Basic Scripture

By William G. Most,

(c) Copyright, 1997 by William G. Most

[Eighth Section of HTML version]

Chapter 22: The Acts of the Apostles

It is clear that Acts has the same author as the Gospel of Luke. But when was the work written? Current estimates are apt to run between 80 and 90 A.D. The reasons: It is clear that Acts follows on the Gospel, which so many think, without valid reason, belongs to that decade. Second, it is commonly thought that Luke did not know Paul.

The chief reasons are the following:

1)It is said that Acts 15:1-35 clashes with Gal 2:1-10. In Galatians Paul tells of the meeting with the Apostles, and says he compared notes with them and they "added nothing to me." But in Acts 15:29 the letter of the Council tells gentile converts to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity."

Now of the four items from the letter, one repeats the basic commandment against loose sex. Paul of course speaks against loose sex too. The other three items are taken from the old law, and are just a sop, a concession to the feelings of Jews. But Paul in Galatians refers to basic doctrine. The 3 items in Acts 15:29 are not basic doctrine at all, they are, as we said, a sop to the feelings of the Jews. Paul did preach the three points where they applied, as we see from Acts 16:4. Further, the letter of the Council was addressed only to gentiles in Syria and Cilicia - that did not include Galatia. If the Vatican today sends a letter to the bishops of one region, it does not affect bishops of a different region.

2) It is said that Acts does not mention Paul's Epistles. True, but the purpose of Acts was to show how the Church finally reached Rome, the center of the world. Acts does show Paul presenting the most basic doctrines of the Epistles, namely, justification by faith, the divinity and resurrection of Christ, and baptism and repentance. In Acts 15:9 Peter says that God "cleansed their hearts by faith." In 16:30 the jailer at Philippi asks Paul what to do and Paul replies: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved". [Here as often saved, means entry into the Church]. At Miletus in Acts 20:21 Paul says he has been "testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 13:39 at Antioch in Pisidia Paul says, speaking in a synagogue: "Everyone who believes in Him is made just." In Acts 17:3 Paul explains and proves, "that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead" and so to atone for sins.

In Acts Paul also does preach that Jesus is the Son of God: Acts 9:20 shows Paul preaching this right after his conversion. A Greek concordance under the word Kyrios,Lord, shows numerous other times Paul called Him Lord, the title Paul also uses for Jesus in his Epistles.

In both Acts and the Epistles Paul does speaks of the need of baptism: cf. 1 Cor 1:14-17; Romans 6:3-8; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12)

3)It is said that only in Acts does Paul preach the need of repentance. But Paul does preach repentance elsewhere, e.g., Romans 2:4; 2 Cor 7:9-10; 1 Cor 5:3-5. The objection is like the foolish idea that Jesus Himself did not require repentance for forgiveness.

4)In Acts 21:20-26 at the suggestion of James, Paul goes through the Nazarite ceremony in Jerusalem. Some say this was hypocrisy. But it was not, Paul was just following his own principle of 1 Cor 9:20-22 in which he expresses his standing policy of being all things to all men: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law, I became as one under the law." There was nothing wrong in the rite itself. It would have been wrong if Paul meant thereby to earn salvation. 5)In 2 Cor 11:23- 29 Paul speaks at length of his sufferings in preaching Christ. In Acts he is pictured going through the sufferings mentioned in 2 Corinthians: persecutions from Jews: 14:2 17:1-10; stoning at Lystra (14:19); scourging at Philippi: 16:22-23.

Neither in Acts nor in the Epistles does Paul think the end is close at hand: we will see the critical passage of 1 Ths 4:15 & 17 later.

So we can believe the testimony of St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3. 1. 1) that "Luke the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him [Paul]," and of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke which says: "Luke of Antioch in Syria, a physician, having become a disciple of the Apostles, and later followed Paul until his martyrdom... after the Gospels had been written - by Matthew in Judea, by Mark in Italy - moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Gospel in Achaia... with great care, for gentile believers.

Sometimes appeal is made to the "we" passages to show that at those points, chiefly in the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys and on the trip to Rome, Luke traveled with Paul. This is likely, but not conclusive, for there is a problem of literary genre. Some travel accounts of the times used a similar alternation of first and third person forms.

