The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Conclusion

Now that we have taken a fresh approach to reading the letters Shaul wrote to the congregations he had created, we need to remember that the New Covenant was formulated from many letters and gospels, as well as Codex’s and other materials, by a group of Gentiles who had already been worshiping as far from how Yeshua worshipped as one can get.

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According to Wikipedia, the new Covenant was compiled by approximately 40 different people, sometime around 90-95 AD; other historical documents I have seen state that by that time, even the celebration of the Shabbat was changed from the 7th day of the week (the way Yeshua celebrated it) to the first day of the week (Sunday).

The Epistles have been so misused and misunderstood by men who were not Jewish and already had an agenda to separate the believers of Yeshua from the Jewish roots of the movement that I am not at all surprised that nearly every Christian denomination bases almost everything it does on these letters, almost totally ignoring the Torah.

And remember that these are letters were NOT received in a divine vision and were NOT dictated by God but written by a man to counteract the damaging influences from both without and within those congregations; congregations of Gentile believers who were failing to maintain their faith.

Shaul received his vision from Yeshua on the road to Damascus, sometime around 36 CE, and almost every Bible you read will say this is when he converted to Christianity. The truth is he never converted to anything: what happened was not a conversion, as evidenced by the fact that Shaul continued to worship as a Jew, continued to enter and preach in the synagogue everywhere he went, and even took vows in accordance with the Torah (1 Corinthians 11:1).

A more accurate statement of the event is not that it was a conversion to a different religion, but a revelation of the truth of his existing religion, that truth being Yeshua is the Messiah mentioned throughout the Tanakh to be sent by God.

The first letter we have from Shaul is to the Thessalonians, which was written about 12 years after Shaul’s revelation of Yeshua. The rest of the letters included in the New Covenant range from 50 CE through 66 CE.

In all of these letters we see the same challenges to these neophyte Gentile believers: believing Jews forcing them to get circumcised in order to be saved (legalism), outside influences weakening their faith (arguments about genealogies and Gnosticism), false teachings from outside and even inside the believing community (2 Timothy 2:16), and misplaced loyalties and the formation of cliques within the congregation that was tearing it apart (1 Corinthians 3).

Although it wasn’t mentioned specifically, I think we can also assume there were challenges forced on these believers by non-believing friends, family, and neighbors who were persecuting them for their change in lifestyle, which smelled like death to those non-believers (2 Corinthians 2:15).

I once read a book that identified a conundrum in marriages that were having relationship problems: the conundrum was that if one member of the couple tried to improve the relationship, the other member went out of their way to reestablish the previous, hurtful relationship. Why? Because it had become comfortable.

Now, here we have a Gentile believer in Yeshua who is being told to give up all the hedonistic, drunken, and sexually perverse things he (or she) does in order to live a righteous life with the promise of resurrection. That’s a pretty hard sell, and hard for a person to do, even with support from families and friends, so imagine how much harder it must have been for the Gentiles who chose to live that way back then! It’s no wonder Shaul had to keep on top of them to maintain their faith.

Shaul spent those first 12 years after his revelation of Yeshua traveling all over Asia and the Middle East. Shaul’s missionary work was very successful, but something happened after the Jewish leaders of this new sect within Judaism had all died: the message in Shaul’s letters became polluted by many of the Gentile believers who were now leading this movement, leading it further and further away from what Shaul told them, from what Yeshua taught, and from how God said we all should live.

They did what Shaul had constantly warned against- they listened to the false teachings.

Besides that, there was the political issue of the Romans persecuting the Jews (who were rebelling against Roman rule), so as these people- who had been protected while worshipping the Roman religion- became more “Jewish” in their lifestyle and worship, they became afraid of being associated with the Jews and falling under Roman persecution.

Of course, that backfired on them: after the Romans put the Jewish rebellion down for good in the 2nd Century, they turned their attention to the (now called) Christians because the one thing Rome hated as much as rebellion was creating a religion other than the official Roman one.

This is a little off topic, but I think it is important to note. Shaul never stopped preaching Yeshua is the Messiah to Jews. Some say he stopped talking to Jews when he said, in Acts 13:44, that he would now go only to the Gentiles, but that is wrong. He was in Antioch when he said this, and he said it to the Jews there who were ridiculing him and Barnabus. What he meant was that he would now go to the Gentiles there in Antioch. He never meant that he would only talk to Gentiles from then on. He always went to the synagogues first, in every town he traveled to; this is confirmed no less than 9 times throughout the Book of Acts.

The letters Shaul wrote were not intended to change the way these believing Gentiles worshipped and lived because they had already accepted God as the only God and Yeshua as his Messiah. Rather, they were written to keep the people on track learning how they should live in accordance with the Torah. Not legalistically, as the believing Jews were telling them they had to, but the way Shaul wanted them to do it- slowly, motivated by faithful belief and not legalistic observance. Shaul didn’t require the Gentile believers to convert completely to a Torah observant lifestyle overnight, but rather to learn as they could, sort of taking it one-step-at-a-time.

The letters Shaul wrote did not give new commandments from God or change how God said people should live and worship. No. They were written in order to offset the detrimental influences that were turning these new believers from faithfully following the way Shaul told them to live and worship.

Shaul did a wonderful work for God, bringing salvation through Messiah Yeshua to both Jews and Gentiles. What happened, as we can see from these letters, is that the people who were walking the path to salvation through faithful obedience to God’s word got detoured away from proper worship by human intervention.

Shaul did what he could, from a distance, to combat this redirection of worship. However, looking at the Christian world, with all the different denominations, the many ways the Torah is ignored, and the replacement of God’s Holy Days with so many man-made celebrations and ceremonies, well… I am sorry to say that Shaul’s best attempts failed to overcome human intervention which led to a complete reversal of what his letters were designed to do.

Shaul could see that the congregations he created were being choked by the weeds growing all around them, just as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) warned against.

This concludes my teaching series on the Pauline Epistles, and I pray that I have succeeded in showing you that these letters are not really God-breathed scripture, but simply managerial directives.

I hope that you feel edified and maybe now can see these letters from a different viewpoint. I welcome, as always, any comments you may want to make.

