The Guidance of Paul

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 1 September 2015; Revised 4 June 2019


Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.

Sources: Bibliographic data for scholarly publications cited may be found at the end of the article. References to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737); online. References to tractates of the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); online. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).

Related Articles

Perspectives on Paul

The Apostle from Tarsus

The Correspondence of Paul

The Theology of Paul

Overview of Contents:

Section I: Authority. (Foundational Authority; Paul's Exercise of Authority)

Section II: Godliness (Spiritual Formation; Moral/Ethical Guidance)

Section III: Body Life (The Gathering of the Body; The Protection of the Body; The Management of the Body; The Peace of the Body)

Section IV: Relationships (Domestic Relations; Other Relations)

Section V: Special Issues (Calendar; Circumcision; Fasting; Food & Drink; Languages; Slavery)


Foundational Authority

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will have been forbidden in heaven and what you permit on earth will have been permitted in heaven." (Matt 16:19 TLV)

Scholarly works on the apostle Paul tend to dwell on theological subjects as if that is the most important thing he had to say. Yet, he spends just as much time in his letters instructing believers and congregations on how they should behave in many different circumstances. The Jewish term for this instruction is halakhah (lit. "way to walk"), which refers to making legal judgments (Stern 10). In the passage quoted above Yeshua gave his apostles authority to bind and loose. These terms were used in first century Judaism to mean "prohibit" and "permit," as is clear from the article, "Binding and Loosing," in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

"Binding and loosing (Hebrew asar ve-hittir) is a Rabbinical term for 'forbidding and permitting.'... The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees, says Josephus (Wars I, 5:2), 'became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind.'... The various schools had the power 'to bind and to loose;' that is, to forbid and to permit (Hagigah 3b); and they could bind any day by declaring it a fast-day (Ta’anit 12a). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin, received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Makkot 23b).

"In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt 16:19, 18:18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who 'bind heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers;' that is, 'loose them,' as they have the power to do (Matt 23:2–4)."

What is remarkable is that the Jewish Encyclopedia acknowledges that Yeshua gave his apostles the same authority claimed by the Pharisees, scribes and Sanhedrin. Stern comments that the apostles would have authority to regulate Messianic communal life, and in effect establish New Covenant halakhah, that is, to make authoritative decisions where there is a question about how Messianic life ought to be lived (57).

Paul's Exercise of Authority


Paul's authority to issue halakhic rulings devolves from the fact that apostles had been given the authority to "prohibit and permit." In the Besekh the title or office of "apostle" (for Heb. Shaliach, "one who is sent with the authority of the sender") is first applied to the original Twelve (Matt 10:2), then Mattathias (Acts 1:25-26), Barnabas (Acts 14:4), and Jacob ("James," the brother of Yeshua, Gal 1:19), because they too had "seen the Lord" and been approved to speak on His behalf (Acts 9:27; 1Cor 9:1; 15:6; 1Jn 1:1). In Romans 16:7 Paul mentions Andronicus and Junia, a married couple in ministry, as apostles. All true apostles had the authority to proclaim the Good News, determine orthodox doctrine, impose rules of behavior, and shepherd the congregations they founded.

Luke gives us the first information on Paul's divine appointment. Soon after the Damascus Road incident God told Ananias, "he is a choice vessel to Me, to bear My name before the nations and kings and sons of Israel" (Acts 9:14 mine). Paul then received official ordination by virtue of the laying on of hands at Antioch (Acts 13:3) and in Acts 14:4 Luke identifies Paul as an apostle. Nevertheless, because of his past as a persecutor, Paul found it necessary to repeatedly assert his appointment as an apostle (Rom 1:1; 1Cor 1:1; 2Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1), as well as defend his authority as an apostle (Rom 11:13; 1Cor 4:9; 9:1-2; 15:9; 2Cor 11:5; 12:11).

Paul's authority particularly came under fire from the congregation in Corinth as the congregation divided into parties pledging allegiance to various leaders (Messiah, Peter, Apollos and Paul, 1Cor 1:12). Adversaries of Paul slandered his character and deemed him unworthy to tell them what to do. In his first letter he asserted his authority in specific matters of congregational shortcomings (1Cor 5:3-5; 6:5; 7:8; 14:27). In fact, he told them that he had a right to tell them what to do because he was their father in the faith (1Cor 4:15). In his second letter to Corinth Paul warned them that continued insubordination would result in God's judgment (2Cor 13:1-2). Paul had the backing of God.

Paul even offered himself as a model for faithful discipleship:

"Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah." (1Cor 11:1)

"Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 This is why I have sent you Timothy, my beloved and trustworthy child in the Lord. He will remind you of the way of life I follow in union with the Messiah Yeshua and teach everywhere in every congregation." (1Cor 4:16-17 CJB)

"I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you." (Gal 4:12)

"Brothers, join in imitating me, and pay attention to those who live according to the pattern we have set for you." (Php 3:17 CJB)

"What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—put these things into practice, and the God of shalom will be with you." (Php 4:9)

"you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." (1Th 1:5 NASB)


Paul wrote to people who knew God's standards in Scripture (Rom 2:18; 3:19; 7:1; 11:2; Eph 5:5) and so he could say "as the Torah says" (1Cor 14:34) to reinforce the divine basis for an instruction. More frequently Paul uses the formula "it is written," the standard formula in the apostolic writings for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh (e.g., Rom 12:19; 14:11; 1Cor 9:9; 10:7; 14:21; 2Cor 8:15; 9:9). The formula is an allusion to the Jewish belief in verbal inspiration. For Paul the Jew it was a simple matter that God spoke and man wrote (e.g., Ex 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num 33:2; 36:5; Deut 30:10; 2Pet 1:20-21). Paul thereby based his arguments on the inscribed, inspired and infallible Word of God.

Contrary to the rejection of the Torah by many professed Christians for the Torah there is no greater champion for living by Torah values than Paul. He asserted the relevance and authority of the Torah many times. (Rom 3:19f; 7:7-13; 1Cor 7:19; 14:34; Eph 6:2; 1Th 4:2-8; 1Tim 1:8; 6:13f; Heb 10:16). Paul specifically asserted that the Torah was not nullified by the atonement through Yeshua (Rom 3:31) and affirmed strongly that the Torah is holy, righteous, good and spiritual (Rom 7:12, 14). Moreover, without the Torah there is no standard to define sin (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7). A much ignored verse is Paul's statement that God intends the requirement of the Torah to be fulfilled in us (Rom 8:4), plus his insistence that disciples obey the commandments God gave to Israel (1Cor 7:19).

Yeshua affirmed most strongly that he did not come to abolish the Torah (Matt 5:17). Some scholars would make Paul contradict his Master by misinterpreting Paul's statement that Messiah is the telos (end, goal, outcome, fulfillment) of law. (See my commentary on Romans 10:4.) To say that the Torah has been revoked or replaced and yet insist that a disciple must sin every day is nonsensical.

Against the assumption that laws only began with Moses is that fact that heinous crimes as murder, violence, adultery, fornication and idolatry were known to be wrong centuries before Moses was born (Gen 2:17; 4:11f; 6:5ff; 18:20; 20:3; 26:10). Abraham is commended because he "obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." (Gen 26:5). No one can be considered a son or daughter of Abraham who does not live by God's commandments as he did (Rom 4:16; Gal 3:17).

Other Appeals

Since Paul continued to be an practicing Pharisee after he began following Yeshua (Acts 23:7) and Pharisees exercised supervision over synagogues, he could have relied on being a Pharisee to dictate behavior in Messianic congregations. Instead he said over and over that his right to give guidance came from Yeshua (1Cor 4:17; 9:1; 1Th 4:1; 5:27; 2Th 3:12). Sometimes Paul states that his instruction was a direct commandment of Yeshua (1Cor 14:37) or he reminds the congregation of the teachings of Yeshua (1Cor 7:10; 11:23; 1Tim 6:3).

Occasionally Paul reminds his readers that his instructions conform to common practice in all the congregations, which he or other apostles had established (1Cor 7:17; 11:15-16; 14:33; 16:1).