About the speeches recorded in Acts, since Luke was an educated Greek, we would expect him to follow the policy of the classic Greek historians. We know what that was, thanks to Thucydides, who tells us (1. 22) that he would try to get the actual text if possible, but would not try to keep the same words. If he could get only the content, he would put it in his own words. If he could get none of these, he would write a speech suitable for the occasion. Luke did travel much with Paul, and so could have gotten at least the content of the speeches easily. Further, Paul, like other traveling speakers, would use much repetition, with some variation in wording. He had a typical approach to the Jews, and another for gentiles.

Peter's speech on Pentecost was of such great moment that we would expect it would be easy to get the content of it. The speech of Stephen would also be likely to be remembered. On the other hand, the speech of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin (5:34-39) might have been harder to get, and this fact could account for some of the historical problems about the false Messiahs.

In all, many have noted that Luke's introductions to both his Gospel and to Acts show the intent to write careful history, in the pattern of the pagan Greek historians.

Why does Acts break off with Paul in house arrest in Rome? Probably, as we said, the intention was to show how the Gospel reached the center of the world, Rome. When that was done, no more was needed. It is also possible Luke intended to write still another volume, and somehow never did so.

Chapter 23: St. Paul's Epistles

We will examine the chief difficulties in each Epistle, taking them up in the probable order of composition.

First Thessalonians: Both Epistles to Thessalonica probably were written from Corinth in 51 AD.

2:14-16: These are terrible lines. St. Paul says that the Jews who are persecuting him so often and so severely are "filling up the measure of their sins." Compare 2 Maccabees 6:13-16 for the theme: Some, God lets have their fill of sin, then comes final ruin; others, He punishes them on the way, to bring them to their senses, so they may not have to be in final ruin.

4:13-17: Some of the Ths were fearful: It would be sad if I died before Christ returns, then others would see Him before I. Paul tells them Christ will come down, the dead will rise first, then the risen dead and those who remained alive (who never will die) will be taken together in the air to meet Christ.

Because Paul twice says "we the living", it is charged he thought he would see the end. It does not follow. Good teachers often say I or we to make things concrete and vivid. In 2 Ths 2 Paul makes clear that he does not expect to be around at the end. So the dissenters deny he wrote 2 Ths - even though the ancient witnesses for both are equally strong.

Some also take this passage to mean a rapture: suddenly Christ will take all the good people out of the world, leaving only the wicked. The good will reign with Him on earth for 1000 years. Dissenters argue that this passage says the living will be taken in the air to meet Christ - in the Gospel account of the Last Judgment, all are on the earth. - They overlook genre. Both passages have strong apocalyptic color. With apocalyptic, one should not press details.

5:23-25: Paul assures them God will keep them without blame until the end - that is, if they do not reject that special grace. But it is clear: God will offer the grace of final perseverance, contrary to old theologians who thought He might not give it even if the person was not guilty of mortal sin.

Second Thessalonians: Here, as we said, Paul makes clear in chapter 2 he does not think he will live to the end. He says first must come the Antichrist, and the great apostasy - on it cf. Luke 18:8, Mt 24:12 and 2 Tim 3. 1-7.

Galatians: If Paul wrote to the north Galatians, he wrote from Ephesus in 54. If to the south Galatians, it would be 48 AD.

He wrote first, to answer charges he was not sent out by Christ, was only a second stringer. He insists he did have the mission from Christ, received on the road to Damascus.

The second reason: to combat the Judaizers, who said Christ was not enough, we must keep the Mosaic law too.

Paul would call that a different Gospel, in chapter 1. He says vehemently: even if an angel came down and preached a different Gospel, let the angel be cursed.

Paul reacted against the claim of the Judaizers in language that is potentially quite misleading (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16 on Paul's obscure language) by saying: We are free from the law. If we study carefully other passages, especially 1 Cor 6:9-10, we see we will be lost if we break the law. So Paul really meant this: To keep the law does not earn salvation; but one could earn to lose it by grave sin.

2:15: a)Justification by faith: This is a central theme for Paul, especially in Galatians and Romans. By justification he means getting right with God, but that is no mere extrinsic, forensic thing as Luther thought, so that even after justification one is totally corrupt. No, Paul often speaks of the Christian as "a new creation" (Gal 6:15;2 Cor 5:17). Creation, making out of nothing, is different from the same old corruption. He also says the Holy Spirit dwells in the souls of the just as in a temple (1 Cor 3:16- 17;6:19). He will not dwell in total corruption. That would not be a temple.

