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How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 29: “The Number of the Disciples Was Multiplied”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 24, 2011

The stated goal for this lesson is “To help class members recognize that the work of the Church is done by many people, all of whom contribute their talents and testimonies to strengthen the Church,” illustrated by the accounts of Stephen, Saul, and other early converts. The several lessons below come from a 1942 Sunday School manual for one of the children’s classes concerning the conversion of some of the same early Christians as presented in the current manual.

STEPHEN – THE FIRST MARTYR

The Church of Christ was established in Jerusalem with the Twelve Apostles as its officers and leaders. These were doubtless assisted by the seventy Jesus had appointed. (Luke 10:1, 17). as the movement grew and the work of the Church increased there would be a need for more workers and officers. thus very early in the history of the Church other great men were called: James, the Just, the brother of Jesus, Stephen, Paul, and others.

The organization of the Church gradually took form including Prophets, Apostles, Bishops, Seventies, Elders, Priests, teachers, and Deacons. The New Testament record is brief and does not give us a complete picture of the early Church. We know through Joseph Smith that our own Church is patterned after the primitive Church of Christ in its organization, spirit, and work. (Read the Sixth Article of Faith.)

Help for The Twelve

The following passage in Acts relates the reason for the expansion in Church leadership:

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the Twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:1-4

Questions:

1. How do you explain the rapid growth of the Church in Jerusalem?
2. For what kind of work were seven men to be chosen?
3. What qualifications were needed by these men according to the Twelve?
4. Describe the character of Stephen?
5. Wherein did he emulate the spirit of Jesus Christ?
6. Why was he put to death?
7. What man, who later played such a great role in Christian history, gave assent to Stephen’s death?

Stephen’s Call

And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5) and six others, among them Philip, who was soon to become a missionary to the Samaritans. Stephen’s activity was not limited to feeding the poor. He had other tasks to perform.

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. – Acts 6:8

Many Jews became alarmed at the teachings and influence of this man chosen from among the people. They began to dispute with him but “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”

Since they could not defeat Stephen by fair means, by good reasoning, and through inspiration, they resorted to foul play.

Stephen’s Arrest and Defense

Fearing the loss of their own influence among the people, the Jewish leaders incited the people against Stephen, “caught him and brought him before the council,” and accused him of blasphemy against Moses and God. Witnesses were induced to bear false testimony against him. They were determined to do away with him, even though their methods were unfair and cowardly.

The sixth chapter of the Book of Acts gives Stephen’s courageous reply to the high priests before the council. He stood before enemies, men who were unwilling to listen to his words, men who were eager to find an excuse to kill him. What should he do? – apologize, plead for his own life, call down fire from heaven, or break free and run away? No, none of these procedures seemed right to him. He calmly and fearlessly told the council the truth. In forceful language he reviewed the history of Israel, of the very people whom he was addressing. He told of their mistakes and sins as well as their good deeds and virtues. Then he concluded with these sharp and piercing words:

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost, as your fathers did, so do ye. which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One: of whom ye have now been the betrayers and the murderers. – Acts 7:51-52

Stephen’s Death

This accusation was too much for his listeners.

And when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and he said, behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:54-60

Questions:

1. Compare the attitude of Stephen in death with that of Jesus.
2. How did Stephen’s actions show that he was in harmony with the Gospel which he taught?
3. What was Stephen’s reward in sacrificing his life for the Gospel’s sake?
4. What influence might his death have had on Saul (Paul)?

While Stephen was being stoned, his clothes were laid at the feet of Saul. This man named Sault was a Christian hater and persecutor as he stood by approving of the killing of Stephen. yet Saul, whose Greek name was Paul, was to become the greatest preacher of Christ in the Primitive Church. One wonders what effect the courageous and Christ-like spirit of Stephen may have had on him.

BEYOND JERUSALEM

Stephen’s death was proof that Jesus’ words would be fulfilled when He told them that men would persecute them and say all manner of evil against them, and that they would suffer for proclaiming His name to Jew and Gentile.

We are familiar with persecution and suffering in the history of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. Our forefathers were driven West from New York to Ohio, hence to Missouri, then northward to Illinois, and West to the Rocky Mountains. Whenever truth appears there are men who fight it. Yet persecution and hardship are not wholly bad. They develop character and strength in the lives of those who withstand them. And they spread the Cause of Truth to new lands.

