A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Ministry of Paul, Part II

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:


In the previous blog, we began our discussion on the public theology of Paul in Acts by examining the events during Paul’s first and second missionary journeys. We observed how Paul confronted the idolatry present in various Gentile cities from Lystra to Athens. We also observed how Paul’s ministry of preaching not only affected the individual lives of converts, but it also affected social activities within various cities such as Philippi and Ephesus. The last quarter of the book of Acts deals with Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Rome. Unlike his previous missionary journeys, Paul’s primary audience was not the crowds, but specific rulers themselves. This section gives us particular insight on how Paul interacted with authority and how Paul wisely took advantage of his Roman citizenship.

Paul Before the Roman Tribune and the Council

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21, he is quite aware that he is going to face hostility from the Jewish people. When he enters the temple, he addresses the Jewish crowd in the Hebrew language, explaining his testimony and how the Lord commissioned him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 22:1-20). Once Paul mentioned his calling to the Gentiles, the crowd stopped listening and shouted for his death. The Roman tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging to find out why they were shouting against him like this. At this point, Paul asked a question to the officer, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (22:25) Since Paul was a Jew (who was currently in a low station in life), the Roman officer questioned how he obtained so valuable a distinction; Paul told him that he was born a Roman citizen (22:28-29). Clearly, this is part of God’s wise providence. Paul’s status as a Roman citizen gives him privileges that many people did not have – namely he was exempted from all trials and punishments which might force him to confess himself guilty. Therefore, the Roman officer unbound him and brought Paul before the Sanhedrin.

Paul’s interaction with the Sanhedrin gives us insight into how one should interact with authority. When Paul addressed the Sanhedrin, the high priest commanded those who stood by to strike him on the mouth. Not knowing that he was addressing the high priest, Paul retorts in a very disrespectful way (22:3). Upon learning that he was addressing the high priest, Paul replies,” I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” Paul receives a firm rebuke for addressing the high priest in a disrespectful manner and Paul accepts this correction. This scene illustrates that Paul’s natural disposition towards leadership (whether godly or ungodly) is that of submission. Thus, when Paul seeks to defend himself for the sake of the gospel, he does so not out of defiance to authority, but by appealing to authority.

Paul Before Governors and Kings

When Paul is brought before Felix at Caesarea, the Jews laid their case against Paul as “one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5). Giving due respect to Felix, Paul cheerfully makes his defense. He claims that no one found him disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd (24:12-13). Moreover, when Paul entered the temple, they found him purified in the temple without any crowd or tumult (24:17-19). After his defense, Felix gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody (with some liberty) in hopes that Paul would bribe Felix (24:26). In spite of this, it is said that Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” to Felix (24:25). In all, Felix left Paul in prison for two years.

When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Festus. As Paul is brought down to Caesarea, he continues to assert his rights as a Roman citizen by appealing to Caesar (25:6-12). After some days had passed since Paul’s appeal, King Agrippa greeted Festus and agreed to hear Paul’s case. Paul’s defense before Agrippa is an example of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:17-20:

“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (ESV).

In his appeal, Paul tells of his conversion and preaches the gospel. This indicates that Paul’s primary intention is not his own integrity, but the proclamation of the Word. He states directly that he stands on trial “because of my hope in the promise made by God to our Fathers” (26:8; ESV) – namely the resurrection of Jesus. In explaining his conversion, he concluded that he was disobedient to the heavenly vision, but first declared to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles that “they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”

After hearing Paul’s defense, Festus is convinced that Paul has lost his mind, whereas Agrippa is persuaded to hear more of his case. These events lead to Paul’s trip to Rome in which he can make his appeal directly to Caesar. The book of Acts concludes with the following words:

“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:30-31, ESV).

