August 26, 2007 (Stake Conference was the 19th)
As we continue our New Testament study, have your Old Testament beside you ready for reference. This always makes the studying that much more fun! 🙂 Last week we enjoyed excerpts from Psalms, Joel, and Deuteronomy. This week we’ll reference Isaiah, Moses, 2 Chronicles, 1 Kings, Jerimiah, to name a few. Continue to cast your mind back to OT scriptures which Jesus’ apostles are referencing directly or by inference as they testify of Jesus and preach His gospel. I suggest you keep a notepad and as you read the NT, write down cross references to the OT as you notice them. This may slow down your reading, but it will emphasize to you how the gospel message is the same throughout all time. In the following notes I will offer a few cross references, but by no means exhaust the possibilities!
Christianity’s upsurge can be credited to four poignant reasons:
1. Pax Romana, or peace of Rome, facilitated by Octavian, nephew of Julius Caesar, known to us as Augustus Caesar. This peace brought prosperity which promoted the economy, travel, and cultural and religious tolerance.
2. Hellenism gave Greek speakers the ability to travel and communicate through a huge heterogeneous area known as the Roman world. Thus the early Church spread the gospel through this common language.
3. Superstitions were repleat due to age old problems of high infant death, plagues, earthquakes, famine, etc. Magic was practiced in an attempt to ward off these problems. Amulets, magic gems, and occult books dating from the period have been found by the score. Some sought immortality and believed that magic would allow them to escape the confines of fate or necessity and come into accord with the supreme god. When Christians came along, adding the power of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood authority with accompanying miracles, and the sure promise of a resurrection, many among both the Jews and Gentiles flooded into the Church.
4. Rise of Philosphy, due to increased prosperity and greater amount of leisure time, compelled people to ask, “Which god, if any, is supreme?” This question initially opened the doors of many Gentile homes to the Jews and eventually to the Christians.
Not a single Gentile belonged to the Church when Peter become the presiding officer. Further, so far as we know, there was not a single Christian living more than 100 miles from Jerusalem.
Through the activities of the Christian leaders and power of the Holy Ghost, thousands flocked into the early Church. Though they came from many countries, they were all Jews. Three thousand of these joined, due to the powerful manifestation at Pentecost, but Luke recorded that “the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41,47).
The Jewish rulers moved against the Christian leaders for 3 reasons: 1. the mass conversions threatened to take people away from established Jewish congregations; 2. the Apostles testified that the Jewish rulers were guilty of crucifying the Messiah; 3. the disciples testified of the resurrection of Christ which the Jewish leaders desperately wanted to discredit because it validated the 2nd reason.
Acts Chapter 6:
v. 1-4: The church is practicing the Law of Consecration at this time. See Acts 4:35. The Greek-speaking Jews are complaining against the native Hebraic Jews. The term “serve tables” in Greek means to keep accounts or oversee monetary transactions. In what ways might this event remind you of the early latter-day church soon after the Restoration? Why did the problem(s) arise? How did they resolve it (them)? Is there a modern parrallel here? How are serving tables (v.2) and ministry of the word (v.4) alike or different?
v. 5-6: What are Stephen’s qualities that qualify him to “serve tables?” See v. 3, 5 & 10. A proselyte is a Gentile convert to Judiasm. What occurs in this scene?
v. 7: What does Luke want us to know happens with this delegation of responsibility? What does this teach us about the Lord’s church? What does it mean to have the “word of God increase?” Why does Luke include this last line about the priests? Sadducees controled the temple at this time.
v. 8: What is Stephen’s job in the church? Who is he interacting with in his role? What does this teach about magnifying our callings within the church?
v. 9-10: Synagogues were the central meeting place for the church and were to be found wherever a Jewish population existed. A synagogue could be built if there were 10 Jewish men in the place. Synogogues are seen in history as early as 800 BC (Psalm 74:8). During the Diaspora the synagogue replaced the temple as a place of worship. The Libertines were descendants of Jews taken to Rome in 63 BC and made slaves who were later given their freedom and whose descendants returned to Rome. What are these Jews arguing with Stephen about? Why couldn’t they resist Stephen? In what way is this a fulfillment of Luke 12:11-12; 21:15? What does the eventual outcome of Stephen’s trial teach us about the Lord’s definition of “none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict”?
v. 11-13: Why did they persist in trying to defeat Stephen? They’re at the temple, before the Sanhedrin now. What exactly are they accusing Stephen of?
v. 14-15: Is this irony at its height? Herod’s Temple/Mosaic Law vs. Jesus? What is the purpose of Stephen’s face changing? Consider the purpose of angels, i.e. Acts 1:10-11. Where in scripture/history do we encounter a similar experience?
