Did apostles still write letters after the end of Acts?
Time deprives us of our favorite leaders, and apostles inevitably grew old and died (or were killed). I enjoyed extending our study of Acts into reading the rest of the epistles in something approaching the order they were written. It certainly gave me a feel for how the world and church were changing, as they still are today. I hope you might enjoy following along. And next week we'll take a quick look at the post-Biblical church as well.
(27) When Apostles Die
Most commentators believe Peter and Paul died around 67AD. The church had spread throughout the “known world” by then. The good news, that Christ has died and risen and will return, has evolved into a recognition that he may not return tomorrow. But the two preachers most famous for teaching that good news have now died too, and not risen, and are not expected to return. How does the church move on from here?
Who else wrote epistles to the Christians? Jude
1. Remember how Peter and Paul wrote about the need to watch out for false teachers? This continues to be a problem, and Jude writes his epistle to address the same topic. But who is Jude? Read Matthew 13:55, Jude 1:1. If he’s Jesus’ brother, why might he, and equally James, not say so?
2. Jude’s letter includes similar wording to 2 Peter, so commentators think they reach other’s writings. Guessing the less famous teacher borrowed from the more, Jude was probably written after Peter died. How might Peter’s death have affected Christians? Do churches today struggle when famous leaders die or move on?
3. Read Jude 1:3-4. What do you think was happening in these churches? What false teachings might arise in modern churches?
4. Read Jude 1:11. The earlier verses probably will help (verses 5-11). Do we still need reminding about the importance of sound doctrine? Can doctrine change? (Non-Biblical Jewish books have some interesting things to say about angels. Why do you think angels are so popular today?)
5. Read Jude 1:14-15. Who is Enoch? (Read Genesis 5:21-24). Jude quotes from the book of Enoch, which is not in the Bible, but the same ideas are found in, say, Deuteronomy 33:2.
6. Read Jude 1:20-23. What do you think he means? (Read Amos 4:11, Revelation 3:4)
Who else wrote letters? Hebrews
1. The letter to the Hebrews contains lots of Old Testament references, and was probably sent to ex-patriate Jews. It may have been written by Paul, but it reads more as if it’s written after his death. Who else might have written a well-researched, literate, wisely argued exposition of Jewish and Christian faith? (Read Hebrews 1:1-4)
2. Read Hebrews 1:6, Deuteronomy 32:43. These don’t look very alike, but the version of Deuteronomy discovered in the Dead Sea scrolls adds, “and let all the angels worship him.” Does it surprise you that we’re still discovering new “stuff” that confirms the old? Do you think it would surprise non-believers?
3. Read Hebrews 2:1. What might have caused Christians to drift away then? Read Hebrews 3:12-13, 4:11. Is falling away still a problem today?
4. Read Hebrews 4:12-13. What might be happening as the author writes this? What about Hebrews 4:14-15?
5. Read Hebrews 5:1-4. We know the High Priests had fallen away from this ideal. Comparing this passage with Paul’s rules for elders and deacons, do you think the writer setting up rules for a new priesthood?
6. Read Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2, 1 Corinthians 3:2. The imagery is familiar. What is the message?
7. Read Hebrews 6:1-3. Does it sound like church structures are becoming more important? Why might this be?
8. Read Hebrews 9:1-5, Revelation 1:12-16. Both books rely heavily on imagery from the Temple in Jerusalem. The author of Hebrews goes on to explain these things are just copies of what is in heaven. How important do you think this symbolism was to the people receiving this letter? What importance do you attach to symbolism?
9. Read Hebrews 10:5-7,12-14, Psalm 40:6-8. Catholics celebrate the “sacrifice of the Mass,” believing in a mystical sense that they are present every Sunday at Christ’s sacrifice. What importance do you attach to mysticism?
10. Read Hebrews 11:1. This starts a famous chapter on faith. Some commentators suggest Hebrews is a compilation of sermons. What do you think? Where would you imagine the sermons being given? Do we have modern sermon compilations?
11. Read Hebrews 10:34, 11:35. Does the world seem to be getting more dangerous for Christians, or more lawless, at this time? The word for tortured implies a specific torture mentioned in Maccabees.
12. Read Hebrews 12:18-24. What does this remind you of in Old Testament? And in the New Testament?
13. Read Hebrews 13:1,4,16-17. Hebrews includes a lot of symbolism, but it also includes everyday important teaching. How do we balance these?
14. Read Hebrews 13:18-19,22-25. Did it surprise you to find this was written from Italy? Who do you think wrote it now – one person, a team, someone who knew Timothy, someone writing later than Paul, or Paul himself?
Who else wrote letters? The Last Apostle?
1. Read Revelation 1:9. Time moved on. A new emperor, Domitian (AD81-96), exiles John to Patmos, probably for “magic and astrology” which included the exercising of prophesy. How do you we tell the difference?
2. Read 1 John 1:1. Does it remind you of John’s gospel? Traditionally John is the youngest apostle and the “Disciple Jesus loved.” There is a lot of disagreement over whether the epistles of John, the gospel of John, and the Revelation of John are really all by the same author, and also disagreement over when each was written. I like the version where John writes his gospel first, followed by several epistles late in his ministry, after the deaths of Peter and Paul. Then he is exiled and writes Revelation during the time that Jerusalem is about to fall. After his release from exile, John teaches Polycarp who becomes Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp teaches Irenaeus, and so on.
3. Read 1 John 2:1. Does John sound old?
4. Read 1 John 2:18. Does this sound like Revelation? Read 2 John 1:7-8
5. Read 1 John 4:7-8. Why might John place so much emphasis on love?
6. Read 3 John 1:6-8, 2 John 1:10. What image do you get of how “church” functions globally at this stage?
7. Revelation includes lots of warnings about the end of Jerusalem, rather like Jesus apocalyptic sermon just before his death. Just like Jesus’ sermon, it also includes information about the end of the world. How do you imagine the destruction of Jerusalem changed people’s end-times expectations? If you have time, read the letters at the start of Revelation, and try to imagine what those churches were struggling with.