Manner of Expression

Paul's manner of giving instruction is quite straightforward. His letters contain scores of commands, using what's called in Greek grammar the "imperative mood," which is the mood of command or entreaty. These verbs are also normally in present tense, meaning to start and keep on doing the command. Paul's syntax is comparable to the written commandments in the Torah. "You will do this." "You will stop that." Paul also makes a significant use of the participle in lieu of the imperative. A participle is considered a verbal adjective. It is often a word that ends with an "-ing" in English (such as "speaking," "having," or "seeing"). It can be used as an adjective, in that it can modify a noun (or substitute as a noun), or it can be used as an adverb and further explain or define the action of a verb. For example, in Romans 10:9 Paul says "Abhor[ing] what is evil." The verb "abhor" is a participle.

Scholars have long been puzzled over this particular usage of the participle in Paul's hortatory instructions concerning rules of social behavior within the community of faith and in families (notably in Romans, Ephesians and Colossians). Davies says that non-biblical Jewish writings used the participle in exactly the same manner, and thus Paul's use of the participle as imperative probably reflects Jewish sources (130f). Dana and Mantey disputed Davies' viewpoint saying, "Some have regarded it as a Hebraism, but its use in the papyri contradicts this view" (DM 229). This statement is a form of circular reasoning.

What these grammarians don't acknowledge is that the papyri, over 150, are MSS of the apostolic writings, most of which are the earliest writings of the Besekh in existence. And, who wrote the Besekh? Jewish apostles using Jewish Greek! (See my web article The Jewish New Testament.) Stern concurs with Davies in this information (428). With the use of the participle Paul is most likely appealing to the conscience rather than commanding the will. "As disciples of Yeshua you really ought to do this."

The halakhah of Paul's letters may be described in the following categories.


Spiritual Formation

"My dear children! Again I suffer labor pains until Messiah is formed in you." (Gal 4:19)

Paul's most important concern was that disciples would become like Yeshua. "Be imitators of God like beloved children" (Eph 5:1 NASB). He instructed the disciples in Rome, "I urge you therefore , brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Rom 12:1). Paul repeatedly exhorted disciples to pursue righteousness (Rom 6:13, 19; 14:17; Eph 4:24; 1Tim 6:11; 2Tim 2:22), godliness (1Tim 4:7-8; 6:6, 11) and holiness (2Cor 7:1; Eph 4:24; 1Th 4:3, 7; Heb 12:14) of heart and life. He also declared that God works all things together for good for His people so that they might be conformed to the image of Yeshua (Rom 8:28-29).

Paul's goal was that disciples would grow beyond spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity. The empowering agent for spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit. A disciple must walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25).

The training manual for spiritual formation is Scripture. "All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed." (2Tim 3:16-17)

Moral/Ethical Instruction

Paul's moral and ethical guidelines are clearly based on God's instructions found in the Tanakh, especially the Torah, and like Yeshua's Sermon on the Mount gives instruction that apply the intention of God's commandments. Paul's teaching is also in accord with Yeshua's own pronouncements on these subjects.

Creation Laws

Predating the Mosaic Law have been various moral and ethical principles that were given by direct injunction or were revealed as intrinsic to God’s nature and activity as Creator (cf. Gen. 9:5-8; Matt. 19:4-6; Rom 1:18-20; 1Cor. 11:8-15; Eph. 5:22-33; 1Tim 2:11-15; 4:2-4; 2Th 2:13). Creation law established the institution of heterosexual marriage and observance of the Sabbath. Moreover, such heinous crimes as adultery, harlotry, idolatry, injustice, lust, murder, and violence were known to be wrong from the beginning (Gen 2:17; 4:11f; 6:5ff; 18:20; 20:3; 26:10; Job 24:1-17; 31:1-33). According to God's retrospective evaluation Abraham lived faithfully by His commandments (Gen 26:5; cf. Isa 51:1-2) and thus for Paul is the model for trusting faithfulness.

Noachide Laws

Paul supported the decision of the Jerusalem Council to identify four prohibitions for Gentile disciples (Acts 15:20, 29), which seem to draw their inspiration from what Jews called the Noachide Laws. Rabbinic authorities identified seven laws given to Noah binding on all mankind: practicing justice; abstaining from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery and eating flesh torn from a live animal (Sanhedrin 56a). Paul was chosen along with other apostles to communicate these expectations to Gentile disciples (Acts 15:22).

Key Commandments

Paul affirms the key commandments given to Israel at Mt. Sinai and repeated at Moab before crossing the Jordan.

● First Great Commandment — love God (Deut 6:5; 1Cor 16:22).

● Second Great Commandment — love one's neighbor (Lev 19:18; Rom 13:8, 10; Gal 5:14).

● First Commandment, "no other gods" (Ex 20:2-3; Rom 1:25-28; 1Cor 10:7, 14).

● Second Commandment, "no idols" (Ex 20:4; 1Cor 5:10-11; 10:7, 14; 2Cor 6:16).

● Third Commandment, "no taking God's name in vain" (Ex 20:7; Rom 2:24; 2Tim 2:19).

● Fourth Commandment, "Sabbath observance" (Ex 20:8-11; Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; Col 2:16; Heb 10:25). See my web article Remember the Sabbath. This commandment applies because Paul commanded "imitate me" and he kept the Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 42; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4).

● Fifth Commandment, "honor parents" (Ex 20:12; Eph 6:1-2; Col 3:20; 1Tim 5:4; 2Tim 3:1-2).

● Sixth Commandment, "no murder" (Ex 20:13; Rom 13:9). (This commandment does not forbid killing animals, killing in self-defense or killing the enemy in war.)

● Seventh Commandment, "no adultery" (Ex 20:14; Rom 13:9). (Adultery is defined as sexual relations between a married woman and a man not her husband.)

● Eighth Commandment, "no stealing" (Ex 20:15; Rom 13:9; Eph 4:28).

● Ninth Commandment, "no false witness" (Ex 20:16; Rom 9:1; 1Cor 15:15, 20; Eph 4:15, 25; Col 3:9).

● Tenth Commandment, "no coveting" (Ex 20:17; Rom 7:7; 13:9; 1Cor 5:10-11; 6:10; Eph 5:5).

Other Prohibitions

No immorality: Paul affirmed the Torah prohibitions against adultery, bestiality, incest, homosexuality, lust, orgies, pornography, prostitution, transvestism, sensuality and other sexual vices (Ex 20:26; Lev 18:6-30; 19:29; 20:15-16; 21:9, 14; Deut 4:16; 5:18; 22:5, 21-24; 23:14, 17-18; Rom 1:26-27; 1Cor 5:1, 11; 6:9-10, 15-18; 11:14-15; 2Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19, 21; Eph 5:5; 1Th 4:3; 1Tim 1:10; 2Tim 2:22; Heb 13:4). Paul called disciples of Yeshua to abstain from all forms of immorality as befitting a life of holiness (Rom 13:13; 1Cor 6:18; 10:18; 2Cor 7:1; Eph 5:3; 1Th 4:3; Heb 12:15-16).

Sin Catalogs: Especially important are the lists of sinful conduct which will prevent a person inheriting the Kingdom of God, all of which are based on the Torah:

"9 Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, those who practice homosexuality, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." (1Cor 6:9-10)

"19 Now the deeds of the flesh are clear: sexual immorality, impurity, indecency, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hostility, strife, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, just as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit God’s kingdom." (Gal 5:19-21)

"8 But we know that the Torah is good if one uses it legitimately, 9 knowing that the Torah is not given for a tzaddik [righteous one] but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and worldly, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, homosexuals, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and for anything else that opposes sound teaching—11 in keeping with what was entrusted to me, the glorious Good News of the blessed God." (1Tim 1:8-11)

"1 But understand this, that in the last days hard times will come; 2 for people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 hardhearted, unforgiving, backbiting, without self-control, brutal, hating what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to an outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!" (2Tim 3:1-5)

Paul warned that deliberately sinning removes the efficacy of Yeshua's atoning sacrifice (Heb 10:26-31).

Miscellaneous Instructions for Performance

• No destruction of objects associated with His Name (Deut 12:4; 1Cor 3:17).

• No blasphemy (Ex 22:27; 1Tim 1:20).

• No evil speech (Eph 4:29; 5:4).

