Wow, what would I have thought or kept on thinking if I hadn't listened to one of Rob Bell's recent sermons. Really, having been assured that he so incredibly faithful to scripture, I had to listen in on one, and boy were my brains knocked for a loop before being set straight.
In this one, called something like "A Good Work" from back in January of '08, well, he's talking about the Philippians and about Paul being in prison, and about 25 minutes in, he starts telling us why Paul's in prison. Here's what he says...
Who is Paul? Paul has been put in prison by the Roman Empire. Paul is an enemy of the state. Paul has offended and broken the law of the global military superpower of his day and he has felt their wrath by being placed in prison. He doesn't know how long he's in prison. He doesn't know who's going to come to his aid. He doesn't know if he's going to have food. He eventually is killed in Rome, so he's headed to his death. Now the Roman Empire, and the Caesars in particular, believed that they were the sons of god on earth. So, the world at this time was ruled by a global military superpower, the global military superpower was ruled by the emperor, the Caesar--Julius Caesar, Caesar Octavius, then you had Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, a long line of them, History 101 ninth grade flashbacks. And these Caesars believed they were sent by the gods to earth to bring about universal reign of peace and prosperity. Their idea of peace was--they had a propoganda slogan, "peace through victory", which meant, we're going to come to your region, we're going to declare that Caesar is the son of god, and then you will become part of the Roman Empire. If you don't agree that Caesar is the son of god, we will crucify you 'cause that's what we do. So, peace through victory, and if you're on the other end of that it's like , yeah, victory, if you call killing everybody who doesn't agree victory. And they had a propoganda slogan, the central propoganda slogan of the Caesars was "Caesar is Lord". Paul has been going from city to city, region to region, saying "Hey, hey, hey, Jesus is Lord." The Caesars don't go for this, because this Jesus movement essentially says "No, Caesar is not the son of god, Caesar's crucifixion crosses are not the way to true peace, and the gods haven't sent this Caesar, there is another Son of God, whose way is the way of love and generosity and his name is Jesus, and we follow him, and we will not go with your empire propoganda." This gets Paul put in prison.
Well, paint me red and call me Velma (or is that Thelma?), I'd never seen that in the Bible before. Why, I thought Paul was put in prison because way back in Acts 21 some people in the temple in Jerusalem got all excited because they found him there, him being one of those Jesus-believer Christians what said people didn't need to follow the law any more. That starts a ruckus and some soldiers come in to rescue him, but Paul starts giving his testimony to the people but doesn't get far before they get real ticked at him. He gets put into prison to await a trial, gets taken to another town or two, and to get a fair hearing he makes an appeal to Caesar, and some years go by what with travel and such before he gets that hearing.
Yep, I'd have read all that as saying that Paul was put in prison because of a bit of a controversy over some religious ideas with his kinfolk which got out of hand and almost turned ugly, and Paul appealed to Caesar so that some guy named Festus wouldn't send him back to Jerusalem, where they'd already tried to kill him.
Why, what was I think? Knowing Bell to be so faithful to scripture, I can only assume that he's got him some kind of Bible code, where Paul being in the temple must mean he was putting pencil mustaches on posters of Caesar, and him giving his testimony probably means he was calling his countrymen to open revolt, you know, a "Start the revolution" kind of thing.
And Paul, him being so anti-Roman-Empire and all that, why surely he wouldn't have appealed to his Roman citizenship, as it says in chapter 22, to keep from getting a whipping. And what with him being so anti-Roman-Emperor, I guess he would never have appealed to Caesar to get a hearing. Them events must be that code again, a bit of winking and nodding to some kind of anti-empire counter-cultural activities Paul was really involved in.
Why, if it weren't for Bell, I might have kept on ignurrintelly reading them stories of Paul like they really meant what they're really saying, like one of them pea-brained literalists.
Thanks, Mr. Bell (winks, nods, smiles, give thumbs up signal)! Boy, I'd be a complete idiot without you!!