage is that John Mark was along on this missionary journey as Peter and Silvanus’ disciple and helper. This tour probably lasted a year or two (AD 41-42). John Mark would have been about 29 or 30 years old at this time. He continued with Peter in Rome for a short period of time.

    Jerome goes on to say: “Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren in Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell” (Lives of Illustrious Men 8; 1994: 3: 364).

    Eusebius makes a similar statement. Again, quoting Papias, he writes, “Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed Him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them” (Ecclesiastical History 3:39:15; LCL 1: 297). John Mark, at about the age of 30, wrote the first recorded life of the Lord Jesus as he heard from Peter. I’m sure on their missionary journey John Mark heard Peter recount the stories of Jesus over and over again to different audiences. By the end of the journey he knew them well, and the Holy Spirit directed him as he penned the Gospel of Mark (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:21).

    The early believers that composed the church in Rome were of Jewish heritage as well as proselytes (Acts 2:10). Since Peter was an apostle to those of the circumcision (Gal. 2:7-9), John Mark’s gospel would have a Jewish perspective and it presented the Lord Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1).

    John Mark in Alexandria, Egypt

    The city of Alexandria in Egypt had the largest Jewish population outside Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel. Philo, a First Century AD Jewish philosopher, living in the city, said that the Jewish population of Egypt was about one million Jews and a large portion of them lived in Alexandria (Flaccus 43; 1993: 728).

    The New Testament says nothing about John Mark’s ministry in Egypt. Yet we have Jerome’s account of what happened after John Mark wrote his gospel. Jerome states: “So, taking the gospel which he himself composed, he went to Egypt and first preaching Christ at Alexandria he formed a church so admirable in doctrine and continence of living that he constrained all followers of Christ to his example. Philo most learned of the Jews seeing the first church at Alexandria still Jewish in a degree, wrote a book on their manner of life as something creditable to his nation telling how, as Luke says, the believers had all things in common at Jerusalem, so he recorded that he saw was done at Alexandria, under the learned Mark” (Lives of Illustrious Men 8; 1994: 3: 364).6

    While this passage is not inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is very instructive. Notice two things about the church in Alexandria. First, they were “admirable in doctrine”. John Mark made the teaching of the great doctrines of the Word of God a priority in the church in Alexandria. This was a principle that he had learned while he was in fellowship in the Jerusalem assembly. Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” He also instructed the people in the Hebrew Bible as well as the epistle of James7, 1 Peter and the Gospel of Mark. He also taught them what he had learned from Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem. The second thing that is mentioned about this church is that it had “continence of living,” apparently applying what they learned from the Scriptures to their own lives. Jerome goes on to records that the believers had “all things in common” (cf. Acts 2:44). John Mark had seen this modeled by the church in Jerusalem and he was able to instill this in the church in Alexandria (Acts 2:44; 4:32). Perhaps one example he used was his cousin Barnabas who sold all that he had and laid it at the feet of the apostles (Acts 4:36, 37; see also Lives of Illustrious Men 11 [Philo]; 1994: 3: 365).

    John Mark instructed the assembly in Alexandria and instilled in then the pattern of church polity and practice that he had seen modeled in the Jerusalem assembly.

    The final thing to notice about Jerome’s description of John Mark is that he was a “learned” man. He was a student of the Word of God and devoured all that Peter and the other apostles taught from the Word of God. John Mark’s initial ministry in Alexandria was from AD 42-44.

    John Mark apparently went up to Jerusalem for the Passover (recorded in Acts 12) which coincided with the beginning of the famine in AD 44 that lasted until AD 48 (Shea 1992: 2: 772). More than likely, John Mark brought with him grain and foodstuff from Egypt for the believers in Jerusalem. Interestingly, Egypt was the “breadbasket for Rome” noted for its grain and other foodstuffs.

    After Peter’s miraculous escape from prison toward the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Luke records that he went to “another place” (Acts 12:17). Unfortunately Luke does not tell us where he went. He could have gone to Antioch-on-the-Orontes, or even back to Rome, where Peter describes himself as a “fellow elder” [not the first pope] among the elders in the church in Rome (1 Pet. 5:1).

    John Mark in Antioch on the Orontes

    Barnabas and Saul went up to Jerusalem at the beginning of the famine in AD 44 and brought relief from the Church in Antioch. When they finished delivering the money and goods, they returned to Antioch and brought John Mark with them (Acts 12:25). John Mark ministered in Antioch for three years (AD 44-47) in which time Barnabas and Paul had opportunities to observe what his strengths and spiritual gifts were. As they observed him, it would appear that he had the serving gift of helps (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7; cf. 2 Tim. 4:11; 1 Pet. 4:10). John Mark was always ministering to and serving, other people and he did not care who got the credit for his labors. Other people were his priorities. He exercised his spiritual gift of helps in order to build up the local assembly in Antioch.

    William McRae, in his book The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, says that the person with the gift of helps “has the unusual capacity to serve faithfully behind the scenes, in practical ways, to assist in the work of the Lord and encourage and strengthen others spiritually” (1976: 47). He goes on to say, “A person with this gift will loathe the limelight but be the backbone of an effective church” (1976: 47). By exercising his spiritual gift, John Mark caught the eyes of Barnabas and Paul and this led him to a greater sphere of service.

    The Missionary Journey with Cousin Barney and Paul

    The Holy Spirit separated Barnabas and Saul to the work to which He had called them. After fasting and praying, the saints in Antioch laid hands on Barnabas, Paul and probably John Mark and sent them on their way in the year AD 47.

    Barnabas and Saul realized they would need help for this endeavor. They had seen John Mark engaged in the Lord’s work and exercising his serving gift of helps in the assembly in Antioch and thought he would be the ideal person to take along. At the age of 35, John Mark joined them on his second missionary journey.