Concluding Thoughts

What conclusions can we derive from Paul’s interactions with Roman officials? The most important principle that we should derive concerns the principle of appealing to authority. Paul’s disposition towards authority is expressed well in The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 127:

Q. 127. What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?

A: The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

In other words, men in authority ought to be given due honor and respect because of the position in which they hold. Thus, it would be considered sinful to stubbornly resist and to make any display that brings shame and dishonor to their person and authority. This is expressed well in The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 128:

Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?

A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.

This answer implies that our first response to any authority in which we may disagree should be to appeal to authority, not to defy or rebel against it. Appealing to authority implies that we have certain rights as citizens and to appeal properly, we must persuasively take our case to the authorities. This concept of respecting and appealing to authority will be elaborated on in much more detail as we discuss the public theology found in the Pauline epistles.

Ephesians 2:11-22, Introduction

The Apostle Paul suffered from many things in his lifetime. One thing from which he never suffered was a shortage of provocative ways to speak of the gospel or of his ministry, in which the gospel was central. This is certainly the case in Romans 11 where Paul proclaims, “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” (Rom 11:13-14; ESV)[1] He demonstrated his zeal for reaching the Gentiles not only in his speech toward the Gentiles, but also in his speech toward the Jews. In Acts 13:46, Paul and Barnabas tell a crowd of Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” This declaration was no small matter to the first century Jews who believed themselves to be sole heirs to the promises given to Abraham (Matt. 3:7-10). At the same time, Gentile converts to Christianity were not blind to the hostility that existed between them and some Jewish converts. It was not uncommon for some Jewish Christians to attempt to impose Jewish customs on their Gentile brothers (Gal 5:1-15). In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul continues his ministry to the Gentiles by assuring them that they have unity with all believers in Christ Jesus who has torn down the dividing wall between the Gentiles and God establishing a new temple through the apostles, of which He is the cornerstone.



The Pauline authorship of Ephesians has been contested by liberal scholars of late. Writing in the 1930s, E.J. Goodspeed said that Ephesians is “like a commentary on the Pauline letters.”[2] Just a page prior in the same work, he also refers to it as “a mosaic of Pauline materials.”[3] This assumption is largely a result of the fact that Paul explores many of the same topics in Ephesians that he explores in his other letters. Perhaps, no scholar is better equipped to answer Goodspeed in his assertion than F.F. Bruce, and he certainly answers him properly: “A mosaic made up of fragments of an author’s writings is not best calculated to provide a commentary on them. But, if not a commentary, it is indeed an exposition of the Pauline mission.”[4] Bruce, then, would contend that the mosaic aspect of the letter to the Ephesians points to Paul as its author rather than away from him.

Without a doubt, the similarities between Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and his letters to the other churches are striking. Consistent in Paul’s letters to the churches is the theme of unity “in Christ” (Rom 6:11, 23; 8:1, 10, 39; 12:5; 1Cor 1:2, 4, 30; 4:15, 17; 2Cor 1:21; Gal 1:22; 2:4; 3:14, 26-29; 5:6; Phil 1:1; 4:7, 19, 21; Col 1:2, 27-28; 2:6; 1Thes 1:1, 3; 2:14). Paul was certainly concerned that the church would understand that she is built on the foundation of Christ and that true fellowship and unity are found in Him. This theme Paul reiterates in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:1, 3, 5, 9, 12; 2:5-7, 10, 13; 3:6; 4:15, 32).

Likewise, Paul returns to his message of the inclusion of the Gentiles into spiritual Israel. In Romans 9-11, Paul speaks of this concept in terms of God grafting the Gentiles like a branch into the tree of Israel with the purpose of causing jealousy and, Paul had hoped, the return of ethnic Israel to their Lord. In Galatians 3, Paul speaks of this mystery in terms of the mode of salvation. He demonstrates how Abraham was saved by faith in the Lord, considered righteous, and promised a Seed. He then goes on to demonstrate how that Seed is the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom Christians place their faith and are counted righteous, just as Abraham was counted righteous. It is in this context that he proclaims, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Paul returns to this theme in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:11-3:13) for the purpose of continuing his argument for unity “in Christ” and showing how this unity extends even to Gentile believers.


