How Christian is Christmas?

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It’s December, time for the tree to go up, get the sprouts on the boil, and for all to get ready for the big day. Christmas, it’s all about the children, isn’t it?

But how Christian is Christmas? Is this really what Jesus had in mind for his followers and what has it all to do with the birth of the Saviour? The actual timing of Christmas has more to do with the birth of the new sun after the winter solstice. As the arc of the sun in the sky began to get longer, way before Christ was born there were religious festivals at this time. This change of state in the bleak mid-winter of the year was experienced as “the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birthday of the sun god, the luminous divine child” (The Myth of the Goddess, Baring & Cashford). This mid-winter festival was an important event for all sun-worshipping cultures with considerable mythology surrounding it and much celebration as well.

One thing is sure, Jesus was not born on December 25. On the evening of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were washing their socks by night, watching their flocks by night. Well, shepherds, would not have been in the fields as late as December. It would have been far too cold near Bethlehem.

If Jesus was not born on December 25, when was He born? Although it may prove impossible to determine the date, the commentaries are right, He was born in the autumn probably late September or early October before the shepherds brought the flocks down for the winter. However, He might have been born in the spring, during the lambing season, either way, it was not in the bleak mid-winter when frosty winds made moan! There is no date given in the Bible nor is there any commandment to observe Jesus’ birth.

The church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, there is valid speculation that choosing this date had the motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations associated with the sun god.

There is a Catholic tradition that martyred saints die on the same date as their conception, so if Christ died in April, we would have been conceived in April and therefore born in late December. Or maybe not.

But let’s not let too many facts get in the way of us celebrating the birth of the saviour, the important thing is, He was born, without Him there would be no salvation. By the way, Christmas is not all about the children, it’s about the one child.

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New Book – The Acts of Paul & Thecla

Available FREE until Tuesday

Thecla’s story is one of many in the Apocryphal Acts which portray women giving up riches and sexual activity to follow the Apostles.
Thecla was an aristocratic woman who, despite great opposition, upon hearing the preaching of Paul, renounces her family and her fiancé to follow him. She eventually becomes a missionary and lives out her life teaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders.
This is a contemporary English interpretation which is easy to read and understand.

Available FREE until Tuesday, then £5.99

Amazon UK https://tinyurl.com/383r4a5p

Amazon USA https://tinyurl.com/c6ezrewe

Book Cover

Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts and some of the epistles inform of the Apostle Paul’s story and his three exceptional missionary journeys. But the story ends suddenly and is incomplete. There is some proof that Paul had a fourth missionary journey and most probably did reach Spain and Portugal. Some texts even say he reached Britain, (see The Lost Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles also known as the Sonnini Manuscript), however, there is little proof of this idea. These episodes are not properly documented, however, there is much evidence of this in the New Testament and in different historic writings (Eusebius of Caesarea, who mentions Paul forty-eight times in his writings, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, one of the apocryphal writings,  Clement (AD 95), Peter (AD 60), Ignatius, Polycarp, Pamphilius, and many other late first, second, and third century writers); plus of course the writings of the Septuagint, (the seventy-book model of the Bible).

According to the book of Acts, Paul embarked on three missionary journeys, which are well documented in the New Testament. Following these journeys, he was under house arrest in Caesarea for a couple of years. First Paul was held by Felix, who probably kept him captive in the hope that he might receive money from him. (Acts 24:26 NIV …at the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him). When Paul introduced his case to Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa declared, “This man could have been set free if had he not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32).

From there Paul was to be transported under the care of Julius, a Roman Centurion, using several ships to get to Rome. He was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. Eventually, he made it to Rome where he spent another couple of years under house arrest in Rome awaiting an audience or trial with Emperor Nero. After Paul arrived in Rome, he observed that Jewish leaders there had not been made aware of his case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one had yet come from Jerusalem to present the accusations towards Paul. If the case was therefore no longer to be prosecuted, then possibilities are it would have been dismissed. That is the place the book of Acts ends; however, it is not the end of Paul or the end of the story. It is not revealed why Paul’s friend and fellow apostle Luke, the most credible source of the book of Acts, selected to stop where he did and failed to reveal the outcomes of the trial. Although Luke was a fellow prisoner with Paul, we know his writings did not end abruptly because he died in jail. According to ancient sources, Luke was martyred at age 84 in the Greek city of Thebes, so obviously lived on for many years after leaving Paul in Rome. We additionally do not possess a sequel to the book. However, there is robustly biblical and historic proof that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had at least one other significant missionary journey, if not two, before his final martyrdom in Rome.