Acts Chapter 7:
v. 1-49: The Sanhedrin, presided over by the great Sadducean High Priest, charged Stephen with sacrilege (namely, speaking against the temple). He has the opportunity to defend himself. How is his speech a defense? What difference does it make where God appeared in the past in defending Stephen’s position? In what ways does Stephen follow the examples of Isaish (1:11-17), Amos (5:21-24), and Jeremiah (7:1-12)? What kind of temple does God dwell in?
v. 25: Note the parrallel between Moses and Jesus here, and Stephen. Here is the theme of the speech. The people did not understand what God was doing through those he chose. They made the same mistake with Joseph at first. See Acts 3:17; 13:27. There is good precedent for this kind of challenging review of history in the ancient scriptures: Ps 106:6-46; Ezek 20; and Neh 9:6-38.
v. 52: “Whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:” The harsh critique has OT precedent (1 Kgs 19:10-14; Neh 9:26; 2 Chr 36:16).
v. 55-57: How would the hearers understand what Stephen saw? Why is this blasphemous and punishable by death? The irony of the scene is that the people do exactly what the speech complains about in v. 52.
v. 58: Saul (Paul) is introduced. Why do you think Luke introduced Saul at this moment, sandwiched into this story of Stephen in this way?
v. 59-60: Compare Luke 23:34, 46. Why did Stephen utter these last words? Do Stephen’s words absolve Saul from responsibility for Stephen’s death? Is it significant that the Greek meaning of the name Stephen is “crowned?” The verb κοιμάω (koimaw) literally means “sleep,” but it is often used in the Bible as a euphemism for the death of a believer. Why would the word “sleep” be used in this manner?
Acts Chapter 8:
v. 1: How do you think Luke felt about Saul (Paul) as evidenced by his record? Is Luke giving enough of the story regarding the character and activities of Saul for us to come to a conclusion about who he is? Why does he write what he does, withholding more information? How involved was Saul in Stephen’s death? What does “consenting” mean? Was Pilot consenting to the death of Jesus? Is Luke’s contrast of Peter before & after Pentacost similar to the picture Luke paints of Saul? Is there a common thread? Why do the apostles stay in Jerusalem?
v. 2: For someone who was stoned to death, lamentation was normally not allowed (m. Sanhedrin 6:6). The remark points to an unjust death. Note that Saul was not a witness to the stoning, but only guarded the witness’s coats. The witnesses took a leading part in the stoning (Lev. 24:14-16; Deut. 13:9; 17:7). Later law spelled out this role: “Four cubits from the place of stoning the ciminal is stripped….The drop from the place of stoning was twice the height of a man. One of the witnesses pushes the criminal from behind, so that he falls face downward. He is then turned over on his back. If he dies from this fall, that is sufficient. If not, the second witness takes the stone and drops it on his heart. If this causes death, that is sufficient. If not, he is stoned by all the congregation of Israel.” [Mishnah, Sanhedrin, 6.3-4] But if the stoning was unjust in the first place, perhaps all this formality was set aside and the angry mob simply threw rocks at him until he died. 😦 Note that this is the first “Saint” martyred for Jesus’ sake since Christ’s death.
v. 3-4: What is the outcome of persecution for the church? Does this have a modern-day parrallel? Note that this is the first preaching outside of Judea that has ever occurred. These people had a mixture of both Jewish and Gentile blood. Further, they mixed pagan religious practices with Jewish. For that reason, among others, many Jews considered them worse than Gentiles. Because of their mixed teachings and bloodlines, Philip’s taking the gospel to them was a half-step into the larger world.
v. 5: What authority does Philip have?
