Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Watch Your Language! Acts 22

There are two divergent points in Acts 22 (link) that I think are worth your time. Here they are:

1. The first point is in Acts 22:2. Paul is standing in front of a hostile crowd. They are convinced he has violated their holiest places and mocked God as they understand God. It’s not a safe place to stand. Angry mob on one side, Roman soldiers on the other, and here is Paul in the middle.

Now, before we go forward, we need to go back a few verses to Acts 21:37-38. Paul asks the Roman commander permission to speak to the crowd. He speaks to the Roman in….Greek. Which surprises the Roman and gains Paul that permission. Paul then speaks to the crowd in….

The Hebrew dialect of Aramaic. The local, home language of the area. He speaks to them in the language they know and understand. In the language that no one would have bothered to learn just for fun.

That gets their attention. This shows that either: he is one of them or, at the least, he has cared enough to learn the language. We know he is one of them: traditionally brought-up Jew who has come to accept Jesus as Lord.

Either way, this matters: do not underestimate how being in your home culture empowers you to communicate. People know you, people understand you, and you understand them. This does not guarantee acceptance, but it’s a good start.

Learn the languages and customs where you are, and learn as many as you can for where you may be. You never know what you might need to know.

2. The second point is deep in the chapter: Acts 22:25-26. In the Roman Empire, the judicial system had certain methods. One was to flog you before you were interrogated. Why? Because pain brings truth, apparently, at least in the eyes of Roman Justice.

Aside: This concept did not go away with Rome. It persisted through the Medieval Era straightways into the Industrial Age. It is this type of nonsense that the US Constitution addresses when speaking of “Cruel and unusual punishment.” Not failing to allow sexual predators access to sexually explicit movies, as some allege. Nor even capital punishment. However, re-interpreting texts that have a plain, obvious, historic meaning to mean something entirely different is all the rage these days. Otherwise, why would anyone think the 2nd Amendment had to do with hunting?

Back on track: while you could whip some people before questioning them, you could not do this to a Roman Citizen. Roman Citizens were exempt from such things. Perhaps the assumption was that citizens were more honorable and therefore more prone to truth-telling. Perhaps, since the laws were written by the citizens, the laws were just more citizen-friendly. After all, the ones who make the laws tend to protect themselves more than others.

Either way, Paul was a Roman Citizen. He could not be flogged just for being arrested. Yet his captors, apparently, did not realize he was a citizen. He’s chained up and about to flogged when he asks the centurion: “Is this legal?”

A few things happen, and one thing doesn’t. The flogging doesn’t happen. Paul is treated differently by his captors, and is in fact protected in a situation that most likely would have led to his death otherwise.

Why? Because he stood up for his legal rights, as ensconced in the law of the land that was above the rulers or their designated representatives. He insists on his right to not be flogged, insists on his rights as a citizen.

Paul. The same Paul that has taken many a beating. Even took a stoning. Here, not one lash hits his back.

There is a time and place when Christian believers have to take floggings and beatings, imprisonment and death, for the sake of their witness to the Gospel. Yet that is not always true: one can rightly stand firmly on their legal rights. Even insist on them.

That’s important: being a Christian does not mean one must be the doormat of everyone around you. There is a line between loving your enemies and being a doormat that you do not need to allow to be crossed. There is value in standing for your rights. In fact, Scripture speaks of surrendering our rights for the sake of Christian unity, not for the sake of peace with government.

Passivity is not always the mark of a person of God.

Nerd Note: Studying Scripture means studying history to understand the world in which the events occurred. Applying Scripture means studying current events to understand the world in which we must live.

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