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Dear friends,

Welcome to my blog. I am honored to have you visit. I hope you'll find my articles a blessing. I welcome your input and especially comments and questions.

I write as a Christian from Jerusalem, Israel about Biblical subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subjects of children, families, women's issues, corporal punishment, science and nature as these subjects relate to the Holy Scriptures.

For more information, see my website: www.biblechild.com

With every good wish - Samuel Martin

Saturday, October 27, 2012

O Wretched Child that I am


O Wretched Child that I am 

by 

Samuel Martin

Saint Paul was a person well experienced with life. He tells us about his many experiences including many sufferings.


“But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.” (II Corinthians 11:21-33 ESV)


He also speaks often of his many joys in Christ (Romans 15:32; II Corinthians 2:3; Philippians 2:2; I Timothy 2:20).


When we read Paul’s experiences, we can see that he lived a human life much like that which you and I experience today: a life of suffering and a life where one experiences great joy.


A part of Paul’s (and ours) experiences in life lead him to express his own shortcomings and human frailties when coming to the question of the daily task of reconstructing his own character. Paul (like you and especially I) had major challenges with this issue and this is exactly what he tells us. 


What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But in, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.


Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:7-24 ESV)


Paul saw inside of himself a delight in God’s law, but in his own experience, he found himself deficient (as are you and I) when it came to performance. His reference to his own shortcomings was not an isolated incident. He referred many times to his own personal nature, which he characterized as sinful, mortal, corruptible, and fleshly, terms any honest, self reflecting person is very familiar with. Note what he told Timothy:


“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  (I Timothy 1:12-15 ESV)


It is interesting that Paul did not say that he “was” previously the “foremost” sinner. No! He uses the present tense to describe his earthly condition. Let us be honest though, Paul was doing his best to pursue his Christian walk, but found that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (ibid.)


But when did Paul write these statements? How old was he when he was making these statements? Many authorities agree that Paul was born in the first decade of the First Century and died before 70AD. Let us consider a general chronological outline of some general events of the New Testament period which can help us see when this might have happened.


  1. Christ’s First Year of Teaching                                                    27 to 28 AD[1]
  2. Sabbatical Year in the First Century among the Jewish people      27 to 28 AD[2]
  3. First Passover mentioned in John’s Gospel (6:4)                          29 AD
  4. Feast of Tabernacles mentioned in John’s Gospel (7:1)                 29 AD
  5. Feast of the Dedication mentioned in John’s Gospel (10:22)          29/30 AD (winter)
  6. Jesus Crucified, Buried and Raised from the Dead                       30 AD (Passover)
  7. Persecution of the Church by Saul of Tarsus                               30/31 AD
  8. Paul converted to Christianity                                                     31 AD
  9. Sabbatical Year in the First Century among the Jewish People      34 to 35 AD
  10. Sabbatical Year in the First Century among the Jewish People      41 to 42 AD
  11. Galatians composed (17 years (1:18; 2:1) leads back to AD 31     48 AD
  12. Paul travels to Jerusalem to take part in Jerusalem Council          49 AD
  13. Sabbatical Year in the First Century among the Jewish People      48 to 49 AD
  14. Jerusalem Council meeting (Acts 15)                                          49 AD
  15. Paul arrives in Corinth (Second Journey)                                     50/51 AD
  16. Paul spends 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11)                            51/52 AD         
  17. Paul before Gallion (Acts 18:12-17)                                             52 AD
  18. Paul visits Jerusalem (Acts 18:21,22)                                          52 AD
  19. Paul starts Third Journey (Acts 18:23)                                         53 AD (Spring)
  20. Paul reaches Ephesus late Spring                                               53 AD
  21. Paul stays in Ephesus for two years (Acts 19:10)                         54/55 AD
  22. Paul wrote I Corinthians (at Passover time)                                 55 AD
  23. Paul asks Corinthians to save money for poor Jerusalemites to be given them for the upcoming Sabbatical Year kept in Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:15)                         55 AD
  24. Paul goes to Macedonia                                                             55 AD (late in year)
  25. Paul writes II Corinthians late in the year in Macedonia                 55 AD              
  26. Sabbatical Year in the First Century among the Jewish People      55 to 56 AD
  27. Sabbatical Year begins in the Fall of the Year (II Cor. 8:10; 9:2)    55 AD
  28. Paul returns to Corinth (Acts 20:3)                                              55 AD (late Fall)
  29. Paul writes Romans (Romans 15:25-33)                                      56 AD (Spring)
  30. Paul in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 20:16)                                56 AD
  31. Sabbatical Year ends                                                                 56 AD (Autumn)
  32. Paul imprisoned in Ceasarea for two years                                  58 AD
  33. Sabbatical Year in the First Century among the Jewish People      62 to 63 AD
  34. Jerusalem Destroyed by the Romans                                          70 AD
This chronological reconstruction above comes from the work of my late father "The Year of Christ's Crucifixion." - (Foundation for Biblical Research, April 1983)