    Dr. Luke described John Mark as an “assistant” (Acts 13:5). The Greek word is hupereten, which is translated “under rower”. Paul would use this same word in 1 Cor. 4:1 when he writes: “Let a man so consider us, as servants (hupereten) of Christ and stewards (oikonomous) of the mysteries of God.” Some have speculated that Luke was a ships doctor which would account for his uses of this and other nautical terms. The word picture is that of a large vessel, called a trireme vessel that plied the Aegean Sea. This kind of ship had three decks of oarsmen, or “under-rowers”. These were freedmen, not slaves, who had volunteered for this job. They were seated on the three decks underneath the main deck and could not see where they were going or what was going on around them. They were to “row by faith and not by sight” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7). In order to do this, they had to trust the captain on the top deck to take them safely to their final destination. The captain had a drum at his side and the drummer would beat out the strokes. “Boom”, then they would take a stroke. “Boom”, then they would take another stroke. The only thing the under-rowers listened for was the beat of the captain’s drum and not that of any other ships around them. The word-picture is clear: John Mark was an under-rower, listening to the drumbeat of Barnabas and Saul and doing what they requested.

    Their first destination was the island of Cyprus and the harbor of Salamis that lies to the south-west of Seleucia, the harbor for Antioch. The first place the Word of God was preached was in the synagogues of Salamis (Acts 13:5).

    They went “through the island to Paphos” (13:6), the capital of the island, visiting the Jewish communities as well as relatives of Barnabas, and probably distant relatives of John Mark, preaching the gospel to both Jewish people and Gentiles on the island.

    The proconsul, Sergius Paulus, came to faith in the Lord Jesus (13:12) and most likely sent the three missionaries to Perge in Pamphylia so they could take the Via Sebaste to Pisidian Antioch, the home of some of the proconsul’s relatives. Sergius Paulus could not leave his administrative position in Paphos in order to share the gospel with his relatives; so he sent the three missionaries instead. At Perge, “John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem” (13:13).

    Scholars have had a field day trying to figure out why John Mark departed and returned to Jerusalem. Some have suggested he did not like the change of leadership because Paul had taken charge instead of John Mark’s cousin, Barnabas. So loyalty to his cousin was the issue. If one observes what happens after, Barnabas did not seem to have a problem with the change. Others have suggested that John Mark did not like the Gentile emphasis of the missionary journey. John Mark was a disciple of Peter, who was a missionary to the “circumcision” (Gal. 2:7-9). Others have suggested that John Mark returned to Jerusalem to take care of his mother (Cf. Matt. 10:37, 38; Luke 14:26). Perhaps Paul had the words of Jesus that John Mark had already penned in mind: “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31). I think an underlying reason might be that John Mark had “been there and done that.” If we accept Jerome’s implied statement that Peter visited Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia along with Silvanus / Silas between AD 41-42 and John Mark was with them, perhaps he had experienced (promised) persecution during the journey. This lack of courage to face more persecution led to unfaithfulness and John Mark’s departure from the journey. Whatever the reason, Paul was very upset with John Mark’s lack of faithfulness to the work of the Lord (Acts 15:37, 38). Paul would later write that faithfulness was mandatory for the Christian life in 1 Cor. 4:2. “Moreover it is required (demanded) in stewards (oikonomois) that one be found faithful” (cf. also Paul’s example, 1 Tim. 1: 12).

    Paul and Barnabas’ second Missionary Journey

    Paul and Barnabas spent at least two years in Galatia preaching the gospel and planting churches (Acts 13:14-14:25). Upon their return to Antioch-on-the-Orontes, they gave to the sending church a report on how God had answered their prayers for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:26-28). Paul also writes an epistle back to the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2) because he was flabbergasted that they had departed from the truth of the gospel so quickly (Gal. 1:6), because some were saying circumcision was essential for salvation. The same issue arose in the church at Antioch and the leadership of the church sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem in order to consult with the apostles and elders on this matter (Acts 15:2-29). The Jerusalem council declared that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to be saved and sent a letter back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas stating this fact (Acts 15:30-35).

    Paul wanted to return to the churches in Cyprus and Galatia so he could follow-up on this divisive and heretical issue of circumcision for salvation. He suggested to Barnabas a second missionary journey. Barnabas thought it was a good idea and wanted to take John Mark with them.

    The text seems to imply that John Mark had left Jerusalem and was residing in Antioch again. We are not told when he returned to Antioch or what the circumstance was that brought him back to the city.

    There was a strong dispute between Paul and Barnabas over whether to take John Mark on this second missionary journey or not. In the end, they decided to go their separate ways and Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas went to Galatia (Acts 15:36-41) in AD 49.

    A budding young musician, with his violin case under his arms, asked an elderly New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall. The gentleman looked at him and said, “Son, it’s very simple. Practice … practice … practice!”

    John Mark had at least one setback in his walk with the Lord. At one point in his life he had a problem with faithfulness to the Lord’s work. His mentor, Barnabas, always the encourager, worked with him in this area of his life while they were in Cyprus. The Apostle James had written, “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (1:22). John Mark took that to heart and practiced, practiced, practiced faithfulness.

    Scripture is silent on the activities of John Mark for the next ten or eleven years. When Paul wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians (AD 56), he mentioned Barnabas and seemed to indicate that he was still alive and actively ministering the Word of God, but we are not told where he was or what he was doing.

    The Acts of Barnabas described Barnabas and John Mark’s ministry throughout the island of Cyprus and also Barnabas’ martyrdom and burial (Roberts and Donaldson 1994: 493-496). After, “John Mark” recounts the burial of Barnabas, the John Mark in the account returns to Alexandria in Egypt for a second time, along with several of the brethren from Cyprus in order to minister the Word of God in that city. Historically, this is plausible, but Scripture is silent; so it is uncertain.

    John Mark in Rome

    The next time we see John Mark in the Scriptures he is in Rome with the Apostle Paul who was under house arrest and awaiting trial before Nero in the years AD 60-62. John Mark was approaching the half-century mark for his age!

    Paul, writing an epistle to the church at Colosse, sent greetings from several brethren who are with him in Rome, including John Mark. He instructs the believers in Colosse to welcome John Mark if he comes by the city during his travels (Col. 4:10). John Mark apparently was planning a trip to Asia Minor, perhaps to help Timothy in the work in Ephesus, or continue to Alexandria again. Along with the letter to the church, Paul sends a personal letter to Philemon, the patron and possibly an elder in the church at Colosse. At the close of the letter he send greetings from Epaphras, (John) Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Philemon 24). One gets the impression that John Mark was known by the saints in Colosse and particularly Philemon. It is conjecture, but Peter, Silvanus and John Mark, could have visited Colosse on their missionary journey some 20 years before when they went through Asia (1 Pet. 1:1). This would account for John Mark’s greeting and their knowledge of him.