Further, we must understand faith as Paul means it. It is not, as Luther thought, just confidence that the merits of Christ apply to me, or taking Christ as your personal Savior, so that after that one can sin freely and it will not hurt him. If we read all places where Paul speaks of faith, keep notes, add them up, the result is this: 1)If God speaks a truth, in faith we believe it in our minds; 2)If God makes a promise, in faith we are certain He will keep it; 3)If God tells us to do something, we do it, we obey. Paul thus speaks (Rom 1:5) of the "obedience of faith", the obedience that faith is; 4)all is to be done in love. (A standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement,p. 333, gives the same picture of faith as we have just done). This is vastly different from Luther's mistake. He thought after getting faith, one can sin freely. He told his lieutenant Melanchton (Epistle 501): "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." No, faith includes obedience. So it does not exempt from obedience. In Gal 5:19-21 (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:5) Paul gives a list of the most important great sins, and adds that those who do these will not inherit the kingdom of God. When we inherit from parents, we have not earned it, but we could have earned to lose it, to be disinherited.

b)Paul on the Law: Paul makes two kinds of statements about the law. (1) Focused view: At times he says no one keeps it, even can keep it (Rom 3:19- 20). Gal 3:10-11 says that those who depend on works of the law are under a curse. For the law curses (Dt. 27:26) those who do not keep it. Yet the law gives no strength, it only gives knowledge of what is right or wrong (Rom 3:20). Gal 3:22 says all are locked up under sin. Romans 7:9-10 says: "I [any person] was alive [spiritually] once without the law [before the law came]. But when the command came, I died." In Romans 8:7-8 we read that the flesh is intent on death: "The flesh is not subject to God, neither can it be. Those in the flesh cannot please God."

(2)To have the law was a great privilege of the People of God: Paul says this in Romans 3:3; 9:4. And in Romans 7:14-16 he says the law is holy and good.

Solution by focused vs factual views: It is clear that Paul has two different ways of looking at the law. In the focused view, as he says in Romans 3:20, "through the law comes knowledge of sin" - but that is all that comes. The law as such gives no strength. Now, evidently, to be under a heavy demand, with no strength, means a fall is inevitable. Then the law curses the one who falls. (We name this perspective "focused" since the view is limited, as if looking through a tube, one sees only what is within the circle formed by the tube).

In the factual view, that limit is removed, one sees the whole horizon, and sees that even before Christ came, divine help, grace, was available (in anticipation of the merits of Christ). If a person uses it, he will not fall, not be dead and cursed. So the law then is a privilege, for it points out the things that are harmful to us. Augustine said well (Confessions 1. 12): "Every disordered soul is its own punishment." In focused view Paul says we cannot keep the law, yet in a factual view he says in Phil 3:6 that he, before knowing Christ, kept the law without blame.

If only we keep in mind these two ways Paul uses, we can solve many difficult problems in Paul which commentators in general fail to solve. As we go through his Epistles, we will point out these passages.

2:11-14: Paul corrects Peter for being weak-kneed at Antioch, for going back on the decree he himself had helped make in the Council of Jerusalem. There is no hint Peter broke with Paul over this. Then the first Pope would have reversed his own doctrinal decision. Paul's rebuke bore on weak conduct, which would give scandal, not on doctrine. (This was not the first time Peter was weak).

2:20: "He loved ME and gave Himself for ME." Beautiful: The death of Christ was offered for each individual, so that the Father pledges an inexhaustible treasury of grace and forgiveness in favor of each one (cf. Vatican II, Church in Modern World # 22). One could be lost by resisting grace, and if he becomes blind through repeated sin, he will be incapable of receiving the grace the Father offers.

3:28: Paul says it makes no difference if one is slave or free, male or female. But he is speaking of gaining justification by faith. We cannot say: Therefore it makes no difference in all other things - such as women's ordination. Paul is talking about only the one thing, considering context.

