Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: The Bible

Just open it and read

[First posted June 13, 2014]

What is the best way to read the Bible?

Just open it up and start reading. It’s that simple.

I quit attending church when I left home. I had heard all the old familiar Bible stories that are taught in Sunday School. I had also absorbed a lot of contradictory teachings in school, through the media and through the books and magazines I read. I had begun to consider myself too intelligent to believe the Bible. Some parts of it were probably true. If there was a God, He probably inspired people in ancient days to write the good stuff, but there was a lot in the Bible that just wasn’t believable. Sound familiar?

I started to get curious, though, and wanted to take another look at the Bible for myself. I didn’t want to be seen buying a Bible, though. Neither did I want to ask my parents if I could borrow a Bible. But I knew the place in my parents’ home where the old worn-out Bibles were stored. One weekend when I was home, I went to that old cupboard, selected a Bible that was pretty much intact and not too big and packed it away in my stuff.

I began to read, trying to separate fact from fiction, searching out the accounts that I found unbelievable and reading them from beginning to end. I found references to these accounts in other parts of the Bible and read them carefully. As I read more and more in the Bible, trying to understand the context in which these events happened and what the Bible writers were saying about them, I started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out quite like I had expected. I could see that a life based on the teachings of the Bible would be an admirable thing, but all the stories that I didn’t want to believe seemed to be inextricably linked to those teachings.

Jesus evidently believed that all that was written in the Old Testament was completely factual. Was He deceived? If He was wrong about that, how could He be right about anything?

Slowly it dawned on me that this collection of books, written by 40 different men over a period of sixteen centuries, was not a collection at all, but one unified book. I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest as mythology or mere records of often bloody history. There were only two choices before me: believe it all from beginning to end, or dismiss it all as a work of fiction.

It was at this point that a crisis arose in my life and the Bible revealed to me that I was a sinner destined to be forever rejected by God, unless I repented. I repented, without fully understanding the significance or the ramifications of what I was doing. My life changed at that moment, yet it took months, years even, for the full reality of that change to sink in.

So here is my advice for anyone who wants to read the Bible but is afraid of getting confused. Read the Bible. Get the whole story.

Don’t trust any Bible reading plans that chop the Bible up into little pieces and have you skipping here and there without ever really getting a picture of what is going on. Don’t trust books about the Bible to steer you right. There are Bible dictionaries and Bible commentaries that can be helpful, but don’t start out letting someone else guide you through the Bible. Let the Bible reveal itself to you.

It might be good to read accounts here and there to start with, but soon you will want to read books of the Bible all the way through to get a grasp of the context. Pray for direction. Once you begin to get some sense of what the Bible is all about, it would be a good thing to read the whole Bible through. Don’t bite off too much at one time, expect it to take four years to make it all the way through. Along the way you will find that the Bible “heroes” were really not very good people. And if you are honest with yourself, just at the point where you become indignant about the weaknesses and failures of David, Elijah or Rebekah, you will begin to see the same weaknesses and failures in yourself. That is why Jesus had to die.

You will never understand it all, and that’s OK. The Bible never gets old; there is always something new to discover.

Women of the Bible – answers

1. Who was Adam’s wife?
– Eve (Genesis 3:20)

2. Hadassah changed her name when she became Queen of Persia. What was her new name?
– Esther (Esther 2:7)

3. Abraham married again after Sarah died. What was the name of his second wife?
– Keturah (Genesis 25:1)

4. There are three women mentioned in the Bible who had roles usually held by men.
A) A woman named as a judge in the book of Judges.
-Deborah (Judges chapters 4 & 5)
B) A woman who was a prophetess in the time of King Josiah.
– Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 & 2 Chronicles 34:22)
C) A woman named as a deaconess [diakonos] in the book of Romans.
– Phebe (Romans 16:1-2 – I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.)

5. What tribe did the prophetess Anna belong to?
– Asher (Luke 2:36)

6. Name the women who accompanied Jesus.
– Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, Mary the mother of James the less and others.
(Luke 8:1-3: And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.)
(Mark 15:40-41: There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.)
(Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.)

7. Which women are named in the genealogy of Jesus?
-Thamar, Rahab and Ruth. Bathsheba is mentioned as the wife of Uriah, but not named.

8. Which two sons of David and Bathsheba are named in the genealogies of Jesus?
– Solomon in Matthew 1:7.
– Nathan in Luke 3:31.

9. Who was the mother of Mary?
– “I don’t know” is the correct answer.
(Some churches venerate Saint Anne, who they say was the mother of Mary. But there is no mention of the mother of Mary in the Bible nor in any other historical record of the time.)