    Unfortunately the Scriptures do not recount the reconciliation between Paul and John Mark. Did John Mark approach the Apostle Paul and ask for forgiveness and admit he was unfaithful to the Lord’s work? We can only conjecture that Barnabas worked with John Mark on his faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2) while they were ministering in Cyprus, and somehow Paul got word that John Mark was again faithful to the Lord’s work.

    Come to Rome

    Paul was released from house arrest after appearing before Nero and soon went on a fourth missionary journey. Early Church historians say he journeyed to Spain. Scripture tells us that he ministered on the island of Crete, and was in Macedonia and Asia Minor and well as Corinth and Nicopolis. He was re-arrested and landed in prison in Rome in AD 67. This time Nero was not as nice as the first time they met at Paul’s first defense (2 Tim. 4:16).

    Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, who was engaged in evangelistic work in Ephesus and tells him, “Get [John] Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). At age 55, John Mark is still playing second fiddle!!! “The word ministry (diakonia) stresses not the office but the service rendered. Mark had demonstrated his power of organization and practical usefulness, so Paul felt that Mark was just the man he now needed in Rome” (Hiebert 1992: 78). Plus, he was still exercising his spiritual serving gift of helps. John Mark was modeling Biblical greatness. The one who is the greatest is the one who is the servant (diakonos).

    The Death of John Mark

    Jerome records that John Mark died in the 8th year of Nero’s reign and was buried in Alexandria (Lives of Illustrious Men 8; 1994: 3: 364). The 8th year of Nero’s reign was AD 62. This statement creates a seeming chronological problem. When Paul was released from house arrest, they would have gone their separate ways: Paul to Spain and Crete and John Mark to Asia Minor, possibly on his way to Alexandria, Egypt for a third time. John Mark would have died soon after their departure according to Jerome’s account. I find it hard to believe that Paul was not informed of the death of his friend, even while in Spain, Crete, Macedonia or Asia Minor. After Paul was rearrested he called for John Mark to come to Rome with Timothy, thus indicating that he was very much alive in AD 67. More than likely, Jerome did not accurately record the date of John Mark’s death.


    What can we learn from the life and ministry of John Mark? There are at least six lessons we can learn from this true servant of the Servants of God.

    First, playing second fiddle may not be all that bad. In light of the Judgment Seat of Christ, it really does not make any difference who gets the credit for the work done in this life. You see, the Lord keeps the record books! In that day, our individual works are made manifest, even those things that somebody else got credit for even though we did it, those things that you did and nobody even saw you do, those things that were quietly done with no fanfare, they will be openly rewarded by the Lord (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev. 22:12). What matters in this life is that the Lord Jesus gets the credit because what we accomplished for Him was done by His grace and through His strength (Eph. 6:10). A principle that Jesus set forth in the Sermon on the Mount applies in this situation. What is done in secret will be rewarded openly (Matt. 6:1-8, 16-18). Sometimes it may be in this life, but for sure it will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

    Second, John Mark modeled a servant’s heart. He always had people as his priority and was serving them. This was a lesson that he learned when he penned the words of Jesus in Mark 10: 42-45. “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and there great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant (diakonos). And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave (doulos) of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served (diakovathanai), but to serve (diakonasai), and to give His life a ransom for many.”

    When Paul was in prison for a second time, he called for John Mark because of his reputation of service / ministry (diakonia). John Mark was great in the eyes of God because of his servant’s heart. Do we have a servant’s heart, or are we living for ourselves?

    Third, never underestimate what a young person can learn spiritually. Someone once said, “Lessons are more caught, than taught.” John Mark had godly influence as a young person and saw the Lord working in the early church. He saw God answer prayer and people coming to faith in the Lord Jesus. He had parents who set a godly example of service for the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21), examples and lessons that he would use later in his ministry. Do young people, or children for that matter, see their parents on their knees praying for family and friends, the local assembly and a lost and dying world that needs to hear the gospel? Do they see them studying the Word of God and reading it in family gatherings? Do they see their parents involved in the local assembly, setting an example for the young people to follow? Our young people are the next generation to carry on the Lord’s work. What kind of example are we setting for them?

    Fourth, Jerome points out that John Mark was “learned” in the Scriptures. Are you listening carefully to the preacher / Bible teacher and studying the Word of God on your own?

    Fifth, John Mark was exercising his spiritual serving gift of “ministry / helps” and was using it to build up the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor. 14:12). Do you know what your spiritual gift is and are you using it to build up the Body of Christ? The list of spiritual gifts can be found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Peter 4:10, 11.

    Sixth, none of us are immune to failure in the Christian life. It is important to note where John Marks’s lapse into unfaithfulness falls in the chronology of his life. He has already gone with Peter on a missionary journey, written the gospel of Mark, planted a church in Alexandria, and spent three years working with the Apostles Barnabas and Paul in the growing church at Antioch. He had been walking with the Lord for at least seventeen years and engaged in “full time” work for at least seven years. At the age of 35 he has a temporary lapse into unfaithfulness to the work of the Lord. What does John Mark do? He could have bagged the Christian life completely, but he does not. We are not told the details, but we can assume that John Mark confessed his sin (I John 1:9) of unfaithfulness to the Lord. Most likely his cousin, Barnabas, worked with him in this area of his life (Gal. 6:1). John Mark “practiced, practiced, practiced”, learned the lesson of faithfulness and went on for the Lord. Do we get discouraged when we fail and contemplate throwing in the towel and not make the effort to live the Christian life? Or, like John Mark, do we recognize our problem, confess it to the Lord, get help from a mature Christian and go on for the Lord?

    There is much to learn from this servant of the Servants of God who enjoyed playing second fiddle. He was good at this difficult, yet unglamorous task. Might we take these lessons to heart and apply them to our lives.


    Avigad, Nahman
    1980Discovering Jerusalem. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

    Edersheim, Alfred
    1976 The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans. Fifth printing.

    1980 Ecclesiastical History. Translated by K. Lake. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1992 In Paul’s Shadows. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

    1994Lives of Illustrious Men. Pp. 349-402 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 3, 2nd series. Edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    McRae, William
    1876The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

    1993 The Works of Philo. Translated by C. D. Yonge. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Roberts, Alexander, and Donaldson, James, eds.
    1994 The Acts of Barnabas. Pp. 355, 493-496 in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 8. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. Reprint of 1886 edition.

