Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 32: “Live in the Spirit”

How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 32: “Live in the Spirit”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 14, 2011

Lesson 32: “Live in the Spirit”

This lesson is somewhat historical, covering chapters describing Paul’s third missionary journey and some of his first extant epistles. From its arrangement and the questions suggested, it appears that the lesson committee intends teachers to select from a great many isolated verses and hold brief discussions, initiated by typically listless and stereotypical “Sunday-school-answer” inducing questions. The 1935 lessons (Obert C. Tanner, The New Testament Speaks. Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1935) addressing the same scriptural chapters may supply a few more historical details to help unify the scattered verses highlighted in the current manual. Note that the current manual discusses Ephesians and Galatians in the order in which they appear in the New Testament; I’ve arranged the lessons below in the same order, but be aware that this reverses the chronological order of their writing/history.


The Place of Paul’s Letters in the New Testament.

The Book of Acts does not mention a single letter of Paul’s although it follows quite closely his missionary labors. This seems strange, in that the letters were written before Acts, and were greatly prized by the particular churches in possession of them. However, no one had made a collection of Paul’s letters or published them before the time Luke wrote the Book of Acts. Consequently, Luke could not have been influenced by them.

Indeed, it was the publication of the Book of Acts which so highly evaluated the work of Paul, which placed lasting value on any of the letters he had written. The Book of Acts was written at about 90 A.D., more than twenty-five years after Paul’s death. Had Paul’s letters been published before this time, they would no doubt have influenced Luke in his work of Acts. On the other hand, after the appearance of the Book of Acts, mention of the Pauline letters is abundant in all Christian writings.

The effect of the letters of Paul, after their collection and publication, was far-reaching. it must be kept in mind that there was no New Testament in Paul’s day. The Christian Church did not grow out of the New Testament, but the New Testament was the product of the Church, and grew out of the needs of particular situations. the various books and letters of the early Church were occasional writings, with no thought on the part of the writers that they might later be collected into a whole, and take their place alongside the sacred books of the Old Testament.

The letters of Paul were not collected until forty years after many of them had been written. The collection, called the “Pauline Collection,” even when made, did not form a part of a New Testament, for there was as yet no New Testament. There were similar collections of writings found and published in various countries of the Christian world, but none of them had received a general sanction as inspired literature. The Pauline collection was to be treasured and used as a guide in the Christian churches for nearly another fifty years, until 140 A.D., before it found a place in Marcion’s collection of collections, which he termed the “Christian scripture.” It was not, however, until 180 A.D. that a New Testament appeared in Rome as inspired scripture containing the Pauline letters, and found general acceptance by the Church. Marcion’s collection contained ten letters, although the original Pauline Collection contained but seven. as the Pauline letters appear in present-day New Testaments, thirteen are ascribed to Paul, although the authorship of some of them is questionable. The letters of Paul comprise more than one-fourth of the entire New Testament; and in influence on Christian thought they have nearly paralleled the gospels.

The letters of Paul were the earliest Christian writings to find a place in the New Testament, having been written prior to the gospels. They are the beginnings of a unique Christian literature which has survived through the centuries, because of its lasting message and beauty of expression.

The letters of Paul do not appear in the New Testament in the order in which they were written, but rather in the order of the influence they exerted on the early Christian world. The earliest collection of Pauline letters was evidently made at Ephesus, and was headed by the Epistle to the Ephesians. This is a general letter originally addressed to all Christians, and not to any particular church. The original order for the Pauline collection was discarded when the collection found its place in a new Testament. We must keep these points clearly in mind.

Paul’s Purpose in Writing to the Branches of the Church.

As for the gospel of Christ spread beyond the confines of Jerusalem, difficulty of maintaining harmony and understanding within the Church increased. The message of Christ crucified, and Christ resurrected, was easily spread orally from individual to individual. However, the teachings of Jesus presented greater difficulty. Those who had been with Jesus throughout his ministry were few, as were those who taught like Paul, through direct inspiration. Unlike the Jews who were in the habit of memorizing stories and teachings and handing them down orally, the Greeks relied largely upon the written word. There was no written gospel. Consequently, the writing of letters to straighten out local controversies and to lend encouragement and give instruction, was a natural outgrowth.

