Digging Deeper: Why could the widow give only two mites?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that Jesus’ story about the widow who deposited two mites (smallest of Roman coins) into the Temple treasury may have suffered from clerical abuse?

Throughout the centuries, people have admired the self-sacrificing widow who gave all she had to God. However, you may have wondered: “Why did she have only two mites to give?” There is a backstory that could explain why she was so destitute. This story has a piercing message for religious leaders.

The Temple treasury was in the court of the women in Jesus’ day. Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains: “In that court there were fixed a number of places or coffers, made with a large open mouth in the shape of a trumpet, for the purpose of receiving the offerings of the people; and the money thus contributed was devoted to the service of the temple – to incense, sacrifices, etc.” Luke 21:4 records that this widow contributed all she had: two mites (Greek lepta). A mite (lepton) denoted a small coin of brass, the smallest in use among the Jews. In today’s US currency, a mite is estimated at about 1/8th of a cent! Editor J.R. Dummelow in A Commentary on the Holy Bible explains why she gave both instead of only one: “The widow offered two, because the rabbis forbade a single lepton to be placed in the almschest.”

The account of the destitute widow is found in two of our four gospels (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4). Many have read these verses and understood the primary lesson being the widow’s sacrificial generosity. However, there is a background to this story that explains the widow’s extreme poverty (penury Luke 21:4). That background is also given in two of the four gospels (Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47). In each case, Jesus rebuked the scribes; however, notice in particular the words that they “devour widows’ houses.” Bullinger in his Companion Bible explained, “Being occupied in making wills and conveyances of property, they abused their office.” Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible added: “This they did under pretence of counseling them in the knowledge of the law and in the management of their estates. They took advantage of their ignorance and their unprotected state, and either extorted large sums for their counsel, or perverted the property to their own use.” 

Another abuse is explained in Word Pictures in the New Testament by A.T. Robertson, “They inveigled widows into giving their homes to the temple and took it for themselves.” Vincent’s Word Studies goes even further, “People often left their whole fortune to the temple, and a good deal of the temple-money went, in the end, to the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes were universally employed in making wills and conveyances of property. They may have abused their influence with widows.” The Pulpit Commentary by Exell explained the scribes’ influence over women: “Josephus specially alludes to the influence which certain of the Pharisees had acquired over women as directors of the conscience.”

David Guzik in his Enduring Word Commentary explained the widows’ poverty: “In that day, a Jewish teacher could not be paid for teaching – but he could receive gifts. Apparently, many scribes used flattery and manipulation to get big gifts from those who could least afford to give them – such as widows.” The scribes were highly respected in their society whether they deserved it or not. Jesus explained that at least some were less than honorable in their teachings that encouraged people to financially support them generously. Guzik continues: “The Jews of Jesus’ day taught that teachers were to be respected almost as God; they said that they deserved more honor and respect than any other people in life did. They taught that the greatest act someone could do is give money to a teacher. Of course, it was the teachers themselves who taught this!” 

Jesus commended this widow for giving more in proportion to the treasury than all the wealthier donors who gave of their abundance (literally, “superabundance”). According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, “These rich men do not seem to have been observing the injunctions both sacred and Talmudic to give secretly, Mat. 6:4; Mat. 6:18.” By contrast, Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount against a loud, public display of one’s generosity: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward (Matthew 6:2).” Jesus’ words “do not sound a trumpet before thee” are explained by The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary: “The expression is to be taken figuratively for blazoning it, Hence, our expression to ‘trumpet.'” These religious hypocrites did all they could to create an ostentatious display when they contributed to the treasury. 

No wonder Jesus denounced such hypocrites. Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible declared, “If there is any sin of special enormity, it is that of taking advantage of the circumstances of the poor, the needy, and the helpless, to wrong them out of the pittance on which they depend for the support of their families; and as God is the friend of the widow and the fatherless, it may be expected that such will be visited with heavy condemnation.” These sobering words warn every religious leader against uncaring fund-raising from impoverished donors, especially if the leader’s income depends on it.  We all will be wise to remember these words of the Psalms, “Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him. A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation (Psalm 68:4-5).” 

