September 9, 2007
Acts 15:36-18:22; 1 and 2 Thessalonians
I lumped the end of Acts 15 in with last week’s lesson. But, to refresh, look at what these verses recount. When about to set forth on a second missionary journey, a dispute arose between Saul and Barnabas as to the propriety of taking John Mark with them again. The dispute ended by Saul and Barnabas taking separate routes. Saul took Silas as his companion, and journeyed through Syria and Cilicia; while Barnabas took his cousin, John Mark, and visited Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas is not again mentioned by Luke in the Acts. However, lest you think poorly of Barnabas, tho he argues with Paul in Acts 15:36-39, he is reconciled to Paul in 1 Cor. 9:6 and his piety is mentioned in Acts 11:24 and his devotion to Jesus in Acts 15:26. And, of further interest, the people at Lystra named Paul, because of his fervid oratory, Mercurius, while the quiet dignity and reserved strength of Barnabas gave him the title of Jupiter (Acts 14:12). Barnabas escaped the violence which Paul suffered at Iconium (Acts 14:19).
Why would Luke want us to know these details about the contention between the apostles? How does this story relate to the following story? What is Paul trying to accomplish in his efforts with this mixed family and the associated church?
Acts Chapter 16:
v. 1-3: Here we see an “inter-racial” & “inter-faith” marriage and meet Timothy. What do you think was the situation for these people, especially Timotheus?
Timothy is a young disciple who was Paul’s companion in many of his journeyings. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are mentioned as eminent for their piety (2 Tim. 1:5). We know nothing of his father but that he was a Greek (Acts 16:1). He is first brought into notice at the time of Paul’s second visit to Lystra (16:2), where he probably resided, and where it seems he was converted during Paul’s first visit to that place (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 3:11). The apostle having formed a high opinion of his “own son in the faith,” arranged that he should become his companion (Acts 16:3), and took and circumcised him, so that he might conciliate the Jews. He was designated to the office of an evangelist (1 Tim. 4:14), and went with Paul in his journey through Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia; also to Troas and Philippi and Berea (Acts 17:14). Thence he followed Paul to Athens, and was sent by him with Silas on a mission to Thessalonica (17:15; 1 Thess. 3:2). We next find him at Corinth (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1) with Paul. He passes now out of sight for a few years, and is again noticed as with the apostle at Ephesus (Acts 19:22), whence he is sent on a mission into Macedonia. He accompanied Paul afterwards into Asia (20:4), where he was with him for some time. When the apostle was a prisoner at Rome, Timothy joined him (Phil. 1:1), where it appears he also suffered imprisonment (Heb. 13:23). During the apostle’s second imprisonment he wrote to Timothy, asking him to rejoin him as soon as possible, and to bring with him certain things which he had left at Troas, his cloak and parchments (2 Tim. 4:13). According to tradition, after the apostle’s death he settled in Ephesus as his sphere of labour, and there found a martyr’s grave.
On mixed marriages in Judaism, see Neh 13:23-27; Ezra 9:1-10:44; Mal 2:10-16; Jub. 30:7-17; m. Qiddushin 3.12; m. Yevamot 7.5. Under Jewish law at least as early as the 2nd century, a person was considered Jewish if his or her mother was Jewish. It is not certain whether such a law was in effect in the 1st century, but even if it was, Timothy would not have been accepted as fully Jewish because he was not circumcised.
Who are “the brethren” and who are they reporting well of? Why did Paul encourage Timotheus to be circumcized? The verb περιέτεμεν (perietemen) here may be understood as causative (cf. ExSyn 411-12) if Paul did not personally perform the circumcision.
v. 6-10: How does the Spirit lead us? How can we be sure it is the Spirit and not our own ideas? Have you had an experience akin to that of these missionaries in being led by the Spirit?
v. 13: Who is “we?” What does “prayer was wont to be made” mean?
v. 14: Regarding Lydia: the first European convert of Paul, and afterward his hostess during his first stay at Philippi. (Acts 18:14,15) also Acts 18:40 (A.D. 47.) She was a Jewish proselyte at the time of the apostle’s coming; and it was at the Jewish Sabbath-worship by the side of a stream that the preaching of the gospel reached her heart. Her native place was Thyatira, in the province of Asia. Thyatira was famous for its dyeing works; and Lydia was connected with this trade, as a seller either of dye or of dyed goods. We infer that she was a person of considerable wealth.
