• Profiles in Missions Comments Off on Romans 16: A “Grocery List” of Names Or the Heart and Focus of the Apostle Paul’s Ministry? Part 2

    by Gordon Franz (continued)

    The Apostle Paul Sends Instructions to Greet Various Saints in the Church in Rome.  16:3-16
    Before we look at the names of the people in the church at Rome, we should look at the formation of the church in the “eternal city.”  When did the gospel first arrive in Rome and what was the ethnic and religious makeup of the early church in the city?  The gospel most likely came to Rome soon after Shavuot (Pentecost) of AD 30.  There were “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10) that were in Jerusalem for the thrice annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Some may have heard Peter’s heart piercing sermon and placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  They would have returned to their family and friends in Rome and shared the good news of salvation by faith alone in the Lord Jesus.

    According to church tradition, Peter, along with Silvanus and John Mark, visited Rome in the second year of Emperor Claudius in AD 42.  The nucleus of believers in the earliest church meeting in Rome would have been Jewish.  In AD 49, the Jews were expelled from Rome.  It was at this time that Aquila and Priscilla departed the city, even though they were believers in the Lord Jesus (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, Claudius 25:4; LCL 2: 53; Slingerland 1989: 305-322).  The church that was left in Rome was mostly Gentiles and probably of the lower class.  After the death of Claudius in AD 54, Nero apparently reversed the decree and Jews returned to Rome, most likely Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus returned as well, including Aquila and Priscilla.

    Peter Lampe published a monumental study on the early church in Rome entitled Die stadtromischen Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhunderten: Studien zur Sozialgeschichte (1987; for an English summary, see Lampe 1991 and 2003).  In his studies he “showed that two of the most likely areas for early Christian house churches were in Trastevere, [on the west bank of the Tiber River] and the section on the Appian Way around the Porta Capena inhabited by the immigrants” (Jewett 1993: 27).  He also suggested two other areas, Marsfield and the Aventine Hill with “potentially higher social status” than the other two areas (cited in Jewett 1993: 28).

    In verses 3-16, Paul commands an unnamed group in the Roman church to greet 28 people on his behalf.  The verb “to greet” does not merely mean to greet, like “Hi, how are you?” and wave your hand.  The verb has the idea of wrapping one’s arms around and embracing someone.  Paul admonishes them to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:16).  Ben Witherington III points out: “[This] amounts to a command to treat those named as family, to welcome them into one’s own home and circle.  Paul is going all out to create a new social situation in Rome, overcoming the obstacles to unity and concord dealt with in chapters 14-15.  His arguments have intended to deconstruct the social stratification in the Roman church, creating a leveling effect by making all debtors to the grace and mercy of God, so the Gentile majority will treat the Jewish Christian minority as equals and with respect” (2004: 380).  I would also add women and slaves to Witherington’s comments.

    The hint from Romans 14 is that the church was divided over what was served at the love feast, or agape meal.  This section (16:3-16) begins with a group of Jewish believers meeting in the home (probably a villa) of Aquila and Pricilla (16:3-5a), and ends with a church of Jewish believers who are slaves meeting in a tenement building, or apartment (16:15).

    There is a Roman receipt book entitled Apicius which gives the receipts for standard Roman meals.  They include such non-kosher items as shell fish (lobsters, mussels and crawfish), pork, blood sausage, ostrich, rabbit, octopus and squid and receipts that mix milk and meat (Grocock and Grainger 2006; Grainger 2006).  Having a meal of pork sacrificed in a pagan shrine in Rome, or blood sausage, would be completely appalling to any Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Paul had never been to Rome, yet he already knew about 28 people in the church in that city.  Some he knew from personal contact.  He either worked with them or led them to the Lord.  Others he knew only by reputation from what others had told him.

    Greetings to Pricilla and Aquila – 16:3-5a
    The first individuals that Paul encourages the church in Rome to greet is a Jewish couple named Priscilla and Aquila who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah.  Aquila was originally from Pontus on the south shore of the Black Sea, called the Euxine Sea during the Roman period (Acts 18:2).  Where Priscilla is from, we are not told.  She could have been from Rome and Aquila met and married her in the Eternal City.
    There are at least four possibilities as to when and how they came to faith in the Lord Jesus.  First, he could have heard the preaching of Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in AD 30 (Acts 2:9) and then returned to his home in Pontus (in the Diaspora).  Second, he and his wife could have been in Rome in AD 30 and were part of the Jewish and proselyte delegation that visited Jerusalem for Pentecost in AD 30 (Acts 2:10).  Third, he could have heard the preaching of Peter on his missionary trip through Pontus in AD 40-42 (cf. I Peter 1:1.  Acts 12:17).  Jerome, one of the early church fathers, states: “Simon Peter … after having been bishop of the church in 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” (1994: 3: 361).  Fourth, if they were in Rome in AD 42, they could have heard Peter preach then.

    These possible scenarios raise some interesting questions.  Did Peter go to Pontus at the request of Aquila as a follow-up visit?  Does Peter take Aquila as a disciple to Rome with him when he ventures to the city after his missionary journey?  The latter would account for how he got to Rome.  Was Aquila one of the leaders in the “pro-Cephas” faction in the church at Corinth (cf. I Cor. 1:12; 3:22)?  He was being loyal to the one who led him to the Lord and mentored him.  These are questions that can be asked, but Scripture is silent on the answers.

    Scripture does state that Aquila and Priscilla were expelled from Rome by a decree during the days of Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2).  Most scholars date this decree to AD 49.  After the expulsion, Aquila and Priscilla went to the Roman colony of Corinth.  There they practiced their trade of tentmaking.  In AD 52, Paul appears in Corinth to begin the work of evangelism.  Silas and Timothy soon joined Paul in the work.  One of the things that attracted these three was the Isthmian Games that were held near Corinth (Acts 18:2-5).

    After 18 months of ministering in Corinth, Paul decided to move to Ephesus.  He took Aquila and Priscilla with him to this major trading center on the west coast of Asia Minor (Acts 18:18, 19).  Paul left them there as he journeyed on to Jerusalem.  While in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had the opportunity to teach Apollos, from Alexandria, the finer points of the Word of God and his salvation (Acts 18: 26).  They were also able to establish a church that met in their house (I Cor. 16:19).

    The next time we see Aquila and Priscilla in Scripture, they are in Rome when the epistle to the Romans arrives in AD 58 (Rom. 16:3-5).  Rome, not Corinth or Ephesus, was home for them, so they returned sometime after the death of Claudius and the reversal of his decree of expulsion.  Paul indicates that there is a church meeting in their home (Rom. 16:5a).  Tradition has it that the house church was on the Aventine Hill, on Via Prisca (Platner 1929: 65-67).  This site was excavated by the Augustinian monks of St. Prisca between 1934 and 1958.  Underneath the church they found a Mithraeum with an altar dating to the 2nd century AD with statues of Oceanus Saturnus and Mithras killing the bull.

    The church had been meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla for nearly 10 years when tragedy struck.  The Great Fire of July 19, AD 64, probably started by Nero, destroyed the homes on the Aventine Hill leaving Aquila and Priscilla homeless, along with thousands of other Romans.  Perhaps they saw the handwriting on the wall.  There were rumors that Nero had started the fire so he could engage in some urban renewal.  He quickly blamed the Christians for starting the fire and the persecution of the Christians soon followed.  Aquila and Priscilla, being homeless and fearing the persecutions, escaped to Ephesus.  The last mention of this couple is in II Tim. 4:19, written in AD 67.

    When Paul instructs the church at Rome to greet Priscilla and Aquila on his behalf, he describes them as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also, all the churches of the Gentiles” (16:3b, 4).  Paul had labored with them in Corinth and the beginning of the work at Ephesus.  Paul mentions an event that is unrecorded in the book of Acts, but this couple put their life on the line for the Apostle Paul.  What it was, we do not know, but it must have been heroic because the Gentile church gave thanks.  Why does Paul mention this event?  The majority of Gentile believers in the church in Rome apparently marginalized this couple and the house meeting in their home.  Paul says to greet them (give them a big hug) and thank them for risking their lives for his sake.  He says that even their fellow Gentiles in churches in the east have been thankful for their testimony.  Paul is trying to unify the Church.  (For a full discussion of this couple, see Hiebert 1992: 23-35).

    Romans 16: A “Grocery List” of Names Or the Heart and Focus of the Apostle Paul’s Ministry? Part 3

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on Romans 16: A “Grocery List” of Names Or the Heart and Focus of the Apostle Paul’s Ministry? Part 1

    by Gordon Franz

    Romans 16 is a chapter that we usually skip in our Bible studies or devotional reading because it appears to be a “grocery list” of names that we think are unimportant.  Several years ago, I was attending a Bible study that was going verse-by-verse, in detail, through the book of Romans.  When we came to chapter 16, we spent one night on this chapter looking at a couple of names, and then the teacher said we were finished with the book!  But in actuality, we were not finished because this chapter is packed with valuable insights.  The chapter shows us the heart and focus of Paul’s missionary strategy as well as the practical outworking of the theological truths Paul had set forth in his earliest epistle, Galatians 3:26-28.  In these verses, Paul states that the work of the Lord transcends all ethnic, social and gender barriers.

    Bible students should take time to study the people mentioned by the apostle Paul in this chapter.  It is a fascinating study of Paul’s missionary strategy as well as his heart for people and a unified church in Rome.  Paul knows the words of the Lord Jesus from His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their words; that they may all 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).  This is what Francis Schaffer in his book The Mark of a Christian called the “final apologetics”, the world will believe if they see believers unified.

    The church in Rome was divided along ethnic, religious and social lines.  They were marginalizing Jewish believers as well as women and slaves in the church.  Paul’s desire in his final greetings was to bring these people together so they would become one in Christ.

    Apparently, a few believers in the church were bringing pork roasts that had been sacrificed in a pagan temple to the Agape meal (love feast) in the local assemblies.  They were arrogantly flaunting that, and causing offense and division at the Lord’s Supper (16:17).  This action marginalized one segment of the church.

    The Apostle James, the son of Zebedee, already addressed this issue in the second chapter of his epistle.  He called it “showing partiality.”  The example he used was partiality based on one economic status, whether rich or poor.  Some in the church, meeting in the synagogue, were showing favoritism to a rich person over a poor person, but the lesson also applies to ethnicity, gender and social status.

    The book of Romans was written in the city of Corinth during the Apostle Paul’s visit at the time of his third missionary journey in AD 57-58.   In the epistle, he expresses his desire to visit the believers in Rome on his way to Spain (1: 7, 11-13; 15: 20-24).  His “grocery list” of names in Romans 16 includes both Jewish believers as well as Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus, male and female, slaves and freedmen.

