Category Archives: St. Paul

Herods

The Herod challenge by Father Linsky turned out to be interesting, educational, and even inspirational. I was thinking there were two Herods, Herod the Great and Herod Antipas. But, considering that all the descendants/heirs of Herod the Great could be referred to as Herod, there are six who have at least dishonorable mentions in the New Testament story.

There is a quick and helpful mention of two of them, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip, in Luke 3:1. St. Luke the recorder and reporter is taking care to correctly place the Gospel story he is about to tell in correct historical context.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,

The other four members of the family bearing the name Herod and showing up in the New Testament were Patriarch Big Daddy Herod the Great who was jealous of Baby Jesus and died in 4 B.C., son Archelaus who took over at Herod’s death and got one quick mention, grandson Herod Agrippa I who killed St. James and put Saint Peter in jail, and great grandson Herod Agrippa II who got to spend quality time with St. Paul, to no avail, as far as we know.

Wikipedia has a handy list of eight members of the Herodian Dynasty. Below is an abbreviated family tree showing only the characters getting New Testament mentions:

And now comes the inspirational part. I have copied and pasted below pertinent NABRE passages mentioned in the chart above, eliminating verse numbers and instead arranging the sentences in paragraphs. The words are from the searchable Bible linked on this website so go there to read the footnotes and commentary.

If time is short, skip to the last section covering the conversations between Agrippa II and St. Paul for an inspirational example of a perfectly catechized Christian accurately proclaiming the Gospel to the rich and powerful in the face of great danger, before being declared innocent and sent off to Rome to die. Here are the stories.

Herod the Great – Matthew 2:1-21

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

Herod Archelaus – Matthew 2:22

But when he (Joseph) heard that (Herod) Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.

Herod Antipas (The Tetrarch) – Death of John – Mark 6:14-29
Also in Matthew 14:1-11, Luke 3:18-20, and Luke 9:7-9

King Herod heard about it (successes of Jesus and his disciples), for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”

Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.

Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.

She (Herodius) had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’s own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herodand his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore (many things) to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Herod Antipas (The Tetrarch) – Encounters with Jesus

Luke 9:7-9  Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.” But Herod said, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him (Jesus).

Luke 13:31-32  At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose.Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.’

Luke 23:6-12  On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.

He questioned him (Jesus) at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. (Even) Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly.

Herod Agrippa I – Acts 12:1-11 – Vs. James and Peter

About that time King Herod (Agrippa) laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (It was (the) feast of Unleavened Bread.) He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.

Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf. On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists.

The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him.

Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that (the) Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”

Herod Agrippa II – Acts 25:13 – 27:1 – Encounter with St. Paul

When a few days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a visit to Festus. Since they spent several days there, Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There is a man here left in custody by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation. I answered them that it was not Roman practice to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge. So when (they) came together here, I made no delay; the next day I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in.

His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.” Agrippa said to Festus, “I too should like to hear this man.” He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great ceremony and entered the audience hall in the company of cohort commanders and the prominent men of the city and, by command of Festus, Paul was brought in. And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all you here present with us, look at this man about whom the whole Jewish populace petitioned me here and in Jerusalem, clamoring that he should live no longer. I found, however, that he had done nothing deserving death, and so when he appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. But I have nothing definite to write about him to our sovereign; therefore I have brought him before all of you, and particularly before you, King Agrippa, so that I may have something to write as a result of this investigation. For it seems senseless to me to send up a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may now speak on your own behalf.”

So Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense. “I count myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am to defend myself before you today against all the charges made against me by the Jews, especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. And therefore I beg you to listen patiently. My manner of living from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my people and in Jerusalem, all (the) Jews know. They have known about me from the start, if they are willing to testify, that I have lived my life as a Pharisee, the strictest party of our religion.

But now I am standing trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors. Our twelve tribes hope to attain to that promise as they fervently worship God day and night; and on account of this hope I am accused by Jews, O king. Why is it thought unbelievable among you that God raises the dead?

I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them. Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities.