There are many biblical and historic indicators floating around that allow us to reconstruct some of what came about afterwards with a little contrived storyline. The reconstruction of his route told here may be fictional, however, it is based on plenty of facts, a lot of historical writings and references, plus a sprinkling of half-truths. Whereas all the biblical and historic activities listed are in all probability true, we have little real knowledge of the timeline or order in which these events take place. We will, however, arrange the timings in what is viewed as the most reasonable order and the most probable timeline.

Something we are certain about is the beginning, which takes place after the conclusion of the book of Acts. Firstly, Paul was presented to Emperor Nero at some time during his period of arrest in Rome. God had after all promised Paul in a vision following his shipwreck off the coast of Malta that he would show up before Caesar. (Acts 27 verses 23 and 24 – Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar, and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’

 Following his hearing, at which, no doubt Paul preached the Gospel to Nero and anyone else who was there, Paul was set free.

Several strains of reasoning help the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First, those who accused Paul, as described in Acts, lacked evidence and meaning, the little evidence they did have was often contradictory and confused. When Paul was tried earlier before the procurator Felix in Caesarea, three accusations had been made (Acts 24:5-6):

  1. Paul had been the reason for riots all over the (known) world.
  2. Paul was the leader of an heretic Jewish sect.
  3. Paul had brought Gentiles and Greeks into the Temple of God in Jerusalem contrary to Jewish law, therefore, in their eyes, desecrating the Temple.

(Acts 21:28 “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”)

Roman courts tended to exhibit little interest in religious matters as in the second charge, believing that the Jews could and should sort out their religious affairs and that such a charge is outside of the jurisdiction or interest of Rome.

In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had already found that similar accusations towards Paul were unfounded and unproven (see Acts 18:12-16).

The last charge against Paul had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, but they did not show up to testify before Pro-Consul Felix (Acts 24:19). Additionally, there had been no witnesses present at his initial trial in Caesarea to testify against him.

You see Paul looking forward to his release in Philemon 22, and in Philippians 1:19–26. The early church historian Eusebius, writing about AD 325 supported this with his declaration that Paul’s martyrdom was not at the time described in the book of Acts. (Eusebius of Caesarea circa. 260(ish) – 30 May 339), also known as Eusebius Pamphili. He was at once a Greek historian of Christianity and a Christian essayist. In about AD 314 he became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. Together with Pamphilus, he was once a pupil of the biblical canon and is considered one of the most influential Christian writers in the course of late antiquity).

Paul had decided to go to Philemon (Philemon 22). But in view that Colossae is to the east of Rome and Spain to the west, and given that we have evidence to believe that Paul travelled to Spain after Rome, it might be that Paul determined to forgo the trip Philemon until after he had visited Spain.

Maybe Paul did travel to Spain. Such a missionary journey was in his mind when he wrote his letter to the Romans five or six years earlier (Romans 15:22–29). Clement, writing around 95 AD in Rome, tells us that after Paul “had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West” (see 1 Clement 5.5–7). The “farthest limits of the West” in a Roman’s mind might be Britain or Gaul (France), but usually, a first-century Roman would be thinking of Spain. Would a renowned church historian in Rome, writing just 30 years after Paul’s death in Rome have made a historic mistake about Paul’s trip to Spain? It is more probable from the standpoint of historiography to expect that Paul did journey to Spain and minister there. (See also the Acts of Peter and the Muratorian Fragment, both written late in the second century, where they tell of Paul’s journey to Spain). We cannot of course be certain, but it was in Paul’s plan to visit there (Romans 15:23-29 NIV. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, [24] I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey thereafter I have enjoyed your company for a while. [25] Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. [26] For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. [27] They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. [28] So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. [29] I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.) In the first century, Spain is only four, but possibly as many as ten days by ship from Rome, Paul most likely stayed some time in Spain preaching and teaching.

Perhaps on his return from Spain, Paul sailed to Crete the place he engaged in ministry alongside Titus. When Paul departed Crete, he left Titus to appoint elders in the cities that held believing communities, some of which have been probably planted via Paul and Titus (Titus 1:5). The order of activities after this becomes increasingly difficult. It is thought by many that after Crete, Paul travelled to Ephesus the place Timothy was once serving. During Paul’s time in Ephesus, the following incidents occurred:

1) Paul encountered opposition from Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14)

2) He confronted a large-scale falling out with believers in Asia, which includes Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15) and ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecla’.

3) he obtained assistance and encouragement from Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18),

4) he entreated Timothy to stay in Ephesus to right false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3).