When Jews, led by Saul, “made havoc of the Church, entering into every house and hailing men and women committed them to prison,” the Apostles “were scattered abroad” and “went everywhere preaching the word.” – (acts 8:3, 4)

Questions:

1. Where did the Christian leaders go when they left Jerusalem?
2. What experiences did they have?

Simon the Sorcerer

Philip left Jerusalem and traveled northward to Samaria. there he performed acts of faith, healing many people, and causing much joy in the city.

Numbered among his converts was one Simon the Sorcerer. Now this fellow had a great reputation among the people as a worker of miracles. But his miracles were accomplished through trickery and magic. As he witnessed the miracles of Philip and observed peter and John bestowing the Holy Ghost upon converts, he, too, desired to add this power to his bag of tricks. so he offered the apostles money, saying, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.”

But Peter, knowing Simon’s heart even as he could read the thoughts of Ananias, said to him,

Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness. – Acts 8:19-22

Peter might have very appropriate recited parts of the 24th Psalm to this Simon who sought the gift of God.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. – Psalms 24:3, 4

Simon was quick to see his mistake and eager to repent, for Peter’s remarks had made a deep impression on the man.

The First Gentile Convert

Now as Philip passed along the way in Gaza he met a man who was Chamberlain to Candace, the queen of Ethiopia, and as such managed her treasury. The man was returning to his country in a chariot and reading the scripture as he rode. (Read Acts 8:29-40)

Questions:

1. Under what conditions did Philip consent to baptize the man of Ethiopia?
2. Judging from the story, in what manner was he baptized?

Peter at Lydda and Joppa

Peter left Samaria and traveled over toward the coast of the Mediterranean establishing churches and bestowing blessings upon believing people in Lydda and Joppa. At Joppa Peter had a marvelous experience like that of Jesus with Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha.

This story is beautifully told by President David O. McKay in his little book, Ancient Apostles.

One reason why we read of Joppa is because it was the home of a very good woman whom everybody loved. Her name in Hebrew was Tabitha, and in Greek was Dorcas. Both these words mean “Gazelle,’ the name of a very beautiful animal like a deer. Tabitha seems to have been as beautiful as she was good, and her whole time evidently was spent in giving comfort and happiness to others. She benefitted the poor by presenting them with coats and garments that she made with her own hands. But one day she was taken sick, and all her many friends became very anxious about her. When her sickness grew worse and she died, all their hearts were filled with gloom. Among these sad mourners were some widows to whom Tabitha had given comfort. They were truly bowed in grief, as indeed was the entire Church at Joppa. After the body was tenderly washed, it was carried to an upper room.

But there was no funeral service held; for some of the disciples had heard that Peter was over at Lydda, and “They sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come unto them.”

Peter granted their request and went at once to Joppa. “When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping”; and, undoubtedly between their sobs, praising the virtues of their departed sister.

Following the example of his Master when the little daughter of Jairus was restored to life, Peter asked everybody in the room to leave. He then knelt down, and prayed. Turning toward the body, he said:

“Tabitha, arise.”

At the first manifestation of life, we are told that “she opened her eyes.” What her surprise upon seeing the Chief Apostle by her side instead of her nearer friends – what exchange of greetings were made – what expressions of gratitude, we cannot tell; but “he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.”

As a result of this miracle, which became known throughout Joppa, “many believed in the Lord.”

A ROMAN SOLDIER TURNS CHRISTIAN

Though the gospel, because of persecution, had not been preached in many parts of Palestine, it was still considered as being primarily for the Jews. Apparently the Apostles had not yet given their attention to teaching the Gospel among the Gentiles, as the non-Jews were called by the Jews.

Something had to take place to make them realize that Jesus Christ belongs to mankind; that He is the promise of salvation and eternal life to all men. What happened makes one of the most interesting stories in the New Testament. The leading characters in the story are Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and Peter, the Great Apostle from Galilee. The Book of Acts, Chapter 10, introduces Cornelius with these words:

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. – Acts 10:1-2

Questions:

1. From what language does the name Cornelius come?
2. What is a centurion?
3. Where is Caesarea?
4. What kind of character was Cornelius?
5. What was he praying about, do you suppose?
6. What was the answer to his prayer?

Strange to find a Roman, especially a Roman soldier, praying to God, giving liberally to the poor, and being respected by the Jews. The Romans were not a religious people, like the Jews. It was indeed unusual to find a Roman who worshiped God in the same spirit as did the Jews.

Roman soldiers had participated in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. They mocked Him as he hung on the cross by saying, “if thou be King of the Jews, save Thyself.” By hanging a sign above the Savior reading, “This is the King of the Jews,” they wished to insult even these very Jews who had turned their wrath against the Savior. But Cornelius was an exception. His attitude toward life differed from that of most Romans.