Does the Lord open our heart or do we open our heart? How? What does it mean that “she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul”?
v. 16-18: Why does Paul stop the damsel possessed with a spirit from crying, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation?” Why did he allow her to do it for many days before stopping her? Why do you think the girl said what she did?
v. 19-40: Paul is a Jew AND a Roman. What does his being a Roman have to do with his situation? (see v. 37) What does it mean to “believe on the Lord, Jesus Christ?” (v. 31) Is this truly all that must be done to be saved? Is the parrallel between the washings in v. 33 significant? What, exactly, does the prison keeper do? Why didn’t Paul explain that he was a Roman citizen when he was arrested? Who is comforting whom in v. 40? What is the purpose of “members’ or believers’ homes” in this story?
Acts Chapter 17:
v. 1-4: What was it, exactly, that Paul & Silas did here? Is it significant that Paul took 3 sabbath days to preach to the people? What does “reasoned with them out the scriptures” mean? How might we do this today? What does “opening and alleging” mean? Why did Paul have to prove that Jesus was the Christ or “Messiah”?; both “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew and Aramaic) mean “one who has been anointed.” These two points (suffering and resurrection) would have been among the more controversial aspects of Paul’s messianic preaching. The term translated “had to” (δεῖ, dei) shows how divine design and scripture corresponded here. What is a devout Greek and a chief woman? RE: “of devout Greeks,” is a technical term for the category called God-fearers, Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel and in many cases kept the Mosaic law, but did not take the final step of circumcision necessary to become a proselyte to Judaism. Why would Luke make this distinction, especially just prior to the next descriptor of people: Jews which believed not, found in verse 5?
v. 5-9: Why did Luke relate this story about Jason? Jason means “one that will cure” and is the host of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. The Jews assaulted his house in order to seize Paul, but failing to find him, they dragged Jason before the ruler of the city (Acts 17:5-9). He was apparently one of the kinsmen of Paul (Rom. 16:21), and accompanied him from Thessalonica to Corinth. How is this pericope similar to the one found in the previous chapter about Lydia? Compare 16:36 and 17:9. Do you see a see-saw effect here with Luke’s writing?
v. 11-12: How does Luke define “noble?” Other translations say “more willing to learn.” εὐγενής is translated as “open-minded” here. The point is that they were more receptive to Paul’s message.
v. 13-15: Since there is no mention of Paul taking a ship to Athens, he presumably traveled overland. The journey would have been about 340 mi (550 km). It is ironic that the Jews, not the Christians, are the ones disturbing the peace and that Paul, a previous persecutor of Christians, is now being persecuted for being Christian.
v. 18: An Epicurean was a follower of the philosophy of Epicurus, who founded a school in Athens about 300 b.c. Although the Epicureans saw the aim of life as pleasure, they were not strictly hedonists, because they defined pleasure as the absence of pain. Along with this, they desired the avoidance of trouble and freedom from annoyances. They saw organized religion as evil, especially the belief that the gods punished evildoers in an afterlife. In keeping with this, they were unable to accept Paul’s teaching about the resurrection.
A Stoic was a follower of the philosophy founded by Zeno (342-270 b.c.), a Phoenician who came to Athens and modified the philosophical system of the Cynics he found there. The Stoics rejected the Epicurean ideal of pleasure, stressing virtue instead. The Stoics emphasized responsibility for voluntary actions and believed risks were worth taking, but thought the actual attainment of virtue was difficult. They also believed in providence.
v. 19: Areopagus: The Hill of Ares (Mars Hill), an eminence where the Court of the Areopagus met to pass judgment on criminals and to decide questions of religion. Paul may have been appearing before the court or speaking to an informal gathering at the open air site where the court sat.
v. 23: From Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol. 2 Bruce R. McConkie: Athens was the world center of idol worship. Temples, statues, and altars were everywhere. “Petronius, a contemporary writer at Nero’s court, says satirically that it was easier to find a god at Athens than a man.” (Jamieson, p. 201.) “Philostratus says, ‘It is more prudent to speak well of all gods, especially at Athens, where altars are erected even to unknown gods.’ At Athens during a plague Epimenides let loose at the Aeropagus black and white sheep, and commanded the Athenians to sacrifice ‘to the proper god,’ wherever the sheep lay down. Often ‘the proper god’ could not be clearly ascertained, and so an altar was raised to an unknown god.” (Dummelow, p. 842.)