I will be going back to my usual teachings in my next posting, so until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- 2 Corinthians

So here it is, maybe a year or so later, and Shaul is writing to the congregation in Corinth, again. He starts off as he does with all his letters, giving thanks and praise to God, and talking about how wonderful it is to be saved by the Messiah’s sacrifice.

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By the end of the first chapter, Shaul is telling them that he wanted to visit but changed his mind. He states why in a very round-about way, and when you take away the flourishes and buttering-up, the main reason he didn’t visit was because he was disappointed in them and they haven’t come up to meet his requirements of them, so he decided not to go there in order to save himself from more anguish (which he says is because he loves them so much), or to cause them anguish (probably from his having to chew them out).

You will note, when reading his letters, that he is so very Jewish (being Jewish, myself, I can get away saying this) in that he constantly lays a guilt trip on people.

He explains how he has been undergoing many trials, but that through the Messiah he has been renewed. He is clearly trying to show the Corinthians that the problems they are having can be overcome as long as they maintain their faith and proper obedience to God.

It isn’t until he is nearly half-way through this letter that he begins to talk directly to the Corinthians, having spent the full first half of the letter talking about himself.

And when he does talk about them, he starts right in with reminding them not to yoke themselves with unbelievers. This was because they were doing things that were not part of a godly lifestyle and working those sinful activities into their tenets and ceremonies.

(What is sad about this warning from Shaul is that Christianity ended up doing just that- incorporating non-biblical ceremonies and holidays into what is supposed to be a God-worshiping religion.)

Now Shaul changes course and he congratulates the congregation for (apparently) having been so hurt by his first letter that they got their heads back on straight, and from Titus Shaul hears good reports about that congregation having repented.

The remaining chapters are pretty much Shaul defending himself, stating he is bolder when away then in person, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a true apostle. He warns them about false apostles, implying that since he doesn’t ask for money, anyone preaching the Gospel and requiring payment is a false apostle, and since Satan masquerades as an angel of light, the ones who work for him also masquerade as servants of righteousness.

(Could it be that Shaul had a vision of the modern televangelist?)

As he continues to talk about the difficulties he has had, which is his way of justifying that they listen to him, he talks about the thorn in his side that God has placed there to keep him humble. One of the best-known verses from his letters is found here, in 2nd Corinthians 12:9, when Shaul is talking about how he pleaded with God three times to remove the “thorn in my side” (no one knows what that was, exactly, and scholars have thought it anything from emotional issues to physical ailments or handicaps), and God answers him by saying:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In other words, God can show best his power when he works through someone who is weak. For instance, if I was to fight a professional MMA title holder, it is almost a foregone conclusion that I will get my tuchas in a sling within 1 minute. But, if I conquer the professional, then there has to be some power greater than both of us to make that happen.

After his diatribe about his sufferings and his justification that he is a legitimate messenger of the Messiah, he finishes with a stern warning, saying he is concerned that when he visit, he will find some have still not repented, still indulging in “quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12:20)

He tells them, in no uncertain way, that he will deal very harshly with that if he finds it when he comes. He says he is being harsh now so that he won’t have to be that way when he arrives.

This letter ends, as all do, with greetings and a prayer for the people there.

As I have been saying, this letter is clearly not anything like the writings of the Prophets or containing any God-dictated commandments on how to worship, as we see in the Torah. No, these are just Shaul’s managerial directives for how the congregation he is writing to should get back on track.

These two letters to the Corinthians, as with all of Shaul’s letters, will reference scripture but they are not scripture. When we read this as if we haven’t already been told what it is supposed to mean, we can see that it is nothing more than a letter written by a man to a congregation of people who are not doing as they should. Truthfully? It’s more like an employee evaluation than God-breathed divine instruction.

The next letter is to the Galatians, and if you think he was being rough on the Corinthians, wait until you hear what he calls the Galatians!

So, nu? I hope I will see you then; in the meantime, l’hitraot and Baruch Hashem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Romans (Part 1)

As the title indicates, this was written to the Gentile (and some Jewish) believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) who lived in Rome. It was written by Shaul (Paul) in 57 CE and meant to be a letter of introduction for him before he arrived there. This letter is one of the longest and most confusing of all the other letters he wrote, so I will break this down into two parts.

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In this letter Shaul talks about the Torah, and over time this letter has been used as a polemic against following the laws in the Torah, while the truth is that it is actually an apologetic to explain that even after accepting Yeshua as the Messiah, it is still important to follow the Torah, but that faith is the over-riding necessity for salvation.

Christianity has, over the centuries, misused this letter to justify ignoring the Torah, but Shaul wrote it to identify the difference between obeying the Torah in order to earn salvation (in other words, just to be “correct’) and obeying the Torah as the result of faithful obedience to God’s instructions, which tell us how he wants us to worship him and how he wants us to treat each other.

I put emphasis on the word “he”, meaning (of course) God, because religion tells us how the religion wants us to worship and treat each other, which (more often than not) is not what God has said.

The beginning of this letter has Shaul explaining that he is not ashamed of the gospel (which is translated as “truth”, i.e., truth of God’s salvation) and desires to preach it to both Greeks and non-Greeks (different races of Gentiles, as well as Jews), the wise (believers in God) and the foolish (in those days, a “fool” was one who refused to believe in or accept God). He states that he does this because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; this truth is to be brought to the Jew first, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

This is not only the order in which he will present the Good News, but a confirmation of what Yeshua said in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 15:24), when he told the woman from Shomron that he came only for the lost sheep of Israel. We read about the first time the salvation of God was made available to the Gentiles, coming from the Jews (through Kefa, also called Peter) to the Gentiles in Acts 10.

As we go deeper into this letter, Shaul relates how God’s punishment against the sinful is not only justified, but a righteous judgment. He states that God is evidenced throughout the world, and those who refuse to accept his existence and his laws are deserving of the punishment they will receive.