Anchored in the rock

My father’s parents came from St. Lawrence County in upstate New York. They were dairy farmers because the soil there could not support any other kind of agriculture. That area is part of the Canadian shield, where the solid bedrock is often exposed, and never far below the surface. This is the kind of soil Jesus called stony ground in the parable of the sower.

The fields have six inches of topsoil above the bedrock. This permits the growing of grass for pasture and hay, and of cereal crops for silage. Because there is no depth of soil, those cereal crops would dry up before they reached maturity. There is no possibility of grain harvest, but it worked for producing cattle feed for the dairy farmers.

Yet there are trees there, rooted in the solid rock outcropping. Seeds drifted in long ago, were caught in the rough surface of the rock and germinated in the spring rains. The tiny root tendrils insinuated themselves into fissures in the rock that are almost invisible to the human eye. Nourished by summer rains and sunshine and whatever organic material collected in those crevices, the trees grew. The tendrils grew larger, widening and deepening the fissures. Fall leaves and other organic material collected beneath the trees; eventually there were large trees, solidly anchored in the rock and drawing their nourishment from it.

Does the Bible seem hard to understand, almost impenetrable? Take a lesson from those trees growing out of the rock. Read the Bible, the whole Bible. Don’t expect to understand it all the first time you read it. But little tendrils of understanding will grow. As you persevere, they will grow and more will develop. If you are sincerely reading to become acquainted with God and His plan for your life, the evidence of those roots will become increasingly visible in your life.

This process of putting down roots into the Word of God that are unseen to others will produce fruit that is visible. This is a lifelong process that anchors us to the eternal truth. Jesus said “Heaven (the visible heavens) and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,” Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33.

The untold story of Samson

I intended that headline to be sensationalist and grab your attention. There is a big problem with how people usually tell the story of Samson. The whole story is in the Bible, but few people seem to be aware of any but the most lurid details.

Let’s start at the beginning. At the time an angel announced Samson’s birth, the Israelites had hit bottom spiritually. They had sinned against God and He abandoned them into the hands of the Philistines. As the story of Samson unfolds, it becomes evident that the people of Israel accepted the domination of the Philistines as a normal state of affairs, with no inkling that things could and should be different.

In the depth of this hopeless situation, God sent His angel to a woman of Zorah to announce that she would bear a son who would begin to deliver Israel from their oppressors. The woman was barren, thought to be incapable of having children, but she and her husband believed the angel and in due time a son was born.

They gave this son the name Samson – like the sun. As he grew, it became evident that he was the recipient of special blessings from God and the Word says “The Spirit of God began to move him.” As it was announced before his birth that he would begin to deliver the people of God from their degraded state, no doubt the Spirit began to make him painfully aware of the evil of the Philistine oppression.

So he decided to marry a Philistine woman. This is not where Samson went astray, but it is where the popular story of Samson goes astray from the Biblical account. Judges 14:4 says of this marriage: “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” That may strain some folks’ idea of what is right and proper, nevertheless that is what the Bible says.

The marriage did not turn out well, but it led to two remarkable displays of a strength in Samson that was more than human strength.  In both instances the Bible says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson. Again in Judges 15:14 the Bible says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, he broke the cords that bound him and slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. There is a play on words at the end of chapter 15. Samson did not drink from the jawbone, but the Lord opened a spring for him in the mountain called Lehi, which is the same word as jawbone.

Samson judged Israel for twenty years during the time the Philistines ruled them. We should not think of the judges of Israel in terms of the judges of our day. The judges were rulers over the people, leading them in battle, making peace and administering justice.

Chapter 16 of Judges begins with Samson’s visit to a harlot in Gaza. Adam Clark says the word translated harlot has the primary meaning of innkeeper, but allows that she may have been both innkeeper and prostitute. The sense of morality in that era was not the same as it is for those informed by the teachings of the New Testament. Men often took many wives, divorced on the feeblest pretext and visited prostitutes. Whatever Samson may have been doing in Gaza, God did not punish him for it, but gave him the strength to uproot the gates of the city, posts and all, and carry them away to the top of a hill.

Next comes the episode with Delilah. We must tread carefully here, as the Bible shows that God did not withdraw from Samson until his hair was cut off. The uncut hair was part of his vow as a Nazarite and that vow was broken when the hair was cut. It appears that as Samson’s hair grew back he also renewed his covenant with God. He was now in a place where the opportunity might come to do far more damage to the power of the Philistines than he ever had before. He bided his time, possibly for several years, as his hair grew. Finally, the opportunity came where, by sacrificing his own life, he could destroy much of the ruling class of the Philistines.