• Not to make a likeness of anything in heaven for worship purposes (Ex 20:4; Deut 5:8; Rom 1:22-25). No one knows what is in heaven, so representations are inherently fictitious if not fraudulent.

• Not to go to a medium or other occult practitioner for help or engage in occultic conduct (Lev 19:31; Deut 18:11; Acts 16:16-18; 1Cor 15:33; 2Cor 6:14-17; Gal 5:20).

• Bless God for food at mealtime (Deut 8:10; Acts 27:35; 1Tim 4:5).

• Be generous in the use of wealth for good works (1Tim 6:17-19).

• "Abstain from every form of evil" (1Th 5:22).

Many Christians will insist on the antinomian mantra "we're not under the law," but I ask "what law is it that you don't want to be under." The Christian interpretation of the Pauline expression "not under law" completely distorts his meaning. The expression "under law" simply means using the Torah in an unlawful manner to create an oppressive legalistic system. (See my web article Under the Law, for a full explanation of Paul's intention. "Not under law" does not mean that I can pick and choose which commandments to obey. The Ten Commandments are not Ten Suggestions.


The Gathering of the Body

Paul provides considerable instruction for the gathering of the local congregation and the many ministries that occur during the meeting together.


Although no worship manual has survived from the first century there are various passages in Paul's works that provide insight into how services of disciples were conducted, as well as problems that developed. Since the apostolic congregations were largely Jewish their meetings followed the pattern of the Synagogue. The laity controlled the organization and conduct of Sabbath synagogue services, whereas priests presided over the temple in Jerusalem.

Worship is to be directed to the Holy One of Israel, the Creator God, the great and mighty God, Lord of Armies. Second, Worship is not a matter of art, but a matter of the heart. If the heart shelters sin, pride, or unforgiveness, God will not accept the proffered worship (Matt 15:8; Mark 11:25f). The human spirit must respond in truth to the searching heavenly Spirit (Php 3:3). When standing before the heavenly throne, then, confession and repentance are as essential as praise (1Cor 14:25). Paul gave disciples some important principles:

· Present your bodies as living sacrifices which is spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).

· Let everything be done in an orderly fashion (1Cor 14:40).

· Worship in the Spirit (Php 3:3).

· Do not neglect meeting together (Heb 10:25).

· Continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name (Heb 13:15).


Prayer is an important subject in Paul's letters. He offered insights on the personal practice and ministry of prayer (Rom 8:26; 1Cor 14:14; 1Tim 1:4; 4:5). He recorded his own prayers, leaving an example (Rom 10:1; 2Cor 13:7, 9; Eph 1:18; Php 1:4, 9; Col 1:9; 2Th 1:11; Phm 1:6). He also requested prayer for his ministry endeavors (Rom 15:30; 2Cor 1:11; Eph 6:19; 1Th 5:25; 2Th 3:1; Phm 1:22; Heb 13:18). Proclaiming the Good News and harvesting souls for the Kingdom requires the support of earnest prayer.

Paul gave directives concerning the prayer life of the disciple:

"Be devoted to prayer" (Rom 12:12).

"With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints" (Eph 6:18 NASB)

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Php 4:6 NASB)

"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving." (Col 4:2 NASB)

"Pray without ceasing" (1Thess 5:17).

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension." (1Tim 2:1-2, 8)

Paul also instructed married couples to only set aside conjugal relations for prayer by mutual agreement and for a short period (1Cor 7:5).


An important ministry in the apostolic era was prophesying (Grk. prophēteuō), which may mean (1) to proclaim a divine revelation; (2) prophetically reveal what is hidden; or (3) foretell the future, prophesy (BAG). Paul uses the verb ten times, all in his first letter to the congregation in Corinth. Prophesying essentially means declaring the truth of God. Paul highly valued prophesying (1Cor 14:1). He defined its purpose as to bring edification, encouragement and consolation to disciples (1Cor 14:3) and conviction to unbelievers (1Cor 14:24-25). Prophesying could be provided by women as well as men (1Cor 11:5; cf. Acts 2:18; 21:9).

Prophesying in worship need not be thought of as delivering a sermon. More likely it was associated with singing songs of praise (1Cor 14:14-17). King David established the music program for Israelite worship and appointed worship ensembles whose purpose was to "prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals" (1Chr 25:1) and they "prophesied in giving thanks and praising ADONAI" (1Chr 25:3). So, too, Paul expected that the congregation would use a variety of music in worship (1Cor 14:26; cf. Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

In 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 Paul offers very puzzling instruction concerning the manner of praying and prophesying. We may confidently say that the problem was not a matter of fashion, whether or not to wear certain head-gear. Paul criticizes both men and women for practices that mimicked the worship in pagan temples. Some of the members had formerly lived as pagans (6:9-11; 12:2). See my commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. Paul's guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14:13-35 would effectively prohibit any cultural syncretism, combining the "meaningless repetition" of pagan worship with the Spirit anointed worship of the God of Israel. See my commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.

Spiritual Gifts

Paul gave instructions on employment of spiritual gifts in the congregation (Rom 12:3-8; 1Cor 12:1—14:40; Eph 1:17; 4:11-12). In 1 Corinthians 12 he says that the Holy Spirit provides a variety of gifts, ministries and effects for the good of the Body of Messiah. These three categories are all manifestations of the Spirit (1Cor 12:7), but a manifestation may qualify as a gift, effect and ministry at the same time.

In Romans the manifestations of the Spirit are prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, leading, giving, and showing mercy. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul adds these manifestations of the Spirit: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, the distinguishing of spirits, speaking in different languages, the interpretation of languages, apostleship, helps, administrations. Then in 1 Corinthians 14:6 he adds revelation, and in Ephesians 4 Paul adds evangelist and pastor.

General Principles

· Desire the greater gifts (1Cor 12:31).

· Faith, hope and love are more important than all spiritual gifts (1Cor 13:1, 13).

· Desire spiritual gifts (1Cor 14:1).

· Seek to abound in gifts that edify or bless the congregation (1Cor 14:12).

· Do not be children in thinking, yet in evil be infants (1Cor 14:20).

· Let all things in a congregational gathering be done for edification (1Cor 14:26).

· One must interpret for someone speaking in languages unknown to the congregation (1Cor 14:27).

· Let him without an interpreter be silent; let him speak to God (1Cor 14:28).

· Limit the number of people prophesying to two or three; the rest should judge whether the message is from God (1Cor 14:29).


For Paul the word "Scriptures" refers to the Tanakh (Old Testament), and he affirmed both its authority and its value for the Body of Messiah.

· The Tanakh prophesied the coming of the Messiah, including his death, burial and resurrection (Acts 13:17-40; Rom 1:2).

· The Tanakh was written for our instruction to give us encouragement and hope (Rom 15:4).

· We should share with one's teacher (Gal 6:6).

· We should honor those who teach Scripture (Eph 4:11; 1Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17).

· The Tanakh is to be read in congregation gatherings for exhortation and teaching (1Tim 4:13).

· The Tanakh is inspired of God (2Tim 3:16).

· The Tanakh provides the best instruction for training disciples to produce righteousness and correct errant behavior (2Tim 3:16).


Even though immersion was conducted as an immediate consequence of repenting and believing in Yeshua (Acts 2:38; 8:36; 9:18; 10:47; 16:16, 33; 18:8; 19:3-5), Paul provides no instruction at all to congregations concerning immersion. He said that Yeshua had not given him a ministry of immersion (1Cor 1:17), although he was responsible for the immersion of some people (Acts 16:31-33; 1Cor 1:13-16). Immersion was not a significant matter for him but he did provide some valuable theological insight into what immersion represents (Rom 6:3-7; 1Cor 10:3; 12:13; Gal 3:27 Col 2:12).

The Greek word for "immersion" (translated in Christian Bibles as 'baptism') is baptisma (for the Heb. tevilah), and normally referred to ritual immersions in a mikveh or ritual bath. The word is also employed in the apostolic narratives to speak of the immersions of people under the ministry of Yochanan the Immerser (Matt 3:7; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 1:22; 10:37; 18:25; 19:3), but in the apostolic letters of later immersions under Yeshua's apostles (Rom 6:4; Eph 4:5; 1Pet 3:21). The noun means plunging, dipping or immersing so that what is immersed is completely contained within the water. The Christian practice of sprinkling or pouring cannot satisfy the biblical requirement of immersion. There is also no provision for "infant baptism" in apostolic teaching, since immersion is an expression of personal faith and identification with the Messiah.