 Now, we have to speculate a little bit about the person of Paul himself to help us understand the personal context in which he writes Romans 7. He is not here writing as a young person with little or no experience in life. On the contrary.


When we first encounter Paul in Acts, we find him mentioned at the death of Stephen described as a “young man” (Acts 7:58). However, while he may have been considered a young man, he was one who had reached a fairly high position in the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem. Let us remember that Paul, then called Saul, had received permission and a mandate directly from the high priest of the whole nation of Israel, who was the top religious authority in the world at that time concerning matters of the Jewish faith, to go to Damascus to seek Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment (Acts 9:1,2) Apparently Paul was considered qualified to undertake such a mission by the high priest at that time.


This shows that Paul in his youth, as he even himself says, had reached a very high level of responsibility within the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem at that time. Notice what he said in public which demonstrates this point quite clearly.


 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: “I am a Judaean, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.” (Acts 22:1-5 ESV)


It must be understood that someone in the position of Paul (then called Saul) was one who was considered to be one of the most loyal, competent, highly achieving academic religious experts at the time who was given the task to defend Judaism from the new schism of Christianity.


Such a job would not have been given to a maverick. This would only have been entrusted to one whose reputation and loyalty to the faith was unquestioned. 


Paul at that time would have fit in exactly to the Pharisaical model of life and culture. Chronologically speaking, we have some very early testimonies which point to a general outline of what this life might have looked like. Here is a great quote from Rabbi Rosenfeld.


"He [Yehuda ben Taima] used to say: At five [one should begin the study of] Scriptures; at ten, Mishna; at thirteen [one becomes obligated in] the commandments; at fifteen [the study of] Talmud; at eighteen the wedding canopy; at twenty to pursue; at thirty strength; at forty understanding; at fifty counsel; at sixty old age; at seventy fullness of years; at eighty spiritual strength; at ninety bending over; at one hundred it is as if he has died and passed on from the world." 


In this Mishnah, Yehuda ben Taima sums up the human experience with simple but uncanny accuracy. It is interesting that although Yehuda earlier challenged us to such great heights -- to serve G-d with the fierceness of a leopard, swiftness of a deer, etc. (Mishnah 23) -- here he sees life in such undulating order and regularity. We reach for the stars, yet we must be thankful if we merit lives of normality and longevity. 


Before we begin examining the stages of life, I can't resist quoting a parallel statement in the Midrash (Koheles Rabbah 1:2) -- more amusing, in a pathetic sort of way. In the beginning of Koheles (Ecclesiastes), King Solomon seven times calls the physical world a place of "hevel" -- vanity or futility. The Midrash relates this to the seven stages of life. At one year of age, man is a king, fondled and doted upon by all. At two and three he is a pig, groping in the garbage. At ten he prances around like a kid. At twenty he is a horse, preening himself in search of a wife. After marriage he works like a donkey to earn a living. When he has children he is brazen as a dog trying to raise and support his family. And at the end of his life he becomes senile and senseless as an ape. A script few of us veer from. For better or worse -- as Yehuda wrote above -- life really is a mimicry of the animal kingdom!” (Here making reference to the ancient Hebrew book – Pirke Avot - http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter5-25.html#)


When we consider the descriptions of Paul and the level of responsibility he had achieved, it is really hard for us to imagine that he was less than age 30 at the time he received letters from the High Priest to go to Damascus.