The story of Samson, from his birth foretold by an angel, his miraculous powers and his sacrificial death to overcome the power of the enemy of God’s people, is a figure of Jesus. We miss that when all we can focus on are the details that seem to us to be unsavoury.

The Apocalypse

Two hundred years ago scholars in Germany, calling themselves higher critics, began analysing the writing style of the books of the Bible. They concluded, among other things, that Genesis had been compiled by an unknown writer from two different strands of oral tradition and that the book of Daniel had been written by two different writers hundreds of years apart.

When they came to the last book of the Bible, they expressed great admiration for the way the writer combined elements from Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah with places and circumstances of his day to create a vivid allegory. But, they said, we have no idea who the writer was. He says his name is John, but we cannot identify him with any man named John that we know of from history. It certainly wasn’t the apostle John, because his writing style is completely different from the style of John’s gospel and epistles. So we will just call the unknown man John the Revelator.

Now, if you believe, as I do, that it was the apostle John who wrote the Apocalypse, and that he really did see our Lord standing in the midst of a golden candlestick with feet like molten brass, seven stars in his hand and a sword coming out of His mouth, then it is not hard to believe that he could not describe what he saw in the same style of writing that he had used before. “John the Revelator” may sound sophisticated, but it is the language of unbelief. I will speak of the writer of Revelation as the apostle John.

Apocalypse is the Greek word that is translated Revelation. John tells us in the very first verse that the Revelation was given to him (not by him). The book is addressed to the seven churches of Asia. The cities where these churches once existed were all in the area of Asia Minor that is now Turkey. John lived at Ephesus for many years, but was exiled to the island of Patmos in the year 97 by the emperor Domitian. He was released two years later by the emperor Trajan, The visions recorded in this book were given to John some time during this two-year period.

John was well known to the members of the seven churches of Asia and they will have known that he was exiled to Patmos. Thus he needed no more introduction than that which he gives. Chapters two and three reveal God’s analysis of the spiritual condition of each of those seven churches at that time.

Some Christians try to match the scenes of Revelation to current events an believe they are getting deep into the Bible. I believe they are missing the point. The book is meant to reveal to us that God is yet at work behind all the mystifying events that are taking place in the world around us and that one day He will bring the world into judgment and set all things aright.

I am trying to write an introduction, not a commentary. Every believer should read this book for themselves, looking for the personal spiritual message that God may have for him. Here is just one line of thought to get you started:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. Water in the Bible is a symbol of the turbulent and unstable nature of humanity without God. The dry land is a symbol of the stability of those people who acknowledge God as Saviour and Lord. Thus the beast arising from the sea represents pagan religions and the beast arising from the dry land is something that arises out of Christianity, yet behaves much the same as the first beast. Frogs are amphibious, at home in the water or on dry land. Frog spirits (Revelation 16:13-14) try to deceive Christians into believing that they can be at home in the ever-changing world and also be at home in the changeless church of Jesus Christ.

General Epistles

Most of these epistles are more like essays addressed to a wider audience than letters addressed to a particular individual or congregation.

Hebrews
My Bible says the epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. I don’t know who inserted that, or when, but it has never been the consensus of believers. The writer never identifies himself in the essay and that should be sufficient for us to conclude it is not important to know who he was. There appear to be equally valid arguments in favour of Paul, Apollos or Silas, but it seems pointless to enter into that argument.
The essay is directed towards Jewish Christians who were under intense pressure to observe all points of the Jewish law. It is useful to us today as an antidote to those who argue that certain aspects of the Old Testament Law are still valid. It can be considered a lengthy commentary on Psalm 110, and must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

James
The writer’s name was Jacob; James is the English form of the Greek form of that name. The writer feels no need to offer further identification, thus we must conclude that he was the most prominent James in the church at that time: James the brother of our Lord. Since he met a martyr’s death in AD 62 the letter probably dates from shortly before that.
Some writers consider James the Less, the son of Alpheus, to be the brother of our Lord. That is problematic, as the brethren of our Lord were evidently not His supporters during His ministry, but became so after His resurrection. The attempt to make the sons of Alpheus to be the brethren of Jesus is based more on the Roman Catholic dogma that Mary was a perpetual virgin than upon any Scriptural evidence.
James’ message is valid for all times and places, but may have been inspired by the growing resentment of the poor and landless in Judea and Galilee towards wealthy landowners. This resentment boiled over a few years later in the revolt of 66 AD led by the Zealots. He admonishes the readers to have a living faith, to be patient in trials, to be free of jealousy and hypocrisy and warns against the dangers of an unbridled tongue. He has admonitions for the rich but gives no encouragement to those with Zealot tendencies.