Another factor not generally considered in Christian teaching on and practice of "baptism" is that Jewish immersion was (and is) self-immersion, and gender-specific. That is, men were not present when women immersed (Gerim 60b), a rule worthy of consideration in Christian practice to preserve feminine modesty. While someone might witness the immersion, no one was allowed to touch the one immersing himself or herself. They did not need a "clergy person" to put the new believer under for it to be valid. The only role of a witness was to insure the person went completely under the water. So men witness for men and women witness for women.

Paul offers no sacramental interpretation of immersion as a means of grace, such as might be inferred from Peter's instruction to Jews, "Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh" (Acts 2:38). This directive implies that immersion can only be a means of grace if it is concurrent with repentance. If the immersion follows at a (much) later date, then it becomes a testimony of grace received in the past. For Paul the significance of immersion is that it is an acted out parable of the death and resurrection of Yeshua and undergoing immersion represents the individual's commitment to be united with the Messiah in death, that is to die to self in order to experience the life of God.

Lord's Table (S'udat ADONAI)

Paul provides the only instruction concerning the Lord's Table, more commonly known as the Lord's Supper, outside the apostolic narratives. See my commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:20-34. Paul alludes to the ceremony in 1 Corinthians 10:16-21 where he speaks of the cup of blessing and the broken bread (10:16), and the "table of the Lord" (10:21). Paul criticizes Corinthian disciples for thinking they can enjoy a banquet at the pagan temple and then engage in a meal in honor of Yeshua at the congregation. The bread and cup represent the atoning sacrifice of Messiah and whatever we do affects our Lord. Such blatant hypocrisy is offensive to God.

The term "Lord’s Supper" (Grk. kuriakon deipnon) is found only in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and was probably coined by Paul. Kuriakos means of or belonging to the Lord Yeshua and deipnon refers to the daily main meal (John 12:2), or a formal banquet, such as Passover (John 13:2). Paul addresses a peculiar situation of meals marred by drunkenness and greed (1Cor 11:20-22) and admonished them to conduct the Lord’s Supper with orderliness and holy respect to avoid further divine displeasure. Apparently God's judgment had already fallen on the congregation for their ungodly display (11:29-30).

The design of the Lord's Supper was created by Yeshua and then revealed to Paul (1Cor 11:23). I believe that the Body of Messiah would benefit from considering the true nature of the Lord's Supper as originally conceived.

· The origin of the apostolic Lord's Supper is Yeshua's last observance of Passover, the national remembrance of deliverance from Egypt. The bread and cup were key features of the first century Jewish celebration.

· The term "Lord's Supper" (1Cor 11:20), like the Passover, means an actual meal, a love feast, shared by the congregation. It was not a short ceremony.

· The term "Lord's Table" (1Cor 10:21) alludes to the furniture from which the bread and cup are served and the meal eaten. In Jewish custom the participants for the festival meal reclined at the table for eating (Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14, 27, 30).

· The apostolic Lord's Supper used unleavened bread and wine for the key ritual elements and not in meager amounts (Luke 22:1; 1Cor 5:7-8).

· A Jewish blessing was offered in advance of receiving the bread and cup (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; 1Cor 10:16).

· The apostolic Lord's Supper was conducted as a memorial of the atoning death of Yeshua, not as a means of salvation (Luke 22:19; 1Cor 11:24-25).

· No set frequency was established for the apostolic Lord's Supper, but as a meal it would occur annually on the anniversary of Yeshua's last Passover or more frequently as determined by the congregation ("as often as," 1Cor 11:25-26).

· The apostolic Lord's Supper means a sharing in the death of Yeshua (cf. Luke 9:23; 1Cor 10:16; Gal 2:20). (The Lord's Supper does not join Yeshua to us, but us to Yeshua.)

· The apostolic Lord's Supper represents an anticipation of the meal that the Messiah will celebrate with his disciples in the age to come in Israel (Matt 8:11; 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 13:29; 22:18; 1Cor 10:16).

· The apostolic Lord's Supper is only for Yeshua's disciples. Anyone who partakes without being worthy exposes himself to the judgment of God (Matt 26:20; 1Cor 11:27-32).

· Receiving the apostolic Lord's Supper is a commitment to the terms of the New Covenant that presupposes Spirit-empowered obedience to God's commandments.

There is much in Christian theology and observance of the Lord's Supper that differs markedly from Paul's description and instruction. For more discussion on this subject see my web article The Messianic Meal.

The Protection of the Body

Spiritual Warfare

Paul was very much aware of Satan's efforts to hinder the work of ministry and destroy the health of congregations. Paul recognized that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood" (Eph 6:12). He warns repeatedly of spiritual warfare and calls his readers to a life of prayer and intercession (Eph 6:10-19). To wage spiritual warfare successfully, that is, to defeat temptation, overcome the schemes of Satan, and persist in developing righteous character, requires the application of sound biblical tactics. Paul used the analogy of a Roman soldier's equipment to explain how to successfully fight against the enemy of our souls. These weapons are effective for all aspects of spiritual warfare. (See my web article Victory in  Spiritual Warfare.)

Defensive weapons, Ephesians 6:10-17a (cf. 2Cor 6:7; 10:4; 1Th 5:8)

· Girdle (Isa 11:5) — represents truth. Satan always hits "below the belt,” that is, he is a liar and the father of lies. Yeshua is the Truth (John 14:6; Eph 4:21). Scripture is the Truth (2Tim 2:15). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13; Eph 1:13).

· Breastplate (Isa 59:17) — represents righteousness. The soldier’s breastplate covered the heart. Righteousness results from trusting faithfulness in the heart (Rom 10:10).

· Sandals (Isa 52:7) — represents the readiness to offer shalom or peace with others (Mark 11:25; Heb 12:14), and peace with God (Matt 5:9; Rom 5:1).

· Shield (Ps 91:4) — represents trusting faithfulness. This was a large shield that protected the whole body. Faith, or more correctly faithfulness, refers to both God’s faithfulness and our faithfulness (Ps 5:12; Prov 30:5; 1Cor 16:13).

· Helmet (Isa 59:17) — represents assurance of salvation. The mind is under siege from Satan, but God gives confidence of salvation (1Th 5:8-9).

Offensive weapons, Ephesians 6:17b (cf. 2Cor 6:7; 10:4)

· Sword — represents the Word of God (cf. Heb 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." During the wilderness testing Yeshua answered every temptation of Satan with Scripture.

· Prayer — persistent petition to and fellowship with God is powerful for defeating the strongholds of Satan.

False Teaching

At times Paul felt it necessary to remonstrate against various spiritual threats, often in the form of divisiveness or false teaching. He attempted to correct those who questioned the resurrection and the assurance of the Second Coming. He warned against many dangers:

· antinomianism (Rom 6:1-2);

· asceticism (Col 2:20-23);

· deceptive doctrines (Eph 4:14; Titus 1:10);

· demonic doctrines, such as vegetarianism and rejection of marriage (1Tim 4:1-4);

· empty religion (Col 2:18-19);

· false apostles and false brethren (2Cor 11:13; Gal 2:4);

· false circumcision (Gal 2:12; Phil 3:2; Titus 1:10-11);

· false inspiration by reliance on dreams, visions or angels (Gal 1:8; Col 2:18);

· false wonders (1Th 2:8-9)

· hedonism and materialism (Rom 14:17; 1Cor 15:32; Php 3:18-19; 1Tim 3:3; 6:10; Heb 13:5);

· legalism contrary to the Good News (Gal 1:8-9; Col 2:16-17);

· moral dangers (Eph 5:3-5);

· mythologies (1Tim 1:3-4; 2Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14);

· sectarianism (1Cor 1:11-12; 11:19; Rom 16:17; Gal 5:20; Titus 3:10);

· Supersessionism (Rom 11:1-2);

· strange teaching (1Tim 1:3; 6:3);

· tickling ears (2Tim 4:3);

· wolves in sheep's clothing (Acts 20:29-30), and

· worldly philosophy (Col 2:8).