    A brief overview of the beginning of Emperor Nero’s reign should be recounted in order to put the Book of Romans in its historical context.  At the tender age of 15, Nero married his step sister, Claudia Octavia in AD 53.  A year later, as a lad of 16, Nero had come to the throne when his uncle (and some say, father), the Emperor Claudius, died from being poisoned with mushrooms by Nero’s mother, Arippina the Younger.  In February of AD 55, when Nero was 18 years old, he or his mother, poisoned his step brother Britannicus.  Soon after, Nero expelled his mother from Rome.  Now the throne was secure and Nero was the sole ruler.  At the beginning of his reign, Nero had two good advisors in his court: Seneca, his tutor, and Burrus, the praetorian prefect, whose guidance led to a peaceful and productive government (Vagi 1999: I: 165, 166).  During the first five years on his reign, called the “golden age” by some Roman writers (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 4; LCL 443-447), the epistle to the Roman church arrived (AD 57-58).

    The Apostle Paul Commends Sister Phoebe to the Saints in the Church in Rome.  16:1, 2
    Paul begins this chapter by commending Phoebe, one of the sisters from the church in Cenchrea, to the love and care of the believers gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus in Rome (16:1).

    Cenchrea was one of two harbors for the ancient city of Corinth and was located on the Soronic Gulf, east of Corinth.  If Paul had taken a ship from Athens to Corinth during his second missionary journey, the ship would have docked in the harbor at Cenchrea.  The walk from the harbor to the city of Corinth was about 7 or 8 miles.  Paul, Silas and Timothy ministered in Corinth for 18 months (Acts 18:11) during this missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18).  More than likely, Paul became acquainted with Phoebe during this stay in Corinth.  When Paul departs for Ephesus with Aquila and Priscilla, they left from this harbor (18:18).

    Several years later, during Paul’s second visit to Corinth, Phoebe was journeying to Rome, possibly on business or to visit family and friends.  Paul took advantage of this opportunity to send a letter to the saints who were in Rome expressing his desire to visit them on his way to Spain (Rom. 1:7; 15:23, 24).

    Phoebe had in her possession an epistle in which Paul had laid out many important, foundational, doctrinal truths, making it one of the most important epistles he would ever write.  These doctrinal truths should change the way the believers in Rome behaved toward each other.  A brief outline of the book might be: Romans 1-3, he addresses the sinfulness of all humanity before a holy God.  Paul states that “all (Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and freedmen) have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (3:23).  In Romans 4 and 5, he sets forth the doctrinal truth of justification by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.  Again he writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we (Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and freedmen) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).  In Romans 6-8, he presents the sanctification, or setting apart, of the believer to a holy life of service for the Lord.  Notice the pronouns that Paul uses, “we” and “us”.  He concludes this section by asking the question, “Who can separate us from the love of God?” (8:35). The logical question that readers should ask at this point is: “What about ethnic Israel?”  In Romans 9-11, Paul addresses the issue when he presents the past, present and future of ethnic Israel.  In Romans 12-15, Paul elaborates on the practical outworking of the Christian life.  He begins this section by beseeching the brethren, in light of the mercies of God, to present their bodies to the Lord as living sacrifices (12:1, 2).  He concludes in Romans 16 with an admonition to the believers to greet one another on his behalf and the believers in Corinth.

    The opening lines of Chapter 16 are Phoebe’s “letter of commendation” to the church in Rome.  While a few in the church knew Phoebe personally, most did not.  Paul states that she is a sister (believer) and requests that the saints in Rome help her out with whatever business she has in that city because she is a worthy person.

    A pattern surfaces in the New Testament that is followed when a believer goes from their home assembly to an assembly in another city.  Believers took a letter of introduction as they went on their journey.  In Acts 18:27, Apollos left Ephesus with a letter from the brethren in that city exhorting the disciples in Achaia, and Corinth in particular, to receive him.  Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to receive Epaphroditus (the letter carrier) “in the Lord with all gladness” (Phil. 2:29).  Paul did not need a letter of commendation when he returned to Corinth because the believers there were his letter (II Cor. 3:1-4).

    The early church, at least into the 4th century AD, followed this practice.  At least nine papyrus letters have been found in Egypt, dating from the late 3rd century AD to the early 4th Century AD that commended believers to a church in a different location (Llewelyn 1998: 169-172).

    Letters of introduction were common in the Greek world.  The teacher would give a letter to his student who was traveling to another city.  A case in point is Eudoxus from Cnidos (ca. 407-357 BC).  He was a student of Plato while he studied in Athens.  Upon his return to Cnidos, he decided to study in Egypt.  Diogenes Laertius, writing in Lives of Eminent Philosophers states: “He (Eudoxus) proceeded to Egypt with Chrysippus the physician, bearing with him letters of introduction from Agesilaus to Nectanabis, who recommended him to the priests” (8:87; LCL 2: 401-423).

    In “Plymouth Brethren” circles, this practice is considered an “assembly distinctive” because it is still followed.  I came into “Plymouth Breathren” fellowship while I was doing graduate studies in Jerusalem (1978-79).  At the end of my studies I returned to the States and sought out an assembly near my home in New Jersey.  Before I left Israel, I was given a “letter of commendation” by one of the elders.  I was glad I had it when I attended Valley Bible Chapel for the first time.  Some in the congregation were looking at me thinking, “Who is this strange bearded fellow sitting there?!”  [In 1979 I had more hair on my chin then most men in this assembly had on the top of their head!].  At the beginning of the breaking of bread meeting, one of the elders, Mr. Les Campbell, got up to read my letter.  He remarked, “It is not too often that a church receives a letter from the church in Jerusalem.  Today we have such a letter,” and proceeded to read it.

    The letter, dated September 9, 1979, said, “Greetings.  May Grace, Mercy and Peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is to commend to your love and fellowship our dear young brother Gordon Franz who has been in happy fellowship with the Believers here in Jerusalem for the past months and is now leaving for his home.  Receive the dear brother as becometh Saints, even as God has received us in Christ Jesus, His Son.  The Believers gathered to our blessed Lord in Jerusalem send greetings and salute you all in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Maranatha.”  It was signed by Mr. George Wald, a long time missionary in the Middle East, now enjoying his rewards with the Lord in Glory.  After the meeting, I was made very welcome, partly because the letter helped them know who I was and that I was “kosher”.

    Phoebe was commended to them as a “sister.”  This implies a family relationship.  Every person in this world is in one of two families, either the Devil’s family or in God’s family.  We all begin in Satan’s family, but “[God] has delivered us [believers in the Lord Jesus] from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13, 14).  The Apostle John tells us: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the 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).

    Phoebe was also characterized as “a servant (diakonon) of the church.”  She was apparently exercising her spiritual gift of ministry (diakonian), or service (Rom. 12:7).  William McRae says of this gift: “The person with the gift of service has an 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).  D. Edmond Hiebert notes: “Paul calls her not a servant ‘in the church’ but a servant ‘of the church.’  This would indicate that the ministries of Phoebe were no mere private effort but were carried on under the approval and authorization of the church” (Hiebert 1992: 195).

    Paul instructs the church in Rome to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints” (16:2).  The word “receive” has the idea of opening ones home and showing hospitality to a traveler.  Phoebe would have known at least Pricilla, Aquila, and Epaenetus from Corinth and most likely she stayed with them at the beginning of her stay.  Paul also instructs them to “assist her in whatever business she has need of you.”  Some have even suggested that she was going to prepare the way for Paul’s visit to Rome (Jewett 1988).  The reason Paul commends her to the believers in Rome is because she was a helper of many, including Paul, and was worthy of their support.

    There are two reasons why Phoebe was an excellent choice to deliver the letter.  First, she saw first hand the division in the church at Corinth along religious lines and between personalities.  She would be an excellent witness to the church in Rome because she saw the church come together as one and could testify that unity was possible.  The conflict in Corinth was apparently solved.  When Paul entered Corinth, there were two groups: Jews and Gentiles.  When he left, there was a distinctively third group: the Church of God made up of Jewish and Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 1:2; 10:32; II Cor. 1:1).

    Second, she could model the use of spiritual gifts to the believers in the church in Rome.  Paul had already addressed this issue (Rom. 12:3-8), but she could add some practical lessons while she was in Rome.

    Romans 16: A “Grocery List” of Names Or the Heart and Focus of the Apostle Paul’s Ministry? Part 2


    [1] There are some who have suggested that the list of names in Romans 16:3-16 are greetings to believers in Ephesus, not Rome.  This idea has been refuted by Peter Lampe 2003: 153-164.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on ONESIPHORUS: A Cool Breeze and a Courageous Brother

    by Gordon Franz

    In the early 1990’s, I was teaching the Wheaton in the Holy Land short-term program at the Institute for Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem.  The Wheaton program was hosted by Dr. and Mrs. James Hoffmeier.  On our Negev field trip we visited the Timnah Copper Mines, just north of Eilat.  In the month of June, southern Israel gets hot … very hot.  Dr. Hoffmeier had a watch with all the bells and whistles on it.  Not only did it give the time, it also gave a whole host of other things including the outside temperature.  As we stood over the deepest copper mine in the park, Jim showed us his watch.  The afternoon temperature registered 136 degrees Fahrenheit!  When we finished our hike we refilled our water bottles and drank plenty of water.  We were very appreciative of our bus driver for aligning the back of the bus to the sun, pulling down all the shades and keeping the air-conditioner on full blast so it was a cool 75 degrees Fahrenheit when we got onto the bus.  We were refreshed by the considerate act of the bus driver.

    The Apostle Paul states that Onesiphorus, one of the less-spoken about Christians in the New Testament, “often refreshed me” (II Tim. 1:16).  The acts of kindness that Onesiphorus performed on behalf of the apostle, both in Rome and Ephesus, were like our bus driver being concerned for our “creature comfort”.  After a blazingly hot hike we were able to return to a refreshingly cool air-conditioned bus.

    Onesiphorus and his household are mentioned only twice in the Bible, both times in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy.  We read: “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.  The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me.  The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day – and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus” (II Tim. 1:15-18).  “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (4:19).

    Theological Context
    The Apostle Paul, when he penned the second epistle to Timothy, was concerned that his son in the faith might follow the ways of many of the church leaders in Asia Minor.  These leaders abandoned Paul because he was in prison and called an evil doer by the Imperial Roman government (II Tim. 1:15; 2:9).  Some church leaders were ashamed of Paul and did not want to be associated with a state criminal.
    In the first chapter of this epistle, Paul uses the word “ashamed” three times.  The first time he uses the word he admonishes Timothy not to be ashamed of the Lord or of Paul because he was in prison (1:8).  Previously, Paul had reminded Timothy of his genuine faith (1:5), the spiritual gift that was bestowed upon him (1:6), and that God has not given him the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (1:7).