Near the end of Chapter Two, he begins to talk about when Jews who brag about following the law break it, they actually blaspheme God’s name among the Gentiles. What he means is this: when those who profess to worship God do not obey him, they are setting a bad example to non-believers, and essentially making it harder, if not impossible, for them to want to accept God and his Messiah. This theme of hypocrisy will be evident in many of the letters he writes with regard to the interpersonal relationship issues within the leadership of various congregations throughout Asia.

One thing that is misunderstood is Romans 2:28-29, which many people have been taught means circumcision is wrong for Gentiles. What Shaul says is that being physically circumcised doesn’t make one a Jew, but when our heart is circumcised by the Spirit (in Hebrew, Ruach haKodesh– Holy Spirit) then we are a Jew, inwardly. He is not saying circumcision is wrong (as we will also see in Galatians), but that physical circumcision is not enough- we must also be circumcised by the Spirit in our hearts to be a “total” Jew.

What he is saying, if you ask me, if that when we are circumcised in both the flesh and the heart, that is when we can say we are a total Jew.

The issue of circumcision to be accepted as a member of the family of God is a constant problem which he runs into throughout the congregations where Jews are together with believing Gentiles.

This passage also has been misinterpreted to indicate no one accepting Yeshua has to do any of that “Jewish” stuff; but Shaul denies that, saying being a Jew is very important because they have been entrusted with the very words of God (that would be the Torah- there is no other place, anywhere in the entire Bible, where God, himself, tells us what to do). He then starts his Jewish logic argument about how people may say if we are unrighteous, and God’s judgment on us is righteous, then doesn’t our unrighteousness bring out more of God’s righteousness, implying it is good to sin.

His reply is, of course, it is never good to sin. He reminds us (quoting from the Psalms) that no one is ever going to be righteous by trying to obey the Torah perfectly: it is only through faith in Yeshua being the Messiah God sent that will we be able to overcome our sinfulness.

Understand this: no one can overcome their sinfulness because no one, as we are told throughout the Bible, is able to live a sinless life. The way we overcome sinfulness through Yeshua is that his death as a universal sacrifice for sin, replacing the need to bring an animal to the temple in Jerusalem, makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins. Especially since the temple was destroyed and that left no place to bring a sacrifice. Our sins can be forgiven through Yeshua, but not automatically, and not without repentance, and not without asking for it.

Shaul makes the argument that because Abraham was not circumcised when he was credited as righteous by his faith, then faith comes before obedience to the law. But he also points out that does not mean the law is done away with.

Later on, after going through a somewhat confusing diatribe about grace, faith, and the law, in Romans 6:15, having told us that grace can always be greater than sin, he asks if we can then go ahead and continue to sin because we are not under the law but under Grace? His answer?

By no means!

He explains that we were slaves to sin, but with Messiah we are slaves to righteousness, and that a slave must obey his master (remember how Yeshua said no one can serve two masters? Matthew 6:24). So, now that we are slaves to righteousness, and sons of God, he says we must be obedient to what is righteous.

His point is that as believers in Messiah, even though we are sons of God through faith more than circumcision, as slaves to righteousness we must do that which is righteous.

(So, nu? Let me ask you: where you find the things to do that are righteous?
You got it- in the Torah!)

In Chapter 10, Shaul begins to make an argument for legalism verse faith. My way of stating the difference between legalistic obedience and faithful obedience is that the former is a performance-based salvation, while the latter is a faith-based salvation, but not faith alone- it is faith demonstrated through obedience! (James 2:17)

When discussing Israel’s rejection of Yeshua, he shows that God will not forever abandon his people because of it (Deut. 33:21; Isaiah 65:1-2), and how the prophets have indicated that those who were once not God’s people (i.e., the ones rejecting Yeshua) will be called sons of God. In other words, Shaul is talking about the remnant of Israel (Jews) who have, and in the future will, accept Yeshua.

Next lesson we will start with Chapter 11, which is one of the most ignored chapters, if you ask me, by traditional Christian teachings.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch haShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Titus

Titus has been mentioned in a number of letters, such as in 2 Corinthians 8:23, and was a protégé’ of Shaul, traveling with him and also being sent as a messenger. He was working with the congregation in Crete when this letter was sent to him.

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This is one of those letters that some scholars believe was NOT written by Shaul, but possibly from someone using his name or from notes he had scribed. The time of the letter is around 63-65 A.D., which would be the time Shaul was a prisoner in Rome. However, at the end of the letter Shaul asks Titus to come to him in Nicopolis, where he intended to winter. Either Shaul was very optimistic about having his case heard and being set free (which I do not get from any of the other letters he wrote during this period), or maybe this is why it is thought he didn’t write this, rather that someone else did from notes he may have made before he was imprisoned in Rome.

The letter is simply a reminder of how Titus should choose the leadership for the congregation that was being set up there. Apparently, it was still in its formative stages.

The message is very similar to what he wrote Timothy with regards to choosing upright people, those who did not have a bad reputation, were self-disciplined, and who hold firmly to the Good News that was given to them.

Shaul tells Titus to be aware of, and watch out for, the reputation that the Cretans have. Even today, the term “Cretan” is a slur, indicating a baseless and vile person, with no understanding. Shaul quotes one of their own prophets, a man named Epimenides, who called his own people liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12; the name of the prophet is not mentioned in the letter but in a footnote of the NIV Quest Study Bible).

Shaul also warns against what he calls the “Circumcision group”, who were the believing Jews that insisted anyone following Messiah must undergo B’rit Milah in order to be able to become a member of God’s family. We hear a lot about these believing Jews in other letters, as well (Romans and Galatians, for two).

In light of the problems Titus is facing from both the believing Jews and the Cretans, who were known universally to be stubborn and argumentative, Shaul advises Titus to aways teach sound doctrine so that it can be used against the wrong teachings and false doctrine that was being used against him.

Titus is also told to ensure the members of the congregation always obey the legal authorities, which he says elsewhere, in order that the populace may see believers in Messiah as upright, and not have anything to hold against them. He especially warns against getting involved in useless arguments, such as over genealogies and controversial topics: if someone is being divisive, he is to be warned twice, then abandon that person and have nothing to do with him as he is self-condemned.