In response to these threats Paul exhorted disciples to flee idolatry, pagan religion, the occult and evil associates (Acts 21:25; 1Cor 10:14; 15:33; 2Cor 4:2; 6:14-17; Col 3:5;), and to destroy any object belonging to pagan religion or the occult (Acts 19:19). Especially important for victory is devotion to a life of righteousness, godliness and holiness (1Tim 6:11; 2Tim 2:22; Heb 12:14).


A matter of great concern for Paul was the continued influence of pagan philosophies and practices on the lives of disciples. He offered strong warnings against mixing with the world.

"Be not conformed to the world." (Rom 12:2)

"Do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.'" (1Cor 10:7)

"You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." (1Cor 10:21 NASB)

"Be not be bound together with unbelievers." (2Cor 6:14; see also 2Cor 6:15-18)

"Take heed lest there shall be one that makes you prey through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Messiah." (Col 2:8 mine; see also Col 2:20)

Attempts at amalgamating the Good news of the Messiah and biblical truth with pagan or worldly ideas and practices is always destructive to true religion. "All truth" is not necessarily God's Truth. Every practice teaches something. What message does it convey? Beware of the philosophy "to attract the world we should use the methods of the world."

The Management of the Body

Ministry Oversight

As an apostle Paul was responsible for beginning many congregations and appointed elders and leaders to oversee the ministry and the congregational life (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). He passed on traditions that he expected congregations to obey (1Cor 11:2; 1Th 4:1; 2Th 2:15; 3:6, 14). He identified ministry offices as apostle, prophet, teacher, pastor, evangelist, overseer, deacon and elder (1Cor 12:29; Eph 4:11-13; 1Tim 3:1-13; 5:7). He gave instructions concerning qualifications of these offices. He also offered insight into the roles of various offices and ministries within the congregation that would assure effective discipleship and continued health of the congregation (Eph 4:11-13).

Controversial in Church history has been the role of women in ministry. In the liturgical churches women have long campaigned to be admitted to the priesthood, even though neither Yeshua nor Paul provided for an office of priest. Paul acknowledged various women who were fellow-workers in ministry. Women singled out for recognition by Paul include Lydia (Acts 16:14, 40), Phoebe (Rom 16:1), Priscilla (Rom 16:2), an unknown Miriam (Rom 16:6), Junia, a co-apostle with her husband (Rom 16:7), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12), Euodia and Syntyche (Php 4:2-3), Nympha (Col 4:15), and Apphia (Phm 1:2). Women are specifically spoken of in the Besekh as providing practical support, hosting congregations, performing charitable good works, prophesying, interceding and teaching other women.

However, there is no denying the fact that the Paul imposed some strict guidelines for women that would directly impact both their selection and function in any kind of ministry. No wife could exercise authority over her husband (Eph 5:22-24; 1Tim 2:12), so she could not be the sole pastor over a congregation. Overseers were to be married men (1Tim 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). An overseer (Grk. episkopos) was equivalent to a pastor over a congregation (Acts 20:28; Php 1:1), although it should be remembered that a congregation in the apostolic era included all the believers within a city. The episkopos eventually gained the title "Bishop" and he was the chief leader of the Body of Messiah in a locality.

Giving for the Ministry

While Paul does not give a command to tithe, as does Yeshua (Matt 23:23), he nevertheless, as a Torah-observant Jew and Pharisee who faithfully tithed, implies the expectation in his narrative concerning Melchizedek and Abraham (Heb 7:1-10). Melchizedek was a type of the Messiah and Abraham paid him a tenth of what he received. Sons and daughters of Abraham have an obligation to live by his ethic (Gal 3:7).

Paul teaches that those who provide ministry be supported by those who benefit from their ministry (Ex 20:15; 25:2; Jer 22:13; 1Cor 9:3-14; Gal 6:6). Based on Yeshua's teaching (Matt 10:10) Paul insisted that those in the ministry gain their living from the ministry (1Cor 9:14). In Philippians 4:18 Paul describes financial support of ministry as equivalent to a temple sacrifice.

Giving to Others

From the beginning of his ministry in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11) Paul had an interest in serving the needy. A matter of utmost importance to Paul was collecting funds and sending relief to Jewish disciples in the land of Israel (Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; Rom 15:25-31; 1Cor 16:1-4; 2Cor 8:1-14; 9:1-15). Paul's attitude is summed up in this principle: "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10 NASB). To this end he exhorted people to use their resources for sharing with those in need (Eph 4:28; 1Tim 6:17-18; Titus 3:14; Heb 13:16). Such charity is equivalent to temple sacrifices.

It is in this vein that Paul gives instruction for the care of widows (1Tim 5:3-16). The first level of care of widows is the widow's family. In the first century there were no nursing homes, no assisted living, no retirement centers, no Social Security. The safety net for old age was the family. Paul issues a very stern warning that anyone that does not take care of "his own" has denied the faith (1Tim 5:8). If the widow has no family then she should receive support from the congregation. Even then, knowing the limited resources of the congregation Paul stipulates some qualifying rules: (1) at least age 60; (2) the wife of one man; and (3) a reputation for good works, of which he lists five examples.

Another form of expected charitable generosity was hospitality (Rom 12:13; 1Tim 5:10; Heb 13:2). The word "hospitality" (Grk. philoxenia") lit. means "friendship to strangers." In Greek culture a xenos was a stranger, a non-Greek. Since Paul's letters were addressed to congregations of predominately Jewish constituency, the "strangers" would be non-Jews. Strangers were also people very different from the one providing hospitality. It is even possible that such hospitality might actually be given to angels, as happened with Abraham (Gen 18) and Lot (Gen 19). Generally overlooked by modern Christians is that the Body of Messiah in the first century was mainly Jewish, but their love of Yeshua caused them to embrace Gentiles to create one people, one commonwealth.

The Peace of the Body


Concerning maintaining peace within congregations and between disciples Paul gave instructions that mirrored Yeshua's own peacemaking principles. First of all, Paul exhorted disciples not to bear a grudge or take revenge (Lev 19:18; Rom 12:15, 19; Heb 12:15). Paul's focus on personal relationship is often phrased using the expression "one another" (Rom 13:8-14; 14:1-12; Eph 4:25). Disciples are to:

· Pursue peace with one another (Rom 14:19);
· Serve one another through love (Rom 12:10; 13:8; Gal 5:13);
· Do not judge one another (Rom 14:13);
· Accept one another (Rom 15:7);
· Give no offense to Jews (1Cor 10:32)
· Bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2);
· Be kind to one another, forgiving one another (Eph 4:32);
· Regard one another as more important (Php 2:3);
· Encourage one another and build one another up (1Th 5:11); and
· Pursue peace with all men (Heb 12:14).

Conflict Resolution

The basic approach to resolving interpersonal conflict is for one party to go to the other in person and in private (Lev 19:17; Matt 18:15; Php 4:2). If the initial personal effort does not succeed then help should be sought within the community of faith in resolving the conflict (Deut 17:8-9; Matt 18:16-19; 1Cor 6:1-8; Php 4:3). In no case should a disciple file a lawsuit against a fellow believer (1Cor 6:1-8). Civil matters are to be handled between believers and within the congregation (Deut 17:8-9; Matt 5:23-24).

Jewish law forbade Jews from going to a non-Jewish court, even if their laws were the same. Greeks were known as a litigious people and the law courts were one of their chief entertainments. The Greeks had an incremental system. The first level was arbitration in which each party chose one arbitrator and then the one they agreed on and this panel would decide the matter. If this method was not workable or successful then they could go to the second level, called the Court of the 40. The third level was the Court of 201 citizens, often used for small monetary claims. The fourth level was the Court of 401, used for large monetary claims. There were even cases in which the jury could be as large as 1,000 to 6,000 men (Barclay 9:49-50).

Paul strongly rebuked the Corinthian disciples who had made use of the secular system. He argues that the unrighteous do not understand righteousness, i.e., the justice standards of God's Word. Lawsuits inevitably harm relationships in the congregation. On the other hand believers are competent to judge one another. In fact, God's people will have a judgment role in the age to come. Wisdom may be found in the congregation. Paul called the Corinthians to the higher value of being willing to sacrifice one's pride and position for the sake of a relationship with a brother.

