Volume 47 - Issue 2
The Fantasy of the Frantic Apostle: Paul and the ParousiaBy Allan Chapple
Paul believed that God had called him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles in order to bring about the end-time conversion of the nations … [and] that his service from Jerusalem to Illyricum put him well on the road to converting the nations and thus hastening the parousia.1
The faster Paul reached the “ends of the earth,” bringing with him the “full number of Gentiles” (Rom 11:25), the sooner Jesus would return.2
It is not uncommon to meet such statements in studies of Paul, claiming that he was engaged in a campaign to evangelize the world before its imminent end.3 Had this been the case, everything about him would have had a frantic air—but this essay aims to demonstrate that that Paul is almost certainly a fantasy, a figment of the imagination. There are just too many contradictions with the data of his letters and the book of Acts for this view of Paul to be credible. A thorough demonstration would obviously require a book rather than a brief study like this, which only outlines the case against the “frantic apostle.”4 What makes this worth doing is the way this imaginary Paul keeps turning up in all sorts of places. The case against him is presented here in two sections: the first summarizes how this view of Paul misrepresents him, and the second sketches what I think is the right alternative. A third section then gives a brief answer to the necessary question, why does this matter?
1. The Case against the “Frantic Apostle”
A convenient way of presenting this case is to concentrate on four key ideas that are embedded in the view of Paul represented in the two quotations above.
1.1. This Paul Was Ignorant of the Size of the World
Another proponent of this view describes Romans 15:19 as “an enormous exaggeration when measured by geographical reality”5—a polite way of saying that Paul was simply mistaken. He could only have believed that his activities from Jerusalem to Illyricum meant that he was “well on the road to converting the nations” if his world was merely Roman and Mediterranean. But there are good reasons for confidence that he was much better informed about the world than that.
One is his reference to Scythians (Col 3:11), who came from modern day Crimea and Ukraine. Another is the high probability that a well-instructed, well-connected Jew like Paul (Acts 22:3–5; Gal 1:14) would have known of the Jewish communities in Parthia, Media, and Mesopotamia (Acts 2:9). Thirdly, the fact is that Paul and his contemporaries were rather well informed about numerous regions between the borders of the Roman Empire and the “ends of the earth.”6
More than three centuries earlier Alexander and his army had fought their way to India, and the legacy of his exploits was one of the foundations on which the Romans developed extensive trade networks with the east coast of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, parts of south-east Asia, and China.7 They also looked westward, for Julius Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul and Britain meant that both were on the Roman map, along with what they called “Germania.” Although we can’t know how much Paul knew about such places, we can be confident that his commission to take the gospel to “all the nations” (lit.: Rom 1:5; 16:25–26; 2 Tim 4:17) gave him a motive to find out as much as possible about what this would involve, and that he also had the means for doing so.8 There is no reason to think he was less well-informed than Thomas, for example, who apparently knew enough to plan on, and succeed in, taking the gospel to India.9
Therefore: What Paul is likely to have known about the size of the world makes it very unlikely that he ever expected the evangelization of the nations, and thus the return of the Lord, within his own lifetime.
1.2. This Paul Had Astonishingly Small Expectations about God’s Saving Work
This too is embedded in the claim that he was “well on the road to converting the nations” and takes two different forms: one focuses on what Paul was actually aiming to do and the other on what he would achieve.
What was Paul aiming to do? One commentary on Romans 15:19 gives this answer:
[When] Paul says that in this region he has completed the Gospel of Christ, he does not mean that he (or anyone else) has preached the Gospel to every person in it, but that it has been covered in a representative way. The Gospel has been heard; more could not be expected before the parousia.10
This understands Paul as a herald, the chief means in that world of broadcasting important information. Having made his announcement (κήρυγμα) in a public setting, the herald (κῆρυξ) would move on and announce it (κηρύσσειν) in a new location. What the hearers made of the announcement was not his concern; he was responsible only to make it known. But this wasn’t Paul’s outlook—not because he wasn’t a herald, but because he wasn’t just a herald.11 That is why he expected a great deal more before the parousia than simply getting the gospel heard.
He makes this clear in Romans, for example, long before we come to 15:19. He did not proclaim the gospel with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude: he wanted hearing to result in believing, and thus in calling on the Lord, because he wanted his hearers to be saved (Rom 10:8–17). This is all there at the beginning of the letter: he aimed at securing “the obedience of faith” (lit.) among the Gentiles by bringing them the gospel, the means by which God saves all who believe (Rom 1:1, 5, 9, 16). But we do not even have to read Romans to realize that this Paul-as-herald view is mistaken, for it is contradicted by the existence of the letter. How could he justify deviating from his commission as a herald to compose long and complex letters to people who had already heard and embraced what he announced?
What would Paul’s ministry achieve? Here we return to the initial quotation of C. Marvin Pate. Let’s suppose, first, that “well on the road” means that this work was about one-third complete, and secondly, that all of Paul’s churches between Jerusalem and Illyricum—in Syria and Cilicia, Galatia and Asia, Macedonia and Achaia, and wherever else—had a total of some ten thousand members.12 This means that when he had completed the “conversion of the nations,” the entire company of those waiting to greet the returning Lord would fit into the amphitheater of a typical Roman city. Quite frankly, that looks much more like an embarrassing piece of tokenism than a great and universal salvation. But it is obvious that Paul did not expect God to save only a tiny portion of the world’s population.
This is demonstrated, first, by three features of his exposition in Romans 11 of God’s saving work. First, he is expecting a future that he describes as “riches” (11:12), a metaphor that obviously indicates great abundance. Secondly, he is also very confident that the present “remnant” of Israel (11:5) will become a “fullness” (πλήρωμα, 11:12 [lit.]), to match that of all the Gentiles who will be saved (πλήρωμα, 11:25). Whatever size a πλήρωμα might be, it is at the opposite end of the spectrum from a crowd of spectators in one amphitheater. And thirdly, whatever Paul means precisely by “all” (πᾶς, 11:26) and “everyone” (πάντες, 11:32), such expectations are obviously huge and expansive.