    Shea, William
    1992 Famine. Pp. 769-773 in Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2. Edited by D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

    Viviano, Benjamin
    1989 The High Priest’s Servant’s Ear: Mark 14:47. Revue Biblique 96/1: 71-80.

    1 http://www.itc.virginia.edu/~flb3c/camp96.html

    2 Phone conversation on May 30, 2006. My thanks and appreciation to Mr. Elmore for taking the time to explain the second fiddle to me, the conversation was both interesting and very informative.

    3 “This book has more an air of truth about it than any of the others. There is not much extravagance in the details, and the geography is correct, showing that the writer knew Cyprus well. It seems to have been written at all events before 478, in which year the body of Barnabas is said to have been found in Cyprus” (Roberts and Donaldson 1994: 3: 355). There are, however, some internal problems with John Mark’s being the author of the Acts of Barnabas. First, in the Acts of Barnabas, John Mark claims to have been a servant of Cyrillas the high priest of Jupiter. The Book of Acts suggests he was of Jewish heritage and not involved in pagan worship. Second, in the Acts of Barnabas, John Mark is baptized by Paul, Barnabas and Silas in Iconium. More than likely John Mark was baptized in Jerusalem by Peter who led him to the Lord. There are other inconsistencies with the account in the Scriptures; so the Acts of Barnabas should be used with caution.

    4 “Papias, the pupil of John, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia” (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men 18; Schaff and Wace 1994: 3: 367).

    5 Jerome confirms that John Mark, the writer of the gospel that bears his name, is the same John Mark that Peter is referring to in this passage (Lives of Illustrious Men 8; 1994: 3: 364).

    6 John Mark is considered the patron saint of the Coptic Church in Egypt.

    7 I believe that the epistle of James was written by James the son of Zebedee soon after AD 30 as a follow-up letter to those from the Diaspora (James 1:1) who came to faith in the Lord Jesus on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

  • Cracked Pot Archaeology Comments Off on David, Goliath And Tabloid Archaelogy

    By Gordon Franz

    One day a friend sent me an invitation to a church meeting and asked me if I knew anything about the subject. On the flyer was a picture of a human skeleton with crooked teeth and a rock embedded in his forehead. The title above the skull read: “They’ve Found Goliath’s Skull!” Needless to say, that caught my attention.

    I read with great interest what was written on the flyer. It reported: “Diggers in Israel believe they’ve made a giant discovery. For they’re convinced they’ve come across Goliath’s skull! And what’s more, they say, the stone from David’s slingshot is still embedded in the forehead. Archaeologist Dr. Richard Martin says: ‘We found the skull in the Valley of Elah, in the foothills of the Judean Mountains, where David’s battle with Goliath took place. The skull is huge and clearly belongs to a man of enormous statue.’ Tests show that the skull is between 2,900 and 3,000 years old – about the right time for the biblical battle. Dr. Martin says: ‘This is the archaeological find of the year.’ Wrong, doc. If you’re correct, the skull could be the archaeological find of the century! Make no bones about it!” [The identity of the church and its pastor will remain hidden to save them some major embarrassment]. What was the source for these claims? At the bottom of the flyer it cited the “Jewish Telegraph/UK/11 June 93”. That sounded like a respectable publication from Great Britain.

    I wrote to one of my students in the UK and asked him if he could chase down a copy of this edition of the “Jewish Telegraph” for me (this was before the age when you could find anything and everything on the Internet). He was successful and it said basically the same thing that was on the church flyer. I did some more “digging around” and discovered the original source was an article by David Hudson in the May 25, 1993 edition of an American publication called “Weekly World News.” On one issue of the newspaper it boasted that they were “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper.” In case you are unaware, the “Weekly World News” used to be a supermarket tabloid like the “The National Enquirer” and “The Sun” and was a very unreliable source of information (its last issue was August 2007). This is the publication that reported Elvis sightings and had articles such as “Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby,” “Aliens Capture Top-Secret NASA Moon Base!” and “Garden of Eden Found.” (Folks, I’m not making this up … they did!). The latter article claims the Garden of Eden was in Colorado and even the original apple that Eve ate was found!

    The front page of the May 25th edition had the same picture of the skull with the rock in the forehead as the flyer. The headline said: “Goliath’s Skull Found in Holy Land! Dramatic discovery proves the Bible story true!” As I read through the article, red flags and warning bells began to go off. I knew of most of the leading Israeli and American archaeologists working in Israel, but I had never heard of this “Dr. Martin.” I was living in Jerusalem in the spring of 1993 when the alleged discovery was made on March 23, 1993 and never heard about the supposed “news conference” in Jerusalem given by “Dr. Martin” when he and his associates announced this “discovery.” I was perplexed by the fact that Goliath’s skull was found in the Elah Valley when the Bible says David took his head up to Jerusalem, presumably as an act of intimidation against the Jebusites (I Sam. 17:54). I was suspicious about the “test” that showed the skull was 2,900 to 3,000 years old and wondered if it had been published, or would be published, in a scientific peer reviewed publication. It is safe to say, this whole story, both on the flyer and in the article, was fabricated. There is not a shred of evidence for any of these bogus claims.

    The most important lesson we can learn from this story is that we should do a thorough search in order to find out what the original source of a story was. In this case, the bogus story came from an unreliable tabloid. One should look for, and seriously consider, material that has been published in scientific peer reviewed publications. This so-called “skull of Goliath” was never published in any archaeological journal by “Dr. Martin.” This fabrication came from the fertile imagination of David Hudson and should not be used as proof that the Biblical account of the battle between David and Goliath is true.

  • Cracked Pot Archaeology Comments Off on Asher Shall Dip His Foot In Oil

    By Gordon Franz

    Petrolium Oil Or Something Else?

    Everybody loves a treasure hunt! As a young boy, I liked adventures. On occasions, I would play “pirate” by taking a wooden cigar box and putting several rolls of pennies (a lot of money in those days for a boy my age) and other goodies and burying them in the backyard. Then I made a treasure map with various landmarks in the area and put an “X” on the spot where the treasure was buried. I would then proceed to rollup the map and put it in a bottle and seal it with a cork. The next morning I “found” the bottle “floating” in my backyard and set off to find the treasure. I will never forget the excitement of the discovery.