    The second time the word is used, Paul states that even though he is suffering persecution and in prison, he is not ashamed of the Lord because he knows the Lord Jesus is the One in whom he has believed and is persuaded that the Lord will keep him secure until the Judgment Seat of Christ (1:12; cf. 4:6-8).

    In the third usage, Paul contrasts his dear friend with the leaders of the churches of Asia who abandoned Paul and says Onesiphorus is not ashamed of Paul’s chains (1:16).  This dear friend was the example that Paul wanted Timothy to emulate.

    The Chronological and Historical-Geographical Context of the Life of Onesiphorus
    While Onesiphorus and his household are mentioned only twice in the Bible (II Tim. 1:15-18; 4:19), they are mentioned several times in church tradition that might have some historical validity.

    According to the second century AD apocryphal book, the Acts of Paul and Thecla (Schmeemelcher 1992:2:213-270), Onesiphorus is living in Iconium when Paul, apparently on his first missionary journey with Barnabas in AD 47, approaches the city.  Onesiphorus and his wife Lectra and their two children, Simmias and Zeno, met Paul on the “royal road to Lystra” [the Via Sebaste] and invited Paul and his traveling companions to stay at their home in Iconium (Acts of Paul and Thecla 2-3).  Paul accepts their invitation and hospitality and uses their house for home Bible studies.

    The book includes a sermon given by the Apostle Paul in Iconium.  Most likely it is a “Reader’s Digest” version, or a sermon outline, of a much longer message.  Much of what is recorded is from the Sermon on the Mount, including “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7; Acts of Paul and Thecla 5-6).  It is also recorded that: “Onesiphorus had left the things of the world and followed Paul with all his house” (Acts of Paul and Thecla 23).  In other words, he and his household probably gave up the local entertainment scene, i.e. the gladiatorial games, the theater and the symposiums (drinking parties) in order to follow Paul and minister to his needs (cf. Josh. 24:15).

    This apocryphal book was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, but its lack of Divine inspiration does not mean that it is not important or that it does not have a defined historical core and some historical validity.  Some scholars have objected to its validity concerning Onesiphorus because the Acts places Onesiphorus’ home in Iconium, but the Second Epistle to Timothy places his residence in Ephesus (II Tim. 1:18; 4:19).  I do not think, however, this objection is valid.  It is very plausible that Onesiphorus and his household moved from Iconium to Ephesus.  I suspect, but can not prove, that Onesiphorus moved to Ephesus after Paul established his teaching center in the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9) during his third missionary journey (AD 52-55).

    An example of New Testament believers that moved around the Roman world for the sake of the gospel are Aquila and Priscilla.  Aquila was originally from Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea (Acts 18:2) and possibly came to Rome with the Apostle Peter in AD 42.  Most likely he met and married Priscilla in Rome and both were expelled from the Eternal City by the decree of Emperor Claudius in AD 49 (Acts 18:2).  They met the Apostle Paul in Corinth in AD 50 and ministered with him in that city until he departed, and took them with him to Ephesus in AD 52 (Acts 18:18, 19).  There they had a church meeting in their home (I Cor. 16:19; cf. Acts 18:26).  Most likely they ministered in Ephesus until after the death of Emperor Claudius in AD 54 at which time they returned to Rome.  By AD 58, there is a church meeting in their home in Rome (Rom. 16:3-5).  Most likely they returned to Ephesus after the Great Fire in Rome during AD 64 when Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the disaster and began to persecute them.  The Apostle Paul greets them when he writes to Timothy in Ephesus in AD 65 (II Tim. 4:19).  Aquila has moved at least six times within a 25 year time-frame.  It is very plausible that Onesiphorus could have gone from Iconium to Ephesus in order to help Paul while he was teaching at the school of Tyrannus.

    I believe that Onesiphorus resided and ministered in Ephesus for the next ten years until AD 65 when he visited Paul in prison in Rome.  Scripture is silent as to what happened after his trip to Rome.  Some have conjectured, based on verse 18: “The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day” that Onesiphorus was dead.  They suggest he was arrested in Rome because of his association with Paul and then executed.  It has also been suggested that verse 18 is actually a prayer for the dead.

    There is, however, another possibility.  According to the Acta Sanctorum, Onesiphorus visited Spain, apparently after Paul’s fourth missionary journey, and was eventually martyred with Porphyrius, a member of his household, “at Parium, a city of Mysia, situated near the western end of the Sea of Marmora, where it narrows to the Hellespont” between AD 102 and 114 during the reign of Emperor Trajan (Ramsey 1897-98: 495).

    If this is historically accurate, and I suspect it is, then Onesiphorus was not dead, but very much alive and ministering in Spain when Paul sent this wish-prayer to the Throne of Grace.  Thus this is not a prayer for the dead, but rather, a prayer that Onesiphorus would find mercy from the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. 4:8).

    An Exposition of II Timothy 1:15-18

    Paul has encouraged Timothy not to be ashamed of the Lord Jesus or Paul himself.  He sets forth two examples of people with whom Timothy was very familiar.  The first example was negative and demonstrated people who were cowards (1:15).  The second example was positive and showed someone with courage (1:16-18).  The positive example consists of three verses that contain two wish-prayers for Onesiphorus and his household and four acts of mercy displayed by Onesiphorus.

    All Asia Deserted Paul – 1:15
    One of the saddest verses, penned by the Apostle Paul was: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (II Tim. 4:10).  And an equally sad verse is: “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes” (1:15).
    There are several things to notice in this verse.  First, all those in Asia did not turn away from the Lord and abandon their faith, rather, they deserted Paul.  “All those in Asia” can not mean 100% of the believers deserted Paul because at least Timothy and Onesiphorus and his household were still loyal to Paul.  More than likely it means all the leaders in the churches of Asia deserted Paul (Plummer nd: 323; Lenski 1964:772).  A possible scenario is that when Paul was imprisoned he wrote to the church leaders in Asia and invited them to come to his defense and be character witnesses for him before Nero.  They said to Paul, “Nothing doing, you are a state criminal and we will have nothing to do with you!”  He singles out Phygellus and Hermogenes because they might have been from Ephesus and could exert some negative influence on Timothy.  Paul probably also expected them to show more loyalty to him.

    Wish-pray for the Household of Onesiphorus – 1:16a
    Paul now turns Timothy’s attention to Onesiphorus as a positive example of one who is not ashamed of Paul’s chains.  He begins with a wish-prayer: “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus.”  (On wish-prayers, see Towner 2006: 482).

    Mercy, in this context, “envisions God … seeing someone’s suffering and being moved (by compassion) to share in it, bringing help in time of need, when people are incapable of helping themselves” (Towner 2006: 482).

    Apparently Onesiphorus’ household was loyal to the apostle Paul and in full support of Onesiphorus’ trip to Rome.  They probably assumed that Onesiphorus would go to Rome, find Paul, refresh his physical and spiritual needs and then return home.  Paul, however, had other ideas.  According to the Acta Sanctorum, Onesiphorus went to Spain.

    It would make sense that Paul sent Onesiphorus to Spain to follow-up on his church planting activities during his fourth missionary journey right before he was imprisoned in Rome a second time.  This was more “time away from home” than expected by Onesiphorus’ household, so Paul prays that the Lord would grant mercy to the household while the head of the that household was away.  The implication of that prayer is that the Lord would provide for their daily needs while the bread winner was way.

    Onesiphorus was merciful towards the Apostle Paul by being a cool breeze – 1:16b
    Paul now states the first merciful act of kindness that Onesiphorus shows to Paul: “for he often refreshed me.”  This is the only place in the New Testament where the word refreshed is used.  However, contemporary papyri use the word as a “cool, refreshing breeze for a man about to faint” (Hiebert 1992:181).  The Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, uses the word four times (Ex. 23:12; I Sam. 16:23; II Sam. 16:14; Ps. 39:13).  The use in Exodus 23 is very instructive.  The text states: “Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed” (23:12; Seekings 1914:170).  As Jesus would later state: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  The purpose God gave Shabbat to His people was so they could rest, relax and rejuvenate their bodies and be ready for another week of work.

    Roman prisons are not like prisons in the United States where prisoners are respected by law and have numerous rights, comforts and conveniences.  Roman prisons were dark and damp, and the prisons did not provide meals to their prisoners.  That was the responsibility of the family and friends of the person who was incarcerated.  Dr. Luke was in Rome and helped out Paul, but they were both relieved when Onesiphorus showed up.  Not only did he provide for Paul’s physical needs, but also much needed fellowship which he did on a number of occasions.

    What exactly Onesiphorus did for, or to Paul to refresh him, we are not told.  Perhaps Paul deliberately did not tell Timothy, and us, so that we might draw broad applications for our own lives.  How can we minister to someone in order to refresh them?

    Onesiphorus was merciful towards the Apostle Paul by being a courageous brother – 1:16c
    The second merciful act of kindness that Onesiphorus showed to Paul was that he was not ashamed of Paul’s chain.  Sometimes Paul uses the word chain / chains in a metaphorical sense for his imprisonment, but in the historical context he is referring to literal chains (1:16; 2:9).  Towner has observed: “Paul wore the chains on his hands, a mark of shame in society, as a badge of honor earned by his solidarity with Jesus Christ and refusal to “be ashamed” of the cross” (2006: 483).

    Paul was a state criminal, chained to a Roman guard, and treated as an evil-doer (2:9).  Onesiphorus did not care what other people thought of his friend; he showed a tremendous amount of courage and remained loyal to his brother in the faith, Paul.

    Herbert Seekings states: “That eager searching involved greatest peril, for it implied an acknowledged identification with one who was accused as a teacher of heresies and a traitor to the emperor.  But Onesiphorus did not shrink from the test.  He was neither ashamed of Paul’s chain nor afraid for his own safety” (1914: 172).

    Perhaps Onesiphorus had a copy of the epistle to the Hebrews and sought to apply two verses that he had read.  The first was a promise of God which stated: “For both He [the Lord Jesus] who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (2:11).

    If he had that copy, perhaps Onesiphorus knew that God was working in his life, taking the rough edges off of him as he was being sanctified and conformed to the image of His Son, yet Onesiphorus also knew he still had a sin nature, could stumble and fall, and embarrass the Lord and His work.  Yet the promise of God was: “The Lord Jesus was not ashamed to call him a brother!”  Since the Lord Jesus was not ashamed of Onesiphorus, even with his faults and rough edges, this encouraged Onesiphorus not be ashamed of his friend and brother in the Lord, even if the imperial state labeled him as an evil-doer.