The second counter to this view is the fact that Paul attached great importance to God’s covenant promises to Abraham, as his expositions in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 demonstrate. And since Abraham’s end-time family was to be both universal in scope (“all peoples on earth”: Gen 12:3) and immense in size (“as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore”: Gen 22:17), how could Paul possibly regard the results of his own ministry as the complete fulfilment of those promises? When measured against what God has promised, even tens of thousands of converts could only be the first fruits at best, and a very long way from the complete harvest.
Therefore: Paul’s convictions about the greatness of God’s saving purpose and power make it most unlikely that he ever expected the full and final salvation of Jews and Gentiles, and thus the return of the Lord, within his own lifetime.
1.3. This Paul Believed That He Must “Convert the Nations”
In order to keep the discussion within reasonable bounds, we will concentrate on four key problems with this claim.
First, it gives Paul’s work a completeness and finality he doesn’t claim. The stark contrast between the fruit of Paul’s labors and God’s promises to Abraham is obviously important here. Such a contrast is also evident in Paul’s own words: in comparison with his expectations of a vast and comprehensive outcome to God’s saving work, his hopes and goals for his own work are very modest.
Although he is confident of the future salvation of “all Israel” (Rom 11:26), he still longs and prays for the Israelites’ salvation (Rom 10:1) and works to that end—but his sights are not set any higher than saving “some of them” (Rom 11:14). The obvious contrast between “some” and “all” effectively rules out the frequent claim that Paul expected his own missionary labors to win “the full number of the Gentiles”—and thus indirectly to trigger Israel’s final salvation (Rom 11:11–14, 25–26).13 In God’s great mercy, all of this will happen (Rom 11:30–32)—but obviously not just through Paul’s ministry. This limitation is true of his work as a whole, as we learn from two descriptions in 1 Corinthians of his general approach. He makes himself “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22b) and aims to “please everyone in every way” (1 Cor 10:33)—but this is not an unprincipled pursuit of human approval.14 Because his goal is the salvation of as many people as possible (1 Cor 9:19; 10:33), he does all that he can to remove any barriers (1 Cor 9:20–22) and to avoid giving any offence (1 Cor 10:32–33) that might prevent the gospel being heard. Yet here too the harvest he anticipates is not “all” or even “most,” but only “some” (1 Cor 9:22b).
Second, this view wrongly depicts Paul as a “lone ranger.” He is represented as viewing the conversion of the nations is his responsibility, with the timing of the Lord’s return dependent on how quickly he gets this done. But Paul does not speak of himself in these ways—and what he does say about his mission reveals a markedly different view.
His policy of not “building on someone else’s foundation” reveals his awareness that he was not the only one engaged in foundation-laying evangelism and church-planting (Rom 15:20; cf. 2 Cor 10:15–16). While some of his associates did such work, as Epaphras did in Colossae (Col 1:3–8), in this passage he is more likely to be thinking of the work of other apostles and church leaders.15 His own work was by no means a solitary affair, for his letters refer to a great many people who were involved with him at different times and in different ways.16 Although some worked under his direction over several years, it is very striking that he doesn’t regard them as subordinates who assisted him in his work but as his partners in “the work of the Lord.” A clear example is his telling the church in Philippi that he often thanks God for their “partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1:3–5). A different kind of leader would probably have referred to this as “helping me in my work,” for (as this letter reveals) it was by no means an equal partnership.
Third, there are real problems with describing Paul’s task as “converting the nations.” These problems are of different kinds, but their combined effect makes this description unhelpful at best.
Paul doesn’t use such terminology in describing his commission, and it is difficult to make it fit with what he does say. A “conversion” normally refers to the point at which someone accepts the gospel, “calling on the name of the Lord” for the first time.17 But Paul is not focused on this starting-point (“being converted”) but on the final outcome (“being saved”)18—which is why he prays and works for perseverance and progress, for growth and depth, in his churches.19 This is also why he wrote to his churches: his letters are not the work of an itinerant evangelist but of a faithful pastor, whose goal is not winning converts but establishing churches that last.20 If Paul had been sent to convert the nations, how would he know when his task was done? What would count as a nation’s “conversion”? And what would signal that the nations as a whole had been converted? It is difficult to find any indications in his letters as to how Paul would answer these questions.
Fourth, the way Paul describes and conducts his mission doesn’t fit such a goal. There are several key features of Paul’s descriptions of his task and of the way he goes about it that are at odds with the idea of “converting the nations.”
He depicts himself as an initiator rather than a finisher, with an obvious example being his statement that he has “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:19). He is not claiming to be “well on the road to converting the nations,” as Pate believes. He means that he has completed his assignment in the regions between Jerusalem and Illyricum—and verse 20 makes it clear what that assignment is.21 He has a pioneering task, making the gospel known where it has not yet been heard. By doing so he initiates a process that he himself does not complete: his work is essential and foundational, but it is not everything that must be done.
Sometimes he makes this explicit: he tells the Corinthians, for example, that he planted the seed in God’s farmland, but others water it (1 Cor 3:6–9); he laid the foundation for God’s edifice, but others build on it (1 Cor 3:9–15); he fathered their church by means of the gospel, while others (“guardians”) have a role in their upbringing (1 Cor 4:15). He also expresses this idea indirectly, such as designating certain people as the “first fruits” (ἀπαρχή) of a particular city or region (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15; 2 Thess 2:13). This OT metaphor depicts a location’s first converts as a sign that the “harvest” there has only just begun.22 Paul’s labors have begun the process—but there is still much more to be done.