Digging Deeper: The Plague of One’s Heart

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that there is a killer plague extant more dangerous than the novel coronavirus COVID-19 that will lead to, not only physical death, but spiritual death as well?

In recent months, the entire world has seen how quickly a before-unknown virus can work enormous suffering and death on defenseless humans. As tragic as this plague is, there is another even more deadly one. So insidious is this global pandemic that it has the potential of depriving people not only of mortal life but of eternal life in the kingdom of God. The good news is that there is a cure for it. Nonetheless, how difficult many will find its remedy.

King Solomon referred to this plague during his grand opening celebration of the first Temple. His father, King David of the United Monarchy, had arranged for the building materials but the project was completed by Solomon’s workers. The ceremony was held during the Feast of Tabernacles. In his dedicatory prayer, while he kneeled with his hands spread to heaven, Solomon blessed and thanked God, asked God to hear the prayers of the Israelites but he also accounted for the possibility that Israel would not always prove faithful in their covenant with Him, thereby incurring sin. 

Here is how he described each person’s guilt: “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;) That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers” (1Ki_8:38-40 KJV throughout). 

Ethelbert Bullinger in his Companion Bible explained that the word plague here also has a sense of “punishment” since it is a figure of speech for the sin that produces it. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges noted that it was the “special infliction which is sent to him for his own correction, and for the relief of which he only can fitly pray.”

We have not only one account of this dedicatory prayer but two. The companion passage reads in part, “…when every one shall know his own sore and his own grief, and shall spread forth his hands in this house: Then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men:)…”(2Ch_6:28-30). In this account the words “his own sore and his own grief” parallel “the plague of his own heart” from 1 Ki 8:38. The Hebrew word for plague (neh’gah) at times bore the sense of “wound.” It is the same word rendered sore in 2Ch_6:29. In each case, the word is used metaphorically for a sore or wound that afflicts one’s conscience.

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explained the plague of his own heart as perceiving “one’s sinfulness, or recognize one’s sufferings as divine chastisements, and sin as their cause.” John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible noted that it means to “be sensible of his sin as the cause of his distress, and own it, though ever so privately committed, which none knows but God and his own heart; and which may be only an heart sin, not actually committed; as all sin is originally in the heart, and springs from it, that is the source of all wickedness; it may respect the corruption of nature, indwelling sin, which truly deserves this name, and which every good man is led to observe, confess, and bewail, Psa_51:4.” Gill acknowledges that sin, even sin committed only in the heart, has the power to afflict our conscience to bring us to confess it and repent of it so that forgiveness may occur. In His Sermon the Mount, Jesus too described sinning in the heart (Mat 5:27-28).  

Gill continues by commenting on the companion verse: “In 2Ch_6:29 it is what particularly affects him, and gives him pain and sorrow, as every man best knows his own affliction and trouble, and so can best represent his own case to the Lord…” If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize our nagging conscience and take action, unless our conscience is seared (1 Tim 4:2).

During the confrontation between God and the Pharaoh of Egypt the Book of Exodus, God announced the seventh plague of hail to fall upon the Egyptians by stating, “For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exo_9:14). God attempted to reach Pharaoh through his heart; however, repeatedly he and his servants hardened their hearts and sinned more (Exo_9:34).

Humans have been set apart from the animal kingdom by being afforded a conscience by their Creator. Pricking that conscience is one way God works on human minds to bring them to repentance of sin, as He did upon Saul of Tarsus who later became the Apostle Paul (Act_9:5). Solomon, who wrote and collected eastern proverbs, stated, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Pro_14:10). 

David Guzik’s Commentary adds these further details about 1Ki_8:38: “Solomon recognized that some plagues are easily seen, but other plagues come from our own heart. Many are cursed by a plague that no one else can see, but lives in their own heart. Solomon asks God to answer such a plague-stricken man when he humbly pleads at the temple.” When people finally yield to their castigating consciences and repent before God they will find that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Psa_103:8). Only He has the cure for the plague of one’s heart.

Digging Deeper: First Give Yourself to Christ

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that several of the largely Gentile churches the apostle Paul established in Greece generously gave to needy Jewish brethren in Jerusalem and Judea even while they were in need themselves?

