by Al Maxey

Issue #548 ------- September 21, 2012
If the object of education were to make pupils think,
rather than to make them accept certain conclusions,
education would be conducted quite differently; there
would be less instruction and more discussion.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
"Principles of Social Reconstruction"

Paul's Professorial Predilection
Education & Edification by Conversation
as Perceived in Paul's Practice in Troas

One of the great fallacies associated with the proclamation of the Gospel is that such proclamation is best served by great orators and impressive oration. Although eloquence of speech is a gift that can be used quite effectively, given the right circumstances (Apollos appears to have been blessed thusly), it is certainly not the only way in which Truth may be imparted, and, frankly, not even the most effective, according to most education specialists. Most would agree that the apostle Paul was a master teacher, and that he personally did more than almost any other in effectively sharing the message of the Master and motivating others to walk in a manner worthy of that calling. Yet, this great servant of Jesus admitted, "I am unskilled in speaking" (2 Cor. 11:6). Nevertheless, what Paul lacked in eloquence, he more than made up for in his love and understanding of Truth, and of those in need of comprehending it. I like the way The Message phrases the above verse, in which Paul defends his ministry against charges that he isn't as dynamic as the "super apostles" -- "I'm as good as they are. It's true that I don't have their voice, haven't mastered that smooth eloquence that impresses you so much. But when I do open my mouth, I at least know what I'm talking about." Yes, Paul had the gift of eloquence in his writing, but apparently not in his speaking, as his critics were quick to note: "His letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable" (2 Cor. 10:10). Paul did not refute the latter assessment: "When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech" (1 Cor. 2:1).

Lack of eloquence "in the pulpit," however, in no way deterred the impact of his teaching and preaching on the lives of others. Indeed, that lack may well have motivated him to methods far more conducive to awareness and appreciation among his hearers of eternal truths. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with employing powerful oratory in the proclamation of God's grace, and, indeed, much to commend that methodology (given the right setting and circumstances), it is nevertheless a far less effective means of evangelizing, educating, edifying and equipping people, as the experts will readily acknowledge. For example, John Locke (1632-1704), an English physician and philosopher, the founder of Empiricism, whose writings helped establish modern Western philosophy, declared, "A pupil will better comprehend the foundations and measures of decency and justice, and have livelier, and more lasting impressions of what he ought to do, by giving his opinion on cases proposed, and reasoning with his tutor on fit instances, than by giving a silent, negligent, sleepy audience to his tutor's lectures" [Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1693]. Ivan Illich (1926-2002), an Austrian philosopher and Catholic priest, in his 1971 work "Deschooling Society," observed, "Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting." Yes, there is a time and place for lectures in the classroom or sermons from the pulpit. There is a time and place for those with knowledge, understanding and experience to impart such to others in a formal, structured setting. We have truly failed to educate, however, if this becomes the sole setting. It is this truth which I believe the apostle Paul realized, and thus epitomized in daily practice throughout his ministry.

Paul may not have been a great orator, but he was a master teacher. Those who truly understand what makes for great teaching will quickly tell you that when teachers use only monologue, their students will benefit less than when they employ dialogue. Most of us learn more by actual participation in the education process than by sitting quietly through a lecture. Genuine, lasting education occurs when teacher and student interact in a learning setting. In this way, both benefit from the process. Dr. Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a Brazilian educator and philosopher, who was "among the most influential educational thinkers of the late 20th century," correctly stated, "The teacher is no longer merely 'the one who teaches,' but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn, while being taught, also teach." Interaction. Participation. Dialogue. Extremely important concepts in education; concepts often overlooked in the church in the preference of too many pastors to pontificate from the pulpit, instead of dialoguing with their fellow disciples. In his work "Techniques of Persuasion," James Alexander Campbell Brown (1911-1964), a noted social psychologist, wrote, "Much advanced teaching today takes the form of a brief lecture followed by a period of discussion during which the audience identifies itself with the information, voices its criticisms, and discovers the knowledge for itself." Again, I believe we have evidence that the apostle Paul both understood and employed this methodology, and with excellent results.