It is because he understands himself as a gospel pioneer that he takes it for granted that many others will continue what he begins—an expectation that emerges in several ways in his letters. One of these is especially noteworthy because he makes nothing of it: he addresses 1 Corinthians to “the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2), but the major letter he sends a year or two later is addressed to that church “together with all his holy people throughout Achaia” (2 Cor 1:1). Through the work of unnamed others, the gospel has spread out from Corinth and taken root in other centers, with Cenchreae being the only one we know about (Rom 16:1). This expectation underlies his references to the gospel as active and powerful: it “comes” (Col 1:6; 1 Thess 1:5), it “bears fruit and grows” (Col 1:6), it “rings out” (1 Thess 1:8), it “works” (1 Thess 2:13), and it “runs” (2 Thess 3:1 [lit.]). Such language is clearly meant to instill confidence in the gospel as God’s powerful means of effecting his saving purpose—but it is also an implicit acknowledgement of the work of those through whom all this happens. His intention to travel from Rome to Spain (Rom 15:23–24, 28–29) means choosing to bypass completely the important province of Narbonensis. The most likely explanation for this surprising omission is Paul’s confidence that the gospel will be taken there in a “pincer movement” by workers heading west from the churches in Rome and east from churches he expects to establish in Spain.23 This raises the much-debated subject of whether Paul expected his churches to engage in evangelism and church-planting activities after he had moved on.24 The fact that his letters are largely silent on this matter has been taken as evidence that he had no such expectations—but it is more likely to reflect his knowledge that they did do so, in response to what they had learned from both his teaching and his example. That is surely one of the key reasons he regards his task as complete in all the regions from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Rom 15:19, 23): he has established churches in enough centers to ensure that the gospel will keep spreading through the areas between and beyond them.
This is the background which provides the best explanation for the fact that Paul increasingly spent time looking after his churches—time that was therefore not devoted to evangelism and church-planting in new locations. He did this because he could not expect the gospel to spread widely from his churches unless it was also penetrating deeply within them. The ongoing outward progress of the gospel would not happen unless his churches remained stable and faithful, holding fast to the gospel and not corrupting it; living worthily of the gospel and not bringing it into disrepute; and standing firm in the face of persecution. That is why we have his letters, which arise out of the necessary pastoring role that complements his pioneering role, the intensive church-building aspect of his mission that goes with its extensive church-planting aspect.
This continuing involvement with his churches was quite time-consuming. Composing his letters and arranging for their distribution required a good deal of time and effort.25 The letters themselves reveal that he spent time each day praying for his churches.26 He also had to put time into supervising the team of trusted associates he sent to particular churches when needs and problems arose.27 And when he could, he spent more time with those churches himself.28 These commitments are hard to reconcile with the “frantic apostle” of the initial quotations.
Therefore: The way Paul envisaged the gospel taking root and spreading throughout the world makes it most unlikely that he expected that the evangelization of the nations, and thus the return of the Lord, would occur within his own lifetime.
1.4. This Paul Believed That His Work Was the Key to the Return of Jesus.
This is a Paul whose mission-statement could be summarized as “the faster I get it done, the sooner he will come!” Yet the evidence we have just considered undermines this view: if the task of converting the nations wasn’t his alone, then his work was not the key to the coming of the end. Even more damaging is the fact that Paul nowhere suggests that his work was “hastening the parousia.” In fact, he never draws any link of this kind between his apostolic mission and the end.29 This silence is especially striking in three areas in particular.
First, although he refers in various ways to the ethnic breadth and geographical scope of his apostolic task, he never speaks of any temporal limit—except that of his own death (2 Tim 4:6–8). And this is often viewed as a change of mind on Paul’s part:
The younger Paul seems confident he will be alive until the parousia, but … in his last days Paul realizes that his churches will go on without him…. While we can only speculate regarding the causes, we may question whether Paul’s imprisonments, advanced age and/or near-death experiences may have persuaded him that he would not always be around for his churches.30
This is simply not the case. He did not move from the former expectation in his earlier letters to its opposite sometime later. What we do find in Paul is this: he sometimes expresses both perspectives in the same letter;31 he tells his churches to be prepared for either possibility (Rom 14:7–9; 2 Cor 5:6–10; Phil 1:20–24; 1 Thess 5:10); and his canonical letters belong only to the second half of his apostolic career—and because he had often come close to death in the first half (2 Cor 11:23–27, 32–33), “the younger Paul” had been confronted with the possibility of an early death well before the earliest of his letters. As a result, any unrealistic expectations about how long he would live had been dealt with already.
Second, his many references to his travels, those in the past or those he is planning, give no indication that his decisions about them have been influenced—let alone controlled—by expectations about an imminent end.32 Yet if his work was indeed the key to Jesus’s return, this would have been the decisive factor in all of his plans and travels, and therefore a frequent element in what he says about them. For some, there is an obvious rejoinder: why would Paul need to make this explicit, when he and his readers were convinced that the Lord would return very soon indeed? Why bother to say what could be taken for granted? This defense only compounds the problem, however. When such an idea is not stated, its absence could be a sign that everybody believed it—or evidence that nobody did! It is not enough to assert the first of these; it must be demonstrated. So if Paul never links his travels with any sense of a rapidly approaching end, what does he say about them? In this regard, the Paul we meet in his letters and in Acts is comparatively unhurried. He spent long periods in cities like Syrian Antioch, Corinth, and Ephesus.33 Brief stays elsewhere were generally not planned but forced upon him.34 Yet if Paul had understood himself as ushering in the parousia, he would surely have regarded his enforced departure from Thessalonica, for example, as a providential sign that he should move on because his work there was done. Instead, he longed and prayed to return so that he could continue the work he believed he had only begun (1 Thess 2:17–18; 3:10–11). He also stayed in various centers and travelled through various regions more than once—and there were other occasions when he wanted to do so but was prevented by factors outside his control.35 Moreover, he was quite prepared to change his plans in response to changing circumstances, even when this meant delaying the start of new work (e.g., Rom 1:11–13; 15:20–22; 2 Cor 1:23–2:1; 2:12–13); and he was realistic about the limitations imposed by such factors as his own physical and emotional condition and the seasonal weather (1 Cor 16:6; 2 Cor 2:12–13; Gal 4:13–14; Titus 3:12). This general picture of an unhurried Paul is reinforced by the great deal of time and effort he devoted to collecting a monetary gift from his churches for the church in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25–27; 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15)—which meant delaying the expansion of his work into new regions. He tells the believers in Rome that he intends to go from Corinth to Jerusalem, then from Jerusalem to Rome, and then from Rome to Spain (Rom 15:23–28)—a series of journeys that would take a great many months, even if the travel conditions were favorable and if nothing in either Jerusalem or Rome hindered him (Rom 15:31–32). It is very difficult to reconcile this Paul with the Paul who must work with great urgency because of the fast-approaching end. Or is it? It is often said that this time-consuming project was in fact a product of his convictions about the end:
It must have been … designed to foster unity between the Jewish and Gentile wings of the Church; but it was far more than this, for, as the context shows, it was intended to play a vital part among the events of the last days.36
The obvious problem here is that the context (15:14–33) gives not the slightest hint of such an outlook. In fact, it points in quite a different direction: what Paul expects to happen once he has “completed this task” (15:28) is not that the Lord will return but that he will finally achieve his long-held ambition of going to Rome—and he will then go on to Spain. His other discussions of this important project also lack any indication that it plays a role in the coming of the end (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8–9; and possibly Gal 2:9–10).