During Paul’s evangelistic journeys, he learned that the mother church in Jerusalem was in dire need. Paul communicated to his Greek churches during his third journey that it would be fitting if they donated their material things to the mother church as an act of unity and gratitude for all its spiritual gifts in sending out the apostles to preach the gospel to the world. This dire situation is first introduced in the Book of Acts by its author, Luke, one of Paul’s traveling companions. More is gleaned about this situation by reading Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians. 

When Jews in Jerusalem accepted Jesus as the Messiah, they were often ostracized by their unbelieving relatives and friends. No doubt, some lost their jobs. To make matters worse, famine stuck their region. Many of God’s original church found it difficult to meet their daily needs. As time progressed, relations between the Jewish community and the Roman government were deteriorating, resulting in the First Jewish War in the 60s AD. Tensions built over many years, causing deprivation in the Jewish community. Because of their newly-found faith, many Jewish Christians suffered even more. Paul reminds the Greek brethren of their Christian duty to be generous in such a time of need. 

Macedonia was the northern Roman province in Greece. Here Paul established churches in the mid-50s AD in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and probably other cities. The southern Roman province was called Achaia, where was located the Church of God at Corinth. From afar, Paul wrote his first epistle to this church in which he dealt with several church problems while also requesting that they donate to their needy brethren in Judea. Paul’s protégé, Titus, had begun organizing this donation in Corinth. However, a year later it still was not completed. Paul writes another epistle to them in which he says he will send Titus to them again to complete the collection. While doing so, he reminds them of the sacrificial generosity of their underprivileged northern brethren in Macedonia. The brethren in Corinth were faring much better than brethren elsewhere but had become negligent in this donation due to internal problems. Now that these were more under control, Paul urges them to finish the collection. 

2 Corinthians 8 provides an appealing account of Paul’s diplomacy and leadership to encourage the Corinthians to complete the job. Verses 1 and 2 describe the great trial of affliction, seemingly from persecution, that the Macedonians endured resulting in their deep poverty. Nonetheless, they found a way to give generously to their Judean brethren. Verse 3 explains they gave even beyond their ability  – they needed no prompting. They donated more than Paul expected (v. 5). So enthusiastic were they that they implored Paul to receive their gift so he could transport it to Jerusalem. Paul calls this “the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (v. 4). 

The secret of their generosity was that they first gave themselves to Christ and then to Paul by God’s will (v. 5). V. 6 refers to their gift as a grace because one of the meanings of this word in the Greek New Testament text is a gift. In v. 7, Paul urges the Corinthians to abound in this relief gift as they do in other aspects of their Christian experience (v. 7). Paul does this as a result of the readiness of the Macedonians and to test the Corinthians in their expressed promise to contribute (v. 8). Paul reminds them of how Jesus left behind some of his divine traits to come to earth that through his humble condition we Christians might become rich by His grace (v. 9). Jesus’ self-emptying is known in theology as the kenosis (Phil 2:6-8).  In v. 11, Paul reminds the Corinthians they had begun this project about a year earlier – it was high time they complete it. Yet, Paul did not expect brethren to give what they did not have, but rather from what little they did have (v. 12), like the Jerusalem widow who gave her two mites (small coins) into the temple treasury, as described in the gospels. 

The secret of giving is depicted in v. 5, teaching us Christians to first give ourselves to Christ and to each other before we prepare our contributions for others in need, or when we prepare offerings to God and his Work. Offerings are not a set amount, in contrast to tithes, which are a set percentage of our earned income. Christians decide how much they will give in offerings. What moves us to be generous even in times when our incomes are reduced is reflecting on how much our Savior gave up coming to earth to provide us God’s salvation. Through His poverty we become rich (v. 9). Once we give ourselves to Christ and to each other, giving offerings naturally follow. 

Digging Deeper: Just and Devout Simeon

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that when Jesus’ legal father and His birth mother brought him as an infant to the temple (probably in the court of women) for His presentation and animal sacrifice to the Lord (Luke 2:22-24) that an old man met them, held the child in his arms, and was moved by the Holy Spirit to not only bless God but also predict suffering ahead for Jesus’ mother?