Perhaps one of the best examples of Paul's "professorial predilection," if I may use such an alliterative phrase, is found in Acts 20:7-11 where we have the account of Paul meeting with a group of disciples one night in an upper room in the city of Troas. There has been significant sectarian squabbling surrounding this section of Scripture, especially with respect to the Lord's Supper. Does this passage provide some "pattern" that forever regulates and restricts our practice? Some think so. There is debate over whether Jewish or Roman time was in view by Luke when he penned this passage (Reflections #173 -- "The Great Time Debate"), and even debate with regard to what exactly is meant by the phrase "break bread" as it appears in the text: is this the Lord's Supper or a common meal, or both? (Reflections #168 -- "Breaking Bread: Meal or Memorial?"). In this current issue of Reflections, however, I want to focus on the teaching methodology of Paul as perceived in a couple of Greek terms employed by Luke in the account. These specific words, I believe, provide significant insight into how Paul went about conveying the message of God unto others, and there is much we can learn from his practice.

dialegomai -- Acts 20:7, 9

The first of these two terms appears twice in this passage, once in verse 7 and then again in verse 9. "And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead" (Acts 20:7-9, NASB). The two highlighted words in this text ("talking") are both the same Greek word: dialegomai. This word appears 13 times in the pages of the NT writings, 10 of which are in the book of Acts (the other three are in Mark 9:34, Jude 9 and Hebrews 12:5). In all 10 cases in Acts, the word is used with reference to the teaching methodology of the apostle Paul. This word clearly reflects, therefore, his preferred teaching style. Those passages in Acts are 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8, 9; 20:7, 9; 24:12, 25.

This word has gone through significant development over the centuries. "In classical and Hellenistic Greek dialegomai is mostly used for 'converse' or 'discussion.' In Socrates, Plato and Aristotle there is developed the art of persuasion and demonstration either in the form of question and answer (Socrates), the establishment of the idea by pure thought (Plato), or the investigation of the ultimate foundations of demonstration and knowledge (Aristotle). Because dialegesthai is the only way in which Greek philosophy can reach the logos, or 'idea,' it is of central importance" [Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 93]. Thus, in the classical era, the concept was of teachers and disciples "dialoguing" for the purpose of drawing closer in understanding of and in relationship to that truth or ideology that was central to their belief system (and ultimately to that Reality behind those beliefs). In light of this classical meaning of the term, it is interesting that in Acts 20:7 Luke uses the Greek word logos in the phrase that states Paul "prolonged his message until midnight." Like the Greek philosophers, Paul was "dialoguing" with these disciples in order to help them embrace that centrally important Idea (Logos) which we might define as the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all that message of grace entails for our daily walk.

It should also be noted that this dialogue often involved disputation and/or debate. "It is distinguished from" the Greek term which meant "giving a lecture," and was "customarily used for philosophical dialogue, debate or disputation" [ibid, p. 94]. Many see this usage in the Mark and Jude passages. In Mark 9:34 we are informed that the disciples of Jesus "had argued about who was the greatest," and then in Jude 9 we read about the archangel Michael "disputing with the devil about the body of Moses." This term was also used prior to the NT era "not merely for 'conversation,' but quite frequently for 'speech' -- in the sense of an 'address'" [ibid]. By the time of Luke's writing of the book of Acts, however, "There is here no reference to 'disputation,' but to the 'delivering of religious lectures or sermons'" [ibid]. Most of the references in Acts deal with Paul presenting his thoughts in synagogues or established schools, where the setting would have been more structured, although there would certainly have been ample time for the discussion of his ideas with those who heard them. Thus, the word meant "to speak, preach; discuss, conduct a discussion; lectures which were likely to end in disputations" [Arndt, Gingrich, Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 185]. Although the word itself could carry the idea of disputation, it was more frequently used of the dialogue itself (consisting of both presentation of thoughts as well as discussion of thoughts; "reasoning") that had the potential for debate. As we all know, whenever some topics are discussed at length (and spiritual values and views fall into this area) there is always the possibility of the discussion devolving into dissension. A good example of this is seen in Acts 15:2, where Paul and Barnabas had "a sharp dispute and debate with" the Judaizers over the matter of grace versus custom/law as it pertained to salvation.