    Years later, while a graduate student in Israel, I worked on an excavation of the edge of the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem. We were excavating caves from the period of the Judean Monarchy (Iron Age). On the first day we found some bronze bracelets that had corroded and turned green and some silver earrings that had turned gray. I asked the excavator, Gabriel Barkay, if it was possible to find gold. He answered in the affirmative. Since the silver and bronze were corroded, I asked Goby what gold would look like if I found it. He said, “Don’t worry, you’ll recognize it when you see it!” The next day, I remember carefully brushing away the dirt with a paintbrush to reveal a beautiful gold earring that was 2,600 years old and looked just like new. I still remember finding my first gold object as if it was yesterday.

    Today some Christian geologists and oilmen, encouraged by some prophecy teachers, are looking for greater treasures … oil … black gold, with the Bible as their “treasure map”! They are so convinced that Israel will soon be awash in fabulous oil wealth that they have invested millions of dollars of their own money as well as that of well-meaning Christians. Did the Creator leave a “treasure map” for modern geologists to find a huge deposit of oil under Israel? Would Israel then “bless” all nations by providing a steady flow of reliable oil to the world that is so dependent on OPEC? Or would the hungry bear, Russia, invade Israel to take the “spoil” (drop the “sp” and you have “oil”!, cf. Ezek. 38:13)? Does the Bible make such fantastic claims and should it be used as a magical divining rod for the discovery of black gold?

    Israel, like the rest of the industrialized world, is dependent on a steady flow of oil from reliable sources. After capturing the Sinai Peninsula in the Six Days War in June of 1967, Israeli petroleum explorers discovered and developed the Alma Oil Fields on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula. These fields provided Israel with a reliable source of oil. However, Israel “lost” the oil fields in the negotiations for peace with Egypt. Part of the Camp David Peace Accord, signed in Washington, DC in 1979, included the return of these oil fields to Egypt in exchange for compensation and a promise of the sale of oil to Israel. Israel not only gave up land, but also a steady supply of oil with the agreement. Today, Israel does not have a steady, reliable supply of oil.

    As of this writing (2004), there has been no major source of oil discovered in Israel. There are a few wells here and there that pump out small quantities of oil, but nothing like the Persian Gulf area. Several Christian oilmen have tried to discover a marketable amount of oil, but to no avail. Some, using the Bible as their treasure map and guide, have tried to get the faithful to invest in their oil operations. A number of years ago an expose appeared in the Wall Street Journal with the headlines, “Prophets and Profits Motivate Evangelicals Hunting for Israeli Oil” (Getschow 1985:1). The article describes some of the personalities and operations, and then goes on to list several states that have prohibited the sale of “penny stock” because of the suspect nature of these groups and their operations. At one prophecy conference a book by Rev. Jim Spillman entitled The Great Treasure Hunt (1981) outsold the Bible (Getschow 1985: 16). This article will analyze the verses used by the prophecy teachers to find petroleum oil. Are they really referring to petroleum oil, or is it something else?

    “… fruitful bough by a well” (Gen. 49:22)

    As the patriarch Jacob laid on his deathbed in Egypt, he set out to bless his twelve sons. The account begins with Jacob calling them together to tell them what will befall them “in the last days” (Gen. 49:1). Most prophecy teachers automatically assume the phrase “the last days” are the days we are living in now. Is that the case? The phrase is used 14 times in the Old Testament. The context must determine if it is used of a day still in the future, or of subsequent years from the prediction. A clear example of a future day is Isaiah 2:2 which describes a future day when Jerusalem will be exalted (Varner 1987: 24). The “blessings of Jacob” were fulfilled in the subsequent years in the history of Israel after they entered the Land of Israel and settled it.

    With regards to the blessing of Jacob, Spillman found several “cryptic” references in this passage. In verse 22, there is a “well” and in verse 25, “the Almighty … will bless you (with) … blessings of the deep that lies beneath.” He says the key to unlocking this cryptic message is an oilrig discovering oil deep in the ground (1981: 22-24). Is this speaking about an oil well in the Hill Country of Ephraim and Manasseh?

    Unfortunately sometimes the prophecy teachers, on their trips to Israel, are so caught up in the contemporary society that they overlook some of the culture that has gone on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. An appreciation of this “time capsule” is overlooked, and an understanding that would come to the true meaning of the text.

    Would you join me for a short trip to a Palestinian home in the Hill Country of Samaria (West Bank)? In 1980, I worked in Jerusalem on the restoration of the pottery from a burial cave found by Joseph Free at ancient Dothan. It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together without even seeing the picture! At the end of our time restoring pottery, the project supervisor, Dr. Robert Cooley, took his volunteers to visit Tel Dothan as well as have lunch at one of the ancient capital of Israel, Samaria. On the way home, we stopped at a village near Samaria to visit with relatives of the taxi driver. By western standards it was a “primitive” rural setting. The afternoon was hot and we appreciated the shade of the grape vine that spread out over the porch. I noticed the vine that was near a cistern so the family could water it on a regular basis. The blessing that Jacob bestowed upon Joseph was … WATER! The grape vine (Ps. 80) that was planted by a well of water will shoot its branches over the wall. The blessing from heaven is the rains that will come in their proper seasons when the people are obedient to the Word of God (Deut. 11:9-17). The waters will seep down into the rock and reach the water table and provide water from the deep, i.e. the well. Jacob’s father Isaac had blessed him with “the dew from heaven” to provide the essentials for life, i.e. grain, oil and wine (Gen. 27:28).

    The searcher has misinterpreted this so-called cryptic message.

    “… to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock” (Deut. 32:13)

    Spillman continues his search for petroleum oil with his “treasure map” in front of him when he turns to the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 32 and the last part of verse 13: “he made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock.” He thinks it is absurd to understand the oil as olive oil because it came from crushed olives and honey could not be bee’s honey because it comes from beehives. According to him, the honey is “earth” honey, symbolic of petroleum (1981: 36,37). It is true that the word translated “draw” does have the idea of “suck” or “eating to satiety” (Cassuto 1971: 108). But to read, “pump” and find an oilrig is a bit far fetched.