1 Peter
This letter was dictated by Peter to Sylvanus, who is referred to in Acts as Silas, a shortened form of the name. It is quite possible that he was also the scribe for 1 and 2 Thessalonians. All three letters are reputed to be written in a better Greek style than most other epistles.
Babylon is probably a veiled reference to Rome and it seems likely that this epistle was written at the time of Nero’s persecution of the Christians at Rome. Nero was still held in high esteem by the Christians in Asia Minor to whom the epistle is addressed, but Peter is warning that the persecution might soon come their way and admonishing them to steadfastness in the faith.

2 Peter
According to those who know Greek, this epistle is written in a different style than the first, indicating a different scribe. It is a warning against false prophets who claimed spiritual insights unknown to ordinary Christians. This may refer to early manifestations of what developed into the Gnosticism of the 2nd Century. There are obvious parallels with the epistle of Jude; it is probable that Peter saw fit to include them, or asked his scribe to do so. The epistle was probably written not long before Peter’s martyrdom.

1 John
The author of this epistle does not give his name, but there can be no doubt but that it was the apostle John, probably written towards the end of his life. Some had left the faith, either to return to legalistic Judaism or to follow false prophets. He gives two tests of genuine faith: love of the brethren and a correct belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

2 John
Written by the Apostle John, probably from Ephesus. There are two possible ways of understanding the elect lady to whom this short letter is addressed. She is either an eminent Christian lady in another city, or a Christian congregation in another city. In either case the counsel is the same: Do not receive in your home, or allow to preach in your home, anyone who teaches an incorrect view of who Jesus is.

3 John
Christians met in homes in the beginning and there might be several house churches in a large city. This short letter appears to address a situation where the leader of one of house church, Diotrephes, refuses to receive anyone sent by John. Thus John is writing to Gaius, the leader of another house church to ask him to receive Demetrius, probably a travelling evangelist.

Jude
This Jude is the younger brother of James and of our Lord. Neither James nor Jude attempt to trade on their family relationship, Jude here calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. He is writing to counter those teachers who would condone immorality in the church. The references to Michael the archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and to the prophecy of Enoch may be a corrective to false teachers who used such passages to defend their teaching.The last two verses are beautiful and reassuring words of praise.

The Epistles of the Apostle Paul

There is no serious doubt that Paul was the author of these epistles. It appears from the comment of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:16) that they were considered Scripture from a very early period and collections of these letters would have been distributed to all the churches.

From time to time we should read each of these letters at one sitting, ignoring the chapter and verse divisions. These were added much later to help us find a particular portion more easily, but they also break up the letters in an artificial way. If we allow ourselves to be too much governed by these division we may not catch the full message the Apostle intended for us to hear.

He dictated each letter to a scribe, who is sometimes named in the letter, but added a portion in his own handwriting at the end of each. Galatians 6:11 “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand” should probably be taken to refer to the size of the letters he wrote as compared to the uniform and tidy writing of his scribe. Many reasons have been proposed for this: he was not as skilled in writing as a professional scribe; he wanted to emphasize that this was his own writing; or perhaps he had a vision problem that hindered his writing ability.

Several themes appear frequently in these letters:
– the united status of the church of God, depicted either as a temple with Christ as the foundation, or a body, with Christ as the head.
– it was God’s purpose from the beginning that salvation would be offered to all mankind on the same basis, but is only now fully revealed as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
– the reality of spiritual warfare; Christians are in enemy territory, we can only be victorious through the power of Jesus.

Romans: probably written while Paul was at Corinth. The believers at Rome were of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds and Paul emphasized that in the gospel era these differences no longer had any meaning. This had been God’s plan from the beginning and was now fully revealed and all believers were to live by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians: Corinth was a large and wealthy city where what we would call sexual immorality was commonplace and considered normal. There was also a hereditary class structure. These social divisions did not immediately disappear when they became Christians. One can readily imagine that the wealthier and better educated members would have preferred a gifted orator such as Apollos whereas the poorer would have identified more with Paul the tent maker.

2 Corinthians: This letter was probably written a year after the first. The first part gives commendation for the corrections made and instructions on the way to help one who has repented. There are hints that Paul is still looked down upon by the upper class church leaders. The fact that he has never taken money from them for himself is an affront to them as they feel it their duty to pay their teachers.