A bit of history: we do not hear anything else, really, about the Cretan believers. It is likely that being on an island, isolated from other believers and surrounded by non-believers (who were not the easiest people to get along with), that congregation was not able to survive.

The last letter in the New Covenant attributed to Shaul is Philemon, but I am not going to discuss that one because it is a personal request from Shaul, which really doesn’t add much except to demonstrate Shaul’s ability to lay a guilt trip on someone.

I will conclude this teaching series in my next lesson.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- 1st and 2nd Timothy

The first letter Shaul wrote to Timothy, one of his protégé’s who had a Greek father and Jewish mother, and apparently was very young to be in the position of authority he was given, was written around 63-65 A.D. The second letter was written a few years later. Timothy was stationed in Ephesus at the time of these writings.

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Shaul’s reason for writing to Timothy was to encourage him to stand firm against false teachings, which were (apparently) rampant within the congregation in Ephesus. The letter Shaul had written to this congregation was only a year or so prior, so it seems to me that the problems he wrote about not only failed to improve… but got worse!

In the first letter, Shaul talked about the rapture and reminded Timothy how Shaul had wanted Timothy to stay in Ephesus. He was concerned about how they were engaged in different activities, such as Elitism (the idea that only a few with special knowledge would be saved, similar to Gnosticism- the same problem the Galatians, Corinthians, and Colossians were dealing with), Idealism (matter is evil), and myths and genealogies. All of these were leading the people further and further away from the path of faith.

Shaul tells Timothy that women are not to teach or speak in services, which sort of goes against what he says in other letters, or his constant praising of women who hold positions of authority in other congregations, such as Euodia and Syntyche (Philippi), Priscilla and Lydia (Corinth), and Phoebe (Corinth), to name a few. So, even though Shaul is here saying that women should be subservient, and not speak in services, he clearly is not a misogynist, only speaking to a specific issue that was happening in Ephesus.

He also states that the women should dress modestly, so the underlying problem might have been that too many of the female congregants were being immodest, and could that include speaking out of turn? We really can’t tell, exactly, what the problem was, but clearly Timothy had to deal with issues regarding some of the women in the congregation.

Another problem Timothy was dealing with, in Chapter 4, was being looked down on by the older members of the congregation (again, remember this: there were no churches at that time, only the pagan temples, Jewish synagogues, and the messianic congregations meeting in people’s homes). Shaul tells him that he must stay away from idle gossip and myths and be a shining example of godliness. He reminds Timothy that he was prophesied to be a leader, so he should be firm and teach that which is correct.

He advises Timothy not to be harsh with anyone, but to exhort them to live correctly: he says to treat older men as fathers, to treat younger men as brothers, treat older women as mothers, and be like a brother to the unmarried women.

There were issues with the widows (most likely the younger ones) being spiritually turned from the truth, which is part of the false teachings going on there, and Shaul tells Timothy to deal with this by administrating to the widows based on their individual need. The ones who the congregation should care for must be over 60 years of age, have been faithful to their husbands, good to children, and shown that during their lives they lived a godly lifestyle. The younger widows should be cared for by their families, not the congregation.

There were also problems with the male leadership, which is why Shaul gives a very detailed set of requirements for anyone who is to be a leader in the congregation (the Hebrew word is Shamash). He states that some sins are easily seen, while others may not be so visible, which is why Timothy has to look at the whole picture, so to speak: the person, the person’s wife, their children, and his public reputation.

Going off topic for a minute, let me share a personal experience. I was on the Council at the messianic synagogue I attended in Philadelphia, and we hired a new rabbi. He seemed to be just what we wanted and gave a really good story about being called to Philadelphia. But it wasn’t until later that we found out he had been sent away from his prior congregation and his actions, more and more, showed that he was not a good choice. Eventually, after the original council members had all left, he destroyed the congregation from inside, not to mention the building interior because his children were uncontrollable. It is very hard to recognize a liar when the liar believes they are telling the truth, but as Shaul tells Timothy, you can get an idea about who a person really is by looking past them and to their family and past.

Shaul’s final issue in this first letter is that Timothy must counteract the false teachings and especially those who are preaching false doctrine and getting paid for it. He quotes from the Tanakh that those doing God’s word are entitled to be paid, but that (here is a well-known but often misquoted adage) the love of money is the root of many evils (1 Timothy 6:10); he warns Timothy that men there have turned from the true faith to preach false doctrine for money.

The second letter to Timothy dealt with what appears to have been a general feeling Shaul had that he had been abandoned by his congregations because he was a prisoner in Rome. He asked Timothy to not be ashamed of him (Shaul) because he is a prisoner and suffering.

He tells Timothy to warn people against arguing about words because it is of no value (2 Timothy 2:14)

{Ed: which would be a good thing for the “Holy Namers” to remember}

and that he should watch out for Hymeneaus and Phileitus, both of whom are spreading false teachings that the resurrection of the dead has already happened, which will destroy the faith of some and be like gangrene within the congregation.

Shaul states in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all scripture is God-breathed and good for teaching.” This statement has too often been applied to the New Covenant writings: that is a wrong thing to do because the only scripture that existed when Shaul wrote this was the Tanakh. As we can see in the letters Shaul wrote, there isn’t any “God-breathed” scripture here- just good advice, based on the real God-breathed scripture in the Tanakh.

These letters, as with this one to Timothy, are instructing the leadership of the various congregations Shaul created how to handle the all-too-human problems they were having within the congregation.

Shaul’s final words are a request for Timothy to come to him quickly and bring certain items he left behind, how he feels abandoned because friends deserted him in Rome and have gone to other places, leaving him alone to defend himself. Also, Timothy should be careful of Alexander the metalworker who has been speaking out against him, and how despite all this, God will bring Shaul to his heavenly kingdom.

It sounds very much like Shaul doesn’t expect to get out of this one alive, doesn’t it? And he was right to feel that way.

The next letter written by him that is included in the New Covenant is the one to Titus, which is the last of the Pauline Epistles we will talk about.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- 1 and 2 Thessalonians

It is interesting to note that although everyone agrees that Shaul wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians, there is doubt that he wrote the second letter.