Luke 2:25-35 provides us a moving account of this singular figure. His name was Simeon, meaning “God hears,” but just who he was is uncertain. However, there is a tradition that he was the son of the famous rabbi, Hillel, and that Simeon’s son was Gamaliel, the Pharisee at whose feet Paul studied as a rabbinical student in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Rabbi Simeon became president of the Sanhedrin in AD 13 but was alive and in Jerusalem at the time Luke describes. Whether he is the same Simeon no one knows for certain. Andrew Fausset in his Bible dictionary explained that this could hardly be the same person and that the name Simeon was a common name at the time. In any case, the Simeon who cuddled Jesus that day was described as just (in his conduct to others) and devout (pious at heart and faithful in his duties to God). 

Simeon was among the group of humble and devout searchers of the Scriptures including the prophetess Anna (vv. 36-38) who are introduced in the first couple chapters of Luke’s Gospel as patiently awaiting the fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises. Luke informed us that Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel,” i.e., the coming of the Messiah. Ethelbert Bullinger in his Companion Bible wrote that “May I see the consolation of Israel!” was a common Jewish formula of blessing. The word consolation referred to Messiah’s comforting of Israel by His coming, Of such, the major prophet, Isaiah, prophesied beginning with chapter 40 of his Old Testament book. 

Verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit had informed Simeon in some unexplained way that he would not “see death” (a Hebraism for “to die”) before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, literally “anointed,” a pre-Christian Jewish title for the Messiah. Simeon was then satisfied this prophecy was fulfilled. Consequently, in verse 29 he assured God he was ready to die. When he referred to God as Lord, Luke uses the Greek word despotes meaning “absolute ruler,” which originally did not indicate whether this ruler would be good or bad. Our word despot comes from this same word. It is used of God infrequently in our New Testament but when it appears it means His absolute perfection of character would be reflected in His government. The usual New Testament word for Lord is kurios, which simply describes a “superior.” Often kurios was used as a term of respect such as “sir.” 

Verses 29-32 is Simeon’s hymn of praise that is sometimes called the Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible meaning “now dismiss.” He recognized his life would soon end so he informed God he was prepared for it. In verse 30 when he proclaimed he had seen God’s salvation he referred to God’s Savior, Jesus Christ, since the word Greek word soterion for “salvation” was used for God Himself, not merely of salvation as such. Jesus would lighten, or be a revelation to, the Gentiles (v. 32). This would have been especially meaningful to Luke, the author of this Gospel, who some propose was a Gentile. From its inception, God informed Israel that it was to be His representative before the nations of the world. This privileged position brought them glory (v. 32) but also responsibilities exceeding those of any other people. Many Old Testament prophecies spoke of God’s salvation being extended to all nations (Gentiles) by the appearance of the Messiah. 

Joseph and Mary marveled at the growing evidence that their son was slated for a unique divine task appointed by His Father in heaven (v. 33). They were probably surprised that a stranger like Simeon recognized Jesus’ destiny. In v. 34, when Simeon addressed Mary, he seemed by inspiration to have understood Jesus’ virgin birth since he only addressed her and not Joseph as well. He informed her that Jesus would be the cause of the fall and rising again of many in Israel. Jesus elsewhere is described as the “stone which the builders rejected” (Mat 21:42) and “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (Isa 8:14-15). Additionally, He would be a sign, mark or token as God’s symbol of salvation. Tragically, Simeon informed Mary in v. 35 that a sword (the Greek word described a large sword) would pierce her soul (heart), no doubt predicting her abject horror when standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross many years later. Imagine the agonizing pain this faithful mother endured at the time when the sins of humanity were laid upon her son, the Son of God. 

Digging Deeper: The Prophetess Anna

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that one of the people who welcomed Jesus and his adoptive father and mother in the temple on the day of Jesus’ presentation was an old prophetess who spent her time there in fastings and prayers?

Luke 2:36-38 informs us that her name was Anna and that her father was Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. The gift of prophecy was given at times to devout women as well as men. Several prophetesses are listed in both Testaments of our Bible such as Miriam, Deborah, Isaiah’s wife, Huldah, and the four virgin daughters of Philip. Some suggest her deceased husband may have been a prophet. Concerning her office as prophetess, Matthew Henry’s Commentary wrote, “Perhaps no more is meant than that she was one who had understanding in the scriptures above other women, and made it her business to instruct the younger women in the things of God.”