“On one such occasion I was traveling to Damascus with the authorization and commission of the chief priests. At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up now, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of what you have seen (of me) and what you will be shown. I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.’

“And so, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. On the contrary, first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem and throughout the whole country of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached the need to repent and turn to God, and to do works giving evidence of repentance.  21 That is why the Jews seized me (when I was) in the temple and tried to kill me. But I have enjoyed God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here testifying to small and great alike, saying nothing different from what the prophets and Moses foretold, that the Messiah must suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

While Paul was so speaking in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “You are mad, Paul; much learning is driving you mad.” But Paul replied, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus; I am speaking words of truth and reason. The king knows about these matters and to him I speak boldly, for I cannot believe that (any) of this has escaped his notice; this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.” Paul replied, “I would pray to God that sooner or later not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am except for these chains.” Then the king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and the others who sat with them. And after they had withdrawn they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing (at all) that deserves death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

 

 

Oct 16 – St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

From now through Nov 5th Mass readings include selections from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the longest and most theologically comprehensive of his works. Much of his writing was targeted at specific current issues in the churches he served, but Romans has a great deal to say about the theology of Salvation, the Big Idea, the Main Point. For a good introduction and improved understanding, read the section on Romans in the front of The Catholic Study Bible (sample snip below). If that is not readily available, the Wikipedia article on Romans is good and includes the outline below:

Romans

outline

St Paul was brilliant, sometimes inspired, inspirational, and positive, and sometimes crabby and defensive, a Jewish Pharisee well versed in and observant of The Law and The Prophets, a man singled out and confronted by the post-resurrection Jesus for persecuting Him (The Church), a missionary to the Gentiles and founder and Father of several Churches, a persistent servant of God who planned to visit Rome, perhaps on the way to establishing more churches in Spain. Well, he made it to Rome, but as a prisoner rather than as a traveling missionary. Wikipedia also has a very scholarly article about St. Paul.

On October 16th Father Linsky focused on Romans Chapter 2 from which the Mass readings for the day were taken. As can be seen in the outline above, it is in a section about the universal corruption of Gentiles and Jews, God’s judgment, and hypocrisy. Father mentioned the first word in Romans 2, therefore, which reminded me of a pastor of a few decades ago who liked to advise his flock, “Whenever you see “therefore” in the Bible, be sure to look to see what it is there for.

Well, in this case, it is there for the purpose of humbling those who think they are superior and can’t think of anything to confess, those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Paul has just completed a blistering critique, in Chapter 1, of those who had rejected God and now tells the people in the Church in Rome, Jews and Gentiles, that they are no better, that those who pass judgment on each other for perceived failures are without excuse, that they condemn themselves by doing the very same things.

The major current issue seems to have been mutual cross condemnation of the Jewish converts and the Gentile converts over whether circumcision was required of Christian Gentiles. It is informative and sobering to read these words from Paul in Romans 2:25-26: “Circumcision, to be sure, has value if you observe the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Again, if an uncircumcised man keeps the precepts of the law, will he not be considered circumcised?” It wasn’t just circumcision that divided the Church. There were also dietary and personal effort and behavior regulations.

The writings of St. Paul are challenging because apparent contradictions can be identified. For example, they contain one of the primary passages used to defend a Protestant position that we are saved by grace through faith (alone) and not by good works. (Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Please note that the passage does not say saved by faith but by grace, through faith. And, there might be interesting discussion over whether the phrase, “and this is not from you; it is the gift of God,” refers just to “faith” or to having been saved by grace through faith.)

But, in Romans 2:16, St. Paul seemed to support a more Catholic emphasis on good works. He wrote that, “God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” St. James chimes in later with some clarification: James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (It is also worth considering how the Jewish “works of the law” are different from what we identify today as “corporal and spiritual works of mercy” aligned with the Two Greatest Commandments and other direct instructions of Jesus.)

And, by the way, the Wikipedia article on Romans has a section labeled Catholic Interpretation. Check it out and see if you agree.