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These letters were written around 50-51 A.D. and address concerns that Shaul had about the faithfulness of these believing Gentiles as they came face-to-face with persecution by the Jewish population there.

As always, Shaul starts off praising their faithfulness and how thankful he is for their continued growth in the Lord. He reminds them that he was not a burden to them, how he had so many issues (there were riots which caused him to leave earlier than he wanted to when he was first there) and how he suffered for their sakes. He also qualifies his ministering as not using scams and lies, which apparently, he was accused of. He states he was blameless and upright in all he did when there, even earning his own living instead of taking any help from them.

As he does in so many of his letters, Shaul says how humble and unassuming he was when with them, all the while telling them he did so much for them and suffered for them, not taking from them anything he was entitled to as a worker for the Lord.

Overall, this letter is not so bad, as his letters go. He isn’t chiding them for lack of faithfulness or for doing wrong things, as most of his other letters addressed. In fact, this letter is quite the opposite: he congratulates them on maintaining their faith, which Timothy (who he had sent to them to make sure they were still faithful) reported back to him.

The second letter addresses a specific problem, in that there was a supposed letter from Shaul saying that the Day of the Lord has already come. He reminds them of the lessons he gave them when he was there regarding the Acharit haYamim (End Days) and how HaSatan (the Devil) is constantly working to separate them from the faith.

He does chide them in this letter regarding those who he has heard are being idle and tells them to follow his example, working and not being a burden to anyone. He states that if anyone among them is not working, he should be shunned, but not hated. He should be made to feel ashamed so that he will get back on track. But anyone who doesn’t work shouldn’t be fed.

What is interesting, again, is that the first letter is thought to be written by Shaul, but isn’t signed by him, but this second letter, which they say may not have been written by him, is signed with his own handwriting! It seems that the ambiguity of the timing of the End Days is what makes some scholars doubt that both letters were written by Shaul.

In any event, the message is the same with both: remain faithful, work for your keep by following the example Shaul set when he was there and watch out for false teachers and prophets.

Next, we will look at the letters he wrote to Timothy, addressing the problems that Tim was having with his congregation members.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch Ha Shem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Colossians

This is one of those letters that the scholars are not absolutely certain was written by Shaul. I am not sure why they think that. The reason given is that the writing style is different from other letters he has written. It seems strange to me that this would not be considered one of his because he states at the end he is signing in his own handwriting, which he has done on other letters (1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). However, many times letters were either dictated or notes left for a scribe to complete, in which case there would be a difference between the style of a dictated letter, and one that was completed by someone else, based on notes.

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This letter was written during the time Shaul was a prisoner in Rome, around 62 A.D., and addresses an issue the congregation was having with the Gnostics, who were turning their faith away from trust to needing special knowledge, and repeats not only the reasons for faith, but he goes further to instruct them on how to live a godly life, even to how to form proper familial relationships.

Shaul starts off reminding them of the power of God and the Messiah, and how they were introduced to the Gospel he preached to them about faith.

Shaul spends a brief time (in Chapter 2) telling them that they should not allow themselves to be turned away from the truth of Messiah by either of the philosophies they were being told about. One was the need for special knowledge, secret codes and such that is the system called Gnosticism. The other was the idea of performance-based salvation, which was the old argument of legalistic observance vs. faith-based obedience.

I see this same problem in Christianity today, as well as in Judaism (to a lesser degree): the need to know exactly when, what every little statement means (I mean, no one will ever know what the 666 means. I really believe when the antichrist is in charge, we won’t need to see his number- we’ll know that the world is being led by a demon. The need to know is not something that God requires of us; instead, it is the need to trust that he is in charge is all we really need to know- that and what he tells us to do in the Torah.

If you ask me, those who are all about the “proper” calendar, and numerology, and astrology, etc. are concentrating on minutia, and in some way, substituting the event as more important than the one the event is about. If I am celebrating the Holy Days based on the Jewish calendar I bought on Amazon, but somewhere there is a more accurate calendar that says I am a day off, here or there, I seriously doubt that I will go to hell for that.

The need to follow the “correct” calendar, to not worship anything not in the Torah, to refuse to worship anything created, to reject all man-made traditions Carte Blanc, is (as I have stated in my ministry many times) what I believe to be a modern form of the legalistic approach to worship that Shaul is arguing against in many of his letters to Gentiles who are being confused by both Jews and Gentiles regarding the proper form of worship.

He spends the majority of this letter reminding them that they were spiritually circumcised when they accepted Yeshua, and that their faith is what saves them. Their old ways of sin were put to death when they were reborn in the Messiah. He reiterates that they must do away with foul language, sexual immorality, lust, greed, and other sins of the flesh.

And, if we chance assuming that the issues he mentions are mentioned because he heard that they were problems being experienced within that congregation, then we can see that there was a lot to fix in this group of believers.

He states that all are one in the body of the Messiah- there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, free nor slave, etc. Of course, he is speaking figuratively here, talking about our spiritual selves. There will always be differences between people who are believers in the Messiah, Yeshua. The point is that we are not to hold onto any of the old biases or prejudices that we did before we were saved.

He gives one of my favorite verses in his admonitions on submission to each other, in that in Chapter 3, verse 23 he is telling slaves to do what they are told not because their master is watching; rather, they should do everything for the Lord, and not just for men, because that way they will receive an inheritance from God.

Even though he is addressing slaves, this is good advice for all of us.

Shaul ends with the usual greetings to everyone, and if he didn’t write this letter, I have to assume since he spent the time to sign it himself, he must have (at least) proofread it.

The next letters we will review are to the Thessalonians, and since both letters are fairly short, I will cover them both in the same lesson.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Romans (Part 2)

Now we come to Chapter 11, which is one of the most ignored chapters, if you ask me, by traditional Christian teachings.

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The main theme of this chapter is that even though God cut off from the Tree of Life the natural branches (the Jewish people rejecting Messiah), which allowed the wild branches (the Gentiles) to be grafted in, they need to remember that they are not supporting the root, but the root is supporting them (Romans 11:18). And if God was willing to prune the natural branches, how much more so will he be willing to prune those who were not of the tree, in the first place? Therefore, the Gentiles in Messiah should never become arrogant.

