Ready for Paul?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Testament Tales - Out of Israel

Out of Israel
1. What nationality and background were the first Christians?
2. How long did Christian believers worship in Jerusalem before being scattered?
3. How soon after Jesus’ death did he appear to Saul of Tarsus?
4. Where were Christians first called Christians?
5. What were they called before that?
6. When were they first called Christians?
7. What happened around ten years after Jesus’ death?
8. When did Paul start travelling to preach the Gospel?
9. When did Paul start writing to preach the Gospel?
10. When did Luke start travelling with Paul?

The book of Acts opens around 30AD. The first followers of Christ are crowd celebrating Pentecost, converted after hearing Peter’s sermon (Psalm 16:10, Joel 2:28). The church functions much like any other Jewish sect, except for a more radical call to sharing. Stephen, chosen to keep peace between Hellenist (Greek-speaking) and Nationalist (Arabic-speaking) believers, is stoned in 33AD, and Saul begins his persecution of Christians, causing them to flee the city. As Paul himself later writes (Romans 8:28), all things work for good, and the Gospel spreads. Saul is converted by a vision of Jesus (about five years later) and preaches in Damascus, later returning to Jerusalem where believers won’t trust him ‘til Barnabas speaks up for him. Still threatened by the crowds, he retreats to Tarsus (Acts 9:30).

At this point (42AD) Peter is travelling and preaching the Gospel, eventually converting Gentiles after God gives him a vision. Meanwhile Barnabas and Saul go to Antioch where Christians, previously known as followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2) are first called Christians. Peter is imprisoned when authorities stage another crackdown in Judea, but an angel releases him (much to the surprise of those praying for him). Herod Agrippa dies in 44AD (Acts 12:19-23) after accepting praise due to God, an event recorded in Josephus as well as in the Bible. And Gentile believers are recorded sending aid to their Jewish allies during a famine at this time.

John Mark—possibly the writer of Mark, and possibly the young man who ran away naked in the garden—joins Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary journey, leaving under a cloud and causing their later separation. By now, Saul calls himself Paul—the Roman version of his name—and is listed before Barnabas, indicating increasing importance. In Cyprus, Paul is opposed by a Jewish sorcerer who advises the proconsul wrongly; the sorcerer is blinded and Paul wins the argument.

Around 50AD Paul returns to Jerusalem to arguments about the conversion of uncircumcised Gentiles. Peter and the elders write a letter setting up a subset of Jewish rules for converts—not the first Christians letter, since James has probably already written his epistle (which doesn’t mention circumcision). Paul sets off with Timothy and Silas carrying the letter on his second missionary journey.

Paul keeps trying to head in one direction while circumstances (aka the Holy Spirit) stop him. He and Silas end up in prison, but their chains fall off in an earthquake and they convert the jailor. Soon Paul reaches Athens (via Galatia, Philippi and Thessalonica), preaching the well-known sermon on the “unknown God” before travelling to Corinth for eighteen months, during which time he writes his first known epistles, to the Thessalonians.

Luke meets Paul on his way to Macedonia (Acts 16:9), probably staying behind at Philippi when Paul returns to Jerusalem around 54AD before his third missionary journey. In Ephesus Paul meets Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, and stays for three years, plus occasional visits (and letters) back to Corinth. Luke rejoins Paul for the journey back to Jerusalem, convinced they are following the Spirit’s guidance despite warnings of imprisonment and worse. Paul is arrested and Luke follows him to Rome.

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