Correction and Discipline

Paul gave instructions on how to respond to errant members (1Th 5:14; 2Th 3:6, 14-15; 2Tim 2:23-26; Titus 3:10-11). He also did not hesitate to confront his fellow leaders when they were wrong: Barnabas (Gal 2:13), Peter (Gal 2:14-17), and Euodia and Syntyche (Php 4:2-7). He passed judgment and imposed discipline on certain individuals: a man in Corinth guilty of incest (1Cor 5:1-5, 13) and Hymenaeus and Alexander who turned away from the faith (1Tim 1:18-20). He was prepared to exact discipline if repentance was not forthcoming (2Cor 10:1-6; 13:1-3, 10). At the same time he counseled congregations to restore in a gentle manner one caught in a trespass (Gal 6:1).


Paul gives a great amount of attention to relationships and offers practical guidelines, whether for friends, neighbors, husbands and wives, children and parents, employees and employers or citizens and government.

Domestic Relations


Paul's instruction on marriage is found in five different letters (1Cor 7:1-9, 25-40; 11:3-16; Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19; 1Tim 2:9-15; Titus 2:1-5). All of Paul's guidance on marriage is based on the Torah. For Paul marriage is exclusively heterosexual and hierarchical. To accurately interpret Paul's instruction concerning marriage we must distinguish between his commands and his counsel.

Commands to Marry

"1 Now concerning that which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of harlotries, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." (1Cor 7:1-2 mine)

In the first verse scholars generally interpret "touch" (Grk. haptomai) to mean carnal relations. I think he means the verb in a more literal sense. In Hebraic culture an unmarried man was proscribed from touching unmarried and unrelated women, because any casual touch could be misinterpreted as wooing or courting. A man must never trifle with a woman's feelings. The temptation for the unmarried man was that since he could not touch a virgin then he would go to a pagan temple where he could touch, and do more. The temple of Aphrodite in Corinth employed over a thousand prostitutes. So, because of the immoral culture with temptation so near a man should marry.

The verb "let have" for both man and woman are present imperatives, that is, commands. Paul expresses the Hebraic view of marriage as expected and desirable. Paul also asserts that the partners belong to one another. The wife belongs to her husband, just as Eve belonged to Adam when she was presented to him. Paul reiterates this principle by using a different pronoun for "his own (Grk. heautou) wife" and "her own (Grk. idios) husband." Heautou is a reflexive pronoun denoting something the subject possesses. Idios particularly emphasizes the nature of a relationship, that is, belonging to an individual in contrast to what is public property or belongs to another. In other words, the husband possesses his wife and she belongs to him. The nature of the relationship is established in betrothal when the virgin is "sanctified" to her bridegroom.

Commands to Serve

"3 The husband must fulfill what is due the wife, and likewise also the wife to the husband. 4 the wife has not authority over her body, but the husband; likewise also the husband has not authority over his own body, but the wife. 5 You must not deprive one another, except by mutual consent for a time that you might have leisure for prayer, and come together again as before, in order that Satan not tempt you." (1Cor 7:3-5 mine)

In this section Paul makes two commands. First, the husband and wife have the duty of serving one another's need for intimacy, as well as other needs. This principle is derived from two Torah commands: "If he takes another wife he shall not deprive her of her food, her garments or her conjugal rights" (Ex 21:10 mine); and "When a man takes a new wife … he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken" (Deut 24:5 NASB). Sexual relations between spouses is first a right and obligation. A husband and wife may not deny each other sex without mutual agreement, even for spiritual reasons.

Spouses also recognize that marriage is the exclusive relationship designed for sexual intimacy between people (Prov 5:15-19; SS 2:16; Eph 5:29; Heb 13:4). Failure to take care of one another’s sexual needs may encourage temptation of unfaithfulness. Intimacy is not only a priority, but a pleasure. The male and female bodies were created for mutual enjoyment. Paul’s observation that a loving husband nourishes and cherishes his wife’s body (Eph 5:29) expresses the attitude of the caring husband that her needs matter as much as his own. The combined counsel of Torah and Paul reinforces the principle that the husband’s part in intimacy is serving his wife, that is, doing what brings pleasure to the wife, not simply seeking his own pleasure (1Th 4:4).

"18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not become harsh toward them." (Col 3:18-19)

Besides intimacy Paul directs wives and husbands to serve each other at the point of their deepest needs. The verbs "submit" and "love" are both present imperative, that is, direct commands. The psychologist Larry Crabb defines these fundamental needs as security for the woman and significance for the man (29). Paul's instructions are not some draconian legalism, but God's plan for husbands and wives to serve each other. Paul addresses the wife first by commanding that she subject herself to her husband's authority. Biblical submission (Grk. hupotassō) does not denote slavery, subservience or inferiority. Hupotassō means to place or rank under, to subordinate oneself. Hupotassō originated as a military term where a rank structure is clearly defined (DNTT 1:476).

Submission pertains to recognizing the positions and function of authority God has ordained and voluntarily subordinating oneself to those who hold those positions and giving respect. Of all the apostolic commands to subject oneself to another the most are directed to wives (1Cor 14:34-35; Eph 5:22, 24; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1Pet 3:1, 5). The wife respects her husband (lit. "fears,” Eph 5:33), not because she is afraid of him but because she knows God will hold both her and her husband accountable for their responsibilities (cf. Matt 12:36; Rom 14:12; 2Cor 5:10; Heb 13:17; cf. 1Pet 3:7). The wife should be willing to receive instruction from her husband (1Cor 14:35; 1Tim 2:11). God intended the husband to be her primary religious teacher, not a priest, pastor or rabbi. She even must be respectful to an unbelieving or backslidden husband (1Cor 7:14; cf. 1Pet 3:1).

Similarly, the husband serves his wife's need for security by sacrificially loving her. The need for security does not pertain simply to financial security, although this is an important matter to wives, but security of the relationship. To insure the husband does not misunderstand Paul cites the sacrifice of Yeshua as the prime example (Eph 5:25). "Husbands, be Yeshua to your wives." The scope of this love [called agapē] is set forth in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Being the object of a love that emulates the Messiah Yeshua assures a wife that she may be secure in her husband's affections, loyalty and leadership.

Counsel Concerning Marriage

"8 Now to the single people and the widows I say that it is fine if they remain unmarried like me; 9 but if they can't exercise self-control, they should get married; because it is better to get married than to keep burning with sexual desire." (1Cor 7:8-9 CJB)

Many Christians have wrongly assumed that Paul advocated remaining unmarried as a way of life. Paul’s pastoral concern arose from a temporary adverse circumstance (1Cor 7:26), so he counsels people in a variety of circumstances to "remain" as they were for the time being. Paul’s later exhortations also prove his true attitude when he warned against asceticism that promised greater spirituality by denying the body the good things that God created for all to enjoy (Col 2:16-23; 1Tim 4:1-5). Asceticism was a real and present threat to the divine institution of marriage. Paul called the prohibition of marriage a demonic doctrine. Paul demonstrated in all his instruction on marriage that he never intended to advocate remaining unmarried as superior to marriage. In fact, he likens the relationship between a husband and wife to the mystery of the Messiah and His Body, the community of faith (Eph 5:32). Paul never speaks of being single in such exalted terms.

Missing from Paul's instruction on marriage is the popular Jewish belief that God is a matchmaker. Many Christians believe there is one right mate for every person. God does provide wisdom for selecting a mate, but no one can blame God for their choice of spouse. There is also no mention in Paul's writings of romantic love as a prerequisite for marriage. In fact, Paul counsels older women to teach younger women how to love their husbands (Titus 2:3-4). As in the Torah the New Covenant stipulates that a prospective marital partner must be a member of the believing community (1Cor 7:39; 2Cor 6:14). Thus, color, ethnicity, culture or national origin are not barriers to choosing a marriage partner in the Body of Messiah. (For more information and discussion on this subject see my web articles Marriage by Design and Marriage in Ancient Israel, and my commentary on Colossians 3:18-19)


Paul exhorted parents to bring up their children in the instruction of Scripture (Deut 6:7; Eph 6:4). For more on this topic see my web article Common Sense Parenting.