    The second verse was a command: “Remember the prisoners as if chained to them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also” (13:3).  Onesiphorus was probably as closed to being chained to the Apostle Paul as one could get without actually being chained.  He courageously visited him and “often refreshed him.”

    Onesiphorus was merciful towards the Apostle Paul by being a consummate bloodhound – 1:17

    Bloodhounds were bred for their extremely sensitive nose that could follow a faint scent until they were successful in finding the object that they were tracking.  This makes them the canine of choice for police and law enforcement when they want to track on-the-loose criminals or to find lost children.  Onesiphorus was a consummate bloodhound when it came to tracking down the Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.  Verse 17 states: “but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me.”

    The text does not record why Onesiphorus came to Rome in the first place.  It could be that he was in Rome on business and heard that Paul was in prison.  Or, perhaps he was on vacation and wanted to do some sight-seeing in the Eternal City.  But most likely, word had gotten back to Ephesus of Paul’s imprisonment and he specifically went to Rome to find the Apostle Paul and minister to him.

    Unlike Paul’s first imprisonment where he was under house arrest in a rented apartment and had access to visitors (Acts 28:16, 23, 30), his second imprisonment found him chained and in an undisclosed location.  This made it very difficult for Onesiphorus to find him.  Most likely he had never been to Rome before so he did not know his way around the city which a year or so before had been burned and a large portion of the city was in ruin.  The fire, blamed on the Christians, caused those believers who survived the subsequent persecution to flee the city, thus information on Paul’s whereabouts from Christians was scarce.  Those Christians who did remain in the city might be suspicious of this stranger and unwilling to share any information about the apostle with Onesiphorus (Hendricksen 1957:239).  Perhaps he was finally able to track down the apostle because he had a chance meeting with Dr. Luke.  Somehow, like a bloodhound on an almost cold trail, he found Paul!

    When Onesiphorus first arrived in Rome, he could have been discouraged by the daunted task of finding Paul and said to himself, “There is absolutely no way I am going to find Paul.”  He may have wanted to give up and go home.  Yet he remembered the words of Paul when he was preaching in Onesiphorus’ home in Iconium, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7; Acts of Paul and Thecla 6).  This encouraged him to continue the search so he could minister to the physical and spiritual need of the Apostle Paul.

    Wish-pray for Onesiphorus – 1:18a

    The Apostle Paul was keenly aware of the demands of the Christian life and the fact that believers in the Lord Jesus still have their sin nature.  In fact, he wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them of the potential of being disqualified from the Christian race (I Cor. 9:24-27; cf. II Tim. 4:6-8).  Paul was not saying, however, that believers could lose their salvation.  That, he clearly states, was eternally secure in Jesus Christ (II Tim. 1:12).  What Paul was saying is that they would not be used of the Lord and would suffer the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

    Paul makes it clear that all believers in the Lord Jesus, and only believers, will appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10).  The unsaved, those who have rejected the Lord Jesus as their Savior, will appear at the Great White Throne Judgment to determine their degree of punishment in Hell forever (Rev. 20:11-15).

    At the Judgment Seat of Christ, however, the issue of sin is not brought up because they had been dealt with by the Lord Jesus on Calvary’s cross where He died in order to pay for all our sins (John 1:29; I John 2:2; Heb. 10:1-18).  At this judgment, however, believers works are judged (I Cor. 3:12-15).

    Thus, Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus is that God would grant mercy to him so that he would remain faithful to the Lord and continue in His work, by His grace, in His strength and for His glory.  If he does, when his works are tested by fire, they will endure and Onesiphorus will be rewarded by the Lord.  If, on the other hand, his sin nature gets the better of him, his works are burned up and he will suffer the loss of rewards.  But Paul is quick to add: “but he himself will be saved, yet so as through the fire” (I Cor. 3:15).  In other words, he will be saved by the skin of his teeth, but will have nothing to show for it, so he will be ashamed at the coming of the Lord (I John 2:28).

    Onesiphorus was merciful towards the Apostle Paul by being a caring benefactor – 1:18b

    Paul now records the fourth, and final, merciful act of kindness that Onesiphorus showed to Paul.  He writes: “And you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”

    Paul does not enumerate the many things that Onesiphorus did to minister to Paul in Ephesus; Timothy knew what they were from personal experience.  Perhaps Paul and his fellow workers were the recipients of Onesiphorus’ hospitality and ate meals with the household.  Or, perhaps Onesiphorus labored with them in the School of Tyrannus and helped pay the monthly rent.  We can only speculate because Scripture is silent on this matter.

    Personal Applications
    There are at least three lessons we can learn from the life of Onesiphorus and hopefully apply them as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    First, Paul wanted Timothy to emulate and follow the examples of Onesiphorus and not to be ashamed of the Lord and Paul’s chains like the church leaders in Asia Minor.  Onesiphorus was a “cool breeze” refreshing the Apostle Paul when he was in need.  He was a “courageous brother” who was not afraid of Paul’s chains.  He was a “consummate bloodhound” who zealously sought out Paul while he was imprisoned even though it seemed a hopeless task.  He was a “caring benefactor” ministering to the needs of the apostle while he was laboring in Ephesus.  Paul gives little details of the merciful acts of kindness that Onesiphorus showed toward Paul because Timothy was well aware, from first hand experience, of the things this “cool breeze”, “courageous brother”, “consummate bloodhound”, and “caring benefactor” did for Paul.  This should encourage us to be creative in the ways we can emulate and follow Onesiphorus.

    Second, Paul was keenly aware of the demands of the Christian life so he uses athletic metaphors to describe that life as a race, a boxing match, and a wrestling match.  He presents himself as an athlete who brings his body into subjection and disciplines his life so he will not be disqualified from the athletic contests.  When Paul penned these words to Timothy he knew for him, that the contest was over and he was about to be martyred.  He also knew he had kept the faith and won the athletic contest and would be rewarded by the Righteous Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Tim. 4:6-8).

    Paul, however, still prayed for Onesiphorus and his household, that the Lord would grant mercy to them.  First, because they showed mercy to Paul and there was no way he could humanly speaking return their kindness; and second, because they were still engaged in the spiritual athletic contest and there was a possibility of being disqualified from that contest.  Paul’s prayer would be for their faithfulness in the work and it would be done by the grace of God, in His strength and for His glory.

    Do we pray for individual believers?  I do not mean a general: “God bless everybody in the church!” but specific prayers for individuals.  Awhile back I observed a young Christian who was struggling in her walk with the Lord.  The Lord impressed upon me to pray for this individual on a daily basis.  My prayers for the spiritual life of this person were threefold: First, the Lord would draw this person close to Himself.  Second, the Lord would work in this individual’s life to conform them to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).  And finally, the Lord would give this person a desire to study His Word, the Bible, and apply it to this individual’s life.  I also pray for some specific personal and physical needs as well.  This was how Paul prayed for Onesiphorus and his household.

    Third, the prayer that Paul prayed for Onesiphorus was not a prayer for the dead because he was very much alive.  In fact, the Bible does not teach that believer can, or should, pray for the dead because their eternal destiny was determined by them in this life.  Did they trust the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior or not?  If they did, when they died, they would go into the presence of the Lord (II Cor. 5:1-8).  If they did not trust Christ as their Savior, they would spend all eternity separated from God in Hell.  Have you trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?


    Hendriksen, William
    1957    New Testament Commentary.  Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

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

    Lenski, R. C. H.
    1964    The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon.  Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.

    Plummer, Alfred
    1888    The Pastoral Epistles.  New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son.

    Ramsay, William
    1897-98    Notes on the “Acta of Martyrs.  Expository Times 9:495-497.

    Schneemelcher, Wilhelm
    1992    The Acts of Paul.  Pp. 213-270 in New Testament Apochrypha.  Vol. 2.  Edited by W. Schneemelcher.  Trans. by R. Wilson.  Louisville, KY: Westminster / John Knox.

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

    Towner, Philip
    2006    The Letters to Timothy and Titus.  Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on EPAPHRODITUS: A Gambling Veteran

    By Gordon Franz


    The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers to imitate (follow) him as he followed the Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:1). Paul, in his epistle to the church at Philippi, set forth several examples of believers who had the mind of Christ – the lowliness of mind, and esteemed others better then themselves (Phil. 2:3, 5). Paul intended for the Christians at Philippi to imitate these examples: one of whom was one of their own – Epaphroditus.

    On the inside wall of the Church of Lydia (currently standing just outside the archaeological park of Philippi), is a mosaic icon of Epaphroditus. He is depicted as a young man dressed in a purple garment, holding what appears to be a scroll. That is not the impression I get from the book of Philippians. Epaphroditus was a veteran, a battle tested soldier, who gambled his life for the sake of the gospel.

    Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18

    Yet I consider it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my needs; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me
    …having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

    Epaphroditus in Philippi

    I suspect, but can not conclusively prove, that Epaphroditus was a veteran of the Roman Legion, and possibly of the Praetorian Guard. If so, upon his discharge from the army, he would have been given land in Philippi so he could retire to that Roman colony. It was in this city that he came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His former military training and lifestyle would have served him well in his Christian life because he volunteered for a difficult and dangerous task, thus risking his life for the sake of the gospel. There are several lines of reasoning that have led me to this conclusion.

    First, Epaphroditus name means “charming, lovely, or fascinating” and has at the root of his name Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. According to Greek mythology she was born in the sea and washed up onto the shore of the island of Cyprus on a sea shell. In fact, Greek mythology could point to the very rocks off the beach where she came ashore. There was even a temple dedicated to her outside the ancient city of Paphos that had a black basalt rock that was worshiped as the goddess. [If you believe this Greek mythology stuff, I will be glad to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge]!

    Apparently Epaphroditus’ parents may have been pagan devotees of the goddess and therefore named their son in her honor. If true, they were probably not from Philippi because no temple or shrine to Aphrodite has been uncovered in the extensive excavations in the city. None of the ancient sources that mention Philippi attest to her presence in the city, nor is there any evidence for her, or her cult, on coins or inscriptions that have been excavated in the ruins of ancient Philippi (Koulouli-Chrysantaks 1998: 22-27).

    I would conclude that Epaphroditus was not born or raised in Philippi but that he came to the city of Philippi as a retired solder. After the battle of Philippi in 42 BC, the victors settled a number of veterans in the city and gave them fertile land to farm (Strabo, Geography 7, fr. 41; LCL 3:363). In 31 BC, after the battle of Actium in western Greece, more veterans were settled in the city upon their retirement from military service. Even in the First Century AD there were retired soldiers living, and eventually dying, in Philippi and its environs (Speidel 1970: 142-153). One of those who retired to the city could have been Epaphroditus.