There is a difference of opinion about her age based on the text. Some claim she had been a widow for 84 years after a short marriage of seven years. This would make her well over 100 years old! Others suggest she was then 84 having been widowed many years after a brief marriage of only seven years. The statement that she departed not from the temple likely means either that she had been provided a living space in the temple complex or out-buildings or that she continually spent her time there in worship.

The name Anna in our Greek New Testament is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Channah, meaning “grace.” It is the same name as the Old Testament heroine, Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Being of the tribe of Asher would probably have made Anna a Galilean, as were 11 of Jesus’ 12 apostles. The tribe of Asher in the Old Testament was originally part of the House of Israel that was later carried into captivity hundreds of miles east and north by the mighty empire of Assyria. The bulk of the House of Israel never returned to the Promised Land. Nonetheless, small numbers found their way back to their ancestral home through the many centuries following captivity. The International Bible Encyclopedia article about Anna reports that “Tradition says that the tribe of Asher was noted for the beauty and talent of its women, who for these gifts, were qualified for royal and high-priestly marriage.”

The centuries since the captivities of the Houses of Israel and Judah made them long for the redemption and consolation of Israel through a coming Messiah prophesied by several of God’s spokesmen in the Hebrew Bible. This hope sustained Anna in her temple devotions for decades. She, and a just and devout man named Simeon (Luke 2:25-35), were delighted witnesses in the temple to Jesus’ birth. They were rewarded for their faithfulness by personally viewing the One who would provide spiritual deliverance to Israel and all humanity. Learning the news that the Messiah had arrived, Anna as a prophetess understood its significance and shared it with others who also looked for redemption in Jerusalem and Israel. Her brief account attests to the covenant loyalty of God’s devout people through the centuries. Their example should encourage us to trust Jesus’ promise to return!

Digging Deeper: A Cause to Pause

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that one of the greatest nations of antiquity suffered not just one pestilence but a series of ten plagues in succession?

That nation was Egypt. This harrowing account is recorded in chapters 1-12 of the Book of Exodus in the Holy Bible. Jews and Christians alike reflect on the meaning of the original Exodus and Passover stories in springtime. For Christians, this reflection includes meditation on the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross as our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7; John 1:29) to provide us an exodus from sin, Satan’s society, and self.

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is motivating people around the earth to consider the meaning of this frightening and deadly experience. Perhaps over several months, Egypt suffered plagues of blood, frogs, lice or gnats, flies, murrain, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of its firstborn. The plague of murrain on the animals was a pestilence (Ex 9:3, 14). Amos 4:10 referred to Egypt’s plagues as a pestilence. A working definition of pestilence is a contagious and destructive disease that is a calamity, a scourge, and an epidemic or pandemic. Today the world is reeling from one pestilence but imagine if it had to respond to ten in a row!

This story is one of the greatest epics of biblical history and literature.

The plagues on Egypt were God’s judgment upon a God-defying pharaoh and his people who had confined, enslaved and mistreated the Israelites for hundreds of years. God had given fair warning, through the preaching of his servant, Moses, to the proud Egyptians about the onset of these plagues if they refused to set His people free. By these afflictions, God released, rescued and redeemed His people from servitude to be His very own special people led by Moses, whose own birth narrative relates to the suffering of his people. God accomplished His will through this historic tragedy. It marked the beginning of the Israelites’ long journey to the Promised Land.

plague flies

The desolating plague of our own time will accomplish God’s purpose in something we may not yet even know. The key to understanding this experience is humbling ourselves in repentance to receive God’s reprieve when He deems we are genuinely establishing godly standards (2 Ch 7:13-14). In the meantime, Christians need to consider and follow the apostle Paul’s example while arrest in Rome: “… so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Phil 1:20) May God have mercy on us as we sincerely turn to Him in our time of need (Heb 4:16).

Digging Deeper: The Legacy of a King

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that the captivity of the House of Judah was largely blamed on the actions of one of its kings?