May I share something personal with you? Spending my youth and teenage years during the 60s and 70s, my experience with Christians was being called “Christ killer” and they accused Jews as being the ones who killed God (as if that was even possible!) My personal experience with traditional Christian teachings (which, sad to say, haven’t really changed) has been that the Jews are looked down upon because so many didn’t accept Yeshua when he was human, and even today, still don’t have enough sense to convert to Christianity. It is an arrogant position, thinking Christians are better than Jews because they worship Jesus, and we don’t: it is totally in opposition to what Shaul told them not to do in this chapter.

Here is another example of what Christianity has taught, regarding their affiliation with Jews: When I taught a Messianics 101 course at the messianic synagogue I attended in Philadelphia, I used to ask if they remembered the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer chases Bugs up a tree, and Bugs is sitting at the far end of a branch while Elmer is on the same branch, right where it comes off the tree. He then starts to saw the branch between him and Bugs, and when he saws through, the branch that Bugs is on miraculously remains suspended in the air while the tree (and Elmer) fall down. Then I’d say this is what Christianity thinks they can do: reject the Torah, which is the Tree of Life (in Hebrew, we say Etz Chaim Hi), but still be attached to God.

Now, if that ain’t Looney Tunes, I don’t know what is!

Alright…back to Romans.

Shaul’s warnings in this chapter reminds me of the warning Moses gave the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, reminding them that what they were to receive was not because they deserved it, but because of God’s love for his people (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Starting in Chapter 12, Shaul pleads with the Roman believers to work at changing their entire mindset, no longer conforming to what the world expects, but acting and thinking more in line with what God wants of them, even to the point of becoming (as he puts it) a living sacrifice to God. It seems that he is implying, from his previous statement about hypocrites, and now this statement about transforming themselves, that the Believers in Rome weren’t living a righteous life.

Sorry- but I have to interrupt, again.

The way these “megachurches” get so many attendees is that all they talk about is what God will do for them, and rarely, if ever, talk about what we are to do for God, except maybe to be loving to each other. That “Be a good person and love each other, and you get to go to heaven” is the sales pitch used, and so no wonder it attracts many people.

But it’s a lie- first off, even Yeshua said no one is good but God (Mark 10:18) and loving one another isn’t enough- Yeshua said even sinners do that (Luke 6:32). No- you need to do what God says to do BEFORE he will send blessings. When you read Deuteronomy 28 (the chapter known as the Blessings and Curses Chapter in the Torah) you will see that God tells us when we obey, he will bless us, and when we disobey, he will send curses (which really means he simply won’t bless us and leave us on our own in a sinful and fallen world). Note, please, the order: we obey, we get blessed, not we get blessed whether or not we obey.

OK, now that I have that off my chest, let’s get back to Romans.

Regarding how to be a living sacrifice, Shaul explains that the way we do that is not to think too highly of ourselves; rather, to use whatever gifts we have correctly and to love others, which includes those who do not love us. He gives the examples of blessing those who persecute us, of not repaying evil with evil, and to care for our enemies (again, how can I not mention how for centuries Christians have derided and persecuted Jews, just the opposite of what Shaul said they should do).

Many Christians have credited Shaul with being the originator of these godly teachings, but they are all found in the Tanakh, from Leviticus to Proverbs. And if you are thinking that it was just Shaul repeating what Yeshua said, that is correct, but where did Yeshua come up with these? That’s right- he got them from the Tanakh, as well.

Shaul continues to talk about how to love others through not judging others who are weaker in faith, and here is where another misinterpretation has led Christians to believe Shaul is saying the laws of Kashrut (Kosher laws defined in Leviticus 11) are no longer valid for Gentiles.

Chapter 14 is confusing, and (again) we run smack-dab into Shaul’s convoluted Jewish Logic. He states that there are those who eat differently: some just vegetables and others will eat everything (as we will see later, he is talking about vegetables and meat). This has been mistaught as meaning that food doesn’t matter because all those who believe in Yeshua and worship God are accepted.

Here we run into the same issue we had back in the Gospel of Mark, where Mark declares all food clean (Mark 7:19). To review what happened, Yeshua was asked why his talmidim (students, or disciples, in this case) don’t wash their hands before eating, which was a traditional man-made requirement. Yeshua tells them that it isn’t what we eat that makes us unclean, but what comes out of our heart, and at this point Mark states Yeshua declared all food clean.

But what is food to a First Century Jew? I can tell you this- it ain’t pork chops! What was considered as food to Jews at that time was only what God allowed us to eat, and so when Shaul, a Pharisee, talks about food, it is safe to assume he is talking only about what is allowed by God.

Chapter 14 has traditionally been misinterpreted to allow believers in Yeshua to eat trefe (unclean) foods; but, when you read these passages carefully, you see Shaul is talking only about vegetables and meat. He never mentions pork verse veal, or lobster verse cod- he talks about the difference between one eating only vegetables (the diet that Daniel ate) and another eating meat and vegetables. The gist of his lesson is that when there is a meal presented that has both vegetables and meat- and he is talking about a meal that is in accordance with the laws of Kashrut- and someone at the table thinks that it is a sin to eat meat, then to show your love you should eat only vegetables. And if you like vegetables, but someone else is eating both vegetables and meat, then you should have some meat, as well.

Again, even though Shaul is talking about food, this passage has nothing at all to do with Kashrut, and everything to do with not judging others regarding the strength or weakness of their faithful obedience (to the Torah). But later on, when Gentiles were reading this, they defined food as whatever is edible by human beings, and subsequently have misinterpreted this to mean that you don’t have to follow the kashrut laws if you believe in Jesus.

Shaul concludes this letter by talking about all the work he has done as minister to the Gentiles throughout Asia, and that he now wishes to come to Rome.

(As we read in Acts, he eventually made it there and was very fruitful ministering for about 2 years, but he never got out of Rome alive.)

At the end of this letter, as with many, he thanks those who have helped him and warns to be careful about false teachings (too bad that warning didn’t work) and to avoid anyone who places stumbling blocks in their way.