It seems very unlikely, however, that Paul was "disputing" with the brethren in Troas all night long. There is absolutely nothing in the context that even remotely suggests this was a tense or combative setting. Quite the opposite. Thus, Paul was using this occasion to present vital information to these brethren, whom he very likely believed he would never see again, and dialoguing with them about "the word" (logos) he had presented so that they would fully comprehend the truths conveyed. Although "lecture" would not be the correct term to use here, as it is unlikely, given the scenario before us, that Paul stood behind a pulpit or lectern and presented a prepared "sermon," nevertheless we can infer from the term used by Luke (who was present on this occasion, since this is one of the "we" sections of Acts) that Paul did "speak" to those assembled, who, in turn, listened attentively to the message (logos) delivered to them. On the other hand, although the word dialegomai can suggest the idea of "preaching a sermon," and although some translate it this way, the word is generally regarded as conveying a less formal and structured presentation, one with more interaction among speaker and hearer(s). As W. E. Vine correctly points out, "the A.V. (KJV) translates it 'preached' in Acts 20:7 and 9; this the Revised Version corrects to 'discoursed,' or literally: 'dialogued' -- i.e., not by way of a sermon, but by a discourse of a more conversational character" [Vines's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 317].

Some scholars, however, are still of the opinion that Paul spent the whole night delivering a "farewell sermon," and that the people simply sat there silently (thus explaining why one youth fell asleep and "died in the service"). Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wrote, "In this assembly Paul gave them a sermon, a long sermon, a farewell sermon; he preached to them ... and had a great deal to say" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. "Paul addressed the assembly in a long didactic sermon, prolonging his address till midnight" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, the NT, vol. 1, p. 636]. J. W. McGarvey characterized it as a "long, solemn discourse" in which Paul gave "them all possible instruction and admonition while he was with them" [New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, vol. 2, p. 180]. "He preached during the whole night, for he did not leave off till the break of the next day, though about midnight his discourse was interrupted by the fall of Eutychus. ... Paul must have preached a sermon not less than six hours long" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 851]. Clarke does admit, however, that "it is likely that a good part of this time was employed in hearing and answering questions," since he believes this Greek word "may be thus understood" [ibid]. I found Dr. A. T. Robertson's comment somewhat amusing here about "Paul's long sermon which went on and on till midnight" -- he observed, "Preachers usually have some excuse for their long sermons which is not always clear to the exhausted audience" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword].

The majority of scholars, though, believe there was a mixing of methods here, as the Greek word itself implies -- Paul did some speaking, while the people listened, but he also engaged them in discussion. "It was a mingling of preaching and conference" [Dr. Marvin Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. "Paul 'spoke to' (lit: 'reasoned' or 'discussed' with) the believers till midnight" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 509]. "We are not to suppose, however, that it was one continued or set discourse. No small part of the time might have been passed in hearing and answering questions, though Paul was the chief speaker" [Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "Paul's long discourse was probably interspersed with questions and answers" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, pt. 2, p. 158]. "Paul's preaching was incidental, though instructive. Paul reasoned with them, and the conversation was used to solve doubts and clear away difficulties which might be in the way of some young Christians" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 318].

Some see the first part of the night (up until midnight) as a "regular service" [Dr. Kretzmann, p. 636], during which the various "acts of worship" were "performed" (singing, praying, preaching, Lord's Supper, etc.). Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.), for example, described just such an early church "service" in his second Apology to Antoninus Pius -- "On the day which is called Sunday, all (Christians) who dwell either in town or country come together to one place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read for a certain time, and then the president of the meeting, when the reader has stopped, makes a discourse, in which he instructs and exhorts the people to the imitation of the good deeds of which they have just heard. We then all rise up together, and address prayers (to God); and, when our prayers are ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president, to the best of his ability, offers up both prayers and thanksgivings, and the people assent, saying 'Amen.' And then the distribution of the bread and wine, over which the thanksgivings have been offered, is made to all present, and all partake of it." Justin Martyr then points out that "collections are made for poor widows and orphans, and sick and prisoners," and that "the elements of the Lord's Supper are carried to those who were absent by the deacons" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, pt. 2, p. 144]. This is one of the first references, by the way, to the concept of "Carried Communion," and it was apparently the practice of the early church, at least in some locations, to entrust this responsibility to the deacons. See my discussion of this practice in Reflections #196 -- "Second Serving Controversy."

