The sufferings of Paul (Couchoud continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

Paul. (Photo credit: Greater Than Lapsed)

Continuing from the previous post, “The Struggles of Paul” . . . . (The full series is archived here.)

Troubles in Ephesus

Having sent his “terrible letter” to the Corinthian ekklesia Paul was beset by mounting troubles where he was staying in Ephesus. He had been banned from the synagogue so assembled his church in “a schole, a meeting place with usually a single circular bench in it.”

In this great swarming city, whither the temple of Artemis drew  each spring vast multitudes of pilgrims, Paul had thought to find “a great door and effectual” opened to him, though “many adversaries” (I Cor. xvi. 9). The adversaries were not only Jews. The followers of John the Baptist did not all rally to the Spirit of Lord Jesus and speak in tongues and prophecy. * Nor did all the Christians consider Paul to be an authorised apostle. Later John praised the Church of Ephesus: “Thou has tried them which say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars.” Alexander the coppersmith who showed much hostility to Paul  †  was probably a Christian.

The Ephesians were a pious people who worshipped their Goddess Artemis and gained much wealth thereby. They were naturally hostile to propaganda against idols. Paul had some difficulty gaining a living. He suffered from thirst and hunger, he was “naked, buffeted, a vagabond, and we labour, working with our own hands.” Insulted, driven forth, defamed, he became “the filth of the world and the offscourings of all things” (I Cor. iv. 11-13). He began to wonder if he would not die before the Lord Jesus came. He found consolation in the thought that, unclothed by his mortal body, he would rise clothed in his immortal body for the great Resurrection (2 Cor. v. v. 1-9). (p. 60)

[I find some of this description problematic as applied to a stay in Ephesus, but this is Couchoud’s forum for now.]

Two footnotes are attached to the above:

* The followers of John the Baptist “were still relatively powerful at Ephesus at the time of the Fourth Gospel. The Mandaeans were marked by their hatred of the Holy Ghost (vide Stahl, Les Mandéans, pp. 57-61). Acts xix. 1-7 tells how Paul converted a dozen of the disciples of the Baptist and caused them to speak in tongues and to prophecy.”

† “2 Tim. iv. 14. The last thirteen verses form an authentic Pauline epistle inserted in a fictitious letter (vide P. N. Harrison, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles; Oxford, 1921). This Alexander seems the same as the man who was “delivered unto Satan” by Paul (I Tim. i. 20), and may be identified with that Alexander in the riot of the goldsmiths (Acts xix. 33) if it is admitted, with Meyer, that this last is a Christian of Jewish origin whom the Jews thrust forward to expose him to the fury of the people while Paul was borne off by his disciples. Alexander would appear to be the chief of the Christians opposed to Paul.”

Then came the riot: Acts 19:32-41.

Was it in this street-fighting, or in some quarrel between the Christians, that Paul suffered severe injuries? He says curtly: “I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus” (I Cor. xv. 32) * in a context where the danger of death is implied. (p. 61)

* This chapter, 1 Cor. 15, “is a letter in itself”. “According to a reasonable tradition (Les Actes de Paul, edit. L. Vouaux, p. 247), Paul at Philippi, after the events at Ephesus, received from Corinth an enquiry as the resurrection of the dead.”

A trial followed and the principal opponent of Paul was Alexander (2 Tim. iv. 14-16).


Paul was imprisoned, apparently also injured. He wrote of his torments in Philippians 1:21 and there are three letters altogether written from prison here: Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. (There were a praetorium and imperial slaves at Ephesus as well as at Rome and C sides with those who believe Paul’s prison letters were from Ephesus, not Rome. The Marcionite prologue to Acts also speaks of this imprisonment.) Epaphroditus was also nearly killed at Ephesus for the work of Christ (Phil. ii. 27), presumably in the same rioting in which Paul was hurt.

Some Philippians did send him money.

He wrote to the Philippians to be on guard against rival Christians who preached Christ falsely, especially those backed by Jerusalem who preached the circumcision. The Jerusalem influence had extended to Macedonia.

Though he himself was in prison in the praetorium, the proconsul’s palace, he still found ways to preach the gospel and even make converts from among the slaves of Caesar.

Paul also wrote to the distant church at Colossae, “of which he has heard spoken by his companions in captivity.” He advised them not to worship angels.

[There are many details I find problematic – even implausible – with all of this outline that attempts to weave Acts and the epistles, but one point does come to mind, and that is that “Luke” did have an ideological motive for setting Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.]

He also wrote a Christian couple at Colossae begging them to release a fugitive slave, Onesimus, whom he had converted in prison.

