Without a doubt, my favorite letters in the New Testament are affectionately referred to as the prison epistles, which the apostle Paul wrote during his first imprisonment in Rome, probably in A.D. 61. This includes Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. Philippians probably was composed first among them, likely in the middle of the year. The heart and soul of the letter involves Paul's desire to see the church at Philippi resolve the problems that created a lack of unity among them. One of the clearest signs of this problem in the letter is found in 4:2-3, where Paul urges two women in the church (Euodia and Suntuche) to live in harmony in the Lord, signifying that they were not experiencing a harmonious relationship at the time. He then encouraged one believer in the church there to work with these women, who had struggled with Paul in the cause of the gospel, to resolve their conflict.

     Unity is one of those elusive goals that most of us have on our list as something we desire to achieve or maintain, in every possible context. We want there to be unity in our marriages. The relationships in our immediate families seem to be spiraling downward if there is no unity. With our jobs, we struggle to keep going in to work day after day if unity is absent. Relationships with friends or acquaintances that are devoid of unity feel empty and lifeless. Most importantly of all, if we are not experiencing unity in our relationship with God, nothing in life appears to be completely in order. Unity is indispensable, and something we long to preserve. Yet, what is the secret to restoring unity when it is absent?

     Sadly, we often search for unity in all of the wrong ways. Sometimes, we try conflict-avoidance, but this is the emptiest of one-way streets, as if the problem(s) just naturally will resolve itself or go away. Other times, we attempt to ram our perspective down the throat of the person we love or with whom we want to be at peace. This route only moves us further away from achieving unity with that person. We even try sitting down with the person and talking through the issue completely, only to experience frustration when a genuine attempt at resolution simply ends up bearing no fruit because the conflict was not resolved. So, how in the wide world are we to experience unity, when all else fails?

     The answer is found within the heart and soul of the book of Philippians, where Paul makes the singularly most important point within the letter. In fact, the central theme for the entire book answers the question squarely and uniquely, as there is no other possible way to achieve unity than this. What is the theme of Philippians and the answer to the critical need in our relationships? The answer is this: unity comes only through humility. There is no other way. None. Where is this found in the book, and how is it to be fleshed out, you ask? Aha, with that sincere question, now we truly can get somewhere!

     The first sign of the theme is in 1:27, where Paul says that whether he comes or remains absent from the Philippian believers, they must stand firm in one spirit, laboring together for the faith of the gospel, literally in one soul. But how do they stand firm in one spirit? How can they work together in one soul, especially if conflict arises? These questions are answered for the readers in 2:2, when Paul says that he wants them to fill up his "joy, in order that they might think the same thing" as one another. He repeats this statement in 2:5, where he says, "Think this thing among you . . .". So, the solution for achieving and maintaining unity is for us to think the same thing as one another. That sounds wonderful, of course, but how can two completely different people, perhaps with totally different upbringings, think the same thing as one another? Is Paul implying that we should be robots programmed to act identically?

     I lived in Russia for about 10 years, starting in 1998, which is after the era of communism officially had ended. During the time of communism, Russia's citizens were encouraged to think the same thing, and that thing centered around Marxism and communistic ideals, an ideology that failed and eventually led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Workers were encouraged not to work any harder than the person next them in the factories or offices, and disciplined if they did. Citizens were to have the same perspective on politics, religion, and culture. Dissenting from the norm often led to catastrophic consequences: possibly imprisonment, a trip to the gulags in Siberia, or even worse, all in the name of thinking the same thing and striving after national unity.

     However, this is not what Paul meant when he spoke of thinking the same thing. Instead, he was talking about something completely different, and he illustrated the concept with the examples of Jesus, himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, all as he worked his way through Philippians 2. How did Jesus model this? Although he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be held onto tightly. Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and coming into this world in the likeness of mankind. Moreover, he humbled himself, becoming submissive to the point of death, and even death in a cursed way, by dying on a cross (2:5-8).

     Why did he endure all of this? Ultimately, his highest priority was to reconcile mankind to God the Father, because we were at war with God. He knew that the only way to accomplish this was to come to earth as a man and die a sacrificial death as a sinless person who never once yielded to temptation, allowing him to become a worthy sacrifice so that his father would take out his wrath on Jesus, rather than on us. In other words, Jesus had to lose his life for us to gain eternal life with God. Just as Paul said, "thinking the one thing" means "______ing nothing according to selfishness or according to conceit, but in humility of mind regarding one another as being held above yourselves" (2:2b-3).

