Letters to a slowly changing world
Last week we left Paul in Rome, spending two years teaching and preaching while under house arrest. This week's study looks at what he and Peter may have been writing at the time. Next week we'll move to "Acts 29" or Paul's fourth missionary journey, then to "Acts 30" and the world after Paul. I hope you're enjoying the journey as much as I am. Once we've finished the studies I promise I'll start writing the children's stories!
(25) Letters from Peter and Paul
Paul is imprisoned in Rome around AD60-62. The emperor Nero won’t seriously persecute Christians until AD64 after the fire. In Jerusalem things aren’t good, but they’ll get worse in AD66 when the Roman procurator Florus removes Temple treasures. Nero dies in AD68 and is followed by Vespasian. Jerusalem, including its Temple, will be razed in AD70. Some authors suggest Paul dies in AD62 at the end of his imprisonment but others claim he was released (Philemon 1:22) and continued to travel, even to Spain, being re-arrested in AD67 and executed (by Nero) soon afterward.
Read Acts 16:6-9. Paul didn’t preach in “Asia” but Peter probably did. Going west, Paul may not have visited Colosse until after writing to them (Colossians 2:1). Westward again, he clearly did preach in Ephesus. Corinth is even further West (at the south end of Greece), and by today’s study, Paul is writing to Ephesus from Rome just before his release. Meanwhile Peter writes to Christians in Asia, probably soon after Paul’s release.
Contemporary writers with Peter and Paul might include
· Clement, Bishop of Rome, who wrote a letter mentioning the deaths of Peter and Paul—Clement died in AD96
· Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, a prolific and faithful writer, who lived from AD35-107
· Polycarp, who mentions knowing John in his writings. He was a well-known church leader, executed in AD155 for refusing to deny Jesus.
· Papias, a friend of Polycarp who wrote about how Matthew and Mark wrote their gospels
· Barnabas, who wrote in the first century about how Judaism and Christianity were related
· Hermas, who wrote the Shepherd of Hermas in the 2nd century, a book of instruction for early Christians
· (Diognetus)—no one knows who wrote to him, but he’s kind of like Luke’s Theophilus; a well-known letter of Christian instruction was written to him in the 2nd century.
· (Didache)—no one knows who wrote this, but it’s a famous Christian document from the 1st century.
1. Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians cover very similar themes. Do you remember where the cities are in relation to each other? Why might Paul have written separately to them?
2. Paul writes about God’s mystery again. Read Ephesians 1:7-12. Which ideas stand out for you? Why?
3. He writes about philosophy and wisdom. Read Ephesians 1:15-21. What kind of wisdom is this? (How do you think Paul would have treated modern science – would he tear it down or build on it?)
4. Read Ephesians 1:22-23. How does this apply to the rule of law?
5. Most of the Christians in Ephesus were Gentiles, forbidden to go beyond the court of Gentiles in the Temple. Read Ephesians 2:11-14. Why might that rule have been on Paul’s mind as he wrote? (Read Acts 21:29. Who might we not feel we can bring into God’s house?)
6. Romans were proud of bringing “peace” to uncivilized lands. Read Ephesians 2:14. What do we usually worry about when people talk about peace?
7. Romans were proud of their buildings too. Read Ephesians 2:19-22. Are we built together? What gives us pride?
8. Paul returns to the idea of mystery in chapter 3. Read Ephesians 3:8-13. What does Paul mean by “principalities and powers” (verse 10) and why is he writing about heavenly realms in a letter to Ephesus?
9. Read Ephesians 4:1-3. Paul is still concerned for relationships. What behavior makes unity hard to achieve?
10. Read Ephesians 4:11-13. What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? How will misunderstanding this cause disunity?
11. Read Ephesians 4:25-32. How might these sins affect the Ephesian church? What about today?
12. Read Ephesians 5:3-5. Does this mean we can’t be Christian if guilty of these – even of speaking foolishly?
13. Read Ephesians 5:18. The cult of Dionysis (Bacchus/wine) was popular. How might aspects of Christian worship resemble drunkenness? Is Paul saying they must act that way, or they mustn’t, or neither?
14. And now wives, husbands, children, parents, servants and masters are addressed again, just as in Colossians. Read Ephesians 6:9. There had been arguments against slavery as long ago as 350BC. Why doesn’t Paul speak out against slavery? Do you think he approved of slavery?
15. Read Ephesians 6:10-11. Why might Paul be inclined to write about a Roman soldier’s armor?
16. Read Ephesians 6:21-22. Do you remember Tychicus? (Read Acts 20:4, Colossians 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:12, Titus 3:12) Does Paul sound like he still expects to be released?
Peter’s First Letter
1. Read 1 Peter 1:1. Paul was probably released around AD62. Peter wrote, probably in AD63, just before Nero’s persecutions start, to Christians in an area to the north of Ephesus and Colossus. Maybe Peter evangelized this region. (Pliny was the governor of Bythinia in AD111-113 and mentions his concern about Christianity spreading there in one of his letters.) Why might we imagine letters are written to be passed around several churches?
2. Read 1 Peter 1:6-9. Do you get the impression Peter’s readers are beginning to face persecution? Read 1 Peter 1:13. What does this tell us about how to face trials?
3. Poets of the time would compare human life to short-lived plants, while kings and emperors were trees. Read 1 Peter 1:22-25 and Isaiah 40:6-8. What is the answer to human power?
4. The Romans brought beautiful buildings and straight roads. Does 1 Peter 2:4-8 remind you of anything in Ephesians? Read Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:14. Do you think Peter is writing to Gentiles or exiled Jews?
5. Read I Peter 2:11-15. Peter is concerned with lawful behavior too, but how important is verse 15?
6. Peter is concerned with household relationships too. Read 1 Peter 2:18. Why does he mention slaves first?
7. Read 1 Peter 3:1-7. He does tell husbands how to behave, as well as wives. But is he really telling us not to brush our hair or wear gold necklaces? Is he really saying we should expect to be weak?
8. Read 1 Peter 3:17-18. Peter writes about suffering. What kind of suffering do you think is coming to them? Are there “suffering churches” in the world today? Where?
9. Read 1 Peter 5:12-13. Do you remember Silas, and Mark? Who did they travel with earlier? And where is Babylon?