Third, this view of Paul is very difficult to reconcile with the way he responds to being a prisoner. If he was intent upon completing his evangelistic task as quickly as possible, so that the Lord would return, any confinement would have been a hugely frustrating setback. Yet despite having to spend years in custody, Paul gives no hint of seeing this as a calamity that prevented him from completing his work. In fact, he never refers to this situation in negative terms; instead, he often speaks of himself as the Lord’s prisoner and welcomes the opportunities this gives him to make the gospel known to those around him.37
Therefore: The idea that Paul connected the Lord’s return to the completion of his own mission sees that link where Paul does not make it and also overlooks important evidence that he never made such a connection.
We have considered four areas in which the idea of Paul as the “frantic apostle” is at odds with the evidence of his letters and the book of Acts. This leads to the obvious conclusion that this concept of Paul should be abandoned. And this leads to the obvious question: what should we put in its place? What is the right way of interpreting Paul and his mission?
2. Paul and the End
If Paul was not the “frantic apostle,” how did he understand his commission and go about fulfilling it? What impact did his beliefs about the end have on the conduct of his ministry? The key elements of his view can be summed up in the following five points.38
First, in line with Jesus’s own teaching (e.g., Mark 13:32–33; Luke 12:40; 21:34–36), Paul believed that nobody knows when the end will come (e.g., 1 Thess 5:1–3; 2 Thess 2:1–2, 5–6). The fundamental reason for this is that it is God’s prerogative to appoint the time (1 Tim 6:13–15; cf. Mark 13:32; Acts 1:6–7; 17:31).
Second, since the end could arrive at any moment, it is necessary to be ready for it at every moment (1 Thess 5:1–8). But being ready for what could happen now is very different from being certain that it would happen now—and there is no evidence that Paul ever confused the two.
Third, although he speaks of himself and his readers as waiting for the Lord’s coming—and thus as living with a very important “until”39—he never indicates how long he thinks this waiting will last.40 But he does describe it as patient as well as eager and hopeful (Rom 8:23–25), saying that they are waiting “with perseverance” (δι’ ὑπομονῆς, 8:25).
Fourth, everything that Paul says about the end arises out of his convictions about Easter: he understands the coming triumph of the end as the necessary climax and crowning of the decisive events of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Because Jesus’s final coming and what God did through him at Easter are the twin poles of one great reality, there is an immensely powerful bond between them. If we think of the Easter events as a powerful magnet pulling the end closer, describing the end as “near” or “soon” is best seen as an implicit recognition of how great that magnetic force is. In other words, the nearness of the end is not a conclusion reached by looking forward to make a chronological calculation, but by looking backward to make a theological evaluation: it results from a right understanding of the epochal significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
A good example is when Paul tells the Corinthians that “the time is short” and that “the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:29, 31). They then discover the basis for this view in Paul’s statement that “the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11): that is, in the decisive events of Easter, the end has arrived early, before the end. Paul is convinced that the critical moment is not ahead of us but already behind us: Jesus’s resurrection has begun his reign, and it also guarantees his final triumph in the overthrow of death and his people’s resurrection to eternal life in God’s kingdom (1 Cor 15:20–26, 42–57). So what is true of this world is also true of this life: “its present form is passing away.”
This also explains why Paul says believers are “eager” for the end to come (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 1:7; Gal 5:5; Phil 3:20). This is not a sign of expecting it very soon; it is the result of what has happened already, both to them and to the Lord. The Spirit generates this eagerness, because his presence within them is both the guarantee (ἀρραβών) and the foretaste (ἀπαρχή) of the resurrection-life they will enter when the Lord comes (Rom 8:11, 23; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). That is also when his heavenly glory—to which he was exalted by resurrection41—will be revealed.42 And believers “love” this coming (2 Tim 4:8 [lit.]), not only because of what they will receive then but also—and most of all—because of what he will receive: the universal acclamation he should have as Lord of all (Phil 2:10–11). Against this background, when “short” is applied to time, it is more qualitative than quantitative: because the end has already begun, its glorious climax cannot not happen—and it presses in to crown that decisive beginning. How long the period between Easter and that great Day lasts depends on whether the pressure pulling them together is the most powerful force at work between them—but is it?
Fifth, Paul believes that there is another powerful force affecting the timing of the end—but this one has the opposite impact, keeping the end at a distance rather than bringing it nearer. This powerful reality is the kindness and patience of God.