Let us again remind ourselves of Paul’s statement again in Acts 22, where he said he was “brought up in this city (Jerusalem), educated at the feet of Gamaliel, according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers.” (Acts 22:2)

Now, considering this fact that Paul was adhering not to the liberal manner, but to the “strict manner of the law” does this give us any clue as to Paul’s age when he received the letters from the High Priest? Perhaps.

As a strict Pharisee, Saul would have been a zealous keeper of the commandments of God and this included all 613 of them. However, there is one commandment, which in fact is the very first commandment of all which if a person in that period was not adhering to would have positioned that person well outside of the normative mainstream of Judaism.

This commandment is found in Genesis 1:28 and it says ;”Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” Judaism has long recognized this as the first of all commandments which is a requirement of all adherents to the Jewish faith.

For men, this means two things. It means marriage and it means becoming a father. Note how Rabbi Chill helps us understand this issue. He quotes numerous ancient authorities which would precisely represent what was the norm in Paul’s time.

“When a man reaches the age of 18 he becomes subject to the mitzvah to marry and to have children. … To fulfill this mitzvah adequately, a man must beget at least one son and one daughter who, in turn, must be physically capable of begetting children of their own. In other words, one had not fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation if, for example, he begets a son who is sexually impotent or a daughter who is barren.” (Chill, The Mitzvot: The Commandments and their Rationale, pg. 3)

When we encounter Paul in Acts 9, it is almost unthinkable that he would not be looked on as one of high responsibility, a dignitary holding official letters in an entourage of people, he being the representative of the High Priest himself! Such a job is not one for a man of 20 years! It is hard to imagine Paul being less than 30 years old at this time.

It is hardly to be expected also that a man of Paul’s stature within Judaean society at that time would have been unmarried. When we consider such a person who came from a family that were born Roman citizens, (Acts 22:28) having enough financial means to be able to send their son to Jerusalem to study at the feet of one of the most respected Rabbis of the time (Acts 5 & 22), to have reached the stature in the cultural system of the day where he was selected by the High Priest directly to have been entrusted with sacred duties to defend the faith at that time, one cannot imagine that such a person living within the environment of Judaism, on a track to himself become one of the leading scholars in the city, this makes Paul, in fact, one of the most eligible men living in Jerusalem at that time!

Paul, in fact, had reached the pinnacle of achievement within Judaism at that time. He was a “Pharisee of the Pharisees.” He was someone whose academic achievement was the highest. Think about it. If you were the High Priest of the country, would you not select the best candidate to do a specific job? Would you not select the most able person to represent you and your wishes in your absence? If you were the top religious leader of the country, would not your selection of a specific individual for a specific task give some indication of your level of confidence in that person and their right to be designated for such a position due to their obvious achievement?

There are many speculations concerning evidence in the Ecclesiastical History written by Eusebius in the early 300s, which says Paul was married. Paul himself says that: “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Judaeans of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14). To think that this meant a negation of non-adherence to the very first commandment found in the Judaean faith is really almost impossible.

In fact, based upon Paul’s own account of his growing up in Jerusalem and studying at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel, it is quite possible that Paul could have even encountered Jesus Himself at age 12 when Jesus was Himself for three days in the presence of the great teachers of the Law. (Luke 2:46) Paul himself may have even known of Jesus, this child prodigy from the Galilee! It could very well be as they were both in Jerusalem perhaps at the same time.

So if Paul was at least age 30 in Acts 9, this would make him in AD 56 when Romans was written himself being at least 55 years old. This is the circumstance in which Paul found himself, a mature grown experienced man writing what he did in Romans 7.

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out”

So, this is the circumstance that Paul (and you and I) found himself (and ourselves) in. He (and we) want to do what is right, but we do not possess the ability to do it perfectly. It is a part of our human condition to make mistakes, to be mortal, corruptible and sinful.

We are not alone in our experience of this sinful state known as the human condition. It is something which all humans experience and that experience extends to all ages of life. The nature to be sinful is something inherited by all of the children of Adam. (Romans 3:23)

While we all recognize this, there are one group of people, who while they have inherited this sin nature, they have yet to realize it in the same way that Paul, certainly being above 50 years of age at the time, recognized it. They are sinners just like Paul was, but they themselves do not yet know it! Yet, today many continue to engage this group who live among us, with approaches and actions which seek to attempt to stamp out or eliminate this sinful nature even while the sinner himself doesn’t even realize that he or she himself is sinful.

