Category Archives: Church History

Pictures from Rome (and Vatican City)

I have posted pictures from Rome and the surrounding area, including the Roman Forum, Coliseum, Arch of Titus, Pantheon, San Callisto Catacombs, and the Vatican City.

The pictures can be accessed from a link on the top of the home page or by following this link.

These pictures were taken as part of a January, 2015 study tour in Greece and Rome.


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Filed under Bible Study, Church History, New Testament, Rome

The First Christians – Servants of God and Christ

John the servant

A stroll through the books of the New Testament reveals a common expression for how the earliest Christians viewed themselves: as servants of God and Jesus Christ:

Romans 1:1 – “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”

Titus 1:1 – “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ”

James 1:1 – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”

2 Peter 1:1 – “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ”

Jude 1:1 – “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”

Revelation 1:1 – God gave his revelation to “his servant John.”

Five different Christian ministers – Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John – identify themselves as servants of God and Christ. Two (James and Jude) were likely Jesus’ own brothers! Still, they didn’t play the “brother-of-Jesus card” but represented themselves as his servants. Peter, the apostle to the Jews, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and John, the last surviving apostle, each adopted the title “servant.” All five disciples placed this label front and center – at the beginning of their letters or writings.

The title “servant” captured the early Christians’ complete, undivided loyalty to Christ. The term comes from the Greek word doulos and typically referred to an actual slave in the Roman era. The Holman Christian Standard Bible actually insists on translating the term as “slave” in the verses mentioned above.

Christians serve the Lord exclusively. They buy into his lordship and kingdom, and they respond to his call. They make it their goal to know how to serve him through prayer and a careful study of Scriptures. They recognize the privilege of serving him, and they love to bring glory to his name. In the end, they long to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Church History, Discipleship, Greek, New Testament

Portrait of an Apostle – my first book

A long-term project recently came to fruition when my book on the apostle Paul was published two weeks ago. The title of the book is Portrait of an Apostle: A Case for Paul’s Authorship of Colossians and Ephesians.

Portrait of an Apostle

Over the course of my research I had a great time navigating my way through large sections of Colossians and Ephesians containing Paul’s direct description of his ministry (such as his calling to reach the Gentiles) and his personal circumstances (such as suffering and being imprisoned). My aim for the project was to respond to arguments that a later imitator of Paul wrote Colossians and Ephesians. 

Most people are not even aware that many scholars dispute that Paul wrote these two letters. What I found is that while a number of scholars reject Paul’s authorship of the letters, their reasons for doing so are not convincing when subjected to careful analysis.

I decided that the easiest way to detect or rule out forgery (or pseudepigraphy, the more technical term) was to examine how Paul is actually portrayed in the letters. Someone who wanted to imitate Paul would need to describe his personal experiences and sense of calling in ways that are consistent with Paul’s depiction of himself in other letters. But if the imitator sounded too much like Paul, without any freedom or variety in expression, our suspicions would be raised that we were dealing with forgery.

There actually are two letters, from the 2nd or 3rd centuries, that are written under Paul’s name. The letters known as 3rd Corinthians and the Epistle to the Laodiceans are widely acknowledged as forgeries, and they give telltale signs that the author is someone other than Paul himself.

But with Colossians and Ephesians, we see fresh and unstudied articulations of Paul’s ministry and calling that nonetheless align comfortably with Paul’s description of himself in his earlier letters. Through a verse-by-verse investigation of relevant passages, I demonstrated that it makes much better sense to credit Paul himself with the authorship of Colossians and Ephesians.

Colossians and Ephesians are beautiful New Testament letters that point to the sacrificial love of Christ, his reign over all things, and God’s plan to bring reconciled people together as part of Christ’s body, the church. I hope that this study encourages Christians to be confident that God spoke powerfully to us through the apostle Paul in these letters, so that we can read the letters with attitudes of complete trust, worship, and obedience.

More information about the book can be found by following this link: Publishing info for Portrait of an Apostle.


Filed under Church History, Greek, New Testament, Publishing

Adding Books to the New Testament

16th Street Baptist Church stained glass

A group of scholars is publishing a book called the New New Testament (that’s right, that extra New is meant to be there). The work consists of the typical 27 New Testament books plus another 13 works selected by the committee.