    Prophecy teachers would do well to read the accounts of the 19th-century explorers to the Holy Land. The visit by these men opened up a whole new realm of Biblical study. They wrote about their experiences and the Palestinian folklore and how these illustrated the Biblical passages and ways. Rev. William Thomson, an American missionary in the region from 1833 to 1879, traveled extensively and wrote a three-volume set, The Land and the Book, about his experiences.

    On one of his trips he observed a phenomenon that illustrated Deuteronomy 32:13. “In the clefts of a precipice overhanging Wady el Kurn swarms of bees made their home. The people of M’alia, several years ago, let a man down the face of the rock by ropes. He was entirely protected from the assaults of the bees, and extracted a large amount of honey; but was so dismayed by their number that he could not be induced to repeat the exploit. One is reminded by this incident of the expression concerning Israel in the farewell ode of Moses, Deut. 32:13: ‘He made him to suck honey out of the rock.’ And Asaph. In the eighty-first Psalm, thus sings: ‘With honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee'” (Thomson 1882: 2: 259). Unfortunately Rev. Thomson does not describe the extraction process, but it is clearly referring to honey produced by wild bees.

    When I was a freshman at Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture in Doylestown, PA, I had an interest in beekeeping so I joined the apiary society. At one time I asked the director of the society, a renowned beekeeper himself, if the beekeepers could “suck” honey out of the rock? His response was, “I strongly suspect that the term draw or suck simply means remove or extract. If the term ‘suck’ is accurate, there is no reason that the honey gatherers couldn’t have inserted hollow tubes into the honey combs and sucks honey into them” (Personal correspondence from Dr. Robert Berthold, August 31, 1994).

    Prof. F. S. Bodenheimer, a noted Israeli biologist, has stated: “In Israel of Biblical times wild honey hunting only was known, whereas at the same time real and extensive beekeeping was carried out in Egypt and Anatolia. In our country the first documents on beekeeping are found in the Mishnah tractate Ohaloth” (1959: 402). The writings of the Mishnah are much later than the Biblical period. The director of Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Gardens near Tel Aviv, Nogah Hareuveni, states: “Honey is mentioned several times in the Bible, but never is there an implication that it is a cultivated product. Apiculture developed many centuries later …” (1980: 12). The honey was public property and had to be gathered (Prov. 25:16; Judges 14:8,9; I Sam. 25,26). Spillman is wrong to two counts. First, the honey referred to is wild bee’s honey that does come from the rocks, and not petroleum. Second, the ancient Israelite farmer did not cultivate honey in beehives during the Biblical period.

    In order to determine what the oil is in verse 13, one must take a careful look at the context in which it appears. Note all of verses 13 and 14. “… he might eat the produce of the field; … honey … oil … curds … milk … lambs … rams … goats … wheat … wine.” It is obvious from the context that the oil has to be olive oil because it is something that one eats. One does not eat, or drink, petroleum oil!

    The flinty rock refers to the kind of soil that the olive trees grow in. Rev. Thomson again observed, “The substratum of this plain [near Beirut] is chalky marl, abounding in flint, and the sand is merely an intruder blown in from this desert on our left. The olive is found, also, in places where there is no rocky basis; but it is in soil such as this that the trees flourishes best, both in crevices of this flinty marl, and draws from thence its stores of the rock beneath. I am told the tree languishes, and its berries are small and sapless” (1882: 3: 34). An alternative view set forth by Dr. David Eitam, an Israeli archaeologist whose expertise is olive presses, suggests this might allude to the rock-cut olive presses (1979: 154). The landmark on the “treasure map” has been misread. The oil is olive oil, not petroleum oil.

    “Asher shall dip his foot in oil” (Deut. 33:24)

    Before Moses died, he blessed the children of Israel. Of Asher he said, “Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil. Your sandals shall be iron and bronze; as your days, so shall you strength be” (Deut. 33:24,25).

    This was the verse that set Andy Sorelle, a Texas oilman and co-owner of Energy Exploration, Inc., on a new search for oil in Israel. In 1979 a college friend of Sorelle sent him a map of the territories of the twelve tribes of Israel. As he recounts the event, “There’s a passage in Deuteronomy 33.24 where Moses, talking about the blessings of the twelve tribes, said Asher would dip his foot in oil. Well, on the map, the leg of Asher started in Lebanon; the heel of the foot was drawn at Haifa, and the toe at Caesarea. I suddenly realized that the only area we had not surveyed in Israel was that between Caesarea and Haifa” (Gafen 1981). On February 12, 1981, Sorelle began his first well in Israel on the Israeli naval base at Atlit. At 5,200 feet there was a small amount of oil evident but they continued to a deeper level. On December 1, 1981 they stopped their operation at 17,296 feet because the oilrig they were using could not go any deeper. It took almost a year to get a bigger rig in place; by the beginning of 1983 they commenced operations again. Due to problems, they had to stop again at 21,428 feet (Gaverluk and Lindsted 1984: 11,24). I’m sure Mr. Sorelle is very sincere in his belief that there is a large amount of marketable oil in the area, but is there a Biblical basis for his belief? Should Christians be investing in this, or other oil operations based on this verse of the Bible? Two issues need to be addressed. First, what is the oil that is being referred to? Second, are the oilrigs in the tribal territory of Asher?

    It is clear from the context that the oil in this passage is olive oil. The Hebrew word “shemen” is used 190 times in Scripture for “generally olive oil whether pure or prepared for various uses as perfume or ointment” (Austel 1980: 2: 937), and is never used for petroleum oil. Interestingly, the early rabbinic writings understand it to mean olive oil as well. In the tractate Menahoth on regulations concerning the meal offering in the Temple, the rabbis taught, “And let him dip his foot in oil: this refers to the territory of Asher which flowed with oil like a fountain” (Menahoth 85b). The context is talking about olive oil.

