Paul Finally Makes it to Rome
We left Paul on the island of Malta last week, still on his way to Rome. This week we look at the next two years of his life. We also reach the end of Acts, but our Coffee Break group has kindly said I can continue to the end of the Bible instead of stopping here, so look out for some lightning tours of the remaining Epistles in the next few weeks.
(24) An Interesting Imprisonment
Paul winters on Malta after a somewhat stressful journey. When the sailing season restarts he will travel to Rome, and follow whatever path God has planned for him there. How do you suppose he feels as he steps ashore?
1. Read Acts 28:1-2. Some translations say “islanders;” others say “natives.” What is happening as Paul comes ashore?
2. Read Acts 28:3. What makes this sound like an eye-witness account?
3. Read Acts 28:4. Why would they think this? (A Phoenician belief was that someone guilty of murder who escaped death would be forced to face death again. How does this fit with old Christian beliefs about witches? And why might scholars think a Greek rather than a Phoenician wrote this?)
4. Read Acts 18:5-6. Paul doesn’t seem to make a big fuss about this. Why not?
5. What do you remember about snakes in the Bible? (Read Mark 16:18, Luke 10:19, 1 Corinthians 10:9, Numbers 21:6-7) What’s the difference between accepting miracles and joining a snake-handling church?
Healing the Sick
1. Read Acts 28:7. Is Paul a prisoner?
2. Read Acts 28:8-9. Did you remember Paul as being such a great healer? If Luke, the physician, doesn’t make a big fuss about healing, what might that tell us about prayer for healing today?
3. Read Acts 28:10. What kind of things might have been provided?
On to Rome
1. Read Acts 28:11-13. Luke continues to chronicle a very plausible journey. Why does it matter which way the wind is blowing? Do we remember to notice the details of God’s provision for us?
2. Read Acts 28:14-15. Were there Christians in Rome before Paul arrived? Do you think they’d received Paul’s letter?
3. Read Acts 28:16. Is Paul in prison? How willing are we to accept having our freedoms curtailed?
4. Read Acts 28:17-20. Why has Paul asked the Jewish leaders to visit him?
5. Read Acts 28:21-24. Are you surprised by their willingness to listen? Do you suppose Paul expected them to be ready and waiting to argue instead? Who prepared the ground?
6. Read Acts 28:25-29, Isaiah 6:9-10. Is Paul being divisive or incisive? What does this tell us about setting boundaries?
7. Read Acts 28:30-31. We’ve reached the end of Acts. Did you remember this was how it ended? What else might Paul have been doing besides preaching and teaching?
8. Is this the end of the story? What do we know about what happened next? How might this help us guess when Acts was written?
Paul and the Slave
1. One of Paul’s visitors in Rome was probably a household slave called Onesimus. What image do you have of Onesimus? (As an urban slave/household slave, Onesimus had many opportunities for advancement, might have had a good social status, could attract a good wife looking to improve her social status, could save money to purchase his freedom, might be sent on important missions as an ambassador for his master...)
2. Why might a slave meet Paul? And why would Paul send him back to his master?
3. Read Philemon 1:1-3, Colossians 4:17. What kind of church might have met in Philemon’s house? And why might we believe it’s close to Colosse?
4. Read Philemon 1:4-7. What does this tell us about Philemon, and Paul’s relationship with him?
5. Read Philemon 1:8-11. Why might scholars think Paul is writing from Rome? Why might Onesimus be in Rome?
6. Read Philemon 1:12-16. How is Paul’s letter different from other letters recommending clemency for runaways? And how is it the same?
7. Read Philemon 1:17-22, Colossians 4:9. Did Philemon do as asked? Do you suppose Paul came and stayed with him later?
8. Read Philemon 1:23-25, Colossians 1:7, 4:7-14. How do you feel about reading lists of names? How do you feel knowing God has called you by name and listed your name in the Book of Life.
Paul and the Colossians
1. Read Colossians 1:24-27. Mystery religions were characterized by secret initiations, doctrines, rituals, purification, fasting, sacrifice, ceremonial banquets... How was Christianity different? What might today’s mystery religions be, and how do we show that Christianity is different?
2. Read Colossians 2:8-10. Philosophy values argument more than belief. But we’ve seen Paul was a great philosopher. How do Christians know when to stop arguing?
3. Read Colossians 2:16-23. Roman’s valued the rule of law. Why are law and power so closely intertwined? And why is it so tempting to turn faith into the rule of law?
4. Read Colossians 3:18-24. Family values were important to Romans, and a religion could be excluded if it failed to uphold them. These codes would emphasize how superior male heads of households should treat their inferiors. How does Paul change these rules without breaking them?
5. Read Colossians 4:16. Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in the early AD60s, then rebuilt. Paul’s letter was probably written before the earthquake.