I haven’t had a chance to finish my notes for the remaining chapter & verses, however, glance back at the four reasons I gave you at the start of these notes for the rise in Christianity. Where does the world sit today in relationship to these forces? Is the world better poised to receive the gospel? Why or why not? What must happen in the lives of individuals before they are personally ready to receive the gospel?
Acts Chapter 9:
v. 1-2: The rise of Christianity is introduced in Acts and this lesson in particular. The church of the early Christians was called The Way, as seen in Acts 16:17; 18:25-26; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22; 2 Peter 2:2. Jesus called himself “the way” (John 14:6). Note in Acts 9:2 Saul is looking for those who belonged to the Way. The expression “the way” in ancient religious literature refers at times to “the whole way of life from a moral and spiritual viewpoint” and it has been so used of Christianity and its teachings in the book of Acts. It is a variation of Judaism’s idea of two ways, the true and the false, where “the Way” is the true one.
v. 3-9: Compare this with Alma’s experience with the Angel. Is the parallel in v. 7-8 “see no man” significant? Why doesn’t God simply destroy Saul? Why does Saul go without drink or food?
v. 10-16: Who is Ananias here? Is it significant that Luke wrote about another, unfaithful, Ananias back in Chapter 5? What is Ananias’ role? How significant is it? How has Ananias prepared for his role and how does he fulfill it? What can this teach us about life missions, conversions/converts, etc?
v. 17-20: What has happened to Saul? How are we like Saul?
v. 21-27: What is the consequence to Saul of his conversion? How does this relate to v.16? Why did the disciples not believe Saul to be a disciple? What are the “marks” of a disciple? At what point is Saul distinguishable as a disciple? Why does Barnabas recommend Saul to the other disciples?
v. 28-31: What happens to the church as a consequence of Saul’s conversion? Can you find some irony here?
v. 32-43: Is it significant that Saul is “out of the picture” when Peter is back in the “lime light?” Why does Luke position these pericopes as he does? How are each of these people related? Why does Luke end this pericope with Simon? Who is Simon? (see next chapter) Why doesn’t Luke continue with Simon, who he has just introduced, instead of writing about Cornelius now? Joppa was a seaport on the Philistine coast, in the same location as modern Jaffa. “Though Joppa never became a major seaport, it was of some importance as a logistical base and an outlet to the Mediterranean” (A. F. Rainey, ISBE 2:1118-19). Lydda was a city northwest of Jerusalem on the way to Joppa. It was about 10.5 miles (17 km) southeast of Joppa. (See Map #14) Why is this event told much like Luke 8:49-56 and Mark 5:35-43?
The book of Acts is, in reality, a record of how the Church responded to the Lord’s directive. Acts, chapters 2–7, [Acts 2–7] tell of the preaching of Peter, John, others of the Twelve, and early leaders to the Jews in Jerusalem; chapter 8 [Acts 8] tells of the extension of the gospel to Samaria; and chapters 9–28 [Acts 9–28] tell of Saul’s conversion and the extension of the gospel to the nations of the gentiles throughout Galatia (modern Turkey), Greece, and Italy. Acts shows the implementation of the Savior’s instructions in Acts 1:4–8 about how to take the gospel to the nations of the earth.
In conclusion, some words about Paul as a preface to the lessons to come:
“At this juncture we see the mission of Saul (whom we will hereafter call Paul) begin to unfold. A person was needed who could bear the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to the gentiles in non-Jewish lands, who could withstand the criticism of his own countrymen (even in the Church), and who had the knowledge and training to teach both Jews and gentiles of all social levels throughout the Roman empire what the gospel of Jesus Christ really is and what man’s responsibility is concerning it. There were many who could do some of these, but Paul could do them all magnificently well.
Paul was born of Jewish Pharisee parents in Tarsus, a gentile city. His parents sent him to Jerusalem as a youth to become a rabbi. He was well acquainted with Jewish and gentile customs and beliefs. His father was a citizen of the Roman empire; how he acquired this is not known, but Paul inherited this citizenship from his father, which was a great aid to preaching in Roman areas. (See Acts 16:37–39; Acts 22:25–30.)
Paul spoke and wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, which gave him an indispensable cultural advantage living and teaching in the Mediterranean areas. He knew the Old Testament thoroughly, having learned it not only as a child at home and in the synagogue school at Tarsus, but also at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem as a rabbinical trainee.