homileo -- Acts 20:11

While some biblical scholars perceive the first half of the night ("till midnight") as being somewhat more structured, very few scholars perceive the latter half (from the raising up of Eutychus until dawn) as being so. "After the close of the regular service, the apostle still spoke to the assembled disciples in a more informal way, explaining to them many points upon which they were in need of information" [Dr. Kretzmann, p. 636]. The reason for this shift is perceived to lie in the fact that Luke changes to a different Greek word in Acts 20:11 than the word he used in verses 7 and 9. Instead of the Greek word from which we get our term "dialogue," Luke switches to the word homileo, from which we get our terms "homily" and "homiletics." After the raising up of Eutychus, and after they had broken bread and eaten, Paul "talked with them a long while, until daybreak" (Acts 20:11, NASB). Although the Living Bible, a work by Ken Taylor, tells us that Paul "preached another long sermon," most translations opt for words such as "talk" or "converse," suggesting a less formal setting with more intimate interaction. The Amplified version states that Paul "talked confidentially and communed with them for a considerable time."

The Greek word homileo is used only 4 times in the New Covenant writings, and only by Luke (Luke 24:14, 15; Acts 20:11; 24:20). It means "to converse with; talk with" [Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 444]; "speak, converse; confer with someone; conversing with them" [Arndt & Gingrich, p. 565]. "It denotes a more familiar and confidential intercourse than dialegomai" [Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. Adam Clarke states the word used in verse 7 and 9 implies a "solemn, grave discourse," but that this word used in verse 11 "is very different," and means "having familiarly conversed" [vol. 5, p. 852]. The Pulpit Commentary concurs, declaring the word means "familiar converse" [vol. 18, pt. 2, p. 144]. "This second discourse lasted from midnight till dawn and was probably more informal and conversational than the discourse before midnight" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword].

Our English word "homily" conveys a much different idea today than the Greek word did back then. According to Webster's dictionary, homily means "a sermon, especially one about something in the Bible; a solemn moral talk or writing; tedious, moralizing lecture." This sounds a lot like some of the sermons I have heard in the past (and have probably given). A much different concept is conveyed by homileo, however. Although the first half of the night may well have been more structured, in the sense that Paul had vital information to impart, even though there may have been some dialogue associated with his impartation of information, the latter half of the night was truly more conversational in character. I believe there is a good comparison in the way I conduct my small group meetings on Sunday evenings. There are about 20 in the small group I lead (we have several small groups here that meet at various times during the week, and which have different leaders, both men and women). For the first hour (from 5-6 p.m.) I present a lesson, although we sit in a circle in the living room or den of different homes, and there is a lot of discussion. Nevertheless, I have a lesson to present, and during the course of that "dialogue" that message is conveyed. There are also a few songs sung, prayers offered, sometimes we'll even share the Lord's Supper together. We then have a meal together, and sit around and "converse/visit" from 6-7 p.m. In my opinion, this is very similar to what must have happened that night in Troas, although it went on through the entire night. Yes, there is a place for speaking more formally from a pulpit, just as there is a place for lectures in a classroom setting. However, in my view, the best setting for spiritual education and edification is the one described above. Frankly, I'd love to see God's people move increasingly away from a formal "service" in a building (especially on Sunday and Wednesday evenings) to the less structured, but far more effective, scenario described in this Reflections. If some truly want to "restore the first century church" (which they profess to be their goal), then maybe they might want to give all of this some serious consideration (as many congregations are now doing).

