Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bible Challenge: 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude

The Johanine letters are actually teachings from a teacher to what is known as the Johanine community.  That is a group of Christians who were more focused on a spiritual Christianity.  They are the same community to whom the Gospel of John is addressed.

It is possible that the same author who wrote the Gospel of John wrote these letters.  It is also possible that the author was the apostle John - "the one whom Jesus loved"

There is strong warnings about false teachers and a reminder of their central commandment - that they love one another above all else.

This is most clearly seen in 1 John 4:7-8  "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."

Jude is a really brief warning against people who cause divisions in the Christian community.  The exhortations are very general and perhaps it is just to remind people of the threat.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bible Challenge: James and 1 & 2 Peter

James, in spite of its opening sentences, is actually probably not a letter.  It is really a series of admonitions.  It strongly parallels the wisdom writings in the Old Testament, like Ecclesiastes.  It is not clear who James was.  Probably not James, the brother of Jesus who led the church in Jerusalem.

There is confusion over the authorship of the Peter letters.  The opening sentences claim "Peter an apostle of Christ Jesus" as the one writing.  But the closing of 1 Peter claims Silvanus - who was associated with Paul.

In all likelihood the letter was written after the death of both Peter and Paul and the introduction was added later to add to the importance of the letter.

One of the principle focus' of the Peter letters is to encourage Christians who are suffering because following Christ has marked them out as different from the society around them.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bible Challenge: Titus, Philemon & Hebrews

Titus is the last of the Pastoral epistles.  It is written from, in all likelihood, a senior student of Paul to Titus - who was one of Paul's companions.

Titus was a non-Jew who had not been circumcised and therefore it was questioned whether or not he was an acceptable leader for the church.  Paul sent Titus to Corinth to try to reconcile Paul to the church there.

This letter is very much like 1 Timothy - it's the 1st century version of a church administration handbook.

Philemon was actually written by Paul - it was to be delivered by a slave who Paul was sending back to his master.

Hebrews is an anonymous letter.  It is more a theological essay than the other letters - which are anchored in a particular community and that community's particular issues.  It is possible that this letter is written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and that is why the author spends so much effort on how Christ's sacrifice is superior to the sacrifices offered in the temple.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bible Challenge: 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 & 2 Timothy

Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia.  It sat on both sea and land routes of travel.  The church there was founded by Paul and his visit there is mentioned in the book of Acts.  These letters are about the life of the congregation and how their problems are both similar to and different from those of the other church communities in the area.  The second letter moves into the fulfillment of God's promises and how to await the return of Christ.

One of the best exhortations in the epistles comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

1 & 2 Timothy are letters to Timothy from Paul - or more likely from a senior student of Paul after Paul's death.  These two letters, along with Titus, are sometimes called the pastoral epistles because they are pastoral counsel to second generation leaders of the church.

First Timothy provides guidance in the problems of leading a church - which seem remarkably similar to some we face today and in how to oppose false teaching.

Second Timothy is much more about how Timothy, himself, should exercise Christian leadership.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bible Challenge: Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians

Today we have three letters to some of the largest congregations in the early Church.  The time that we are in is somewhere between 50 and 75 A.D.

The letter to the church at Ephesus - which was a really vibrant, cosmopolitan, city.  Was in all likelihood written by a close disciple of Paul.  It was the custom of that time that a senior student would write in the name of the master after the master's death.  So this letter was probably written after Paul's death.  So it is probably later than 62 A.D.  The book focuses on the reconciliation to God and the Church's roll in helping us claim that reconciliation.

The letter to the church at Philippi - which was a stop in a main road between the East and the West in the Empire.  This is the first church established by Paul in Europe and he had a close relationship with them.  This letter was written by Paul himself while he was in prison and waiting for his trial.  The letter focuses on proclaiming the Gospel and doing it in the face of trouble and finding the joy in the midst of trial and suffering.

The letter to the church in Colossae - which was not far from Ephesus.  The church was apparently not founded by Paul and had several other teachers teaching different things than Paul was.  There seemed to be a combination of Paul's teaching, more traditional Jewish practices and rituals and gnostic philosophies.  Paul is working holding the church to what he believed to be the true teachings of Jesus.