We find him acting in a way which would be worthy of even the best of Jews. He was recognized as a just man, “and of good report among all the nation of the Jews.” Apparently he believed in the one true and universal God and was seeking to learn what the Lord would have him do. Cornelius received an interesting answer.

He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius … thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the seaside: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. – Acts 10:3-6

Peter Learns Things Too

Meanwhile, not far away from Cornelius, Peter had a vision in Joppa, the results of which were to be tremendously significant for the Church of Christ. it occurred around noon when Peter was hungry, waiting for dinner. he saw the heavens opened,

And a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts and wild beasts, and creeping things of the earth, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, rise, Peter, kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. – Acts 10:11-15

Questions:

1. Why did Peter refuse toe at the things contained in the sheet?
2. What were these unclean things to represent and symbolize to the mind of Peter?
3. Explain what is meant by this statement: “what God has cleansed, that call thou not common.”

Peter, as you know, was a Jew born and reared in Palestine. The Jews were very particular in their diet. Beats, fish, and fowl were divided into two classes: the clean and the unclean. Unclean things, such as hogs, camels, eagles, snails, and weasels, were an abomination to the Jews. Moreover, as a Jew Peter was particular to eat only those things which had been washed.

No wonder he said, when commanded to eat of these unclean and unwashed creatures, “Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common and unclean.”

God – No Respecter of Persons

But what was the meaning of Peter’s vision? How was it to be interpreted? Peter himself was puzzled at first, until the servants of Cornelius brought him to their master. There the great Apostle learned about the vision Cornelius had had. Peter perceived that the unclean beasts in his vision were like the Gentiles, whom the Jews had long regarded as being unclean. But the Lord had now accepted the Gentiles as fit candidates for the Church. They too should receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The proof of this fact stood right before Peter in the person of Cornelius, a Gentile. Had not the Lord guided this man to him? Had He not illustrated this fact vividly to Peter in a vision? And even as Peter preached to Cornelius about the life and resurrection of Jesus the “Holy Ghost fell upon all those who heard the word” as a witness to Peter and all present of the Lord’s acceptance of the Gentiles.

Quick to understand the importance of what was taking place – the Gospel being given to the Gentiles – Peter expressed this beautiful thought:

Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him. – Acts 10:34, 35

Thus in this manner the Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ came within reach of the great Gentile or non-Jewish world. No longer were the Gospel and the Church to belong to just the Jews. Though Peter was inspired with this thought, it became the task of another Jew to carry it out. Our next few lessons will tell the story of this Jew – the greatest missionary of the early Christian Church; the man who was the Lord’s Apostle to the Gentile world beyond Palestine.

The Gospel – for All Men

When the church and Gospel of Jesus Christ were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith it was again made known that all men should be privileged to accept them.

For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated. – Doc. & Cov. 1:2

One of the first missions of the Latter-day Church of Christ was to the Lamanites. Later on missionaries went to the Jews in Palestine, and to nearly every nation of the earth.

The Church of Christ, whether in Peter’s time or in our day, is intended for all men; for all men are the children of God.

ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS

with this lesson we close one chapter in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ – namely, the church in Palestine for the Jews. We have already learned why Jesus chose the Twelve; how He prepared them for their calling; and how successfully and courageously men like Peter, James, and Stephen preached the gospel to the Jews of Palestine.

With this lesson we also begin a new chapter in the history of the church – namely, the church in the Roman Empire for both Jews and Gentiles. Peter had had a vision which opened the way for the Gospel to be given to the Gentiles. But the task of converting the Gentile world was not to belong to Peter, but rather to Saul of Tarsus, whose Greek name was Paul. You have already been introduced to Paul as the man who held the clothes of those who killed Stephen. Let us resume our story of Paul from that point.

Paul’s Conversion

When Stephen was stoned to death, Paul stood by approving the act. So strong was his hatred of the followers of Jesus that he punished them in their synagogues and persecuted them “even unto strange cities.” In Jerusalem itself he promoted intense persecution, committing many people to prison. One of his journeys led him toward Damascus, the ancient city of Syria and a great center of trade. In his possession was a commission from the high priests to persecute the disciples of Jesus.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined around about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Christ whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he, trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? – Acts 9:3-6

Questions:

1. Why do you suppose the Lord favored Paul wit this remarkable vision when he had been such a Christian hater?
2. In what ways was Paul prepared for the new work which he was called to do?
3. From what you know of Paul up to the time of this vision, what do you admire in his character?