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

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One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Alaska:

Why I value your work is that you use sufficient detail so readers know what you're saying as you connect the dots. Further, you give your readers enough other spiritual and secular references to check things out (e.g., Acts 17:11). Not enough believers seem to want to dig deeper to internalize God's Word. Blessings to you in your ministries.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I just read your article on "The Black Robe Regiment." Wow! Imagine the courage it must have taken to step out from behind the pulpit in order to put theory into practice! The Bible is filled with stories of battle against wicked men. May we all be willing to first reason through our disagreements, then defend the values of our faith, not only with our voices, but, if necessary, with our lives. I read no criticism in the Bible of David's "mighty men." May God give us wisdom.

From a Reader in Alabama:

"The Black Robe Regiment" was a very good article, serving as a call to arms against the lies of Satan. Secular humanism, man and state as god, has to be seen as the major enemy of truth and righteousness. Our pulpits need to ring with the message of truth and righteousness in the affairs of our nation. Our nation's support of secular humanism is a cancer that must be reduced by the chemotherapy of truth. Press on, brother!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

"The Black Robe Regiment" was fascinating. A lot of what you presented in this Reflections was new to me. Very interesting. Thank you.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I was perusing your Reflections Archives this morning and as I did so I was thinking of the massive amount of work contained within this site and these studies!! Thank you so much for your toil in His service!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Al, as an American hero today (because of your service in combat in Vietnam), I know you would have been an impressive, and also a powerful, leader within the Black Robe Regiment at the time of this country's founding! I am honored to call you "friend," my brother!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

"The Black Robe Regiment" is a great primer and refresher for every American who professes Christianity. Can you imagine what America would look like today without the influence of men like Jonas Clark, D. James Kennedy, Leroy Garrett and, yes, Al Maxey?! It would be a much darker world. Thank God for men like you who still have the courage to stand up for what is morally right!

From a Minister in Wyoming:

Was Daniel right when he stood up against the kings of his day? Was Elijah? How about Jeremiah? How about...? I could go on and on. Romans 13 says the government is to do good. What about when governments and leaders stop doing good? Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." However, He did not say that we were not still IN this world. I know of no one who is a Christian who likes war. But even God saw that it was needed from time to time. Al, you may or may not recall that I used to be a pacifist. 9/11 changed that. I do not mean it changed for me all at once. But, I had to ask myself, "How could David be a man after God's own heart and still be a man of war?" Yes, David suffered much because of his choices, but he was still a great man of God.

From an Elder in Texas:

"The Black Robe Regiment" was a great essay! I'm afraid that today the majority of American pulpits prefer "feel good" sermons rather than facing the ever encroaching pagan culture that is creeping into the Christian church. I recently taught a class in which we discussed the Christian worldview, and how that should be applied to today's national election choices. I didn't mention any politician's name, but kept the discussion to the stated party's platforms. From the response of many in the class, I came away wondering if we as Christians think in terms of our Christian responsibility to vote for the party that best espouses biblical moral and ethical principles. If the government can tell Catholics that they must, by law, endorse and pay for abortions, including partial birth abortions, and Christians say nothing, then in the future they could also demand, by law, that churches must include homosexuals in the Eldership or face losing their tax exemption. After this class, one of the members told me that they have always voted "Democrat," and that they probably would in this election also. Shouldn't we vote as Christians rather than as Republicans, Democrats or Libertarians?! Does our political party affiliation trump our Christian affiliation?!

From an Elder in [Unknown]:

I question the correctness of these preachers' (the Black Robe Regiment) promotion of armed rebellion against the established and recognized government (Romans 13). Paul did not suggest armed rebellion against the Roman emperor who took away his freedom. Do you have a thought about this? I am a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and also an elder in the church. I love our country, but tell people that I am a patriot, not a nationalist.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

If I were to say that no Christian should vote for Obama, I would probably be run out of this congregation. Clearly, we have to be careful about making such statements, as you pointed out in Reflections #546 -- "Pastors Politicking From Pulpits: May Pastors Publicly Endorse Politicians?" The reality is: no candidate will satisfy all of our ideals, so sound (Christian) judgment is necessary. We might compare this whole situation today to the silence of the church in the past on the matter of racial integration. The question is: when is it wise to tear up a church for a value, even when that value is right? I asked one of our elders here how he could support the Democrats, given their support of the homosexual agenda. His response: "Oh, they just got there first." What?!!

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