THE UNKNOWN GOD: “Finding on Mars hill ‘an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,’ Paul took occasion to reveal to the Athenians the true nature of the living God, as though he were merely giving them a correct understanding of what they already believed. (Acts 17:22-31.) Similarly today, the Elders of Israel go forth among so-called Christian peoples who are worshiping an Unknown God (who chances to have the same names as the true and living God), and the elders proceed to reveal the true nature of God, as though they are explaining what the people already believe.
In reality, the God of the saints is a Known God who has revealed himself to modern men; the Deity of the sectarian Christians is an Unknown God, who does not appear to men, though in some vague way he is supposed to have done so anciently. The saints say that it is life eternal to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent (John 17:3); apostate Christendom says—officially and formally in the accepted and approved creeds—that God is immaterial, uncreated, and incomprehensible.
The only similarity between the Known and the Unknown Gods is that they both bear the same names, and the profession is made that they both have the same characteristics and attributes. For that matter the Athenians probably ascribed to their Unknown God many of the same characteristics and attributes that the sectarians ascribe to the mysterious all-pervading essence which they suppose is their God. Acceptance of the gospel, in large measure, consists in coming to the true knowledge of God, in replacing apostate views about an Unknown God with the light of heaven so that the convert begins to know God and the Son who was sent of God.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., pp. 815-816.)
v. 27: Note the JST here.
v. 28: This poetic quote is from Aratus (ca. 310-245 b.c.), Phaenomena. What does this quote tell you about Paul? About his audience? About Luke?
Through v. 31: What do you think about the method of Paul’s teaching?
v. 32: Why would the resurrection of the dead be the turning point for some listeners?
Acts Chapter 18:
1-3: On Aquila and his wife Priscilla see also Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3-4; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19. In the NT “Priscilla” and “Prisca” are the same person. This author uses the full name Priscilla, while Paul uses the diminutive form Prisca. Claudius refers to the Roman emperor Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus, known as Claudius, who ruled from a.d. 41-54. The edict expelling the Jews from Rome was issued in a.d. 49. Paul apparently manufactured tents. In contrast to the Cynic philosophers, Paul at times labored to support himself.
v. 4-6: Note how Luke continues to alternate the stories of the believers with the unbelievers. Who are the believers and who are the unbelievers? Why does Luke use this techinique?
v. 7-11: Why do you think Paul received this vision?
v. 12: Gallio was proconsul of Achaia from a.d. 51-52. This date is one of the firmly established dates in Acts. Lucius Junius Gallio was the son of the rhetorician Seneca and the brother of Seneca the philosopher. The date of Gallio’s rule is established from an inscription. Thus the event mentioned here is probably to be dated July-October a.d. 51. The judgment seat (βῆμα, bhma) was a raised platform mounted by steps and sometimes furnished with a seat, used by officials in addressing an assembly or making pronouncements, often on judicial matters. The judgment seat was a familiar item in Greco-Roman culture, often located in the agora, the public square or marketplace in the center of a city. So this was a very public event.
v. 18: It is debated whether this vow is a private vow of thanksgiving or the Nazirite vow, because it is not clear whether the Nazirite vow could be taken outside Jerusalem. Some have cited the Mishnah (m. Nazir 3:6, 5:4) to argue that the shaving of the hair can occur outside Jerusalem, and Josephus, J. W. 2.15.1 (2.313) is sometimes suggested as a parallel, but these references are not clear. H. Greeven, TDNT 2:777, is certain that this refers to the Nazirite vow. Regardless, it is clear that Paul reflected his pious dependence on God.
v. 22: The city of Antioch in Syria lies due north of Jerusalem. In Western languages it is common to speak of north as “up” and south as “down,” but the NT maintains the Hebrew idiom which speaks of any direction away from Jerusalem as down (since Mount Zion was thought of in terms of altitude). This marks the end of the second missionary journey which began in Acts 15:36. From Caesarea to Antioch is a journey of 280 mi (450 km).