    Second, the apostle Paul calls Epaphroditus a “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25). It is obvious that he is using this term in a metaphorical sense because, as far as we know, Paul never served in the Roman army. But that does not preclude that Epaphroditus did not serve in the military. By using this term, the veterans who were in fellowship in the assembly at Philippi would understand the character of Epaphroditus and the nature of the spiritual warfare that they were engaged in (cf. Eph. 6:10-20).

    Interestingly, during the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) or Nero (AD 54-68), a coin was minted in Philippi with Nike, the goddess of victory, on the obverse side and three Roman standards on the reverse side. The inscription framing the standards said: “COHOR(tes) PRAE(toriae) PHIL(ippensis)” which means Praetorian Cohorts of Philippi (Burnett, Amandry, and Ripolles 1992:I:308; coin 1651). This suggests that some, if not all, of the veterans in Philippi were from the Praetorian Guards. Perhaps Epaphroditus had served in this elite unit composed of bodyguards for the Emperor. Coincidently, Paul mentioned the Praetorian Guards in his epistle to the Philippians (1:13; cf. 4:22). If the Praetorian Guards did retire to Philippi, the recent converts would be interested in hearing about Paul’s evangelism of their former comrades and Epaphroditus would have told the Philippians believers about this when he returned home.

    Third, there is an axiom that says: “You can take a man out of the Marines, but you can never take the Marines out of the man.” It has been my observation of people who put in their 20, or 25, years in the military and retire still live a regimented military lifestyle. They still say, “Yes sir, no sir.” They still have a disciplined life as far as their time is concerned. They react in dangerous situations in the way they had been trained in the service.

    You will recall the events surrounding Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Air flight #1549, in the airspace over New York City in January 2009. He was a former US Air Force pilot and trained other pilots in emergency landings. When those geese clogged up and shut down both engines on his plane, he did not stop and think, “Oh my, we have a problem, what am I going to do now?” No, he calmly reacted, based on his many hours of training, and safely landed the plane on the Hudson River. Likewise, as a former soldier, Epaphroditus reverted to his military training and put his life in danger for the sake of the gospel and the Apostle Paul.

    Paul in Philippi

    The church at Philippi was one of Paul’s favorites. He had been to the city, fellowshipped with the saints, and ministered to them on at least three occasions and one of his travelling co-workers, Dr. Luke, was most likely from this city.

    On the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (AD 49-52), he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. In response to the “Macedonian Call”, they went to Philippi and planted a church in that city (Acts 16:9-40). Dr. Luke, apparently a native of Philippi, stayed behind and continued the work in the newly established church in the city (AD 50).

    During Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 52-57) he had a lengthy, almost three year, stay at Ephesus (AD 52-55; Acts 19). The ministry of Paul and his co-worker Timothy, was so effective that “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). After the near riots in the theater, Paul thought it best to leave Ephesus so he departed to Macedonia (Acts 19:23-20:1). More than likely, his first stop was Philippi (AD 55). After a ministry in Macedonia, and apparently Illyricum (Rom. 15:19), he went to Greece (Achaia). After three months in Corinth (winter AD 57), he returned to Macedonia and rejoined Dr. Luke in Philippi (spring AD 57). They, and six other brethren, accompanied them to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints in the Holy City (Acts 20:3-6).

    The church at Philippi was dear to Paul’s heart. He enjoyed the “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) that they shared for over ten years and knew they cared for him (4:10). One of the individuals he valued in this fellowship was Epaphroditus. When they first met, and when and how Epaphroditus came to faith, we are not told as well. Most likely it was not the apostle Paul who led his to faith in the Lord Jesus as his Savior because he would have called Epaphroditus “his son in the faith” as he did Timothy (I Tim. 1:2; II Tim. 1:2) and Titus (Tit. 1:4). Paul only calls him a “brother” (Phil. 2:25; cf. John 1:12).

    Paul also identifies Epaphroditus as a “fellow worker” (Phil. 2:25), as he does Clement and other saints from the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:3). These were individuals who labored with the apostle as he and his team proclaimed the gospel in Macedonia on various occasions.

    The Gift to Paul from the Church at Philippi

    The saints at Philippi sent a financial gift to the Apostle Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). He had lost everything when he and Dr. Luke were shipwrecked on Malta and rent was probably high in the Eternal City. This was not the first time the believers in Philippi sent Paul a gift. They sent him two gifts while he was in Thessaloniki (Phil. 4:16), and then again when he was in Corinth (Phil. 4:15; cf. II Cor. 11:9). Each time they gave sacrificially out of their poverty (II Cor. 8:2).

    The church at Philippi appointed Epaphroditus as their “sent one” (apostle) to take the money to Paul (Phil. 4:18). Most likely he would have had others go with him, not only for accountability, but also to protect the money, since this is the pattern in the early church (cf. Acts 20:4; Lenski 1937:696-697). More than likely, they would have walked the Via Egnatia from Philippi to Dyrrachium on the Adriactic Sea (367/8 Roman miles; Adams 1982:280), and then cross the sea by ship. They would have continued walking on the Via Appian from Brundusium to Rome (360 Roman miles). This trip, covering 729 miles, most likely would have taken 57 days, with a rest on each Lord’s Day, a trip of almost two months. If Epaphroditus and his friends made this trip during the winter, he might have picked up pneumonia, or he could have eaten tainted food at one of the inns. These conditions might explain why he got deathly sick and almost died (Phil. 2:27, 30).

    Paul Under House Arrest in Rome

    The Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome and more than likely confined to a rented apartment near the Camp of the Praetorian Guards on the Viminal Hill (Richardson 1992: 263, fig. 58; 325, fig. 72; 431). Ministering to him was Dr. Luke and some other brethren (Col. 4:7-14; Philemon 23-24).

    The Philippian church sent a financial gift with Epaphroditus and his team and referred to him as “one who ministered to my needs” (2:25). The implication of that statement was that Epaphroditus was to stay in Rome and join the Apostle Paul’s team and work with him, even though he was under house arrest. There was one problem: Epaphroditus got deathly sick when he arrived in Rome or while he was in the city working with Paul. The Apostle had a dilemma on his hands. He was preparing for his defense before Nero and he also had a person with a near fatal sickness on his hands who may have also been homesick (“… since he was longing for you all” Phil. 2:26) and worried about the believers at home because they heard he was sick. What to do? Fortunately for both Epaphroditus and Paul, God was merciful and intervened in the situation by healing Epaphroditus. That was one less thing Paul had to be concerned about (2:26-27).

    Paul also had another concern on his heart. In that he had heard about the seeds of division that had been planted in the church at Philippi. Two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, were at odds with each other and Paul needed to implore them to be of one mind in the Lord (4:2).

    The Apostle Paul saw a win-win situation. He would write a letter to the church at Philippi about their fellowship in the gospel (1:3), being of one mind and having the mind of Christ (2:1-11), and have it directed at these two sisters who did not get along. The letter carrier that would take this epistle back would be none other than Epaphroditus (2:25, 28). The people in the assembly at Philippi who were worried about him would rejoice when they saw him again. Paul would be less sorrowful because Epaphroditus was one less concern for him as he prepared for his defense before Nero.

    The Apostle Paul was probably aware that some in the assembly at Philippi would think that Epaphroditus did not accomplish the mission that the church commissioned him to do: join forces with Paul as they engaged in spiritual warfare in Rome. Paul gave a command to the veterans in the assembly to: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem.” Not only were they to receive him, but also to hold him in high esteem because he went above and beyond the call of duty for the cause of Christ and almost died in the line of duty (2:30).

    One commentator points out that: “Epaphroditus was no coward, but a courageous person willing to take enormous risks, ready to play with very high stakes in order to come to the aid of a person in need. He did not ‘save’ his life, but rather hazarded it to do for Paul and the cause of Christ what other Philippians Christians did not or could not do” (Hawthorne 1983:120).

    The Greek phrase that is translated “not regarding his life” is a gambling term coined by the Apostle Paul. A Greek gambler, before he rolled the dice, would invoke Aphrodite (or Venus in the Roman world), the goddess of gamblers, with the phrase “epaphroditos”, meaning “favorite of Aphrodite” (Lees 1917:201-203; 1925-1925:46; Hawthorne 1983:120). Paul made a pun on Epaphroditius’ name. Truly the dice were loaded when Epaphroditus put his life on the line for the Lord’s work. Instead of invoking Aphrodite, he invoked the true and living God, and He was merciful to Epaphroditus and healed him.

    Paul concludes this section by stating that Epaphroditus risked his life “to supply what was lacking in your service toward me” (2:30). The Greek construction does not give the impression that Paul is trying to lay a guilt trip on the people in Philippi because they did not do enough for Paul. In fact, the opposite was the case; Paul was praising them because they had sent a trusted and beloved brother who in essence was an extension of their ministry.


    There are at least four lessons we can learn from the life of this battle tested soldier of Christ.

    First, he was a brother to the Apostle Paul. Paul used that term in a metaphorical sense to indict that they were in the same spiritual family, the family of God by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8, 9). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and do you know the assurance of sins forgiven and the guarantee of home in Heaven? Epaphroditus did and knew these truths.

    Second, the Apostle Paul characterized Epaphroditus as a selfless person – one with the mind of Christ who esteemed others better than himself (Phil. 2:1-5). He demonstrated this selflessness by volunteering to go to Rome and help out the Apostle Paul in his time of need. When we consider the Christian life, do we ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” Or, do we ask ourselves, “How can I be of service to others?” Epaphroditus sought to serve other people.

    Third, Epaphroditus worked on the philosophy, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” The word retirement was not in his vocabulary! Yes, he may have put his 25 years of service in the Roman army and he had his bronze retirement diploma. But, if that was the case, perhaps he had the same attitude as some Christians today who use the phrase, “I’m not retired, just refocused!” When Epaphroditus retired as a soldier in the Imperial army, he refocused his life as a soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ engaged in spiritual warfare. Have we refocused our lives in order to be engaged in this spiritual warfare?

    Finally, Epaphroditus took great risks for the sake of the gospel. Exactly what he did in gambling with his life, we are not told, but I am sure he will be greatly rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for his risk taking. Will we gamble our lives for the sake of the gospel?

    Isaac Watts (1674-1748) eloquently expressed what may have been the motivation for Epaphroditus “gambling habit” when he penned the last verse of his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. He wrote:

    “Were the whole realm of nature mine

    that were a present far too small;

    love so amazing, so divine,

    demands my soul, my life, my all.”

