Monday, 14 December 2015
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 2 Corinthians 11:24
There is quite a bit to consider in these few words. First, the word “stripes” is not in the original, but it is given for clarity and its inclusion is correct. The law of punishing a Jew by the Jewish authorities comes from the Law of Moses. In Deuteronomy, this is recorded –
“If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, 2 then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. 3 Forty blows he may give him and no more, lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight.” Deuteronomy 25:1-3
Forty lashes were the maximum allowed by the law. In order to ensure that this was not violated, thus breaking the command which was given for punishment of another command, one lash was held back. The 40 lashes, minus one, are mentioned in the writings of Flavius Josephus. It is also believed that a scourge of 13 knotted thongs was used and the person was beaten only 3 times, thus equaling 39 lashes.
It should be noted here though that this punishment of 39 lashes cannot be equated to the 39 books of the Old Testament and thus a picture of Jesus’ fulfillment of the law which included his stripes recorded in Isaiah 53:5. This is a commonly taught thing which neither matches the Law of Moses (40 stripes, not 39), nor was this the punishment which Jesus endured during His passion under Pontius Pilate. That was a Roman, not a Jewish, punishment and there were no such limits set by Rome. That is a fanciful, but misplaced, use of this punishment.
Concerning Paul’s receiving this Jewish punishment “five times,” there is no record in the book of Acts that he ever received it. When he was beaten (Acts 16), it was a Roman punishment. It could be that he received these Jewish punishments at the various synagogues that he visited, but there is no record of it. This shows that Paul’s epistles, which very well support the narrative in the book of Acts, were not written based on Acts as some people claim. Rather, they are independent writings which unite at times to confirm the truth of the two accounts. At other times, they independently highlight other things not written in the other account.
Life application: Paul was willing to go to great lengths in order to preach the gospel of Christ to his own Jewish brothers, so much so that he confirms that he was beaten by them on five separate occasions. Are we willing to endure a little bit of pain and rejection by our own people in order to share this same message? Our willingness to suffer for Christ is a sign of our devotion and dedication to Him.
Lord God, Your word is filled with stories of Your faithful prophets and apostles suffering for the sake of speaking out about Your word and the truths it contains. These people are recorded for their faithful witness and testimony, showing that they truly cared about their relationship with You. Help us to have a similar spirit. Help us to be willing to suffer shame, and even more, for Your name and for the sanctity of Your word. Keep us from being weak and ineffective followers of You. Amen.