Dan Wallace has a thorough response to the recent project here. He points out the blatant historical and theological problems with the project, along with the arbitrary nature of the results. In particular, the 13 new works would have failed the classic criteria used to identify New Testament Scripture: apostolicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity.

We could look at these criteria in the form of questions that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century churches would have asked about any religious work circulating in the name of Jesus or another well-known Christian figure:

1) Who wrote it? The question is who really wrote it, not just what name was attached to it. Obviously, if a respected eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry (or an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrected glory – see Paul) wrote the work, it would stand to be valued as a credible and authoritative representation of Jesus’ ministry.

2) When was it written? Was it written during a time when eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry were still alive, so that the testimony could be affirmed by those who knew Jesus? These first two questions touch on the criteria of apostolicity.

3) Who else is using it? This question reflects the standard of catholicity. The early churches communicated with one another and were able to help each other evaluate the trustworthiness of the different religious writings they encountered. Some of these churches had Christian leaders who were known to have been disciples of the original disciples, or at least disciples of the disciples of those disciples. (OK, that was a mouthful!)

4) What does it teach? This question gets at the idea of orthodoxy.  The memory of Jesus was well-preserved in the early Christian communities. The early believers proclaimed Jesus to both “insiders” and “outsiders,” and they exalted him in regular gatherings for worship. Aberrant pictures of Jesus in later writings were easily recognized and dismissed by those who knew Jesus in spirit and in truth.

5) How did it originate – publicly, or secretly? As seen in the book of Acts, the early Christians spoke about Jesus in public. Their message about Jesus (the “gospel”) became widely known. Later writers who wanted to enlist the name of Jesus or his disciples for their religious agendas were forced to get creative by presenting their doctrines as secret teachings from Jesus (when these texts “surfaced” generations after the life of Jesus, Christian truth was widely known to be something other than what these documents were promoting).

Why would people both in ancient times and today want to embrace and advance ideologies that are so clearly non-Christian and yet still use the name of Jesus for these doctrines? Perhaps there is something about the power and beauty of Jesus and all that he represents that makes it difficult to discard him altogether, even when he is redefined beyond recognition.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).




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Patmos and Ephesus

Our group has returned home safely from our trip to Turkey (and Greece – see Patmos). It was a fun trip, and I really enjoyed getting to know the students, my colleagues, and our tour guide along the way.

Towards the end of the trip, we had two highlights: Patmos and Ephesus.

Patmos, a Greek island that was a 4 hour boat trip from the coast of Turkey near Ephesus, was much larger than I imagined it:


The apostle John was exiled as a political prisoner on this Aegean island, most likely during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, in the mid-90’s A.D. From here John wrote Revelation to the seven churches of Asia and shared the contents of what God had revealed to him on this island. We saw a cave that is the traditional location for where John received this revelation. We could not take pictures inside the cave or the small church attached to it, but a mosaic above the door to the entrance of the church complex depicts the scene of John receiving the revelation and dictating it to his scribe (traditionally identified as Prochorus):

John receives Revelation

The next day we visited Ephesus. The memory of John is also very strong here, since the city is the supposed location for John’s burial. According to tradition John had returned to Ephesus after the new emperor Nerva released him from his exile. A church was built at the traditional location for the burial site of John in the city:

Basilica of St. John, Ephesus

Here is a 6th century baptismal pool found in that church, giving believers a striking picture of the forgiveness of sins that we enjoy through the death and resurrection of Christ:

baptistry in Ephesus


Most Christians associate Ephesus more with Paul than with John, but since Paul died elsewhere, there are fewer overt reminders of his presence. But this theater was the site where he and his friends were confronted by a hostile mob (Acts 19):

Theater, Ephesus

The angry crowds were upset that Paul’s gospel of Jesus Christ was negatively affecting the worship of Artemis and the economy that was centered around the Temple of Artemis and the sale of her shrines. Once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, today little remains of the Temple of Artemis:

Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

Worldly kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s kingdom endures forever. The gospel or good news of Jesus is that we who believe and are washed of our sins through the sacrificial work of the Savior-King will enjoy God’s kingdom forever.