    The second issue is the location of the oil wells. Sorelle placed his well near the ancient Crusader fortress of Atlit. Others placed them on Mount Carmel. Are these oil wells in Asher’s territory? A careful study of the tribal-city list of Asher (Josh. 19:24-31) suggests otherwise. While it is true, a couple of Bible atlases place Asher’s territory down in the Sharon Plain, south of the Carmel range, most place the tribal territory north of Mount Carmel (Carta Bible Atlas [2002] maps 71 and 72; Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible [1989] pages 99 and 102; The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands [1985] map 49). A very careful analysis of the tribal list by Zvi Gal, the district archaeologist for Galilee, in whose jurisdiction “Asher” falls, has demonstrated that the southern border of Asher’s territory was the Kishon River just north of Mount Carmel (1992: 101-104; 1985: 115-127). Another careful and detail study of the tribal territory of Asher was done by Dr. Zecharia Kallai, a professor of Historical Geography of Eretz-Israel at Hebrew University (1986: 204-224, 427-433). Where Sorelle and others have put their oil wells have been in Manasseh’s tribal-territory, not in Asher’s!

    The context of Moses’ blessing to Asher is that there will be an abundance of olive oil in his territory. Has that been the case? Another 19th-century explorer who visited the area of Asher, Canon Tristram, a missionary and a naturalist, recorded his impressions as he traveled over Rosh ha-Niqrah, or the “Ladder of Tyre” (on the northern border of Israel today), and viewed the Plain of Acco for the first time. He described it as “… a green cultivated plain many miles in extent, stubbed with olive groves, with their grey-blue hue spangling the carpet, and each grove half concealing a village” (Wilson 1980: 70).

    Two Presbyterian ministers from Scotland took a journey to the Holy Land in 1839. On one trip they recorded their impressions of an area two hours from Tyre: “… the summits, were sprinkled over with groves of olives, showing how fertile and how suitable for the cultivation of the olive this range must have been in former days. This was more remarkable, because we were now in the tribe of Asher; and the prophetic blessing pronounced upon Asher, was, ‘Let him dip his foot in oil'” (Bonar and McCheyne 1973: 265). How discerning these two students of the Scripture were!

    Only a few excavations have been conducted in the Israeli part of the tribal territory of Asher. The part in Southern Lebanon has not been touched at all, except the ancient city of Tyre. With a limited amount of excavations, archaeology could not shed light on the culture and agriculture of the day … until recently.

    Zvi Gal excavated a small fortress on a ridge on the slopes of Western Lower Galilee. This site, called Hurvat Rosh Zayit (Khirbet Ras el Zeitum in Arabic), is translated “the ruins of the head of the olives.” A discerning reader will notice that the name of the site has something to do with olives. It also lies less than a mile north of the Arab village of Kabul, which preserves the name for the site of Biblical Cabul (Josh. 19:27). When he excavated the site he discovered a small fortress, 80 feet by 80 feet with a wall preserved to the height of 10 feet, dating to the time of King Solomon. The mostly Phoenician pottery from the excavation dated from the late 10th to mid-9th century BC. This led the excavator to suggest that this was one of the twenty cities that Solomon gave to Hiram, king of Tyre. After examining the sites, Hiram did not like them and called the place “Cabul-land” (I Kings 9:10-14; Gal 1993a: 39). The most significant discovery for our study is three large olive presses. Gal states, “These settlers based their economy largely on the production of olive oil. A large complex of oil presses is now being excavated on the west side of the site. Within a well-built structure, we have found at least three presses, and another press outside the structure has been excavated and reconstructed. These presses, together with the many rock cut installations found on the surface around the area, make this the largest known oil-press complex in Galilee” (1993a: 84; 1993b: 128-140). This complex dated to the 8th century BC and has Israelite features. It was destroyed by Tiglath-Pileser III in 733/32 BC (Gal 1990:91).

    I believe with further excavations in the region, more olive oil installations will be uncovered, thus confirming the truth of Moses’ blessing on Asher.

    The last part of Moses’ blessing says, “Your sandals shall be iron and bronze.” Spillman suggests that this is referring to oil derricks that are made of iron and brass to prevent sparks from igniting a fire on the rigs as iron on iron would (1981: 49). Sorelle said this verse did not make sense until recent times because he believes that “this area will be such a developed oil field that from a helicopter it will look like he is wearing shoes of iron and brass” (Webber n.d.: 21). There is a better understanding for this passage.

    To produce olive oil, there are three stages that must be gone through in order to get olive oil. First, the olives are crushed. Then, the olive pulp is pressed to express the liquid that is oil and watery lees, or impurities. Finally, the oil floats to the top and is separated from the impurities (Frankel 1994: 26). This process could, until recently, still be observed in some settings in one simple installation. The farmer would crush the olives with a stone, or treading them while wearing some kind of shoes (cf. Micah 6:15). The crushed olives were pressed with a stone and the liquids collected in a vat and the oil skimmed off after separating from the watery lees (Gal 1993b: 133). A better explanation for the “sandals of iron and brass” would be that these are the shoes used by the farmer to crush the olives. This was the method used by the ancient Israelite farmer before the large stone olive crushers came into use during the Iron Age in Israel (Gal 1993b: 135).

    It is interesting that Micah 6:15 mentions the “treading of olives.” One cannot tread, or crush, olives with bear feet. Quite possibly the shoes were of iron and/or brass. However, Oded Boronski says this phrase can “not be taken literally since this method is ineffective and the stones might cause harm to the feet of the treader.” The phrase should be “a poetic expression for oil pressing” (1987:119).

    However, Rafael Frankel, an expert on the olive oil industry in antiquity, has observed, “Despite the fact that olives were usually crushed by rolling stones over them on flat surfaces, a special Greek word … exists for the shoes which were worn while treading olives. It appears that olives were trodden in much the same way as grapes, except that the latter were trodden barefoot” (1994: 78).

    The blessing of Moses to Asher should be understood in light of its ancient Near Eastern context. Asher was literally blessed with an abundance of olive oil and he would crush the olives with special shoes made of iron and/or brass in order to allow the oil to run out. To imagine an oilrig in this passage and to get Christians to invest in “penny stock” is not a good interpretation of this passage.

    Jacob’s Blessing of Asher (Gen. 49:20)

    When Jacob blessed Asher he said, “Bread from Asher shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties” (Gen. 49:20). The Hebrew root for the word “rich” is “shemen” which is translated “oil or fatness”. Again, the hint is of olive oil. But Jacob goes on to say this food shall be for the royal tables. Has this ever happened? Do people eat or drink petroleum oil at their tables?