Paul’s Early Home

Questions:

1. Who was this man named Saul to whom the Lord appeared in a vision?
2. Where was he born? Who were his people? Where did he go to school?

Paul was born in Tarsus, an ancient Greek city in Cicilia, Asia Minor, about ten miles inland from the eastern Mediterranean coast. Tarsus was a great city in those days, surpassing even Athens as a center of learning. It was inhabited largely by Greeks. A colony of Jews also resided there. True there were no automobiles nor electric lights in the city, but there was much that was like our life today. Men engaged in business, dined with friends, borrowed from their neighbors, read books and talked about religion, politics, and poetry.

Paul was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. he was named for the first King of Israel, Saul the Benjamite, who towered above his fellows in size and strength. As a lad he went to the Jewish synagogue and studied the Old Testament in Greek and Hebrew. From the lips of his elders he learned of the sacred law and traditions of his Jewish people – of Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, of David’s defeat of Goliath and the Philistines, of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the ten commandments. He learned to love the chosen land of Palestine promised to Father Abraham – a land “flowing with milk and honey.” His restless spirit turned his eyes and footsteps toward this land and the Holy City of Jerusalem. He longed to view the Temple court which encompassed the magnificent temple itself.

Paul’s Teacher

At the age of fifteen or sixteen Paul sailed down the Syrian Coast to Caesarea, and from there he traveled to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of Jewish rabbis to learn more about the Law of Moses.

Paul was fortunate to come under the tutelage of Gamaliel, one of the greatest teachers the Jews have ever had, a man whom they honor highly to this day. Gamaliel was a strict Pharisee who seldom if ever changed an opinion or lost an argument, yet he was tolerant and fair.

When Peter and his fellow Apostles early in their ministry were arrayed before a council of high priests and threatened with death, it was this same Gamaliel who stood up and said:

Now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. And to him they agreed. – Acts 5:38-40

We have no record of how long Paul studied in Jerusalem; certainly long enough to become a strict Pharisee versed in the Law of the Jews. No doubt he and Jesus were in Jerusalem at the same time in their youth, but it is doubtful if they ever met.

Paul’s Character and Appearance

Paul was a city boy who had spent his early years in the two great cities of Tarsus and Jerusalem. His figures of speech are drawn from city life. In contrast, Jesus was reared in the small town of Nazareth and later spoke of the lilies of the field, sparrows, mustard seeds, plow, and the hen and her chicks to illustrate his great religious teachings.

Paul had little resemblance to a football player or a movie actor. His body was weak. Some chronic ailment troubled him throughout life. He spoke of it as “a thorn in the flesh” and said it helped to keep him humble. He was probably unattractive in physical appearance, perhaps he was even what we would call homely.

Yet despite his weaknesses he was strong. He endured hardships beyond anything that a football player or a city dweller faces today. In fact only the adventurer and explorer and possibly the soldier can relate experiences such as Paul had. He was shipwrecked four times. On one occasion he floated around holding to a piece of wreckage for twenty-four hours. Eight times he was beaten with stripes and rods. Two years of his life were spent in prison in Caesarea. As you can well imagine prisons in those days were not made for the comfort of prisoners. Paul knew the meaning of fatigue, illness, hunger, cold and ridicule.

Paul was humble and modest yet courageous and proud. He calls himself “the least of the apostles” and unworthy to be one. Yet on another occasion he writes, “For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles.” Paul knew what it meant to be depressed and sad and to have failed. He also knew what it meant to soar and ride in the clouds. The inspiration of the Lord lifted him time and time again above his limitations and sufferings to a condition of peace, joy, and confidence.

Paul’s Preparation

Paul was remarkably well-prepared to fulfill the mission to which Jesus called him as he journeyed toward Damascus. As a Roman citizen he could demand the protection of the Empire and justice before any government official, even before Caesar. This he well knew.

As a Jew, Paul was a good man of great faith and conviction. He believed in service to God. he knew the hearts of his people whether they lived in Palestine or in far-away Athens or Rome. He could gain entrance into their synagogues and speak the language of their minds and hearts.

Reared and educated in part in a great Greek center of learning, Paul knew the mind of the Gentiles. he could quote their poets and philosophers. He knew their vices and sins and their hopes and beliefs. He spoke and wrote the Greek language as understood by the common people.

And finally as a man Paul was devoted to what he thought was right. He was not persecuting the Christians for personal gain, nor to exalt himself, but to preserve the religion of his fathers which he felt was of God. Surely the Lord loved Paul for his honest and devoted life. Recognizing his worth as a Christian soldier, he called him to be the great missionary to the vast Gentile world.



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