The Ephesians were largely made up of Gentiles. They were located near the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor and were within a few short miles of the Phrygian townships of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. According to William Hendriksen, it is proper to view the three townships “in relation to the entire region and particularly to Ephesus which was Paul’s center of missionary activity for this part of the third missionary journey during which the three churches, and probably others, must have been established (Acts 19:10; Rev 1:11).”[5] It is for this reason that Paul is seen sending circular letters to the churches of Colossae and Laodicea (Col 4:16), though the letter to the Laodiceans has not survived to this day. In fact, it is not clear whether Paul ever visited Colossae. The contention of most scholars is that Colossae was evangelized and the church was started by Epaphras (Col 1:6-8; 4:12), a Gentile convert of Paul’s from his time in Ephesus.[6] [7]


Some question has been raised as to whether Paul knows his audience at Ephesus. According to D.A. Carson, “The tone of the letter is impersonal, and some parts of it seem to indicate that the writer did not know the readers. . .”[8] As evidence for this claim, Carson cites Ephesians 1:15; 3:2; and 4:21. These verses can be quite striking when first discovered. However, as churches evolve it is expected that new members would join and old members would move on, especially in Asia Minor where new churches were being planted in nearby cities by this church in Ephesus. Thus, it is likely that Paul was assuming that he did not know all of his audience, though there may be some familiar faces among the crowd. This sentiment is shared by Carson as he continues, “But Paul had evangelized the Ephesians and had spent quite a long time among them (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:31).”[9] Therefore, though Paul may not have known each individual, he at least knew the founding members as well as the shared customs and concerns of the people in Ephesus.


The dating of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is rarely contested by scholars who actually affirm its Pauline authorship. According to the ESV Study Bible, “Because Paul mentions his imprisonment (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), this letter should be dated to c. a.d. 62 when Paul was held in Rome (Acts 28). Critics who date Ephesians later in the first century do so from doubts about Paul’s authorship rather than from strong evidence against the earlier date.”[10] With no “strong evidence” given for a later dating, one must venture beyond sound reason to assert that the date of Ephesians would be decades later than c. AD 60.


There is no specific occasion given for the writing of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Given the tone and message of the letter, one may logically conclude that Paul was merely writing to encourage and exhort the brethren at his highly missions-minded church plant. Considering the fact that the Ephesians were predominantly Gentile (Eph 2:11; 3:1), Paul spoke much on the Gentile inclusion and the glory that was to be given to Christ for their redemption. This was likely due to some misunderstandings that he had encountered at other churches into which he did not want to see his beloved Ephesians fall prey. Given his love for the church at Ephesus and the mighty things that he had seen the Lord do through them, it is likely that he wanted to prevent them from going the route of the Galatian churches and, like the Galatians, provoke his rebuke.


Though Paul takes six chapters to unfold the message of Ephesians, it is nonetheless quite simple. The first three chapters of Ephesians deal with the unity of the church body in Christ. He focuses mainly on what this unity means for the Gentiles who are in Christ, specifically drawing attention to the breaking down of the dividing wall which allows for the salvation of both Jew and Gentile in the economy of Christ’s salvation. In the second half of Ephesians, Paul puts his theology to practical use explaining what Christians ought to do as a result of the mystery that has been revealed by God through Paul’s ministry.

[1]All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, unless otherwise noted.

[2]E.J Goodspeed, The Meaning of Ephesians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933), 9.

[3]Ibid., 8

[4]F.F Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (New York: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1984), 230.

[5]William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 6.

[6]Ibid., 15

[7]J.B Lightfoot, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1973), 27-28.

[8]D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 488.


[10]Baugh, S.M, The ESV Study Bible, ed. Lane T. Dennis, J.I. Packer, and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2257.