Paul was by disposition a strong-willed individual, who, once he knew what he wanted to do, was determined in his motives and principles. This caused him, as a young man, to relentlessly persecute the early Church. But that same vigor of mind and will also helped him to be stalwart in the Church.
Paul was not an evil man, even when he was a persecutor: he was simply misguided and mistaken. He thought he was serving the God of Israel by fighting the Christians, whom he saw as a threat to the law of Moses and to the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the Lord showed him his error, he was even more deliberate and valiant in defending the gospel than he had been in attacking it.
The Prophet Joseph Smith described Paul physically and characterized him as follows:
“He is about five feet high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion. He was a good orator, active and diligent, always employing himself in doing good to his fellow man.” (Teachings, p. 180.)
“Though he once, according to his own word, persecuted the Church of God and wasted it, yet after embracing the faith, his labors were unceasing to spread the glorious news: and like a faithful soldier, when called to give his life in the cause which he had espoused, he laid it down, as he says, with an assurance of an eternal crown. Follow the labors of this Apostle from the time of his conversion to the time of his death, and you will have a fair sample of industry and patience in promulgating the Gospel of Christ. Derided, whipped, and stoned, the moment he escaped the hands of his persecutors he as zealously as ever proclaimed the doctrine of the Savior. And all may know that he did not embrace the faith for honor in this life, nor for the gain of earthly goods. What, then, could have induced him to undergo all this toil? It was, as he said, that he might obtain the crown of righteousness from the hand of God.” (Teachings, pp. 63–64.)
Paul was peculiarly suited for bearing testimony to kings and rulers, not only among the Jews, but especially among the gentiles. He was not a man of ordinary accomplishments and training. During his lifetime he taught the Roman deputy of Cyprus (Acts 13:6–12) and also stood before the Roman magistrates of Philippi (Acts 16:35–39). He gave his testimony and defense before the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Judaism (Acts 22:30; Acts 23:1–9), and before the Roman-appointed governors of Palestine, Felix and Festus (Acts 23:24–25:12).
Paul likewise stood before Agrippa, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews. (Acts 26.) Last, he stood before the Roman emperor himself. (See postscript following 2 Timothy.) In addition he traveled thousands of miles by land and sea and mingled with Jews and gentiles, both leaders and populace, throughout Palestine, Syria, Galatia, Cyprus, Greece, and Rome. He called himself the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13) and had been given that charge by the Brethren (see Gal. 2:7–9).
In addition, Paul suffered imprisonments, whippings, cold, hunger, thirst, stoning, shipwreck, and other perils. (See 2 Cor. 11:23–27.) He suffered also the loss of all physical goods (see Philip. 3:8) and eventual martyrdom (see 2 Tim. 4:6–7). Only a certain kind of disposition could tolerate such a life for a period of twenty-five or thirty years. Through all that time, he built up the Church throughout the northern Mediterranean and wrote many epistles to the branches there, some of which are preserved in our present New Testament.
From Paul more than any other, we learn of the problems of the early church of Christ, its missionary work, and the doctrines it taught. After chapter 12, he is the dominant character of the book of Acts; he also authored fourteen of the epistles in the New Testament, laying before the reader a considerable array of evidence about the organizational structure, the doctrines, and the activity of the church from the years 40–65 a.d.
His records that have come to us display a great love for the Savior. And no one of that day has given us a more extensive discussion of the mission of Jesus Christ in fulfilling the law of Moses and in being the savior of all nations and peoples. Paul is most eloquent when writing of the Savior’s grace, mercy, and love for mankind.
Paul was indeed a chosen vessel, a special man for a particular need, at a particular time and in a particular place. Yet, with all his varied talents and education, the things that made him most useful to the Lord were his total, unwavering devotion and testimony. Without these, all his other skills would have been ineffective or, as in his early years, used for the wrong purposes.
Paul was the right man in the right place at the right time. This was not a coincidence but the result of divine foreknowledge and selection—Jesus appointed him as a special witness, not only for the time of his own mortality, but also to leave an example and a written record for all future generations.” [Ensign, 1987, September, ‘Saul of Tarsus: Chosen for a Special Need’ By Robert J. Matthews]