The next letters we will review are the ones he wrote to the Corinthians.

That’s it for now, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Philippians

This is one of Shaul’s shorter letters and was written from both Shaul and Timothy while Shaul was in Rome, awaiting trial after having appealed to the emperor to avoid being killed in ambush while being transported back to Jerusalem (Acts 23).

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The time of this letter was probably around 60-62 A.D., and in this letter Shaul is basically sending his thanks to the congregation for helping to defray his costs while he was awaiting trial.

He explains to the people how his imprisonment is a good thing because it is an example of his suffering for Messiah.

He states in 1:15-18 that there are some who preach about Messiah in Rome for good reasons, and others who do so to cause trouble for Shaul, for their own selfish desires. Now this is interesting: he goes on to say that whether they preach for selfish means or for righteous means, so long as Messiah is preached, that is a good thing.

Let me go off on tangent for a moment: there are many believers who deny the validity of Christians celebrating Easter or Christmas because those holidays fall on the same days as pagan holidays did; in fact, Easter is still called that, even though Easter is the English pronunciation of the name of a pagan fertility goddess. They state, and they may be correct in doing so, that celebrating those holidays are ungodly, even though the holidays now have nothing to do with the pagan gods, but rather to celebrate and proclaim Messiah Yeshua.

To my way of thinking, which now I can say agrees with Shaul’s statement in this letter, what the holidays used to be doesn’t matter because now they are proclaiming Messiah, and any time we proclaim the Messiah it is a good thing.

Continuing his letter, Shaul states he is confident that whatever happens will be good, and to live is for the messiah and to die is gain, in that he would rather be with the messiah, but for the sake of the people who he leads, he will stay alive.

As he begins to close the letter, he encourages the congregation to be like-minded, not to argue, and to show the same humility that the Messiah showed.

Shaul says he wants to send Timothy to them and will be sending Epaphroditus, who had come to Shaul with the support from the Philippians but caught ill and is now well enough to go back, being very homesick.

Shaul sends a warning against being forced into undergoing b’rit milah (circumcision) because this is what many of the Jews were forcing the Gentile believers to do, stating that it was necessary to be saved, even though they have accepted Yeshua. Since this is mentioned in a number of Shaul’s letters, it seems to have been an issue throughout the Middle East and Asia where Shaul was ministering to Gentiles. He explains that no one can receive righteousness through acts of the flesh, but through the messiah, Yeshua.

As he finishes, we come to the real reason he sent this letter, which is to address the interpersonal problems the congregation was having. Here is where he is finally getting to the point of this letter- the managerial directives that the members of the congregation needed to be reminded of so that they would stay on track.

He tells them to follow in his example, and then chides (in a nice way) two women, Euodia and Syntyche, for disagreeing, which must have been so damaging to the congregation that it was bad enough to reach Shaul’s ears, all the way in Rome.

He finishes by thanking them for being so helpful and tells them he has learned to be content in all situations, whether with or without necessities.

I see a bit of a guilt trip being laid on them, as Shaul does much “guilt-tripping” in so many of his letters, although you have to look carefully at how he writes to people to pick-up on it. For instance, here he states how the congregation had been the only ones to help him, and how he has learned to be content in all situations, then states in 4:17 that he is not looking for a gift, but rather he is asking them for something that will be credited to their account.

Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like a Jewish guilt trip (being Jewish, I can recognize these things a mile away) because he says he doesn’t need anything and that he is content in all things, BUT if they do send something, he will credit it to their account. If he is content in all things, why even mention sending anything?

This letter is not so much a managerial concern as with many of the other letters, and the only problem they were having that we see here is the need to stand firm regarding circumcision, and for the two ladies to stop arguing with each other.

That’s it for this letter; the next time we will see what the problems were that Shaul had to address in the congregation that was in Colossus.

Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- 1 Corinthians.

This is the first of two letters written by Shaul addressing problems that the community of believers was having in the town of Corinth. Those problems included interpersonal relationship issues, pridefulness with regard to which apostle they thought they should listen to, and sexual perversity within the congregation. It appears from this letter that these issues were not being handled, and the result was that this congregation membership was generally falling from faith.

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This letter, as with all the letters Shaul wrote to the congregations he formed (that made it into the New Covenant) is not a prophetic warning or a direct-from-God message; rather, it is clearly a chiding of the people for having gone so far astray from the lessons Shaul first taught them when he organized that congregation. If anything, it is a letter like one would receive in a job as a First Warning, explaining what one has been doing that is not satisfactory and stating what actions are needed to correct the poor performance.

As always, Shaul starts off with a compassionate and loving greeting to the congregation, stating how he is so thankful for them.

Then he rips right into them, starting off with an appeal for them to get together and end the dissension and division within their congregation. Apparently, there are loyalties to different human teachers instead of loyalty to God.

Off topic a bit, the problem in Corinth was not so far from what happened within Judaism, as one of the famous “feuds” of our history is that between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai, two famous and well-respected Rabbis who had differing opinions about the meanings within the Torah, as well as their interpretations of what was correct, vis-a-vis, Halacha (literally, the Walk, which is the Talmudic instructions for everyday activities and worship).

Back to the Corinthians….

Shaul tells the Corinthian believers that wisdom comes from spiritual maturity and from God’s spirit. He goes on to tell them that when he was there he gave them milk, not solid food- you may recall I stated in the introduction that Shaul did not try to convert people overnight, but slowly. Here he confirms this policy, as he tells the Corinthians how he only gave them “baby food”, and even states they are “infants in Messiah” (1 Cor. 3:1). He goes on to say they still aren’t ready for the meat. He even says that some of them have become arrogant, and he asks if he should come to them with a whip or in love?

Chapter 5 begins with Shaul berating them all for not expelling one of their brothers who is living with his father’s wife (based on how this is stated, I assume the woman was the man’s stepmother). Now, to make sure we understand this, I am not talking about a son living in his mom’s basement. No! This reference is that the son is having intimate relations with his mother: a real Oedipus. And despite this sin, which Shaul points out is even wrong for the pagans, the congregation has not done anything about it.