    It was the divine love of the Lord Jesus that constrained Epaphroditus to risk all to follow Jesus because He died and rose again from the dead in order to pay for all Epaphroditus’ sins. It was only his reasonable service to live completely for the Lord Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2), and risking all he had, including his life, to follow Him. Will we be willing to do the same?

    Perhaps Epaphroditus was the one Isaac Watts had in mind when he penned the words to “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?”

    Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb,

    And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His Name?

    Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,

    While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?

    Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?

    Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?

    Sure, I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord;

    I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.

    Epaphroditus, the gambling veteran, bet all that he had and he hit the jackpot. He received the crown of life (James 1:12)!


    Adams, John Paul

    1982 Polybius, Pliny and the Via Egnatia. Pp. 269-302 in Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage. Edited by Adams, W. L.; and Borza, E. N. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

    Burnett, Andrew; Amandry, Michel, and Ripolles, Pere Pau

    1992 Roman Provincial Coinage. Vol. 1. London and Paris: British Musem and Bibliotheque nationale de France.

    Hawthorne, Gerald

    1983 Word Biblical Commentary. Philippians. Waco, TX: Word Books.

    Koukouli-Chrysantaki, Chaido

    1998 Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. Pp. 5-35 in Philippi at the Time of Paul and After His Death. Edited by C. Bakirtzis and H. Koester. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

    Lees, Harrington

    1917 St. Paul’s Friends. London: Religious Tract Society.

    1925-26 Epaphroditus, God’s Gambler. Expository Times 37: 46.

    Lenski, R. C. H.

    1937 The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians. Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern.

    Richardson, L. Jr.

    1992 A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

    Speidel, Michael

    1970 The Captor of Decebalus a New Inscription from Philippi. Journal of Roman Studies 60: 142-153.


    1983 The Geography of Strabo. Vol. 3. Trans. by H. L. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 182.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on DEMAS: Lover of this Present World

    By Gordon Franz

    Our society tends to blame adverse behavior on our environment, or on circumstances and events around us, but we seldom, if ever, take personal responsibility for our own actions.  One of the most haunting passages of Scripture in Paul’s epistles, and one that probably caused him to weep over as he wrote, is found in II Tim. 4:10: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”

    The apostle Paul was a “people person.”  He ministered to people, he trained people, he prayed for people.  When one of those people, whom he had poured his life into, deserted him, he must have felt devastated and alone.  This seems to be reflected in the next verse when he wrote, “Only Luke is with me” (4:11).  Let us examine the life of Demas and see what lessons we can learn from his failure.

    His Hometown
    The Scriptures do not explicitly state where Demas was from.  Some have inferred from the desertion passage that his departure to Thessalonica implies that he was returning to his hometown.  If that is the case, he was originally from Thessalonica.

    In the excavations at Thessaloniki, inscriptions were discovered with the names of the politarchs of the city on them (the “rulers of the city” in Acts 17:6, 8).  Two different inscriptions had the name Demetrius on them.  W. F. Boyd tries to make an association with Demas and one of the two politarchs named Demetrius found on inscriptions.  He admits it is not a certainty, but he thinks it is a possibility (1916: 1: 286, 287).

    If Demas is from Thessaloniki, it would be interesting to compare his life with that of Aristarchus.  Both of these men were from Thessaloniki, both may have been from the aristocracy and probably had some wealth, both were trained by the Apostle Paul, yet both men went in different spiritual directions.  Why?  It is not because of environment, circumstances, or even teaching: it’s because the individual chose to go in the spiritual direction that he wanted and would bear the consequence of his decision.

    His Spiritual Activities
    Demas first appears in the Bible when he was in Rome during the Apostle Paul’s first imprisonment (AD 60-62).  Paul is under house arrest in his rented house and is allowed visitors (Acts 28:30, 31).  In the last chapter of the Book of Colossians there are at least eight believers with Paul at this time who are known by the saints in the Lycus Valley where Colossae is located.  Six of them send their greetings to the churches in the valley (Col. 4:10-14), five of them will send their personal greetings to Philemon at Colossae as well (Philemon 23, 24).  Justus, apparently was not known by Philemon.  Two other brothers, Tychicus and Onesimus, will take the letters back to the valley (Col. 4:7-9).
    The two lists of greetings provide small details about Demas.  In Colossians, he is listed with Dr. Luke and Epaphras (4:12-14), where they are set in contrast with the three Jewish believers, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus – called Justus, mentioned previously (4:10, 11).  This passage seems to indicate that Demas was a Gentile.

    In the greetings to Philemon, Demas is included in the statement that he is a fellow laborer with Paul (Philemon 24).  The word “fellow-laborer” (sunergos) has the idea of a co-worker.  W. D. Thomas pointed out that the “word implies that two people are working closely together as partners, sharing work and responsibility.  There is even the suggestion of equality in the word co-worker.”  He goes on to say that Demas was a “close confidant of Paul, sharing the Apostle’s vision of winning the world for God” (1983-84: 179).  Apparently Demas was a visiting missionary to the Lycus Valley at one time because they knew him, thus his greetings to them.  He was not a local brother like Epaphras (4:12).  As for the timing of his visit to the Lycus Valley, the Scriptures are silent.

    His Forsaking of Paul
    The Apostle Paul wrote that Demas “forsook him.”  (II Tim. 4:10).  The Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest states: “The Greek word ‘forsaken’ (egkataleipo) means ‘to abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, leave in the lurch, let one down’” (1966:2: 164).

    One noted preacher suggests that Demas “may not have been a true believer at all” (MacAuthur 1995:206).  A word of caution is in order at this point.  Demas was a fellow laborer with Paul and at a point in time, he forsook Paul.  We have no Scriptural record of what happened to Demas after he got to Thessalonica.  Perhaps he abandoned his love for this present world and started to love the appearing of Christ and began to set his affection on things above.
    Even if, in addition to forsaking Paul, he forsook the Lord, the Lord would remain faithful to him because He can not deny Himself because the promise of eternal life is for eternity and the Father and the Son held on to Demas (II Tim. 2:11-13; John 6:35-40, 47; 10:25-30).

    His Love for this Present World
    Paul does not tell us what aspect of the present world system Demas loved.  He does not say if it is fame, fortune, or the gratification of the flesh.  I believe the reason that the Apostle Paul does not tell us any details as to what Demas did “loving this present world” was two-fold.  First, he did not want to embarrass his fellow laborer any further, saying that he forsook Paul was bad enough.  But second, Demas’ life could be instructive to other believers and also serve as a warning to potential wayward believers.  When a Bible teacher expounds on the life of Demas, broad applications could be made to his love for this present world system, and not limit it to a single example, or sin.

    The Apostle John wrote to believers in Asia Minor: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17).

    John uses the same word for “love” (agape) that Paul uses in II Tim. 4:10.  However, he uses a different Greek word for world.  In the epistle to Timothy, Paul uses “aiona” (the concept of “eons of time” comes from this word), while John uses “kosmos.”  Richard Trench, in his book Synonyms of the New Testament sees a subtle difference between these two words.  “Kosmos” is the “world contemplated under aspects of space” while “aiona” is the “same contemplated under aspects of time” (1973: 214).  The questions that should be raised from this distinction are: “Are believers in the Lord Jesus living for time, or eternity?”  And, “are Christians living for this world, or Thy Kingdom to come?”

    The Christian should view the “world” as often used in the New Testament, as a moral and spiritual system, in both time and space, which is designed to draw the believer in the Lord Jesus away from his or her love for the Lord and any service that might be rendered to Him (Gal 1:4; I Tim. 6:17; Tit. 2:12).

    This world system has only three allurements to draw the believer away from his or her love for the Lord.  First, there is the lust of the flesh, second, the lust of the eyes, and finally, the pride of life.  The first, the lust of the flesh, has to do with the gratification of the flesh (what makes me feel good physically).  Included within this allurement would be sexual sins, gluttony, drug use and drunkenness.  If it’s gluttony, perhaps he did not like the cheese-less pizza in Rome and wanted to devour the chicken gyros in Thessalonica!  The second category is the lust of the eyes (what possessions I want to make me happy).  These sins would be what we see and desire to have, but the object we want is not ours to have because it belongs to someone else.  This is known as covetousness.  The final category is pride of life (what I want to be).  This is the arrogance that one has when they boast about themselves, their accomplishments, or their possessions.  Whatever Demas’ love for the world was, it fell into at least one of these three categories.

    Interestingly, Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey the Lord God in the Garden of Eden by these same three tactics.  In the most perfect conditions humans ever lived, Satan came to Eve, disguised as a serpent,  and cast doubt on the Word of God (Gen. 3:1), and then he blatantly challenged the Word of God (3:4, 5).  So when Eve “saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and a tree desirable to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate.  She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).

    On the other hand, the Lord Jesus, after He was baptized, was tested by the Devil in the most imperfect conditions for forty days (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).  In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Jesus is presented as the Perfect Man, thus the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45).  Luke records the genealogy of Mary where her line is traced all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:38).

    The first testing by Satan was to challenge the Lord Jesus to turn the stone into bread (Luke 4:2-4).  Here was the lust of the flesh, the desire to have physical food while He was fasting.  But, Jesus answered Satan from the Word of God saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”  He was quoting Deut. 8:3.

    In the second testing, Satan takes the Lord Jesus to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdom of the world and says they could all be the Lord’s if only He would bow down and worship Satan (Luke 4:5-8).  Satan tested Him with the lust of the eyes because there was the desire to see and covet that which was not His.  This world system was under the dominion of Satan (John 12:31; 14:30; II Cor. 4:4).  Yet again, Jesus quotes from the Word of God: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Deut. 6:13; 10:20).

    The final testing, Satan takes the Lord Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and says: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here” and then he proceeds to misquote Psalm 91:11, 12.  Here was an attack on the deity of the Lord Jesus.  He was the Son of God.  Yet Satan was attacking with the “pride of life.”

    Interestingly, Jesus passed the same three tests, in the most imperfect conditions, that Adam and Eve failed, in the most perfect conditions in the Garden of Eden.  What was the secret of His victory?  First, Luke tells us that the Lord Jesus was filled with the Spirit (4:1, 14; see also Eph. 5:18).  Second, He knew and used the word of God against Satan each time He was tested (4:4, 8, 12; see also Eph. 6:17).  This should be an encouragement for every believer to be filled with the Spirit and to put on the whole armor of God, which includes the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 5:18-6:20).

