Thursday, June 6, 2024

In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece

Thursday, June 6 - CORINTH! Today provided me with a meaningful historical and spiritual experience. Susan and I visited Corinth, just west of Athens.

The Bible is full of events that should be historically verifiable through independent research, but the Bible stories often don't hold up to that scrutiny. However, some stories do match the independently known historical context. Whether one objectively believes the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, we can date it to the time Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea, up to about 37 CE. Following that event, the Bible provides stories of Paul (author of much of the New Testament). Paul traveled the known civilized world to gain followers of a died and risen Jesus.

There is little doubt that Paul existed as a real person. The Romans kept good records, and Paul was born a Roman citizen to wealthy parents. Many details of Paul's life cannot be verified, and there are discrepancies between the Bible and the historical record, but this is true for almost any major ancient figure, including those with no connection to the Bible.

In the Book of Acts, chapter 18, verse 12 (Acts 18:12), it is written, "But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal." (NRSV)

We independently know that Gallio served as proconsul 51-52 CE. At that time in Corinth, when a person was brought before the tribunal, that person was brought to a specific, centralized spot in the business district referred to as a "bema", which is a stone platform used by orators (top photo where the white stones are sticking up, right of center). The person being questioned would stand on the bema where citizens could watch from all sides.

Paul's mission was to spread the story of Jesus, and Paul (according to the Bible) was handed a monumental opportunity to do that, on a platform in the middle of town with the leaders in attendance. When questioned by the Roman authorities, Paul preached his little heart out. The Romans took no further action since Paul was not advocating insurrection against Roman authority.

Today, this bema is now ruined but partially visible. The ancient Corinthian ruins are surprisingly open to foot traffic within an enclosed area of a museum property, and I was able to stand on the bema, on the ancient platform where Paul would have stood. This was even cooler than standing in Sun Studio on the spot where Elvis recorded for the first time.

June 15 - In 2 Cor 5:10, Paul writes, "For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil."

Some people read this in a way that suggests it was Gallio the Roman proconsul who stood on the bema in order to judge someone brought before him. The bema is rectangular, so it makes sense that Gallio and his advisors would be on the bema, judging someone standing just below them. Many commentators equate "bema" with "tribunal". However, I think this is quite incorrect; the bema is the stone platform, and Acts 18:12 does not say where the human judges who comprised the tribunal stood or sat, only that Paul was brought before the tribunal.

2 Cor 5 places Jesus on a judgement seat, referred to as a bema by many commentators. I am unsure if the ancient Greek uses the word bema. I like the idea that the person would be placed on the bema (platform) for all to see, and for all around to pass judgement, making the bema a place of vulnerability. The person is not being raised up to God or above the rulers; the person is being exposed, ready to be cheered or stoned.

But I admit, it makes sense for a ruler to pass judgment from a throne or high platform. Was I passing judgment on Paul when I stood on the bema? Or was I exposing myself, separated from the safety of hiding in the crowd?

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