Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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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.

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.

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