5:16-25: Paul had told them: You are free from the law. They were exultant: They could sin as much as they wanted! Paul of course has to correct it, but he does not want to take back his words, so he shows that if one follows the Spirit, He will not break the law as a matter of fact. He gives two check lists, to see if one is following the Spirit or the flesh.

Philippians: We do not know the date and place of composition of Philippians. Best prospects are: from Rome (61-63), or Ephesus (c. 56), or Caesarea (c. 58).

1:6. Paul promises that God who has begun a good work in them will bring it to completion, assuming they do not reject His grace. This means God surely offers the grace of final perseverance.

1:21-24: Paul knows he may be killed. He cannot decide if he would rather die and be with Christ, or live to work for Christ - marvelously selfless attitude! It is clear that Paul knows he could be with Christ even in the interval between death and resurrection. Really, Paul says he was a Pharisee, and they definitely did hold for the survival of souls. Some today deny Paul saw this, appealing to an alleged Hebrew unitary concept of man: he is only a body with breath. Then there could be no survival. We saw the answer to this error in Chapters 16 & 17 on the Psalms and Wisdom literature.

2:6-11: This is a beautiful hymn, it may or may not have been composed (or revised) by Paul himself. He urges them to imitate the ways of Christ who did not hold on to the privileges He could have claimed from being divine, instead, He took the form of a slave, became obedient even to death. For this the Father exalted Him above all. "Form of God. . form of slave" could mean either divine nature... human nature, or the external glory of each - which would imply the reality of the natures. Jesus in v. 7 made it a policy not to use His divine power for Himself - so His humanity was unprotected against the anxiety of knowing what lay ahead of Him.

2:12-13: This is a text of great importance. Paul tells us to "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling [really: with great respect] for it is God who works [produces] in you both the will and the doing." This translation follows the definition of the Council of Orange (Enchiridion Symbolorum 374 - by special approbation of Pope

Boniface II, its canons are equal to those of a General Council). In 2 Cor 3:5 Paul says (again translating according to the definition of Enchiridion Symbolorum 377): "We are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves as from ourselves: our sufficiency is from God." These mean the same as 1 Cor 4:7. We cannot get a good thought, make a good decision, or carry it out without God. We might seem to be puppets then, but in 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." So in some way we do control the outcome. The Church has not told us how. But in 1607 Pope Paul V followed the advice of St. Francis De Sales, refused to approve either the so-called Thomist, or the Molinist explanations of how these texts fit together (Enchiridion Symbolorum 1997). Here is a newer proposal (W. Most, New Answers to Old Questions,St. Paul Publications, London, 1971): God sends an actual grace to me. With no help from me it causes my mind to see something as good (2 Cor 3:5), and makes me favorably disposed (almost automatic). At that juncture when I could reject, if I merely make no decision against it, do nothing, grace moves into phase two, and works in me both the will and the doing (Phil 2:13) while I cooperate by power being currently received from grace.

This shows us our utter dependence on God, so that when I do something good, my contribution at the basic level, at the point which decides the outcome, is a zero, the lack of a bad decision. Also: in doing good or evil, I use the ontological power God supplies. So I should work, "with fear and trembling", or, very respectfully (cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan,Manassas, VA, 1988, chapter 18).

3:8: Paul says he has gladly taken the loss of all things, and considers them as dung or rubbish, to gain Christ. - He does not mean, on the absolute scale, that creatures are not good - God made them good, Christ used created things, took on a created nature - but, on the relative scale, comparing things now to those of eternity, present things are of no import. So there is a benefit in giving things up for Christ - contrary to the false notion of the GUN (Give-up-nothing) Spirituality which says there is no benefit in that - leading to loss of vocations, and many failed marriages (cf. again Our Father's Plan,chapter 20).

First Corinthians: Corinth was the most licentious city in Greece. And Paul had more trouble with the Corinthians, to judge by his letters, than with any other place. Population was about a half million in his day. He wrote the first Epistle probably in 57. We gather from 5:9 that there was another letter to Corinth before our First Corinthians. And from 2 Cor 2:3-4, 7-9 we gather he wrote still another letter between our First and Second letters.