Human sin makes the “day of God’s wrath” inevitable—but “the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience” keep holding that Day back, to give time for repentance (Rom 2:4–6). And when it comes to delaying the exercise of his wrath, God’s patience is very great (Rom 9:22), a most amazing “forbearance” (ἀνοχή). In Romans, Paul refers to two eras marked by this divine forbearance. The first ended with the death of Jesus, in which human sin finally received the rightful judgment God had been holding back from the very beginning (3:25–26). The second will end on the last Day, when God will no longer restrain his wrath to give opportunity for repentance (Rom 2:4–5). This raises an obvious question: why would Paul expect God’s exercise of forbearance in the present to be any less enduring than it was in the past? Why would it continue this time only for a few decades and not for millennia? If the interval between Easter and the end is a measure of God’s kindness and patience, how could it be anything but very lengthy indeed?
But what about Paul’s statement that “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5)? Doesn’t this show that he was expecting the parousia very soon? This assumes that he is using “near” in a temporal sense—but it is much more likely that he is using it spatially, referring not to the Lord’s parousia but to his presence. Because they are so often seen as a reference to the parousia, these words can serve as a test case of how strong this interpretation is.43 I have four reasons for rejecting it.
First, every other NT use of “near” in a temporal sense refers not to the Lord but to an important event, sometimes specified as the coming of the kingdom or of the Lord, and sometimes referred to only as the “time,” the “hour,” the “day,” or the “end.”44 As a result, if Paul had been referring to the nearness of the parousia, he is much more likely to have used the same wording as James: “the Lord’s coming is near” (Jas 5:8).
Additionally, the primary indicator of what Paul means by this statement is, as always, the context (Phil 4:4–9), which involves several important connections. The first links the Lord’s nearness with coming to him in prayer, and thus replacing anxiety with petition and thanksgiving (v. 6). The second links this statement (v. 5b) and Paul’s exhortation (v. 6) with God’s gift of “peace” (v. 7)—not “peace with God” through Christ’s reconciling work (e.g., Rom 5:1; Eph 2:14–17; 6:15; Col 1:20), but the Spirit-given peace in the believer’s life (e.g., Rom 8:6; 14:17; 15:13; Gal 5:22; 2 Thess 3:16), especially the sense of assurance that goes with being grasped, graced, and guarded by the Lord (Phil 1:29; 3:12; 4:7). Third, Paul closes this set of exhortations with the affirmation that God, the giver of peace, “will be with us” (4:9): that is, what is true now—he is present (“near”)—will always be true (“with us”).
Further, Philippians who knew the Scriptures well would recognize this pattern of connections without difficulty.45 That is because—as the clear thematic parallels demonstrate—Paul is alluding to what the Psalms say about God’s nearness. There, each of the affirmations that he is “near” (Pss 34:18; 119:151; 145:18) expresses a sense of security, being linked with assurances that he hears his people’s prayers, and that he can be trusted to rescue and protect them (Pss 34:15–22; 119:145–156; 145:13–20).
Fourth, while these Psalms provide the closest parallels to what Paul says, the connection between his people’s prayers and God’s nearness to hear and to rescue is found elsewhere in the OT (note especially Deut 4:7; Ps 69:16–18; Isa 55:6; Lam 3:55–58). The clearest statement of the strength of this connection is in Proverbs 15:29, where the expected contrast with God being “far” from the wicked is that he is “near” to the righteous. What we have instead—the assurance that he “hears the prayer” of the righteous—shows us what it means to say that he is “near.”
For these four reasons, it seems clear that Paul intends “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5) to be understood spatially rather than temporally: as the Scriptures often testify, the Lord’s real and constant presence with us is an encouragement to pray and a source of peace.
If Paul was not the “frantic apostle,” driven by the certainty of an imminent end, did he take the opposite view, believing that the Lord’s return was in the far distant future? The short answer is that we do not and cannot know, because although he said various things about the “what” and the “why” of the parousia, he never made predictions about the “when.”46 Yet there are some possible indicators as to which he thought was more likely.
We have seen that he is unlikely to have formed clear views about how far away the parousia was, chiefly because it was impossible to predict when the gospel would have taken root in all the nations—yet he almost certainly knew enough about the world to realize that this goal would not be reached quickly. What he believed about the magnitude of God’s grace pointed in the same direction.47 In his patience and forbearance God gives sinners time for repentance (Rom 2:4)—and great patience will give plenty of time! And God’s grace promises and effects a great salvation involving all the peoples of the world—and the reaping of that great harvest had hardly begun.
An obvious place to look for his views about the timing of the end is the only one of his letters which reveals that he expects to die soon (2 Tim 4:6–8). This letter is often read as though all that Paul had worked so hard to achieve, and even Paul himself, was coming unstuck and in danger of complete collapse.48 Many have betrayed him; his churches are being devastated by false teaching; Timothy shows signs of being too timid for the challenges of leadership in such tough times; and Paul is desperately lonely—so that, despite the serious problems that he would be leaving behind, Timothy must drop everything and come to comfort Paul in his final days.49 While not completely false, this approach misses the heart of what Paul is saying and doing in this letter. Yes, things are very tough—but so is Paul. He is no stranger to hardships of many kinds (2 Tim 1:12; 2:3, 10; 3:10–11), and now that his part in the work is over (4:6–7), he is not throwing in the towel. Timothy is to come as soon as he can (4:9, 21a) so that Paul can entrust him with the leadership of the mission—for which the letter is preparing Timothy and all who are with him (4:22b).50 That is why it says so much about the relationship between them, in marked contrast to the more “down to business” approach of his letter to Titus and the previous letter to Timothy. The opening reference to Timothy’s tears (1:4), although often taken to imply that he needs to toughen up, is indicating that Paul’s affection for Timothy (“I long to see you”) is fully reciprocated. This and other such reminders of the length and depth of their relationship make it clear why Paul regards Timothy as the right person to take on such a great responsibility. This is also why the letter refers to twenty-three named individuals and seven different groups of people.51 One of Timothy’s major tasks as leader will be supervising a large network of co-workers of different kinds in many locations.