It may additionally be that Paul also had the intention to go to Philemon in Colossae (Philemon 22). At this point, there is no way to know. After this, we assume the whole thing happened in pretty fast succession except for any lengthy stays in any of the places he visited. Paul left Ephesus with the intention of journeying to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3). But before Paul travelled to Macedonia, he wanted to go to Miletus for some reason, so he (walked? took a ship?) south with Trophimus to the close by port of Miletus. His companion and fellow traveller, Trophimus, unfortunately, grew to become too ill to journey anymore (2 Timothy 4:20 NIV Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus)  

Paul for that reason left Trophimus back in Miletus when he booked passage (I’m assuming Paul travelled by sea) on a ship heading north towards Macedonia. The ship would have stopped at Troas, so Paul left some belongings there with Carpus, such as his cloak and books (2 Timothy 4:13 NIVWhen you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.).

Since Paul left his cloak, we may also infer that it used to be summer or nearing summer. We know nearly nothing about his time in Macedonia, but, as with his visit there during his third missionary journey, he probably worked his way via Macedonia, ministering and journeying with believers in locations such as Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, and finally made his way down to Corinth.

Somewhere, alongside the experiences he had both in Macedonia and Achaia, he began planning for the winter months in the warmer area of Nicopolis on the west coast of Achaia (Titus 3:12 NIV As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there). Paul wrote a letter to Titus, and possibly his first letter to Timothy whilst making plans to winter in Nicopolis. Corinth would have been the perfect region to ship a letter to Crete (Titus) and a letter to Ephesus (1 Timothy), so I bet these letters have been despatched from Corinth. Paul despatched Artemas or Tychicus to relieve Titus on Crete, it has been suggested that Paul was once hoping for Titus to be with him throughout the colder months in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).

Paul left Erastus in Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth…); Erastus used to be from Corinth, (see Romans 16:23) and Paul then headed north and west towards Nicopolis, where he hoped Titus would meet him.

Now, we don’t have any real evidence that this is where Paul was arrested. If the order of things after Crete are moved around on the timeline above (and even the placement of Crete on the timeline is no longer certain), Paul might have been arrested in any of the following: Ephesus, Troas, one of the cities of Macedonia, or Nicopolis. A good guestimate is Nicopolis in view that it comes at a time when many different facts are pulled together. If he was arrested quickly after he arrived at Nicopolis, just as the winter weather was moving in, this would explain how Paul found himself in jail in winter in Rome (2 Timothy 4:13 NIVWhen you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments; – and 2 Timothy 4:21 NIV Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters).

Thus ends Paul’s fourth missionary journey. Included in the trip is a mission to Spain, ministry on the island of Crete, ministry in Ephesus, stops at Miletus, Troas, and quite many cities in Macedonia, Corinth, and probably Nicopolis.

What about after Paul’s remaining arrest? After Paul’s arrest, he was once taken to Rome and imprisoned, now not in a residence as at some stage in his former internment, but probably in the infamous, dark, and cold Mamertine Prison around the time that Nero commenced to unleash a horrific wave of persecution in opposition to Christians in the Roman Empire. During his time in prison, Paul was visited by Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-17 NIV May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. [17] On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.) deserted by several other Christians as he faced trial (2 Timothy 4:16 NIV At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.), and completely abandoned by Demas, Cresens and even Titus, (2 Timothy 4:10 NIV …for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Cresens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.), nevertheless, by hook or by crook, Paul found a way to write the 2nd letter to Timothy (2 Timothy). Paul was aided by Doctor Luke, who sought to attend to his needs (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry).

Paul is believed to have been beheaded instead of being thrown to the wild beasts or killed in some different inhumane way because he was a Roman citizen by birth.

Sources:

The Fourth Missionary Journey: What Happened to Paul after Acts? By Kenneth Berding.

Eusebius of Caesarea 

The Acts of Paul and Thecla

Scriptures are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™

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A Modern Psalm

Psalm_tatoo

Did the elders not seek your face?
Did they not pray out loud to you?
Did they not wait upon you
And seek your guidance?

Did we not fast and pray
To do your good pleasure?
Late into the night
To seek your true guidance?

Did we not take your precepts to the people?
Did we not tell them the word from the Lord?
Then why oh Lord have they not heard?
Why Oh Lord do they not listen to your truths?

Are we like prophets of old?
Despised in our own house.
For You will withdraw Your blessing,
From a house divided against itself.

When they say, oh Lord,
We do not like the style of worship,
Did they ask you?
Did they really seek your face?

When they say Lord,
We do not like the drums
We do not like the cymbals
Do they argue with your Psalms?
The unerring word of God?

Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet,
Praise Him with the harp and lyre,
Praise Him with tambourine and dancing,
Praise Him with the strings and flute,
Praise Him with the clash of cymbals,
Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.

Where oh Lord does it say
Praise Him with long faces
Praise Him with frowns and without movement
Praise Him on the mighty organ
Be downcast and Praise the Lord.

Is it all about you, Lord? Is it all about you?
Or is it all about me Lord? All about me.
For now you have withdrawn you blessing
From a house divided against itself.

Who’s church is it anyway?
Is it your church Lord? The church of the Lord?
Or the church of fools? Whose god is the church ?
Divided against itself,
for its own pleasure and destruction.
Separated from You until you heal its wounds.

Lord have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.
May the name of the Lord be praised.

©joseph r mason

Marriage – An institution?

Wedding Proposal

Marriage is often described as an institution, even a great institution, ordained by God. Poppycock. An institution is somewhere they send you once the straight jacket is on. That statement itself might strike a chord with some, especially the straight jacket bit, as that is how many people view marriage. As soon as they get that ring on your finger, they’ll have you in a straight jacket, you son’s be able to move without permission.

Well I have news, marriage is not an institution, it is a relationship. Admittedly, it not always easy, sometimes it needs working at, often it is quite difficult. But at the end of the day, it is a relationship. It is not a place for control, ego or selfishness, especially if a Christian marriage, it is not even about give and take. It is about give, give and give some more.

But, what does the bible have to say on the subject?

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 7) starts us off well by saying: “A man does well not to marry. and some would agree, but he was not saying it for that reason. He believed that Christ should be central to our being and that marriage might be a diversion. He went on to say in the next few verses 2 But because there is so much immorality, every man should have his own wife, and every woman should have her own husband. 3 A man should fulfil his duty as a husband, and a woman should fulfil her duty as a wife, and each should satisfy the other’s needs. 4 A wife is not the master of her own body, but her husband is; in the same way a husband is not the master of his own body, but his wife is.” – Men, please take note of the second part of the last verse!

Now there are some interesting statements which show relationship. Firstly, every one should have their own spouse and not someone else’s. But more interesting is the equality that Paul suggests in the following verses, no suggestion of the man lauding it over the woman, or vice versa I might add. Men often seem to cling on to the “head of the household” notion when they talk of marriage. But Paul is not suggesting this. Even in his letter to the Ephesians where there is the much misquoted verses 22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. The word “submit” is not there in the original Greek. As for being head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church, that too is misread to man’s advantage. We omit the next bit! 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Read and reflect. Love your wife as Christ loved you, and that meant dying for you. Would you lay down your life for your wife? Note however, the favour is not returned, no where does it say wives love your husbands enough to die for them. Later in the same section we get 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Again the emphasis is on the husband doing the running and doing the loving, what do we get in return? Respect!

Christ is God, God is Spirit, in heaven there is no pecking order, God is not in charge of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is not the third part of the trinity in rank. God the father is not Colonel in chief and Christ his lieutenant. They are in an equal relationship because there is only one God. Jesus does not have his own agenda, the Spirit does not go and do his or her own thing, they are one and the same and beyond our comprehension. This is how it should be in marriage, the bible says that when a man marries a woman they also become one. Equal partners? No, not at all, a partnership is still made up of more than one, The Trinity is not a partnership. Marriage is not a partnership. It is a however a relationship where each delight in the other person. Expectancy rather than expectations, which is different from expecting something from the other. God does not have any expectations from us, only the excitement of expectancy. Marriage is very much like our relationship with God. We are often told to put God first, above all other things. Well I do not believe that is the way our Father sees it at all. God wants to be at the centre of our lives, not on top of us like a big boss, remote and frightening. He does not want to be the first amongst a list of values, but the centre of everything. It is the same with a marriage. It should be a central facet of our joint existence, not a hierarchical system. Then it will work.

But what if it doesn’t?

Paul says, 10 For married people I have a command which is not my own but the Lord’s: a wife must not leave her husband; 11 but if she does, she must remain single or else be reconciled to her husband; and a husband must not divorce his wife.” (Corinthians 7:10,11: see also Matthew 5:32 ; 19:9 ; Mark 10:11 , 12 ; Luke 16:18 .)

Jesus is especially blunt on the subject in Mark Ch10, where he says “He said to them, “A man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against his wife. 12 In the same way, a woman who divorces her husband and marries another man commits adultery.” Now there is a couple of verses and a subject you don’t hear preached on. But that might be a subject for another time……

Remember: 21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21