    His Departure to Thessalonica
    Why Demas went to Thessalonica, and what he did there is not revealed in the Scriptures.  Hanson gives a tantalizing note in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.  He said: “A copyist in a manuscript preserved in the Medici Library in Florence adds in the margin the information that Demas became a priest of a pagan temple at Thessalonica.  On what authority he says this we do not know” (1966: 100).  If this footnote is true, the allurement that Demas fell for was the pride of life.

    “Golden-mouth” John Chrysostom, the eloquent preacher who lived about AD 400 suggests that “having loved his own ease and security from danger, he has chosen rather to live luxuriously at home, than to suffer hardships” apparently with Paul (quoted in Oden 1989:176).  If this is the case, the allurement that Demas fell for was the lust of the flesh because he wanted the easy life.

    W. F. Boyd conjectures: “In this case the prospect of civil honors may have been the reason which led him to abandon the hardships and dangers of the Apostle’s life and return to Thessalonica, where his family may have help positions of influence” (1916: 287).  If this is the case, the allurement that enticed Demas was again the pride of life.

    Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, in the first half of the 2nd century AD, wrote an epistle to the church at Philippi.  In the ninth chapter of his epistle, he listed some of the martyrs of the early church: Ignatius, Zosimus, Rufus, Paul and other apostles, and said that all these had not “run in vain” because they did not “love this present world” (Polycarp to the Philippians 9:1, 2; LCL I: 295).  Polycarp hints at the fact that he is referring to Demas when he lists the martyrs and said they did not love this present world.  The implication was that Demas did not want to be a martyr so he abandoned Paul in Rome just before he was executed.  If this is the case, the allurement that enticed Demas was the pride of life.  He valued his earthy life more than receiving the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).

    What Would Jesus Say about Demas?
    Jesus gives a series of parables during the fall of AD 28 from a boat in a cove of the Sea of Galilee.  While speaking to the multitude that is seated in the natural amphitheater to the west of Capernaum, He spots a farmer sowing seeds on the hillside.  He says, “Let me tell you about the four different types of soil that the seed is falling onto.  The first soil was actually the road that runs along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Here, the birds of the air ate the seeds.  The second soil was the stony ground.  The seeds spouted for a short while until the heat of the sun scorched the plant and it withered away.  The third soil that the seeds fell on was the thorny ground.  Here the thorns eventually choked the plants.  The final soil that the seeds fell on was good soil and the plants produced 30, 60 and 100 fold” (Matt. 13:3-9; Mark 4:1-8; Luke 8:4-8).  Later, when Jesus interpreted this parable to His disciples, He said of the second soil, that when tribulation and persecution came, the believer would stumble.  Of the third soil, He said that because of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, the word of God is choked in the life of the believer and he becomes unfruitful (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15; for a full discussion of the Parable of the Four Soils, see Quick 1977).  Demas “loving this present world” would fall in either the second or third soils.  This was not the normal Christian life, but rather, the sub-normal Christian Life.  The fourth soil was the normal Christian life, producing fruit in the life of the believer.

    His Place at the Judgment Seat of Christ
    All believers in the Lord Jesus and only believers in the Lord Jesus will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10).  The unbeliever will appear at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).  These two judgments are separated by 1,007 years.  At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the believers works are made manifest (I Cor. 3:12-15).  Sin is not the question at this judgment because the Lord Jesus paid for all our sins on Calvary’s cross.

    In the context of Paul’s statement of Demas abandoning him, Paul declares his impending martyrdom (II Tim. 4:6-8).  Paul contrasts his, and others, who love the appearing of the Lord Jesus and will eventually receive the crown of righteousness, with Demas who was living for this present world and not looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus.  Demas will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but when his works are manifested, they will be like wood, hay and straw and will be burned up and he suffers loss, yet Paul says he will be saved, yet through the fire (I Cor. 3:12, 15).  The Apostle John would describe him as being ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus (I John 2:28).  Earlier in Paul’s epistle to Timothy he says of those believers who deny the Lord, that they will be denied the privilege of reigning with Christ for 1,000 years (II Tim. 2:11-13, for a full discussion of this passage, see McCoy 1988).

    Demas was with Paul when he wrote the epistle to the church at Colossae (Col. 4:14).  He should have recalled the words that Paul penned when he wrote: “If (or, since) then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).  The promise and hope of the Lord’s return should be a purifying hope (cf. I John 3:3).  In fact, Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, put to death your members” (Col. 3:4) and then lists various sins that would fit into the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” categories.

    Believers in the Lord Jesus should not emulate the life of Demas.  Yet there are at least three things we can learn from the life of this wayward believer.

    First, we should have an eternal perspective on life and not love this present world system that is out to trip us up and draw us away from our love for the Lord and His Word.  This world system is passing away, so this should encourage us to live for the Kingdom to come and eternal rewards.

    The second thing we can learn from Demas is that no Christian is immune from loving this present world and leaving the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people.  Paul wrote and admonished the Corinthian believers: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).  The allurement of this world falls into three categories: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.  The Lord Jesus was tested the same way, yet He passed the tests with flying colors because He was filled with the Spirit and used the Word of God when Satan attacked.  Paul went on to tell the Corinthian believers: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).  We should be looking for that escape hatch when temptation comes.  Believers should also realize that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, and that we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world (Tit. 2:12).

    The third lesson we can learn from the life of Demas is that the hope of the Lord’s return should change the way we live now.  If Demas continued in his love for the world, he would eventually be ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ because he would stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and his works would be made manifest.  At this point, he would have his new, sin-free body, and would say to himself: “Why did I waste my life?  I was living for time, but not eternity, living for this world and not the Kingdom to come!”  On the other hand, if Demas had lived in light of the return of Christ, this would have provided a purifying hope for him because he knew that one day he would be just like the Lord Jesus.  He would begin to live now in light of eternity, and for rewards in the Kingdom to come (I John 2:28-3:3).  As the little ditty goes: “Only one life, so soon shall past, only what’s done for Christ shall last.”  We are to live in light of the Judgment Seat of Christ and let this sobering truth change the way we live today.


    Boyd, W. F.
    1916    Demas.  Pp. 286, 287 in Dictionary of the Apostolic Church.  Vol. 1.  J. Hastins, ed.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    Hanson, Anthony
    1966    The Pastoral Letters.  Cambridge: At the University.

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

    MacArthur, John
    1995    The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.  2 Timothy.  Chicago: Moody.

    McCoy, Brad
    1988    Secure Yet Scrutinized.  2 Timothy 2:11-13.  Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 1/1.

    Oden, Thomas
    1989    First and Second Timothy and Titus.  Interpretation.  Louisville, KY: John Knox.

    1912    The Epistle to the Philippians of Saint Polycarp.  Pp. 282-301 in Apostolic Fathers.  Vol. 1.  Trans. by K. Lake.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 24.  Reprinted 1985.

    Quick, Kenneth
    1977    An Exegetical and Soteriological Examination of the Parable of the Four Soils.  Unpublished Master of Theology thesis.  Dallas Theological Seminary.

    Thomas, W. D.
    1983-1984    Demas the Deserter.  Expository Times 95: 179-180.

    Trench, Richard
    1973    Synonyms of the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    Wuest, Kenneth
    1966    Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament.  Vol. 2.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on ERASTUS: “Salt and Light” in the Government of Corinth

    By Gordon Franz


    In 1780, at the age of 21 years and two weeks, William Wilberforce was the youngest man ever to be elected to the British parliament. He was an eloquent orator, a gifted singer and was invited to join five exclusive clubs in London. He enjoyed the London social scene: dining, playing cards, dancing and the theater. Here was a man who “had it all” at such a young age.

    In February 1785 be began to read a book entitled The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge. During that spring he traveled on holiday to the Continent with Isaac Milner, a tutor at the Queens College, Cambridge. As they traveled they discussed the book by Doddridge and other spiritual matters. It was not until November or December of that year that the “Great Change”, as Wilberforce describes it, took place. William Wilberforce put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior from sin. What a change that was. Among other things, he was delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13).

    With his decision to trust Jesus Christ as his Savior, he began to struggle within himself over the issue of whether politics was compatible with the Christian life. Whether serving in parliament was consistent with his spiritual walk with the Lord, or should he leave parliament altogether and go into full time Christian ministry? During this struggle, he visited an old family friend, John Newton, a pastor in London, and asked for his advice. The former slave trader and author of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace” encouraged Wilberforce to remain in Parliament. As a result of that conversation, Wilberforce wrote: “When I came away I found my mind in a calm, tranquil state, more humbled, and looking more devotedly up to God.” John Newton later wrote to his friend and fellow song writer, William Cowper: “I judge he [Wilberforce] is now decidedly on the right track. … I hope the Lord will make him a blessing both as a Christian and a statesman. How seldom do these characters coincide!! But they are not incompatible” (Metaxas 2007: 59-61). Please notice Newton called him a statesman and not a politician. There is a big difference between the two.

    As Wilberforce grew in his Christian life, his mind was transformed as he studied the truths set forth in the Word of God. He concluded that “all that was his – his wealth, his talents, his time – was not really his. It all belonged to God and had been given to him to use for God’s purposes and according to God’s will. God had blessed him so that he, in turn, might bless others, especially those less fortunate than himself” (Metaxas 2007:63).

    You know “the rest of the story.” Wilberforce, as a member of parliament, got legislation passed in 1807 to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain. But it was only on his deathbed in 1833 that he learned that legislation had passed that abolished slavery throughout all the colonies in the British Empire. Here was a very influential Christian who understood the truths of the Word of God, the inhumanity of slavery, and became “salt and light” in a corrupt world and changed the course of human history.

    The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the church in Corinth: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called [to Christian service]. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Cor. 1:26-29).

    Let us examine the life of Erastus, one of the exceptions to the rule: “not many mighty”. Here was a “mighty” person in Corinth that God called to Christian service even while he was an important government official in the city, a man who was “salt and light” in his community for the glory of God.

    Erastus in Scripture

    The name Erastus appears only three times in Scripture. Scholars have debated whether all three passages refer to the same person, or if they are two or three different people. For the purpose of this paper, I will assume that all the passages refer to the same person, Erastus from the city of Corinth.

    We first meet Erastus near the end of Paul’s stay in Ephesus during his third missionary journey in AD 55. Dr. Luke writes: “So he [Paul] sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time” (Acts 19:22). There are two things to notice in this passage. First, Erastus ministered to Paul. He had a servant’s heart and helped Paul out in the work of the Lord in Ephesus. Second, most likely Timothy and Erastus were sent into Macedonia to organize the collection for Jerusalem. Erastus would have been a wise choice for this project because he had, as we shall see, a background in financial matters.