And it also explains why the letter gives so much attention to the fundamentals of Christian ministry: it is not because Timothy doesn’t know them, but because he must never let go of them—as could happen all too easily when he is under great pressure on all fronts. And because the letter reminds those around Timothy of those fundamentals, they will be able to encourage him to maintain the right focus and priorities in his new role—and also to do the same in their own ministries.52 The letter reveals a Paul committed to the progress of this essential work: far from being demoralized and worn out, as many claim, he is still doing as much as his confinement allows. He wants Mark there to assist him in his ministry (4:11b), not to be his valet in his final days. He is still supervising the work, keeping in touch with the activities of his associates and the situation of his churches (1:15, 2:17–18; 3:6–9; 4:10, 12, 19, 21). He does not refer to his suffering for the gospel as a thing of the past but as an ongoing reality (1:8; 2:3, 9): it is bound to continue because he intends to use every opportunity to make the gospel known (1:11–12; 4:17–18). The strongest indication of Paul’s intention is his emphasis on succession, on stability and continuity in the work of the gospel. Again, this is flagged in the opening paragraph: as the family histories of Paul and Timothy demonstrate (1:3–4; cf. 3:14–15), imparting the truth to the next generation is a vital means by which God advances his saving work. So what is true of Timothy’s faith must also be true of his ministry: he must hand on to the next generation of leaders what Paul has entrusted to him (1:13–14; 2:2, 8–9; 3:10, 14)—so that they in turn will hand it on to others (2:2, 14, 23–25). This also explains why it is so important for Paul to have Timothy with him (4:9, 21a), despite the major problems he would leave behind (1:15; 2:14–18, 23–26; 3:1–9). Handing over responsibility for the mission will involve telling him more than he could say in a letter. However, if he is unable to get to Rome before Paul is condemned and executed, the letter will serve as a helpful guide to the essentials—not only for Timothy, but also for the whole network of gospel workers he will now lead.
It is clear, therefore, that the Paul of 2 Timothy expects his end quite soon (4:6–8)—but he does not assume that this will mean the end, for he is arranging for his mission to continue without him.
Therefore: although we can never be certain, there are good reasons for thinking that Paul is unlikely to have expected the end to come very soon. We must not push this too far, however. Paul might well have thought that “some way off” is more likely than “very soon”—but that would not mean that the last Day no longer had a significant place in his convictions and conduct, for it is just as prominent in 2 Timothy as it was in his earliest letters.53 Paul makes it clear that their responsive love for their loving Lord should mean that faithful believers do not love this world but love his appearing (4:8, 10), and that what matters to them is his approval (2:15) and his reward (4:8). There is therefore no reason to see the last Day as less important for Paul in his last days than it used to be earlier in his ministry. Nor is there any reason to expect such a change, because Paul’s convictions about the end meant that believers should live each day ready for the Lord to come—and equally ready to keep working if he doesn’t (e.g., 1 Cor 15:22–23, 58; 1 Thess 3:10–13; 2 Tim 4:1–2, 5; Titus 2:11–14).
3. Why Does This Matter?
We must ask this question because our exegetical labors should never be an end in themselves, as though all that matters is being right: “God, I thank you that I am not like other exegetes.” What’s at stake here is semper reformanda: that is, God’s word in the power of God’s Spirit continuing to change our lives and ministries and churches, as greater understanding of God’s word brings us to love him more deeply and serve him more faithfully.
So, what makes this discussion worth having? While this is not the only answer, it is always essential that God’s people give careful attention to the issue at the heart of this discussion. That is because the question of how Paul’s beliefs about the parousia shaped his approach in taking the gospel to the nations has a direct bearing on what should be a major concern for all of us: that is, what can we learn from him about this great task?54 The answer is largely dependent on the level of continuity and discontinuity between his mission and ours—and that in turn depends on how much influence his expectations about the parousia had on his missionary convictions and conduct.
If our Paul is the “frantic apostle” of Part 1, there is a major qualitative distinction between his situation and ours. If Paul had believed that his mission to the Gentiles could and should be completed before the imminent parousia, this would have had a major impact on every aspect of his work—in much the same way that war necessitates severe restrictions that do not apply in peacetime. Both the scope and manner of his activities would have been affected: it is not just that he would have to do everything with great speed; there would also be a severe limit on how much he could do. And because his goals and methods would have been developed in what was seen as an emergency situation, major changes would be needed before we could apply them in our quite different setting.
Working out what these changes should be will obviously require a good deal of careful work—but the changes would not be limited just to missionary goals and methods. As the previous sections of the essay have demonstrated, it is not possible to quarantine the expectation of an imminent end from what Paul believed about other matters. This makes it necessary to ask how far the theological impact of this expectation would go. What other consequences would there be, in addition to those we have noted? And are these only peripheral—or do they go to the heart of Paul’s theological convictions? If being mistaken about the parousia involved being wrong elsewhere, our longstanding convictions about the status and function of Paul’s letters would need to be reconsidered. It would be foolish to jump to conclusions too quickly here—but equally, it would be short-sighted not to ask these questions.
On the other hand, what if Paul allowed for the possibility that the parousia might not occur in the immediate future? This makes the difference between his situation and ours primarily quantitative, with the future stretching much further than he is likely to have envisaged. Crucially, this means that there is no principial reason why his approach to world mission would not suit our setting. It will obviously require a lot of careful and collaborative work to identify how much of it we can appropriate and to establish how to implement his principles and paradigms in contexts very different from his. There is a good example of what such work looks like in the missiological writings of Roland Allen and in contemporary evaluations of his ideas.55
Like every generation of Christians before us, we must continue the vital work of making the gospel known throughout the world. The Paul who pioneered this mission to the nations will obviously offer a great deal more of the missiological input we need than a Paul who believed that this mission would end with him.