Chapters 1-4: Messengers form Chloe tell Paul of factionalism in Corinth: they are proud of the group to which they belong. Paul spends four chapters to work against such pride. In contrast, he preaches (1:22),"Christ crucified, a scandal to the Jews, and foolishness to the gentiles." Plato had said (Symposium 203) that no god associates with men. Aristotle had said (Ethics 8:7) that friendship between a god and a man was impossible. What would they say if told that God became man - and that He willed to die a horrid and shameful death for man? This did seem to be foolishness. And it was scandal to the Jews for in Deuteronomy 21:23 they read, "cursed be anyone who hangs on the wood." So Paul said in Gal 3:13 that Christ "became a curse for us." In 1:26-29 he points out they have no church members of worldly repute: why be proud? He seems to imply they got into the Church because they were more in need of help, weaker. In 4:4 he says he has no sin on his conscience that he knows of, but he may have done something wrong without realizing it. That would not be a mortal sin, yet Scripture calls for reparation for such things: cf. Leviticus, chapter 4; Gen 12:17; Lk 12:47-48, and many more passages.

6:9-11: Paul lists the chief mortal sins, and says those who do such things "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Please recall comments on Gal 2:15: as to salvation, you cannot earn it, you inherit it, but you could earn to forfeit it, to be disinherited. 6:11 says only some of the Corinthians - even in a licentious city - were guilty of such great sins. This makes a question about Romans, chapter 1, where it seems all are guilty of all sins. Our approach by seeing two ways Paul looks at the law - focused and factual, which we saw at Galatians 2:15 - will solve the problem when we get to Romans.

6:15: Points out that to become one flesh with a harlot is to make a member of Christ a member of a harlot.

Chapter 7: Paul here says that in virginity/celibacy objectively there is a help to spiritual growth which is not found in marriage. We add: subjectively, that is, considering the individuals, God does not intend all to be virginal or celibate. So for those for whom He does not plan it, it would not be a help, but a danger. Hence they are not lacking in generosity to God if they follow the path He has designed for them. Paul VI (To 13th National Congress of Italian Feminine Center,Feb. 12, 1966) said: "Marriage is a long path toward sanctification." This is true, if one uses it according to our Father's plan. Love is not a feeling, but a will for the well-being of another for the other's sake. Feelings tend to lead into this, if one stays within God's plan - otherwise, true love hardly can develop, for premarital sex is not being concerned about the well-being of another, it is using another, putting the other into a state of danger of eternal suffering instead of well-being. In such a context, love can hardly develop - but it will feel like it, the feelings will be the same. But if one works according to our Father's plan, unselfish, generous love will develop, which will pass on to the children, leading to very generous sacrifices for their well- being. And the need to get along with a partner whose psychology is so very different - male and female psychology are very different - calls for development of unselfishness. If done with the intention of following the Father's plan, this is highly sanctifying.

The reason why virginity/celibacy offers an advantage for those for whom God plans it, is that it helps one become free of a most powerful pull of creatures: cf. Mt 6:21: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." One can put his treasure in anything and can be held in varying degrees by the object. The less such pulls, the more free is the heart to rise to the divine level. Of course, for the real effect, it is not enough to get detached only from sex: general detachment is needed.

8:1 - 11:1: Paul says that an idol is nothing, so food offered to idols is not changed. However, he argues eloquently and at length against scandal, leading another, who cannot understand the meat is not changed, into sin by forcing him (social pressure) into doing what he cannot help thinking is wrong. As part of this plea, in 9:24-27, he points out that he - even with his heroic work for Christ - feels the need of mortification to tame the flesh: otherwise, he might become a reject, even after such work for Christ. It is evident: Paul does not believe that just once "taking Christ as one's personal Savior" makes him infallibly saved, no matter what sins he would commit. Paul here, in context, is talking about losing heaven itself, not just about losing some additional thing. In the next chapter, chapter 10, he gives many examples from OT to show that the original People of God did not have assurance of salvation from being God's people.

14:34: He says women must be silent in church. Is this basically social custom, or a doctrinal statement? Most likely it is doctrinal. At any rate, Paul VI and John Paul II gave many statements against women's ordination. Most significant is the letter of Paul VI to Archbishop Coggan, Nov 30, 1975: "She [the Catholic Church] holds it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church... and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."