For hundreds of years, God had sent prophet after prophet to warn his people to repent of their evil but to no avail. The entire nation was apostate from God. However, it was the regime of one of its kings that was the final straw. 2 Kings 21:4 and Jeremiah 15:4 describe Judah’s removal from its homeland into captivity for the “sins of Manasseh…for the innocent blood that he shed…which the LORD would not pardon.” Not only was there an entire tribe of the northern House of Israel named Manasseh, but the thirteenth king of the House of Judah bore this name as well.

King Manasseh was the son of one of the House of Judah’s most righteous kings, Hezekiah. Hezekiah had cleansed the southern tribes of idolatry and repaired and reopened the Temple with proper sacrifices before restoring the festivals of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread that had been neglected many years. Later in life, Hezekiah was told by the prophet Isaiah to get his house in order for he would soon die after contracting a disease. Hezekiah appealed to God who extended his life 15 years. During that time he begat a son who became his successor: Manasseh.

Hezekiah was not a perfect king, but Manasseh seemed to go to all lengths to undo his father’s reforms and go well beyond what any other king had committed in evil. Manasseh reigned the longest of Old Testament Israelite kings – 55 years. His evil reign is declared worse than that of the heathen who occupied the Holy Land before Israel conquered it (2 Kings 21:9). Manasseh even made some of his children “pass through the fire” (burning them alive) in sacrifice to a heathen god.

Manasseh’s wickedness is detailed in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33. But only the account in 2 Chronicles tells the “rest of the story.” He was eventually hauled away in shackles into captivity by the Assyrians, perhaps even with a hook in his nose or lip as he walked hundreds of miles to the city of Babylon. Remarkably, while in captivity he came to himself, like the Prodigal Son, in this far-off land and appealed to God’s mercy who not only arranged for his release from captivity but even returned him to his throne in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). After his resuming power, he implemented a massive reform program to turn the nation back to God; however, the consequences of his earlier wickedness could never be fully reversed before the final captivity of the nation.

This story declares the graciousness of our God that even as wicked a person as Manasseh could be forgiven and restored! This account should encourage all of us to appreciate and draw closer to the God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and who will abundantly pardon through the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ. We must never take His grace for granted but we can continue to count on it if we genuinely repent of our sin and change our ways.

Digging Deeper: Paul and Rome

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that, unlike most of his epistles, Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans during his third evangelistic journey before he ever visited the city of Rome?

House churches had developed in the Roman Empire’s capital city possibly beginning with observant Jews who had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost and had returned as Christians (Acts 2:10). During the persecution of Acts 8:1, some Christians may have fled to Rome. Other Christians may have migrated there for business or personal reasons. Somehow congregations had formed among believers. Paul had wanted to visit them even before he wrote them but was prevented doing so more than once (Romans 1:11-15). One reason he wrote this letter was to introduce himself and prepare them for his coming after he delivered a gift from churches in Greece to Judean Christians enduring drought and famine. However, he did not arrive in Rome until about three years after writing them due to his arrest in Jerusalem. While there, Jesus informed him he would indeed stand before Caesar in Rome just as he had testified in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11; 27:24).

Paul believed his work on the eastern side of the Roman Mediterranean world had been accomplished sufficiently (Rom 15:22-23). He wanted to preach in the capital city as he had in scores of other cities and towns during his various evangelistic journeys. Long before Horace Greeley made his proverbial admonition to “Go west young man,” Paul wanted to travel west to visit the brethren and churches in Rome to solidify them in the faith as well as to disseminate the faith to other parts of the empire from its capital. Rome was a city of one to four million people, about half of whom were slaves. The conclusion of his Epistle to the Romans greets many people Paul knew there including relatives (Romans 16:13), but there were many more yet-unknown brethren Paul intended to meet and serve.

Paul did indeed travel to Rome but not in the way he had planned. He arrived as a prisoner who of necessity had appealed to Caesar, employing the right of every Roman citizen to a fair trial. He spent about two years in Rome under a form of house arrest but afterward evidently was released and traveled further to spread the gospel, perhaps even to Spain as he had planned (Rom 15:24, 28). Finally, tradition states he was rearrested, returned to Rome for retrial and was beheaded. Paul’s testimony in Rome was sealed in his blood.