     We are not acting selfishly, thinking selfishly, talking selfishly, or anything else. So, if we want to reacquire unity in a relationship with someone else with whom there is a lack of harmony, the only way to achieve it is to humble ourselves before this person, which demonstrates that we value that person more than we value ourselves. While I was living in Russia, I observed a perfect way in which people on two different sides of an issue can accomplish unity by an act of humility. I invite you to listen to this example, which is recorded on a sermon I preached at a church near Dallas in November of 2021. Here is the link that will take you to that sermon: https://www.resonatelife.tv/previous-messages/unity-ft-dr-douglas-petrovich.

     Unity in earthly relationships occurs only when both people go on humbling themselves before the other person, which in itself demonstrates how they are thinking the same thing (2:2). Is there one or more relationships of yours that lack peace or are surviving without unity? Does this lack of unity eat you up inside like an invisible cancer? Are you desperately willing to do anything to bring about unity between you? If so, perhaps the step that needs to be taken is in your hands, not the other person's hands. If you want that person to think the same thing as you, namely that you value him/her as being more important than yourself, you almost certainly need to find a way to humble yourself before that person, doing anything possible to show that person how greatly you value him/her. Just give it a try.

    For the first post on this blog, I am uploading a link (below) to the 2013 peer-reviewed journal article I published on Nimrod of Genesis 10. This article is the most viewed document I have uploaded to my academia.edu webpage, bar none. As of November of 2021, the article has received over 14,500 hits. The popularity of this article stuns me to this day. Many people obviously find Nimrod to be a fascinating character. Typical published translations of the passage in which the story of Nimrod is found (Gen 10:7-12) contain numerous imprecise renditions of how the Hebrew text reads.

    For example, most published English versions state in Gen 10:8 that "Cush became the father of Nimrod." However, Gen 10:7 lists the 5 sons of Cush, and Nimrod is not included among them. In my article, I demonstrate that the Hebrew verb (yalad), which describes the Cush-Nimrod relationship in Gen 10:8, sometimes is used in the Hebrew Bible not of a father-son relationship, but of an ancestor-descendant relationship. The context demands that Gen 10:8 is one of those times. Therefore, a better translation of the Hebrew wording here is that "Cush sired Nimrod" (i.e. was his distant progenitor).

    For another example, most published English versions suggest in Gen 10:9 that Nimrod "was a mighty hunter before the Lord." On a minor note, the word "Lord" (Hebrew adonai) is not the word used in the original text. Rather, the covenant-name of God is used, which is translated best as "He-who-is," or "The-one-who-goes-on-existing," as the masculine, singular participle derives from the "to be" verb. The emphasis of the substantival participle here is on the ongoing eternal existence of God, which is one of the most pertinent incommunicable (i.e. non-transferable [to mankind]) attributes that God possesses.

    Of more vital note to the article, the Hebrew word translated by many as "hunter" is a terrible choice in Gen 10:9. In the article, I explain that the word actually means "foodstuff." Of course, Nimrod could not have become a powerful foodstuff. Instead, a Semitic (actually Ugaritic) cognate for the Hebrew word means "slaughter, sacrifice." A Punic construct of this term is "sacrifice of slaughtering," meaning that the focus not only could be on the sacrifice, but the slaughtering of the sacrificial life-form. This implies that the ANE (ancient Near Eastern) word can refer to the person performing the slaughtering. For this reason, a far more preferable translation of Gen 10:9 is that Nimrod "became a powerful slaughterer in the sight of He-who is." It is almost comical that the tantalizing and thrilling word "hunter" typically appears here in translation, as the implication is that Nimrod was a resourceful expeditioner who tracked and hunted down exotic animals in his leisure time. Instead, the context reflects how Nimrod was an empire-builder, one who violently exploited his tyrannical power by slaughtering innocent residents of the many cities that he conquered along his way to renown.

    The article then goes on to critique three false views of Nimrod's historical identity: Ninurta (the Sumerian god of war), Amenhotep III (an Egyptian king of Dynasty 18, whose rule began two years before the Israelites first entered Canaan under Joshua), and Gilgamesh (a supposed King of Uruk). After this, the article argues for the proper identity of Nimrod as Sargon of Akkad, the first king of the Akkadian Empire, who also represents the world's first empire-builder. Archaeological and epigraphical (i.e. written) evidence is utilized to draw amazing parallels between biblical Nimrod and historical Sargon. The hope is that the blog viewer will consider reading the entire case for identifying the biblical figure of Sargon with Sargon of Akkad, which lends credence to the reliability of the biblical text by connecting a previously unrelatable character of early biblical history with a known person. Enjoy!

Identifying Nimrod of Genesis 10 with Sargon of Akkad by Exegetical and Archaeological Means