Chapter 15: Many Greeks, especially Platonists, did not like the idea of a bodily resurrection for all. They hoped, rather, to escape reincarnation in time. Paul insists that if we deny the resurrection of members of Christ, it implies denial of His resurrection, for Head and members must both rise. He says the risen body will be "spiritual". This does not mean it will not be flesh - the Greeks would not mind if it were only spiritual - but that it is controlled by the spirit, the soul, and so operates according to the principles of spirits. Jesus after resurrection, 1)proved He had flesh, He let them touch Him, ate with them; 2) came through closed doors without bothering to open them.

Second Corinthians: It is hard to reconstruct the picture. It seems Paul's first letter was not well received, and relations got worse. He probably made a hasty visit to Corinth (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1-2; 2:1) which also accomplished little if anything. When he got back to Ephesus, he wrote a third letter, which we do not have. Finally, he sent Titus to try to smooth things out. While Titus was absent, there was the riot of the silversmiths at Ephesus told in Acts 19:23 - 20:1. Paul left for safety, for Macedonia. There, perhaps at Philippi, he met Titus, found a reconciliation had been made. From Macedonia he wrote Second Corinthians, probably in the fall of 57.

This is a very human document, Paul does much pleading to the Corinthians. So there are few difficulties that need explanation.

3:5: The correct translation, following the definition of the Second Council of Orange (529 AD. By special approbation of Pope Boniface II, its canons are equivalent to those of a General Council: Enchiridion Symbolorum 377) is this: "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves; our sufficiency is from God." (Other versions speak of taking credit instead of thinking. Greek logizomai has both senses. But we follow the council). It means that by our own power we cannot even get a good thought. On this please see the comments above on Phil 2:13.

3:6: "The letter kills, but the spirit gives life." This is often misunderstood. In context, it means that the old law brings only death (please recall the focused way of speaking, explained at Gal 2:15), while the new regime of the Spirit brings life. In the same vein, in 3:7 Paul speaks of the old law as "the ministry of death," and in v. 9, "the ministry of condemnation".

5:1-10: Paul speaks in a very human way here: He would like to have the glorified body put on on top of his present body, without dying. He knows that is not possible, so he gets up his confidence or nerve and says he would like to be away from the body and be with Christ: 5:6-8. Some commentators here want to say Paul thinks he could have a resurrection body in this life without dying. Paul has no such thought. In 1 Cor 15:51-52 it is clear the change comes after death. And 2 Tim 2:17-18 complains against some who thought the resurrection had already taken place. - Please see again our comments on Phil. chapter 1.

5:21: "The one who did not know sin, He made Him to be sin for our sakes." Similarly in Gal. 3:13 Paul said Christ became a curse-- for Deuteronomy said that anyone who hangs on the wood is cursed. He seemed to be cursed, so as to overcome that curse that we might escape eternal death. (Note that Hebrew sometime uses a noun for an adjective- it had few adjectives. So curse means cursed).

Chapters 10 - 11: Paul here begins to speak somewhat clearly about opponents in Corinth. We are not sure precisely what sort they were, except that they called themselves Superhebrews and Superapostles, and said they had great credentials, Paul had none. Paul in 11:13-14 says these men "transform themselves into angels of light. That is, they take on the appearance of good to deceive people. Satan himself does that, in all centuries, including our own, where he distorts the true concept of love for his purpose, at times wiping out direct relation to God: "We can have that only through people."

Paul hates to "boast", to rehearse his own credentials, but when the good of souls demands, he will do it. After several delays he says he is a Hebrew of the Hebrews. But more important, he has suffered so much for Christ: he enumerates his hardships. And remarkably, he says in 11:27 that even with these, even though his travels sometimes made him short on food, he added fastings.

Chapter 12: Continuing his reluctant "boasting", he finally admits that he is the one who was taken to the third heaven. But then, to keep him from pride, he was given "a sting of the flesh, an angel of satan to buffet him." He prayed earnestly to get rid of it. God told him: "Power is made perfect in weakness."

What was the sting? Some think persecutions - but Paul considered them a privilege, not something to pray against. Others say sickness - Paul likely would say: May His will be done. Others think violent sex temptations. Many Saints especially in the Dark Night of the Spirit have experienced these, without falling at all. Yet after a siege, a good person may feel uneasy: "Did I really hold out?" So this is a great help to humility, this experience of weakness, in which power is made perfect.



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