Paul emphatically forbade believing couples from separating or divorcing without any mention of grounds, which reinforces the interpretation that Yeshua was making a wider application for the people of God and His disciples. Then Paul applied the same grounds as Yeshua by authorizing a divorce when the spouse who wants out of the marriage is an unbeliever (1Cor 7:15). The issue of a specific sin does not apply to that situation, because the fact of the leaving spouse being an unbeliever constitutes the grounds. His basic counsel was not to seek to become loosed from a wife (1Cor 7:27). If divorced, do not seek a wife. If you marry after divorce you have not sinned (1Cor 7:28). For more discussion on this topic see my web article Divorce in the Bible.

Other Relations

Relations at Work

Paul addresses employment situations in a few passages (Eph 4:28; 6:5-9; Col 3:22-25; 4:1; 1Th 4:11-12; 2Th 3:7-12). He advocated a strong work ethic and the avoidance of idleness. He counseled employers to treat their employees with justice and employees to serve their employers as if they were working for the Lord. See my commentary on Colossians 3:22-25 and 4:1. See also the topic of "Slavery" in the next section.

Relations with the Government

When Paul spoke of being in subjection to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1-7; Col 1:16; Titus 3:1) he may well have been alluding to an early form of the rabbinic dictum, "The law of the government [or country] is Law.” This saying is attributed to Rav Shmuel (AD 80-120, Nedarim 28a; cf. Gittin 10b; Baba Bathra 54b). Of course, this compliance only applied to civil cases. The Jews never allowed the government to interpret and apply religious laws for them. The same is true of a disciple's loyalty to Yeshua. In some matters God's will must come first as Peter told the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29). See my commentary on Romans 13.

Paul is not arguing for the divine right of kings or for any special form of government, but for principle of government and order. However, from the beginning of divine institution of government (Gen 9:5), God has intended government as an important part of his curse containment system and only a strong government can restrain the sinful proclivities of mankind. The believer's obligation to obey pagan rulers gives him the opportunity to love his enemies, even when he may hate or disapprove of their deeds. Paul's instruction is a specific application of his guidance in 12:20 where he quotes Proverbs 25:21-22. The evils of ungodly government exist in modern times (including America), just as in ancient times, but Paul's instruction is still applicable.

One particular matter where the citizen interacts with the government is the payment of taxes. Concurring with the teaching of Yeshua disciples must pay taxes and fees dictated by the government (Rom 13:6-7). In modern times this obligation would include the filing of accurate tax returns. The disciple cannot refuse to pay taxes on the ground that the government uses public funds for immoral purposes. The government will answer to God for its sins, but paying taxes is an expression of our submission to God who established government in the beginning.



"Therefore let not anyone judge you in eating and in drinking, or in the matter of an appointed festival or new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a foreshadowing of the future and the body of Messiah." (Col 2:16-17 mine)

Contrary to Christian assumption Paul did not annul the Torah calendar, but instead grants freedom in observance. See my web article God's Appointed Times. In reality, the Torah instruction for observing special days is sparse (see Leviticus 23). Yet, the Pharisees had developed a rigorous set of rules for observing these days. Since all the special days were sabbaths (i.e., days of rest), then the prohibitions of avoiding the 39 categories of work would apply (Shabbat 7:2). Even though Paul may have rigorously followed these rules he nevertheless offers a midrashic interpretation of Yeshua's words, "the son of man is lord of Shabbat" (see my commentary on Mark 2:23-28). Yeshua meant that the individual disciple is given authority by God to determine his manner of observance (cf. Matt 9:8) and Paul follows this principle. See also my commentary on Colossians 2:16-17.


"Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." (1Cor 7:19 NASB)

Circumcision among Jews predates the commandments given to Israel at Sinai. It was originally given to Abraham. The surgical removal of the male foreskin was required by God as a sign of covenantal relationship (Gen 17:10-14; Acts 7:8). For Jewish males God commanded that circumcision be performed on the eighth day after birth (Gen 17:12; 21:4; Lev 12:3; Acts 7:8), regardless of the day of week. Because of the practice of circumcising adult Gentiles in Judaism, circumcision became a major controversy within the Body of Messiah in apostolic times. Advocacy of adult circumcision among disciples of Yeshua was promoted by a minority group that Paul identifies simply as "The Circumcision" (Acts 10:45; 11:2; 15:1, 5; Rom 4:12; 15:8; Gal 2:12; Col 4:11; Titus 1:10). The matter was settled at the Jerusalem Council.

Unfortunately, the Circumcision sect did not disappear. The Jerusalem Council had only addressed the matter of requirements imposed on Gentiles. They failed to make a clear decision about requirements on Jewish disciples. God never intended that the freedom granted to the Gentiles in terms of legalistic traditions should be denied to Jews. So when Paul wrote to the mostly Jewish congregations his discourses on the Torah become especially relevant. Unfortunately, when Paul returned to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey he had to confront the slander that he taught Jews to forsake Moses in general and circumcision in particular (Acts 21:21). Paul never counseled Jews to quit circumcising their babies. Rather he remonstrated against those who would force Gentile disciples to become proselytes to Judaism.

Paul' viewpoint was that circumcision is not determinative of salvation; it adds nothing to spiritual life. By the same token uncircumcision takes nothing away from spiritual life. What matters are God's commandments. God commanded Jews to circumcise their babies. That instruction is still in force. He did not command anyone to circumcise an adult to be accepted into His kingdom. He did command people to circumcise their hearts (Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4) and that instruction applies to all disciples of Yeshua (Rom 2:29; 1Tim 1:5; Heb 10:22). For more discussion on this topic see my article The Circumcision Controversy.


A subject not mentioned at all in Paul's letters, especially in sections concerning prayer where it might be expected, is fasting. Paul certainly had experience with fasting. As a Pharisee he fasted twice a week (cf. Mark 2:18; Luke 18:12). Paul fasted three days and nights after his encounter with Yeshua, probably in penitential prayer, focusing on God and seeking direction (Acts 9:9-12). The congregation at Antioch fasted in the context of the Spirit calling Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to missionary service (Acts 13:2-3). Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted over the appointment of elders for the new congregations (Acts 14:23). Some consider Paul’s comment of going without food (2Cor 11:27, KJV "fastings”) as fasting, but in context Paul is talking about privations that he suffered due to poverty and persecution.

Paul may not have felt the need to address the subject of fasting to the mostly Jewish audience. There were several appointed days for fasting. The principal day for fasting was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:2-31; 23:26-32). After the Captivity four regular fast-days were established in commemoration of the various sad events that had befallen the Jews during that period (Zech 7:3-5; 8:19). There was also the "Esther Fast" held in conjunction with observance of Purim (Esth 9:31). Rabbinic leaders generally did not encourage private fasting apart from the scheduled national fasts. In fact, there were some days on which fasting was expressly forbidden. In addition, rabbis positively forbade fasting in the case of a scholar, who through his fasting would be disturbed in his study; or of a teacher, who would thereby be prevented from doing his work faithfully. For more information on the subject see my web article Fasting and Prayer.

Food and Drink

"The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking." (Rom 14:17)

An important matter Paul addressed to the congregation in Rome was the divisive issue of food and drink. (See my commentary on Romans 14.) In the background was the promotion of vegetarianism, which Paul labeled as a demonic doctrine (1Tim 4:1-4). Besides the matter of diet, a major issue was meat that came from animals sacrificed to pagan idols. Often the meat sold in markets came from pagan sacrifices. Paul counseled disciples to eat what is sold in the meat market without questions (1Cor 10:25) and to eat what is served in someone's home without questioning its origin (1Cor 10:27). However, if you know the meat was offered to an idol then do not eat it (1Cor 10:28).

Paul's instruction in no way abrogates Torah food laws and there is no permission anywhere in the Besekh for Jewish disciples to set aside their kosher diet. See my web article Did Yeshua Cancel Torah Food Laws? There are three principles laid down by the apostles concerning food and drink (i.e., wine). First, disciples were to refrain from consuming blood, eating food sacrificed to idols and eating what had been strangled (Acts 15:28-29; 1Cor 10:14-22; Rev 2:14, 20). Second, Gentile disciples were to respect the Torah food restrictions required of Jews and not offend them by expecting them to eat non-kosher food (1Cor 10:32). The modern expectation of Christians for a Jew to "eat a ham sandwich" as proof of conversion is without biblical foundation and insulting.