Another problem he addresses is that they are suing each other, instead of handling their problems as they should: together and within their own congregation. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with these two issues.

Chapter 7 talks about marriage, celibacy, and a well-known phrase- being unevenly yoked.

Here we have an interesting point: Shaul says in 1st Cor. 7:10 that he gives a command and specifies this is not his command but the Lord’s, in saying that divorce is not allowed and if someone does divorce, then they need to stay celibate or reconcile with their spouse. Then, in 1st Cor. 7:12, he states that it is his opinion, not the Lord’s, that in an unevenly yoked marriage if the unbeliever wants to leave, that’s OK, but the believer must not initiate a divorce.

Because Shaul specifically separates what he is saying from what people may think he is hearing from God, I believe this to be definitive proof that his letters are not from God, but from himself. I say that because he separated what he says from what God says, and so it is obvious- at least, to me- that unless Shaul specifically states what he is saying is from God, then he is speaking for himself.

Oh, yes, no doubt that at some times, in some letters, he was given divine wisdom, but that is not a direct command from God.

Shaul seems to me to be someone who really hates marriage. His advice in Chapter 7 is for women to remain virgins and men to not marry, as marriage not only has many problems, but also can separate people from God in that being married will, by necessity, cause them to be concerned with the ways of the world, such as thinking more of providing for the family than worship, getting along with people instead of doing as God said to do, etc.

If you ask me, Shaul had some issues, himself. And this argument against marriage is against what God said we should be doing from the very beginning: to be fruitful and multiply.

Chapter 9 is a conundrum to me: Shaul states that it is acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols so long as you are spiritually mature enough to know it won’t separate you from God because the false gods are nothing. Yet, he ends up saying that when it comes down to it, since there are so many who are spiritually weak, and think it is a sin to eat food sacrificed to idols, then he will not eat any meat, at all, just to make sure he is not causing one of these weaker people to stumble into sin.

You may ask, since eating meat sacrificed to idols was one of the four “No-No’s” the Elders in Jerusalem included in their letter to the Gentiles (Acts 15), why is Shaul going against the Elders? According to the NIV Study Bible, the Council in Jerusalem existed from 50-51 AD, but this letter to the Corinthians was written around 54-55 AD, so Shaul certainly should have known about that letter. This is so confusing to me: why would Shaul go against the Elders? I wish I knew!

Shaul starts Chapter 9 with another one of his “Look at me” conversations. He states how he neglected many of the rights he has being an apostle of Yeshua. He goes on to say that he has always worked for himself and not depended on any of the congregation to support him, even though the Torah itself says not to muzzle the ox when it is grinding out the grain- in other words, the worker deserves his wages. He actually would rather die than be deprived of boasting about how he is self-sufficient, waiving, so to speak, his rights to be supported. This is something Shaul does often in his letters- he constantly kvetches about how he has suffered for his loved congregations, how he hasn’t been a burden to them, and that he is suffering so as an example to them how they should be.

You know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like a guilt trip.

Now we come to a very important statement by Shaul, one which helps us to understand the foundation of his approach to the Gentiles he was converting to a righteous form of worship and lifestyle, through acceptance of Yeshua as their Messiah; and consequently, why he has been so misunderstood.

In Chapter 9, verses 19 through 23, he states that he approaches everyone he is trying to get to accept Yeshua as the Messiah in a way they will understand. To put it plainly, he is saying that he plays to his audience. To the Jews, he speaks as a Jew, and to the Gentiles he speaks as a Gentile (he was, after all, a Roman citizen.) He concludes with telling us why he was such a successful missionary: his secret to reaching people is that he “becomes all things to all men in order that he can get the word of God out to everyone.”

This is important to understand because it is, I believe, the very crux of the problem which has caused so many to misunderstand Shaul’s letters. He doesn’t have a single approach to everyone, but rather different approaches to different people, speaking in a manner they will be familiar and comfortable with, in order to get a singular message across: that message being Yeshua is the Messiah, God is the one and only true God, and the only way to receive salvation and eternal life is to accept Yeshua as the Messiah and live a Torah observant life, as best as they can.

For the Jew, their lifestyle will not change, only their understanding of the Torah (Yeshua taught us the deeper, spiritual meaning and not just the plain language text); for the Gentile, it will mean a paradigm shift in lifestyle, so they do not have to become “Jews” overnight, but only at a pace they can handle.

(That is why he is telling these Corinthian believers that they are still babies in Messiah and being fed milk instead of meat.)

Shaul goes on to chide them some more because of their eating at services, specifically about how they do not share the food to ensure that everyone gets a part of the meal. He says it is wrong for them to eat in cliques, the result, no doubt, of the problem he pointed out earlier regarding different loyalties. Their prayer services are improper, and the eating of food and drinking of intoxicating liquor is wrong. He tells them that anyone who eats or drinks in a manner unworthy of the Lord is sinning. He ends up saying if they can’t wait for everyone to eat at the same time, then they should eat something at home before they come to services, so they won’t be so hungry.

He goes on to talk about spiritual gifts, and how no one gift is really more important than another, all being like parts of the body working together. But the most valuable gift is love. He states that the most important things are faith, hope, and love, and that love is the greatest of all. And as for speaking in tongues (the fancy term for this is Glossolalia), anyone who speaks in tongues should be silent unless there is someone to interpret what they are saying, which would be by the spirit of God. I can tell you that in my experience this is one of the most ignored instructions, having been in multiple congregations where people just mutter out loud, incoherently, not edifying anyone but appearing to be oh-so-spiritual.

Shaul finds that there were so many different opinions floating around about the End Days (in Hebrew, Acharit HaYamim) that he repeats his lessons about the resurrection of Yeshua, what will happen to us, and about what the resurrected body will look like.

He finishes this first letter with a plea for contributions to the work he is doing for other congregations, relating how other congregations have already helped. He says he wants to visit, but not for just a short visit and hopes to do so soon, but now he is busy in Ephesus (you can read how busy he was in Acts 18).

Next, we will see how well the people listened to him in his second letter to them, written less than a year later.

I hope to see you then, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!