Now skip over to Thessalonians. Why did we do that?
Paul’s letters are not printed in the order in which they were written. They are generally placed according to length–the longest letter to the shortest. The tradition of placing the longest books first reaches back to the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which placed the first six books of the minor prophets (minor in size, not importance) in order of their length, except Jonah, which represents a distinct type of text. However, a close examination of Paul’s letters reveals several exceptions to this generatlization about length. Additionally, because Pauline authorship of Hebrews was questioned quite early in the church, that letter was placed at the end of Paul’s letter collection, even though it is substantially longer than the 335-word letter to Philemon.
So, we’ve skipped to Thessalonians because they are the earliest of Paul’s letters; thus you see that we’re going chronologically, according to the evolution of the early church, at this point in our Sunday School lessons. (I haven’t read ahead far enough to know if it continues this way or diverts to some other focus. 🙂 )
The first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Thessalonians was written approximately twenty years before any gospel account of Jesus’ life was written, making it the earliest written New Testament scripture (except for a possible earlier date for Galatians (48-49), most likely 51 AD. See Acts 18:12 where Paul appears before Gallio in Corinth. This provies a chronolgical frame used to place the epostles in some type of reasonable order. L. Iunius Gallio Annaeus, the younger brother of the famous Stoic philosopher Seneca, was proconsul of the province of Achaea, and fragments of an inscription found at Delphi seem to date the beginning of his governorshipo to May A.D. 51. He returned to Rome shortly thereafter because of a “fever”–well before May of A.D. 52 according to other Roman sources–suggesting a date in the fall of A.D. 51 as the most likely time when Paul made his appearance before Gallio.
Paul left Thessalonica to due to persecution, hoping to return later. He wrote the first letter to the church at Thessalonica while in Corinth. About six months later (A.D. 51/52) he sent 2 Thessalonians in response to further information about the church there.
The purpose of Thessalonians was to offer support for the recent converts from paganism (1:9). They are letters of encouragement, instruction and offer assurance concerning the future of believers who die before Christ returns. Although the thrust of the letter is varied, the subject of eschatology (doctrine of last things) seems to be predominant in both Thessalonian letters. Every chapter of 1 Thess. ends with a reference to the second coming of Christ, with ch. 4 giving it major consideration. 2 Thess. has 18 out of 47 verses dealing with end times. Thus, the second coming seems to permeate the letters and may be viewed in some sense as their theme. The two letters are often designated as the eschatological letters of Paul.
1 Thessalonians Chapter 1:
v. 3: Note the triad of faith, hope and charity here.
v. 4: The term “brethren” or “brothers” is used 28 times in the two letters to the Thessalonians. Why did Paul use this term and why do we use it, along with sisters & sister, today? What is it Paul knows concerning these people? What is the election that has taken place?
v. 5: What does it mean to have the gospel come in power and the Holy Ghost verses in word only? I really like the NIV translation here instead of the KJV because of clarity. I suggest you use an alternate translation whenever the KJV seems difficult to understand. Paul’s writings can be especially difficult at times.
v. 9-10: What are the marks of true conversion?
v. 1-10: What are the qualities of a true messenger from God?
v. 9: Greeks despised manual labor and viewed it as only fit for slaves, but Paul was not ashamed of doing any sort of work that would help further the gospel. He did not want to be unduly dependent on others. How do we see this working in the restored church? See also 4:11-12 and 2 Thes. 3:6-13.
v. 17-20: In what way are the Thessalonians Paul’s glory and joy?
v. 8-9: What is Paul likening these virtues to? Why?
2 Thessalonians 1-3:
Why was Paul so concerned with end times doctrine and warning against idleness?