Third, disciples must avoid drunkenness. Paul frequently denounced drunkenness (Rom 13:13; 1Cor 5:11; 6:10; 11:20-22; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; 1Th 5:7-8). Wine was a regular beverage of ancient Israelites and especially important in festival meals and festival sacrifices. Scripture identifies definite benefits of wine (Gen 14:18; 27:28; Ex 29:40; Deut 7:13; 14:26; 16:13; Ps 104:15; Prov 3:10; Matt 9:17; Luke 7:33-34; John 2:3-11; 1Tim 5:23). However, the warnings against drunkenness in Scripture exist because fermented wine was quite potent and some people overindulged (Gen 9:21; Prov 20:1; 23:20; Isa 5:22).


"But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner." (1Cor 14:40 NASB)

Speaking in other languages is listed in 1 Corinthians 12 as one of several gifts of the Holy Spirit, but Paul clearly treats it as the least of the gifts (1Cor 12:28). Unfortunately, its manifestation in the congregation of Corinth, or what passed as speaking in other languages, was not a blessing. In fact, worship there was totally dysfunctional. The problem was likely two-fold. First, the Corinthian congregation included persons who spoke different dialects and some people wanted to pray or prophesy in their native dialect without being concerned with interpretation. Such a phenomenon would not be edifying to the entire congregation. Second, some members sought to imitate pagan worship in the manner of praying and prophesying (1Cor 11:4-5), and especially using an ecstatic form of praying and singing (cf. 1Sam 19:19-24).

The modern term for ecstatic worship is glossolalia, which is characterized by broken speech not intelligible to bystanders and by continuous repetition of "words" with no discernible structure or grammar. Not generally considered is that pagan worship in Greece and elsewhere included glossolalia (BAG 161), but the inspiration for the practice would obviously not be the Holy Spirit. Yeshua alluded to this practice when he cautioned his disciples, "when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words" (Matt 6:7 NASB). Ecstasy in pagan rites may be induced by hypnotism, drugs or demonic spirits. Among pagan Corinthians such speaking may have been considered as a sign of intense spirituality and of possession by the god who inspired the utterance.

Just as the Corinthian congregation was infected with other worldly practices (cf. 1Cor 3:1; 5:1; 6:1, 18; 7:2; 8:1; 10:21), so some members may have seen no problem in amalgamating a pagan form of glossolalia with their Christian worship. It is no accident that instruction concerning this phenomenon occurs only in this letter. Paul’s exhortation to the members of the congregation in Corinth is not only instructional but confrontational. In order to reinstate order in worship Paul mandated two important requirements. First, Paul insisted on interpretation, which is based on synagogue practice. One of the persons who assisted in conducting Shabbat services was an interpreter, known as the meturgan, who would translate into Aramaic or Greek the Hebrew that was being read or spoken.

Second, Paul commanded that "tongues" speaking be limited to two or three, in contrast to the apparent practice of many people engaging in such speaking at the same time. In addition, if there was no meturgan then such speaking was not to be allowed at all (1Cor 14:13, 27-18). The person is to speak to himself (i.e., in his mind), not aloud. The apparent reason is that the untranslated "tongues" speaking only benefits the speaker (1Cor 14:4), so it is of limited value in serving the whole body, the very purpose of spiritual gifts. The requirement for an interpreter implies that any unknown "words" that cannot be translated do not come from God.

Paul issued these two rules with the authority of Yeshua (1Cor 14:37). While Paul expressed a wish that everyone could speak in more than one language (1Cor 14:5), he much preferred to hear only five words spoken in a language everyone could understand than ten thousand words in a language unknown to the congregation (1Cor 14:19). Paul especially encouraged believers to seek the greatest gifts of the Spirit (1Cor 14:1). For further information on this subject see my commentary on 1 Corinthians 14 and my web article Speaking in Tongues.


Paul mentions the fact of slavery and gives instructions to both slaves and their owners (1Cor 7:21-23; Eph 6:5-9; 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:7-12). The economies of ancient empires were based on slave labor and slavery typically occurred as a result of being captured in war and then sold. Legally a slave had no rights. In the LXX doulos translates the Heb. ebed, which did include the meaning of doulos but with a much broader application. In the Tanakh ebed is especially used of household servants, those who worked for the King and those who served God, especially service in the temple (DNTT 3:593). Hebrew culture was different from pagan nations in that while there were some occasions when defeated enemies were enslaved (Num 31:7-9; Deut 20:10-12), slavery was most often a form of indentured servitude.

Hebrew slaves were either purchased outright (Ex 12:44; 21:2, 7; Lev 19:20; 22:11; 25:44) or acquired as a result of having to pay a debt (Ex 21:7; Lev 25:39, 47; Matt 5:25-26). All slaves were considered property, but Hebrew slaves were treated more as trusted employees (Lev 25:40). The Torah specifically required Israelites to remember how they were treated as slaves in Egypt (Deut 5:15; 15:15) and treat their slaves justly (Deut 5:14; Lev 25:43). Yeshua spoke of slaves in some of his teaching as employees with significant stewardship responsibility (Matt 10:24; 13:27; 18:23; 20:27; 21:34; 22:3; 24:45; 25:14). Paul, writing to congregations in the Diaspora where Roman laws of slavery prevailed gave instructions to slaves for their service (Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25) and to masters for their treatment of slaves (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1). He did advise disciples to avoid slavery if possible (1Cor 7:23) and those who were slaves to seek freedom if possible (1Cor 7:21; cf. Deut 23:15-16).

What separates a slave from a free person is independence. To the average person the right to manage one's own life as one chooses is the essence of freedom. Slavery is the abrogation of one's autonomy and the subordination to the will of another. Noteworthy is that Paul regarded disciples who had the status of "slave" as an equal heir to the Kingdom (Gal 3:28; 4:7). Paul used doulos figuratively of discipleship (Rom 1:1; 6:19; 1Cor 7:22; Gal 1:10; Eph 6:6; Php 1:1; Col 4:12; Titus 1:1). We should not imagine that Paul would ever condone the modern trafficking in slavery.


In reviewing this summary of Paul's instructions the reader may notice that many things important to Christianity are completely absent from his letters. One only needs to think of the many doctrines, customs, practices and traditions commonplace in every congregation and denomination and ask just how many things can actually be attributed to Paul (or any of the apostles). The principle of freedom in the New Covenant means that congregations may freely develop practices as long as they do not violate any biblical commandment, including Paul's instruction. It's important for members of congregations to ask "why do we believe what we believe and do what we do? Is it really in accord with biblical teaching?"

The tragedy is that some of Paul's instructions are regarded as culturally influenced and therefore not relevant to modern culture and ministry. Others interpret some of Paul's instructions as restricted to the first century and times have changed. Still other have leaped to the erroneous assumption that the New Covenant means no more Old Covenant (based on bad exegesis of Hebrews 8:13). Paul asserts the continuing legitimacy of the former covenants (Rom 9:4) and the promise of the New Covenant is that God's people would be enabled to keep His commandments (Jer 31:31-33). Many modern believers simply pick and choose which commandments they want to obey (cf. Judg 17:6; 21:25).

We need to remember the admonition of the apostle Peter.

"Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness." (2Pet 3:14-17 NASB)

Yeshua authorized Paul to speak for him and his letters are divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture. NO ONE has the authority to disregard, contradict or annul any of Paul's instructions. He who opposes Paul, opposes God. In reality for modern believers to take the totality of Paul's instructions seriously would require a major paradigm shift in their thinking. Yet, embracing Paul's message will yield great spiritual dividends.

Works Cited

BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Barclay: William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed., 16 Vols. The Westminster Press, 1975-76.

Crabb: Dr. Larry Crabb, The Marriage Builder: A Blueprint for Couples and Counselors. Zondervan Pub. House, 1982.

Davies: W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. rev. ed. Harper Torchbooks, 1967.

DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.

DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

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