    We are not told when Erastus came to faith in the Lord Jesus as his Savior. Nor are we told his financial status. One could speculate that he came to know the Lord Jesus as his Savior while Paul, Timothy and Silas were ministering in Corinth during Paul’s second missionary journey (AD 50-52; Acts 18:1-17).

    Murphy-O’Conner speculates on how Paul might have met Erastus. He suggests: “Two aediles were elected each year, and ranked just below the duoviri, who were the eponymous magistrates of the city. Their responsibilities included the management of the public markets. It is not impossible that Paul first met Erastus in the latter’s official capacity – that is, when paying rent or taxes on his workspace, which would explain why he called Erastus ‘the treasurer’ of the city'” (1984: 155).

    Erastus seemed to have some wealth because he could afford to take time off and rejoin Paul when he was ministering in Ephesus during Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 52-55; Acts 19:1-20:1).

    After Erastus organized the collection for Jerusalem with Timothy he apparently returned to Corinth. He is not listed with the men that take the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). When Paul later visited Corinth in AD 57 he wrote a letter to the church in Rome. He sent greetings to the believers in the church in Rome from the saints in Corinth, including Erastus. “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother” (Rom. 16:23). In this passage, Erastus is called the “treasurer of the city” (ho oikonomos tes poleos). It is interesting to note, that even though this was an influential position, Erastus was actively involved in the assembly in Corinth that apparently met in the villa of Gaius. The second thing to notice is that Erastus was also missions minded. He asked Paul to send his greetings to the church in Rome. Apparently he knew some of the people in the church in that city. More than likely he knew Aquila and Priscilla from the time when they lived in Corinth after they were expelled from Rome in AD 49 (Acts 18:2).

    The third reference to Erastus is found in the last epistle that Paul penned during his second imprisonment in Rome right before his death in AD 67. He wrote: “Erastus stayed in Corinth” (II Tim. 4:20). He apparently decided to settle down and be “salt and light” within his community and be a help to the assembly in Corinth.

    The “Erastus” Inscription in Corinth

    In 1929, the excavator of Corinth, Theodore Shear, discovered an inscription that would become famous in Biblical studies. It was found on the edge of a public square near the theater.

    In his preliminary report, Shear describes his discovery this way: “On a long pavement block at the entrance of the square from the street are cuttings for letters that were presumably for bronze and were fastened in place with lead. The stone, which is 2.26 m. long, is cut away at both ends, but the spacing of the second line of the inscription is such that probably not much of the stone is missing. The inscription reads ERASTVS – PRO – AED / S – P – STRAVIT. ‘Erastus, procurator, aedile, laid the pavement at his own expense.’ The archaeological evidence indicates that this pavement was in existence in the middle of the first century AD. A procurator of Corinth named Erastus, who was in office at this time, is mentioned by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, XVI, 23. A Roman procurator of a great provincial city would normally be a man of wealth and influence and as an administrator of the city he would be opportunely situated for the execution of public works at his own expense. It is, therefore, most probable that the procurator Erastus who paved the square is identical with the Erastus who was ‘chamberlain of the city’ and a friend of St. Paul” (Shear 1929: 525-526).

    Cicero and Paul on Wealth and Generosity

    Cicero (106-43 BC), the great orator and political thinker, wrote a treatise on civic duties to his son who was studying in Athens in 44 BC and entitled it On Duties (2005). The early Church Fathers called Cicero “the model of the good pagan” (Everitt 2003: viii).

    Concerning wealth, Cicero wrote: “For the greatest privilege of wealth is, beyond all peradventure, the opportunity it affords for doing good, without sacrificing one’s fortune” (On Duties, Book 2.64; LCL 21:237). The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, put an eternal perspective on wealth and warned his son in the faith, Timothy, about it. He wrote: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (I Tim. 6:7-11). Wealth, in and of itself, is not evil, but if it controls the life of the believer in the Lord Jesus, it could cause the believer to stray from his or her faith and this would led to greed and sorrow. Paul wanted Timothy to emphasize the eternal aspect of life and pursue godly living and be content with food and clothing.

    Cicero wrote to his son about generosity in financial matters. He said: “Next in order, as outlined above, let us speak of kindness and generosity. … Now, there are many – and especially those who are ambitious for eminence and glory – who rob one to enrich another; and they expect to be thought generous towards their friends, if they put them in the way of getting rich, no matter by what means. Such conduct, however, is so remote from moral duty that nothing can be more completely opposed to duty. We must, therefore, take care to indulge only in such liberality as will help our friends and hurt no one. The conveyance of property by Lucius Sulla and Gaius Caesar from its rightful owners to the hands of strangers should, for that reason, not be regarded as generosity; for nothing is generous, if it is not at the same time just” (On Duties, Book 1:42-44; LCL 21: 47-49). One can not help but notice some modern political trends in what Cicero wrote: pay to play and spread the wealth around! Cicero said these things are not moral. That is why he is called the “model of a good pagan”!

    Civic leaders used to spend their own money on such things as banquets for their friends and entertainment for the masses. The latter usually came in the form of gladiatorial games. Juvenal, at the end of the 1st century AD, would coin the phrase “bread and circuses”, in other words “food and entertainment.” As long as the people were fed and entertained, they were happy and the politicians could do what they wanted.

    Cicero thought that spending money on food and entertainment was not a wise thing to do. He offered a better alternative for the civic leaders. He suggested: “Again, the expenditure of money is better justified when it is made for walls, docks, harbors, aqueducts, and all those works which are of service to the community. There is, to be sure, more of present satisfaction in what is handed out, like cash down; nevertheless public improvements win us greater gratitude with posterity” (On Duties, Book 2:60; LCL 21:233). In other words, Cicero believes that the investment of ones own money in public works projects, and not the taxpayers, would benefit more people over a longer period of time and was a better use of ones wealth. Apparently Erastus followed this advice and spent his own money on the pavement near the theater in Corinth when he was the “treasurer of the city.”

    The Apostle Paul wrote about the Christians relationship to the civil government (Rom. 13:1-7). He admonishes Christians to “Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same [civil authorities]” (Rom. 13:3). Perhaps Paul had Erastus and the pavement he gave to his community in mind when he penned these words.


    There are several important lessons that we can learn from the life of Erastus. The first lesson to be learned is that God’s ways are not always our ways. Generally, God uses the foolish things, the weak things, and the base things to confound the wise, the mighty and the noble. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Erastus was an example of a mighty person, in a very important civic position, that God used as “salt and light” in the government of Corinth. Christians are admonished to pray for all men including “kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (I Tim. 2:1, 2). When we hear of a Christian politician (I realize that is an oxymoron) we should pray even more for them, that they would be honest, have integrity and not be tempted towards corruption.

    The second lesson to be learned is that even though Erastus was an influential person in the city of Corinth, he did not neglect the Lord’s work in the city. He was actively involved in the assembly and he was missions minded because he had a concern for the Lord’s work elsewhere in the world.

    The third lesson has to do with the questions: Should a Christian be involved in politics? Or, should a Christian run for public office? The Bible does not give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to these questions. The answer to these questions would be based on our motives. Why do you want to get involved in politics? Or, why do you want to run for public office? If the believers answer is: I want to run for fame, fortune, glory and power, then the motive is wrong and the venture should not be perused. If, on the other hand, the answer is: I want to be “salt and light” in a corrupt political system and want to be a “servant” to my community, state or nation, then the motives are proper and one should pursue this avenue of service.

    Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior under the preaching of Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey. Interestingly, the proconsul did not resign his post after he got saved but he continued to govern. He apparently did have a concern for the spiritual well being of his family and friends. Since he could not leave Cyprus, he sent Paul and Barnabas to his hometown of Psidian Antioch to reach his family and friends with the gospel (Acts 13:6-14).

    The fourth lesson to be learned from the life of Erastus is that we should give back to our community in a practical way. Erastus paid for the pavement and had his name placed on an inscription. Whenever he shared the gospel with fellow Corinthians they would remember seeing that inscription and say to themselves, “This man is genuine, he’s one of us, and I should listen to him.” Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he penned the words: “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (II Cor. 2:17). “Peddling the word of God” has the idea of trying to sell something for personal gain. Erastus did not do this. He gave a practical gift to his community and this afforded him an opportunity for the gospel.

    I always tell my students, tongue-in-cheek, that the best business to be in is the religious business. You can sucker more people, con more people, in that business, than any other business in the world. The only drawback is that you will have to answer to the Lord for it at the end of the day!

    Believers in the Lord Jesus do not peddle the gospel. We are not trying to make money on it. We are sharing something that is free to any and all who would put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. We all have a problem, it is called sin. We have all come short of God’s glory, or perfection. If we were to pay for our own sins, we would spend eternity separated from God in Hell. That’s the bad news. The good news is this: the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh, died on the Cross and paid for all our sins. He rose from the dead three days later. This proved that sin had been paid for, death had been vanquished and Satan defeated. He offers His righteousness to any and all who would put their trust in Him. Over and over in John’s gospel, the word “believe” is used. The word means to put ones trust in, or rely upon, the Lord Jesus as ones Savior.

    What can we do to demonstrate to a cynical world that we are not peddling the gospel? A good practical demonstration to those around would be to give something back to the community. How can a church or individual do this? If there is a local disaster, the church can step in and help in a practical way: food, clothing, and shelter. A church could also have a day-care center for the community. If the church has a gym, allow the youths to use it for recreation. The church as a body could get involved in some civic project. I am aware of one church that was involved in the “adopt a highway” project. They clean a segment of one of the highways in the vicinity of the church. A sign was posted along the road saying: “Highway cleaned by (and the name of this church).” Or perhaps have a teaching English as a second language program. On a personal level, one could volunteer as a fireman, or ambulance worker, or in the library. Even a public school teacher is giving back to the community.

    Erastus was a “mighty” man in a very influential government position. He was “salt and light” in a corrupt city, but did not neglect his responsibility to the local assembly in Corinth. He was also missions minded and had a concern for the Lord’s work beyond Corinth.

    In a society that is starving for true heroes, Christians should talk about, and emulate such Christian statesmen as William Wilberforce, but also realize an example of a Christian statesman is grounded in Scripture: a good example being Erastus.



    2005 On Duties. Vol. 21. Trans. by W. Miller. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 30.

    Everitt, Anthony

    2003 Cicero. The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician. New York: Random House.

    Metaxas, Eric

    2007 Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. New York: Harper San Francisco.

    Murphy-O’Conner, Jerome

    1984 The Corinth that Saint Paul Saw. Biblical Archaeologist 47/3: 147-159.

    Shear, Theodore

    1929 Excavations in the Theatre District and Tombs of Corinth in 1929. American Journal of Archaeology 33/4: 515-546.

  • 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.

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