    Very little history was recorded in the Scriptures regarding the tribe of Asher. We do know that each tribe provided food for the royal court one month a year during the reign of King Solomon (I Kings 4:7, 16). I’m sure the people in the palace looked forward to the rich food from Asher. It must have been exquisite. Of course, olive oil is very healthy for a person as well.

    Another case where food from Asher landed on the royal tables was Hiran, king of Tyre. In exchange for cedars and cypress wood from the Lebanon Mountains, Solomon promised him food for his household (I Kings 5:9). This food included 20,000 kors of wheat and 20 kors of pressed oil each year (I Kings 5:11; II Chron. 2:10, 15). The closest tribal to Tyre with this kind of food was Asher.

    Just as Moses’ blessing on Asher was literally fulfilled, so Jacob’s blessing. The abundant food did end up on the table of royalty.

    The Conclusion of the Matter

    It has been demonstrated that the search for petroleum oil with the Bible as a treasure map or a magical divining rod is unwise and fruitless. The serious student of the Scriptures is to properly exegete the passage, i.e. take out from the passage that which is in the text, rather than reading into the text that which is not there, which is what these oilmen and prophecy teachers are doing. The prophecy teachers should heed the words of James, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1). Bible teachers are responsible for properly interpreting the Scriptures and will be held accountable by the Lord for their teachings.

    The Holy Spirit has several tools at His disposal to help the Bible student properly interpret the Biblical text. We have noted at least four in this paper. First, there are good linguistic tools available that will help the student understand the proper meaning of the words. Invest in a good lexicon or Bible dictionary. Second, there are the 19th century explorers who visited the Holy Land and wrote of their experiences. One should visit the local library and check out these books, they are fascinating reading. Third, one can glean insights into the Scriptures by visiting the contemporary Palestinian culture that still reflects the ancient ways of doing things. This gets harder and harder to find as the Palestinians improve their lot financially. And finally, there have been many archaeological discoveries that have added much light to the Biblical text and the material culture of the days of the Bible.

    The blessings of Jacob and Moses to Asher are referring to olive oil, not petroleum oil. When I was a field trip instructor at the Institute of Holy land Studies in Jerusalem, I always enjoyed the Sharon Plain field trip because we would end up at Mukrakah on Mount Carmel. This was the place where Elijah had the encounter with Ahab and the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18). As we journeyed the winding roads on Mount Carmel to Mukrakah we passed an abandoned oilrig. I would chuckle to myself because the rig was situated in a huge olive grove, probably owned by the local Druze. If only the oilmen had taken the time to look around them, they would have seen one of the essential blessings for daily life in ancient Israel, olive oil, not petroleum oil.

    On one field trip I pointed to the oilrig and expounded the Scriptures of Asher’s blessing and hammered the point that it was olive oil and the rig was in Manasseh’s territory. Later, while having lunch at Mukrakah, a student sheepishly came up to me and confessed that he had lost a lot of money investing in those “penny stocks”. He said, “I wish I knew then what you just related to us from the Scriptures. I would not have lost my money.” I encouraged him to continue searching the Scriptures just like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

    Should Christians invest in oil exploration and operations in Israel? If the exploration is based on sound geological data, by all means. But if it were based on the imagination of some prophecy teacher who is not properly interpreting the Scriptures in their historical-grammatical, geographical and material context, it would be very unwise. The Christian should be discerning and invest his or her money elsewhere. After all, we are stewards of the money that the Lord has entrusted to us.


    Aharoni, Y.; Avi-Yonah, M.; Rainey, A.; Safrai, Z.
    2002 The Carta Bible Atlas. Jerusalem: Carta. Fourth Edition.

    Austel, H.
    1980 “Shemen”. Pp. 937, 938 in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. R. Harris, G. Archer, and B. Waltke, eds. Chicago: Moody.

    Bodenheimer, F. S.
    1959 A Biologist in Israel. Jerusalem: Biological Studies.

    Bonar, A., and McCheyne, R.
    1973 Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications.

    Boronski, O.
    1987Agriculture in Iron Age Israel. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

    Cassuto, U.
    1971 The Goddess Anath. Jerusalem: Magnes.

    Eitam, D.
    1979 Olive Presses of the Israelite Period. Tel Aviv 6: 146-155.

    Frankel, R.
    1994 Ancient Oil Mills and Presses in the Land of Israel. Pp. 19-89 in History and Technology of Olive Oil in the Holy Land. R. Frankel, S. Avitsur and E. Ayalon, eds. Arlington, VA and Tel Aviv, Israel: Olearius Editions and Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv.

    Gal, Z.
    1985 Cabul, Jiphthah-El and the Boundry Between Asher and Zebulum in the Light of Archaeological Evidence. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palastina-Vereins 101: 115-127.

    ______1990 Khirbet Ros Zayit – Biblical Cabul: A Historical-Geographical Case. Biblical Archaeologist 53/2: 88-97.

    ______1992 Lower Galilee During the Iron Age. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

    ______1993aCabul, A Royal Gift Found. Biblical Archaeology Review 19/2: 38-44, 84.

    ______1993bAn Olive Oil Press Complex at Hurbat Ros Zayit (Ras ez Zetun) in Lower Galilee. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palestina-Vereins 109: 128-140.

    Gaverluk, E. and Lindsted, R.
    1984Oil of Asher. Oklahoma city, OK: southwest Radio Church.

    Gefen, P.
    1981A Matter of Belief. Jerusalem Post. September 11, 1981.

    Getschow, G.
    1985 Prophets and Profits Motivate Evangelicals Hunting for Israeli Oil. Wall Street Journal. August 22, 1985. Pp. 1,16.

    Hareuveni, N.
    1979 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage. Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim.

    Kallai, Z.
    1986Historical Geography of the Bible. The Tribal Territories of Israel. Jerusalem: Magnes.

    Spillman, J.
    1979 The Great Treasure Hunt. Medford, OR: Omega.

    Thomson, W.
    1982 The Land and the Book. 3 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers.

    Varner, W.
    1987Jacob’s Dozen. Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

    Webber, D.
    n.d. Countdown for Israel. Oklahoma City, OK: Southwest Radio Church.

    Wilson, C.
    1980 Lebanon and the North. Jerusalem: Ariel. Reprint.

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