Questions and issues such as these can be used to illustrate the difference between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. Here is an article with helpful discussion of the difference. I  love it because I always say that I enjoy looking at the Bible from 50,000 feet more than digging into short passages or verses. So, 15,000 feet is about the same. I recommend the entire article.

“…another way to imagine systematic theology is that it is a 15,000 ft view of the Bible. Imagine you are on top of a mountain, and below you is scripture laid out from beginning to end. You can make a lot of connections this way!”

“But biblical theology takes a different approach. This time, you are seeing the Bible from the ground. You traverse hills, wander in the desert, and cross rivers. Instead of plucking ideas from Genesis, Matthew, and Revelation to make one statement about God, you only make statements based on what is right in front of you at a given moment.”

I have clear memory of the instructions of the Greek/NT professor at the seminary explaining that when writing a paper on Romans Chapter 2, for example, don’t include references to anything but Romans 2 except perhaps parallel writings of the same author. Focus on what that text says, it’s literary form and structure, any translation or grammar issues, important words, the context within which it was written, and what the words meant to those who wrote and read them. So, looking at James while writing about Romans would be a violation of that principle and more Systematic rather than Biblical theology.

Both approaches have great value, but some of us are just big picture folks and some love digging into the details. I would point to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good example of Systematic Theology based on Sacred Scripture and other early traditions and teachings of the Church (which, by the way, do not violate Sacred Scripture).

It will be helpful when reading from Romans over the next few weeks to remember who Paul was and consider whatever we are reading in the context of the full Epistle and in the context of all of Sacred Scripture, the full revelation of God, the whole story from chaos through creation, the fall, the call of Abraham, the progress from polytheism through henotheism to monotheism, the Law and the Prophets, the Incarnation, the Passion and Resurrection, to The Church.

 

Preacher & Pastor Paul

About St. Paul

The story of energetic, persistent, faithful, intelligent, and well-educated Roman citizen, Saul or Paul of Tarsus, can be an inspiration and example for all of us. A former persecutor of Jesus (the Church), he sets the perfect example of confession, repentance, and full conversion to the Christian faith. He was theologian, traveling evangelist, church planter, and pastor, all rolled into one. In his own words:

The Second Journey

Father Linsky led a discussion about a perfect example of St. Paul’s method of evangelization, his speech to skeptics of left and right, universalists and Calvinists, epicurians and stoics, at the Areopagus in Athens, Greece. This was on Paul’s second of four long and dangerous journeys spreading the Gospel of Jesus. Below is a snip of an interactive map which documents what is said in the book of Acts about each visit on that journey. 

Athens and the Aeropagus

(So far, I have been offered “asparagus” and “esophagus” as corrections to my spelling of aeropagus.) Here is a link to a couple of informative and interesting paragraphs about the location, history, and use of the Aeropagus including the photo below. Note the plaque in the photo. It contains the words of St. Paul’s speech as recorded in Acts 17.

St. Paul’s Audience at the Aeropagus

Here, from the 1st Century writings of Petronius, can be found the quote Fr. Linsky shared about the culture of the people hearing the Gospel from St. Paul: “Truly our neighborhood is so well stocked with deities to hand, you will easier meet with a god than a man.” I doubt it rhymed in Latin so maybe the hand-man connection is just accidental.

As Fr. Linsky said, there were two major schools of philosophy in 1st Century Athens, epicurianism and stoicism. Below, from this website, are two excellent short videos (15 and 8 minutes) explaining stoicism and epicurianism. It is hard to believe these are free online. I have never taken a philosophy course but believe these videos must be worth at least a semester of an introductory course in the subject. It is interesting how pertinent and timely these ideas and issues are even in the 21st century.

The Message of St. Paul to These Seekers of Truth

So, St. Paul knew the interests of his audience and delivered to them what they sought, the TRUTH.  And, though we have no discussion in Revelation of a letter to the Church at Athens or of any Epistles of St. Paul to the Athenians, and although Athens is not mentioned in the Bible except in connection with St. Paul’s visit there, we know that the seeds were planted and a Church established in Athens because “some did join him and became believers.”