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Filed under Church History, New Testament, Turkey

Paul’s and John’s Churches in Western Turkey

Though both Paul and John likely had ministries based in Ephesus, their mission extended to other cities in Asia Minor. In recent days on the trip we saw some of these cities:


Smyrna was the second city to receive a letter from John in Revelation. Here is the “basement” level of the agora in that city:

Smyrna agora 1


The fifth city whose church received a letter from John in Revelation, Sardis had a significant temple to Artemis (whose “headquarters” was in Ephesus):

Temple of Artemis in Sardis


Paul addressed this church in his letter to the Colossians (Col 2:1, 4:13-16), and John wrote to them as the seventh of the churches he included in Revelation. Here is a main street going through the city:

Main road at Laodicea


This town is nothing but an unexcavated mound today, but Paul wrote to Colossae’s church, which had been planted by his co-worker Epaphras. Philemon and his slave Onesimus were also from this city. Here are sheep grazing on the side of Colossae’s acropolis:

Sheep at Colossae


This is the third of three cities mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Just a generation later, the bishop Papias served in the city. Hierapolis has calcium deposits on its hillsides known as travertines. This gives the terrain a snowlike appearance:

Travertines Hierapolis

The whole area of Asia Minor is known for its belief in spiritual forces, and this is illustrated with the Plutonium at Hierapolis. This opening in the earth emitted noxious fumes that were deadly to creatures. The people associated these fumes with the god of the underworld – Pluto. The opening has now been covered, with just a small cutaway leading to the pit:


These are cities that were steeped in paganism, idolatry, and emperor veneration. But the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ found fertile ground in these unlikely places.

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Filed under Church History, New Testament, Turkey

Floods, hailstorms, and archeological ruins in Turkey

It has been a crazy few days of seeing the sites in Turkey. We had a sunny day in Nicea, followed by rains and floods near Troas, and a hailstorm on the top of ancient Pergamum. Through the ups and downs, we saw ancient cities of historical and biblical interest. Here are a few snapshots from those days:

025 Nicean council location A

This all that is left of the site of the early church’s first ecumenical council meeting place in Nicea. This pier led to Constantine’s palace on an island, but the island and palace have now sunk into Iznik Lake. On the island several hundered early church bishops (including St. Nicholas, perhaps) clarified the early church’s belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in A.D. 325.

Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul was prevented by the Spirit from entering regions of Turkey and stopped in Troas instead, on his way to Macedonia during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10). Our team was prevented from reaching Troas because heavy flooding made the streets impassable:

035 impassable road near Troas A

On Paul’s third missionary journey he walked from Troas to Assos, along the Aegean coast. Scholars are not sure why he walked while all of his companions traveled by sea (Acts 20:13). He may have needed time alone to prayerfully contemplate the prophecies Christians were sharing with him about future troubles in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24; 21:10-13). Here is the modern harbor at Assos:

008 Assos harbor A

At ancient Pergamum (recipients of a letter from the Apostle John in Revelation 2:12-17), we reached the top of the acropolis just in time to witness a hailstorm (thankfully, we had shelter). Within half an hour though, everything had cleared up, and we had wonderful views. This is the temple of Dionysus in Pergamum:

Temple of Dionysus, Pergamum

Pergamum was the first city in ancient Western Turkey to have an imperial cult temple (built in 29 B.C.). The temple, which is no longer standing, was dedicated to Augustus (this bust of Augustus was excavated from Pergamum, but I saw it in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum):

097 Augustus, Pergamum A

The imperial cult, with its expectations of ultimate allegiance given to Rome and its leaders, created pressures upon early believers. Because of this clash of competing loyalties, one believer from Pergamum, Antipas, had been martyred in Pergamum before John wrote to the believers in that city (Rev 2:12-13). This fits well with one emphasis from this class and trip: the kingdom of God will finally prevail over all rival kingdoms, but in the meantime believers may suffer for their devotion to Christ and his kingdom.

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Filed under Church History, New Testament, Turkey