Galatians: The Galatians were Celts living in Asia Minor, now Turkey. Paul had introduced these people to the gospel, but now Christian Jewish missionaries had been teaching them that they needed to be circumcised to become Christians. Paul tells them we are all one in Christ and to go back to trusting in Jewish observances will separate them from Christ.

Ephesians: Written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. Most people of that day believed their lives were ruled by Fate, as revealed in the stars, and they had no hope of escaping from that Fate. Paul tells them that God has a better plan for them, that He had planned from the beginning of time to offer salvation to all people through Jesus Christ.

Philippians: Written from prison, probably a year after the letter to the Ephesians. This was the first church established in Europe by Paul and they were devoted to him. There appears to have been some rivalry or difference of o-pinion between leaders of two house churches and Paul exhorts them to unity.

Colossians: Colossae is a city in Asia Minor, or Turkey. There appears to have been some drift into mysticism which Paul addresses in the second chapter.

1 Thessalonians: Thessalonika is in Macedonia, the letter may date from as early as AD 50. It is largely a letter of thanksgiving and praise.

2 Thessalonians: probably written shortly after the first to correct a mistaken belief that the resurrection had already come.

1 Timothy: Probable date is AD 62-64, towards the end of Paul’s life. He instructs Timothy to see to ordaining ministers and deacons in every place to provide leadership and stability in the face of false teachings.

2 Timothy: Written during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome. It is generally assumed that his martyrdom took place AD 64-66, this was probably written not long before that and constitutes a fond farewell and final instructions to Timothy.

Titus: Titus was a Christian of Gentile origin. Paul had left him in Crete, the largest island in the Mediterranean, to establish leadership in the churches there. This epistle is thus very similar to 1 Timothy and was probably written at much the same time.

Philemon: Philemon was a prominent citizen of Colossae who was converted by Paul. Onesimus, a slave, had run away and then sought out Paul in Rome where he became a Christian. Paul sends him back to Philemon with this tender exhortation. No doubt Philemon received the exhortation willingly, as history records that Onesimus was later bishop of Ephesus. If Philemon had not received the letter graciously, it is highly unlikely that he would have kept it and then allowed it to be circulated among the churches.

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction to the New Testament -2

Acts of the Apostles – This is the second half of Luke’s history, the first part being the Gospel which bears his name. Again we see a meticulous historian at work, telling the history of the beginning of the church in chronological order and anchoring it all to places and people in the secular world. If we pay attention as we read, it should cause us to question some popular notions that we may have assumed to be true.

For instance, it is commonly assumed that the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost happened in the upper room. How big a room must this have been to hold 120 men and women? Acts 1:15 says that was the number of the disciples at that time. We find in verses 12 & 13 that this upper room served as the bedroom for the eleven apostles; do we really think they would have crammed 120 people of both sexes into this space?

Luke tells us in the last verse of his gospel that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God and repeats that statement in Acts 2:46. The courtyard of the temple was huge, with room for many thousands of people. There were shelters here, such as the one called Solomon’s porch, and pools of water for ritual purification. It makes more sense to believe that all the action of Acts 2 took place here. Other people would have been drawn to these somewhat rustic people who suddenly began speaking in languages they had not previously known. It would not have seemed unusual to dip water from one of the pools to baptize 3,000 people by pouring. Any attempt to immerse them in one of those pools would no doubt have caused an uproar.

The Book of Acts shows the apostle Peter taking the lead in opening the door to membership in the beginning church, first of all to Jews on the day of Pentecost and not long after to Gentiles when he went to the home of Cornelius. Peter also took the lead in excluding unfaithful members from the church, namely Ananias and Saphira, God bearing witness to the truth of Peter’s decision by causing the immediate death of both.

This must not be taken to indicate that Peter was the head of the church. When the apostles and leaders of the church gathered at Jerusalem to discuss what should be required of Gentile converts, as recorded in chapter 15, it was James who rendered the final decision. This was James the son of Joseph and Mary and brother of our Lord. James, the brother of John had been slain by Herod before this time.

A large part of the book is taken up in recounting the conversion of Saul and his subsequent career as Paul the apostle. His mission journeys did much to expand the frontiers of the church throughout Asia and Europe. Luke appears to have accompanied him during much of this time.

We read in the book of Acts and elsewhere of disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, Paul and John Mark. There is no evidence in these accounts that the disagreements are evidence of sin on the part of the individuals involved, or that they caused a breech of fellowship between them. All were dedicated to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel.

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

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