An essential last word: It is all too easy to over-correct in response to a perceived imbalance—so I realize this is what I might have done in this essay. That is why the respectful interaction of critique and response is such a necessary part of our life together as God’s people. Without it, we will not see God’s truth as clearly as we should, or hold it as firmly as we should, or obey it as fully as we should, or pass it on as faithfully as we should. It is important, therefore, that this essay is not the last word on this important subject.56
 C. Marvin Pate, Romans, Teach the Text Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 287–88.
 David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 104.
 Another recent study exemplifying many of the problems discussed in this essay is Seyoon Kim, “Paul as an Eschatological Herald,” in Paul as Missionary: Identity, Activity, Theology, and Practice, ed. Trevor J. Burke and Brian S. Rosner, LNTS 420 (London: T&T Clark, 2011), 9–24.
 Because this is only an introductory survey, I refer to scholarly literature only where access to such information is likely to be helpful to readers who might not be aware of it. Bible quotations are taken from the NIV2011, except where I give a more literal translation (“lit.”)
 Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 395.
 Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 1:445. The evidence for this statement is in pages 445–99.
 See Matthew Adam Cobb, Rome and the Indian Ocean Trade from Augustus to the Early Third Century CE, Mnemosyne Supplements 418 (Leiden: Brill, 2018); Berit Hildebrandt with Carole Gillis, eds., Silk: Trade and Exchange Along the Silk Roads Between Rome and China in Antiquity, Ancient Textiles Series 29 (Oxford: Oxbow, 2017); Raoul McLaughlin, The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean: The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India (Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2014).
 See the evidence presented in Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 1:470–71.
 On the likelihood of Thomas’s mission to India, see Robert Eric Frykenberg, Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present, Oxford History of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 91–115; Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500, 2nd ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 25–36; Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 1:880–95; W. Brian Shelton, Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing their Lives and Legacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 178–84.
 C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, 2nd ed., BNTC (London: Black, 1991), 253.
 For Paul as κῆρυξ: 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11; his κήρυγμα: Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:21; 2:4; 15:14; 2 Tim 4:17; Titus 1:3; and his κηρύσσειν: Rom 10:8; 1 Cor 1:23; 9:27; 15:11–12; 2 Cor 1:19; 4:5; 11:4; Gal 2:2; 5:11; 1 Thess 2:9; plus that of others: Rom 10:14–15; Phil 1:15; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 4:2.
 The limitations of our knowledge make this figure no more than a generous guess.
 These claims reflect a common problem in the studies we are critiquing: the tendency to assume connections where none are stated. Because Paul mentions in the same chapter both his own ministry to Jews and Gentiles and also the salvation of the full complement of both of them (their πλήρωμα: 11:12, 25), many studies claim that he expects his ministry to bring about this comprehensive salvation (11:13–14, 25–26). However, he does not say so, there or anywhere else—and what he does say about his ministry in that chapter contradicts such a view.
 Paul is insistent that he does not—and must not—seek such approval: 1 Cor 4:3–5; 2 Cor 5:9–14; 10:16–18; 12:19; Gal 1:10; 1 Thess 2:3–6.
 Examples are found in 1 Cor 3:5–6; 9:5–6; 15:11; 16:12; Titus 3:13.
 On the important subject of Paul and his large network of co-workers, begin with Paul W. Barnett, Paul and His Friends in Leadership: How they Changed the World (Abingdon, UK: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2017); see also Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2:1425–45.
 Rom 10:9–13; 1 Cor 1:2; 12:3; Col 2:6. There are many other ways in which Paul refers to this first “turning”: e.g., Rom 5:17; 6:17; 1 Thess 1:9–10; 2:13; 2 Thess 1:8; 2:11.
 Rom 10:1; 11:14; 1 Cor 1:21; 5:5; 9:22; 10:33; 15:1–2; 2 Cor 5:20–6:2; 1 Thess 2:16; 1 Tim 2:3–7; 4:16; 2 Tim 2:10.
 e.g., 1 Cor 11:2; 15:1–2, 58; 16:13; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 1:9–11, 25–27; 2:16; 4:1; Col 1:9–11, 23; 2:6–7, 19; 4:12; 1 Thess 3:8, 12; 4:1, 10; 2 Thess 1:3–4; 2:15.
 See the essays in Brian S. Rosner, Andrew S. Malone, and Trevor J. Burke, eds., Paul as Pastor (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2018).
 I have discussed some aspects of this in “Paul and Illyricum,” RTR 72.1 (2013): 20–35.
 See Exod 23:16, 19; 34:22, 26; Lev 2:11–14; 23:9–14, 17, 20; Num 18:12–13; 28:26; Deut 18:4–5; 26:1–11.
 I have discussed these and related matters in “Why Spain? Paul and His Mission-Plans,” JSPL 1 (2011): 193–212.
 See, for example, I. Howard Marshall, “Who Were the Evangelists?,” in The Mission of the Early Church to Jews and Gentiles, ed. Jostein Ådna and Hans Kvalbein, WUNT 127 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 251–63; Christoph W. Stenschke, “Paul’s Mission as the Mission of the Church,” in Paul’s Missionary Methods in His Time and Ours, ed. Robert L. Plummer and John Mark Terry (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), 74–94; James P. Ware, Paul and the Mission of the Church: Philippians in Ancient Jewish Context (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).
 See E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
 Rom 1:8–10; 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 11:28; Eph 1:15–23; 3:14–21; Phil 1:3–11; Col 1:3–12; 1 Thess 1:2–3; 2:13; 3:10–13; 2 Thess 1:3–4, 11–12; 2:13, 16–17; Phlm 4–6.
 e.g., 1 Cor 4:17; 2 Cor 8:17–18; Eph 6:21–22; Phil 2:19–23; Col 4:7–8; 2 Tim 4:11–12; Titus 1:5; 3:12.
 e.g., 1 Cor 4:18–21; 2 Cor 12:20–13:3; Phil 1:22–26; 2:24; 1 Tim 3:14–15.