When brought to trial [again?] and opposed by Alexander, though feeling deserted by all, Paul had the strength to defend himself and “escape the lion’s maw.”

His first impulse was to flee from Ephesus so he went to Miletus from where he could easily take ship (2 Tim. iv. 14-20).

Letter to the Galatians

While undecided where next to go he heard news from his Galatian churches who had once loved him as much as Jesus Christ himself. They had received emissaries from Jerusalem and were about to be circumcised.

Paul sent them a letter of mingled indignation and affection, probably by the hand of Crescens (2 Tim. iv. 10). He told them of the interview at Jerusalem and the pact made with Peter, James, and John to leave him the baptised pagans on the sole condition of sending alms to the poor. And those villains said he preached circumcision! . . .  

[These brethren were not informed of this Galatians visit and its outcome before now? I also find the arguments of others that the circumcising party was a gnostic group more plausible than that they were tentacles from Jerusalem. & could such a letter-writer who was mocked at Corinth really have the political power over the churches to change their practices and theological directions?]

So Paul wrote his letter calling the Galatians fools, calling on them to recall the gospel as he taught them, and in which he took the opportunity to set out the difference between the Gospel and the Law.

He finished with this stroke at his enemies: “As for the others, let none trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” This had its effect, and it was not long before a brother from Derbe [Gaius, Acts 20:4] came with Paul to carry with him the collection made by the Galatians for Jerusalem. (p. 63)

Last letters to the Corinthians

Paul’s heart remained with Corinth, though. At Troas he waited the return of Titus whom he had sent to learn how the Corinthians had received his letter of boasting. When Titus failed to show up Paul went on to Macedonia and revisited his unfailing source of income, the Philippians. In Macedonia more trials assailed him. Then Titus arrived with good news. The Corinthians had wavered at first — Paul was always wanting the last word, he said he would visit but couldn’t be relied upon, etc — but eventually repented in sorrow for their treatment of him. The one [?] who had offended against the apostle was driven out.

Paul wrote another letter full of the themes of consolation and sorrow: 2 Cor. i – ii. 11; vii. 4 – ix. 15. He even asked them to forgive and reinstate his adversary — lest that adversary feel too much remorse for his past wrongs (sic). He asked them to be like the Macedonians and be liberal in giving to the poor and those in Jerusalem. He hoped the collection for them would prompt the Jerusalem church to thank God for them all.

The Corinthians obeyed Paul; Paul was re-admitted to the circle of Jerusalem and the old pact was re-established.

It appears that the diplomacy of Titus had saved the day.

Finally Paul wrote a last letter to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 15, in which he changes his tune completely. He no longer preaches in opposition to the Jerusalem leaders. Now he places himself last behind them: “for I am the least of the apostles that am not meet to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God.” He no longer spoke in bitter irony “as a fool”. He expresses hope once again that he will be alive to see the Coming of the Lord.

[There has to be a simpler and more plausible explanation for the discrepancies within the letters and between the letters and Acts!]

Letter to the Romans

Consoled, he dictated at leisure a prophecy to Tertius, so that his gospel might be known to the Romans before he went thither to proclaim it in person. He expounded the themes he had declared to the Galatians, but without the remonstrances. The Epistle to the Romans is the last and longest of the Epistles assigned to Paul, and the first those little books in rhythmic language on which Christianity is based. It was written about A. D. 54, . . . just about the time when Nero began his reign . . . Paul’s literary career is compressed into four years. .  .  . (p. 65)

Couchoud also notes that the present edition of Romans is about a third longer than the original as a result of second-century additions.

Paul had heard much about the church at Rome from those about him. Members there included some from Ephesus who had been driven out of that city in the same disturbances Paul faced. But before going to Rome he felt he had a duty to take the offering to the poor at Jerusalem.

At Jerusalem

This time Paul traveled “with seven ambassadors of the Gentiles, laden with presents from Macedonia, Galatia, and Asia.” From Troas they set out together to Caesarea. There they were welcomed by Philip and were met by a prophet, Agabus, forewarning of troubles.

At Jerusalem Paul was welcomed by James and the Elders. But when he entered the Temple to fulfil a vow Jews from Asia saw him and accused him of bringing an uncircumcised Gentile into the sacred precincts.

A Roman soldier rescued him from the mob. He was sent in chains to Caesarea for two years until finally being sent to Rome where it was expected he would be executed by Nero’s tribunal.


Next post begins a closer look at Couchoud’s view of Paul’s teaching — The Crucified God.



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Neil Godfrey

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