Here, of course, we are talking about young children and in this case, we are talking about young children under the age of five in particular. Children under five are our subject here because there is a well known level of cognition that all of us who are parents know exists which is not present before that age.

I read a psychological book which described a simple formula that one could use to help us understand that the minds that these young children have are still developing and do not have any where near the same level of understanding that children over five (generally speaking) possess. A simple question can be posed to the under five year old to illustrate this. I have two children and one of them is under age five (in 2011). If I ask her “Do you have a sister?” She will say “yes.” But if I take her mind beyond this to a more difficult and complex question saying “Does your sister have a sister?” She will have to really think that one through and only by about age five according to scientists do children begin to say. “Yes, my sister has a sister and I am her.”

We can in fact see this idea being expressed by Paul in Scripture. It is found in I Corinthians 2:11. “For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?”

This is a most important scripture. There is a “spirit” in man. There is a spiritual side to man. But, this spiritual side takes time to develop! As quoted earlier, man takes time to develop and grow up: “At two and three he is a pig, groping in the garbage.” (ibid.) A two or three year old does not have an inner spiritual man operating in the same way as an older child! Not at all!

It shows that man himself cannot know even the things of the flesh unless through the spirit which is in man. This condition exists when a child is born and continues well into the time about up to age three or four. (depending on the individual)

By age five, children have some general awareness about life on a day to day basis, but prior to that time, they are certainly human, but the “spirit of that person, which is in him” has not yet developed and become aware of what it really means to be human.

Now, if we go back to the example that Paul gives us of his own experience as a grown, highly educated, experienced, seasoned man knowing all aspects of life found in his own life an inability to do what is right by his own admission. Let us rehearse what he said: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)

So, now we have to ask ourselves a question. Why is it that today many well intentioned Christian advocates of child rearing are so focused on punishing little children for sin (often starting before these little children of God are still babes in arms) before the time when these children even have an awareness of what human life is all about? They do not have ant experience with life, have no concept of what sin is and they do not yet even know the difference between right and wrong much less have a desire to do what is right, yet they are introduced to complex ideas about sin and punishment well before the time when their minds are even working at a level to comprehend even the most basic aspects of life.

The fact is, “the spirit of that person, which is in him” is not yet “in” little children under about age five, yet the preferred Christian approach today by many is to treat that little child, not as a totally innocent being, who not only does not “have the desire to do what is right”, but also does not even know what “the desire to do what is right” is, as a guilty sinner in the same category as that which aware humans who themselves (like Paul) “do not understand my own actions.” (Romans 7:15) No, little Tommy or Suzy has to understand that they are wrong, evil sinners who deserve to be punished starting preferably while they are still babes in arms while us grown ups acknowledge that we have the “desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” and we ourselves “do not understand my [our] own actions.”

In my book, it just does not seem fair.

I’d welcome knowing your view.



[1] This year begins in the Autumn and ends in the following Autumn
[2] Ibid.

5 comments:

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Carissa Robinson said...

Thank you for this post, Samuel! I often think about how we treat children so different than we would even treat an adult member of our church, or even our elderly relatives with dementia who have limited understanding, and it enrages me.

author@ptgbook.org said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
New Covenant Mom said...

Great insights!
It's so sad.. now that I see clearly, the destruction being caused by those who are deceived. I know a mom who is engaged in a full on war with her 5 year old - both mother & child exasperated, angry, sad - fighting for hours daily following Tedd Tripp's advice.

I think it comes down to your faith in the grace of God. If we believe in the grace of God we don't have to hunt down & punish sinners like Saul, but can sympathize with their struggle like Paul and Jesus.

I just wish I knew how to reach those so steeped in deception.

New Covenant Mom said...

I think it comes down to your faith in the grace of God. If we believe in the grace of God we don't have to hunt down & punish sinners like Saul, but can sympathize with their struggle like Paul and Jesus.

I'm so sad for all the destruction being caused in families who have been deceived and have no idea how to reach them.