 See especially Rom 1:5; 15:15–20; 1 Cor 1:17; 9:1–2; 15:8–10; 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10; Gal 1:1, 11–16; 2:7–9; Eph 3:7–11; 1 Tim 1:12–16; 2:5–7; Titus 1:1–3.
 Capes, Reeves, and Richards, Rediscovering Paul, 255, 266.
 Rom 13:11–12 and 8:11, 23; 1 Cor 1:8; 15:51–52 and 6:14; 7:39; 15:29–32; Phil 1:6, 10; 3:20–21 and 1:20–21; 1 Thess 3:13; 4:15–17; 5:23 and 4:13–14, 16; 5:10.
 Rom 15:20–29; 1 Cor 4:18–21; 11:34; 16:5–9; 2 Cor 1:15–17, 23; 2:12–13; Gal 1:17–22; 4:13–14; Phil 1: 25–27; 2:23–24; 1 Thess 2:1–2; 3:10–11; Titus 3:12; Phlm 22.
 Acts 11:26; 14:26–28; 15:30–35; 18:11, 22–23; 19:8–10; 20:31.
 Acts 13:50–51; 14:19–20; 17:1–8, 13–14; Phil 1:27–30; 1 Thess 2:2, 17–18.
 Acts 14:21–23; 15:23, 41 [cf. Gal 1:21]; 16:6, 9–12; 18:23; 19:21; 20:1–3; 1 Cor 4:18–19; 11:34; 16:5–7; 2 Cor 13:1–2; Phil 1:25–27; 2:24; 1 Thess 2:17–18; 3:10–11; 1 Tim 1:3; 3:14–15.
 Barrett, Romans, 255.
 Rom 16:7; 2 Cor 11:23; Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:19–20; Phil 1:7, 12–18; Col 4:3–4; 2 Tim 2:8–10; 4:16–17; Phlm 1, 10–12, 23.
 Because what follows is little more than an outline sketch, it leaves many passages in Paul and many scholarly issues untouched.
 1 Cor 1:8 [lit.]; 4:5; 11:26; 15:25; Eph 1:14; Phil 1:6; 1 Thess 4:15; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 1:12.
 Note Rom 8:23, 25; 1 Cor 1:7; Eph 1:14; 4:30; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 1:10; 4:15; 2 Tim 1:12; Titus 2:13.
 Rom 6:4; 8:11, 17; 1 Cor 15:23–26, 42–44, 47–49; 2 Cor 4:14, 17; Eph 1:20–22; 2:6; Phil 2:8–11; 3:20–21; Col 3:1–4; 1 Thess 1:10; 4:14, 16; 2 Tim 2:8–12a; 4:1, 8, 18.
 The parousia will be his “revelation” (ἀποκάλυψις: 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess 1:7) and his “appearance” (ἐπιφάνεια: 2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13).
 Two other passages are often used as evidence that Paul believed the parousia was imminent: 1 Cor 7:29–31 and 1 Thess 4:15–17, both of which are discussed earlier in this article.
 e.g., Matt 4:17; 10:7; 26:18, 45; Luke 21:8, 31; Rom 13:12; Heb 10:25; Jas 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7; Rev 1:3; 22:10.
 For what follows, see my essay, “‘The Lord Is Near’ (Philippians 4:5b),” in In the Fullness of Time: Biblical Studies in Honour of Archbishop Donald Robinson, ed. David Peterson and John W. Pryor (Homebush West, NSW: Lancer, 1992), 149–65.
 See Rom 11:25–27; 1 Cor 4:5; 15:23–28; Phil 3:20–21; Col 3:1–4; 1 Thess 1:9–10; 3:13; 4:14–17; 2 Thess 1:6–10; 2:8; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Titus 2:11–14.
 Note how often he uses the language of abundance or wealth in connection with God’s grace: Rom 5:15–21; 1 Cor 1:4–7; 2 Cor 4:15; 8:1–9; 9:8–15; Eph 1:6–7; 2:6–7; 1 Tim 1:14; Titus 2:11; 3:4–7.
 At the popular level, a good example is Handley C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to Timothy (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1905), passim; for scholarly examples see Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, AB 35A (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 319–20; Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, NAC 34 (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 44–45; Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1–2 Timothy and 1–3 John (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 302, 307.
 2 Tim 1:7–8, 15; 2:16–18; 3:6–9; 4:3–4, 9–10, 16, 21.
 There have been many suggestions about what the scrolls and parchments were (2 Tim 4:13), and why Paul wanted them. I think the most likely is that they were—or included—his copies of the letters to his churches (Richards, Letter Writing, 214–23). Entrusting them to Timothy would be a fitting symbol of handing over the leadership to him.
 The only letter of Paul to name more individuals is Romans.
 The letters to Timothy and Titus were most likely preserved because they give a clear overview of fundamental aspects of Christian leadership, applicable far beyond the situations for which they were written.
 2 Tim 1:12, 18; 2:10–13, 18; 4:1–2, 6–8, 14, 18. This compares favorably with its place in his first letters: Galatians (5:5, 21; 6:8) and 1 Thessalonians (1:10; 2:12, 19; 3:13; 4:6, 13–17; 5:1–10, 23).
 A helpful starting-point is Eckhard J. Schnabel, “The Task of Missionary Work in the Twenty-First Century” in his Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 374–458.
 See especially Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces (London: Robert Scott, 1912); Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder It (London: World Dominion Press, 1927). The work edited by Plummer and Terry (Paul’s Missionary Methods in His Time and Ours) was published to mark the centenary of Allen’s Missionary Methods, his best-known work, with chapters 8–14 devoted to an analysis of his ideas and their impact. See also the recent contribution by Elliot Clark, Mission Affirmed: Recovering the Missionary Motivation of Paul (Wheaton, IL Crossway, 2022).
 I’m grateful to Dr Brian Tabb and an anonymous reviewer for helpful input which made this essay better than it would have been.
Allan Chapple is honorary research fellow at Trinity Theological College in Perth, Western Australia.
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