Paul could not hope to revisit all of the churches he had established, except at great intervals. His stay in most of the centers where he had established branches of the Church was necessarily short. those left by him to preside were usually local converts. Not having known Jesus personally, and probably lacking wisdom in many cases in settling new questions and problems which would arise, they often failed to retain the full confidence of those entrusted to their charge. Controversies were frequent in the absence of Paul. The prevalent immoralities of the times often proved a snare to those who had, under his amazing personal magnetism, given up the old habits for the new Christian life. The Judaizers, despite the decision of the council at Jerusalem, continued to teach the necessity of circumcision, and to backbite Paul at every turn. it was to strengthen the branches of the Church that Paul wrote his epistles. Each of them was designed for a particular situation – to answer the problems of a particular branch and lend the needed encouragement and guidance to them. He wrote with no literary intentions. Educated as Paul was in classic Greek, he discarded it entirely in favor of the common Greek language used in the streets, when writing or preaching to his Greek friends. And it is in the light of the colloquial Greek which he used, that he is to be understood. To grasp Paul’s method and appreciate his meaning and understanding, each letter that he wrote must be read in the light of its correct setting. The questions must constantly be asked: What occasioned the writing of the letter? What problems in the particular church is Paul attempting to solve?

Some few of Paul’s letters, such as the Epistle to timothy, were personal letters directed chiefly to individuals rather than churches. In these letters personal opinion abounds, and we feel the warm humanity of the man, his amazing friendliness, and his devotion to his friends. From them we learn precious details of his life, his hardships, weaknesses, and his strength; all of which would otherwise have been lost to the world. Unconsciously, Paul, in his writings, did more than settle the controversies of local churches, and lend encouragement to his personal friends. He left priceless advice and encouragement to the whole Christian world.

Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians.

First Letter. About the middle of the first century, when Paul wrote a letter from the city of Corinth, he unconsciously began a new scripture. That letter addressed to his Greek friends in Thessalonica, is the oldest part of the New Testament. the letter was written in an emotion of joy, for Paul had just received good news.

Some months before, Paul had crossed the Hellespont from Asia to carry the gospel for the first time into the Greek world. he had been kindly received. The Greeks in Macedonia had gladly accepted his message. They had become his friends. After a short acquaintance, they had even risked their lives for his safety. He had established a branch of the Church in Philippi, and was enjoying good success in Thessalonica, when the Jews arose in violence, and he had to flee for his life. He traveled westward to Berea and thence southward to Athens and Corinth, where he was joined by his companions. His stay in the Greek cities had been brief. What had happened during his absence? Had the new converts remained steadfast, or drifted back to their idolatrous religions? Had they remembered his teachings? It was a vital question. The whole success of his mission in the Greco-roman world depended upon the result. If Paul should find it necessary to remain constantly with a branch of the Church to keep its members in the fold, then any great missionary programs to new fields would be impossible. But if he could, in a few weeks or months, instill a spirit of Christ into his new converts, which would enable them to be guided by inspiration and continue in the faith without further personal guidance, the possibilities in the Greek and Roman world were unlimited.

Unable to return himself, Paul sent his two companions, Timothy to Thessalonica and the more experienced Silas to Philippi, to see how the churches were fairing. He waited eagerly in Corinth for their return with news from the north. At last they came. It was good news. The Thessalonians and the Philippians had remained faithful. He was especially pleased with the success at Thessalonica. The church there was growing, his teachings were being remembered. Overjoyed, Paul sat down and wrote a letter to them. It was a long letter, full of praise for his new friends and joy at their faithfulness, and a desire to return and visit them. But Paul also gave them further advice and instruction. They must beware of drifting away into immoral living. they must avoid idleness. Apparently the idea had grown that Christ was soon to return, and the Thessalonians were troubled about those who had died and would thus miss seeing Christ coming in his glory. Paul warned them not to expect the coming of Christ again so soon, for first certain scriptures must be fulfilled; furthermore, no one knew the date of his coming, for he would come as a thief in the night. So he discouraged idleness and encouraged thrift and all useful work. The letter teems with kindness.

Paul had many friends. But of them all, few were so loved by him as those first converts in the Greek world, and few remained so loyal to him to the end.

Second Letter. Near the close of his stay in Corinth, Paul received distressing news from Thessalonica. Something he had said or written had been misrepresented or misunderstood. The northern branch of the Church was in a turmoil over the coming of Christ. Expecting him momentarily many had ceased to work, and in their idleness had drifted away into vices and mischief, and were faced with want. persecutions also had broken out.

“If anyone will not work, give him nothing to eat.” They must cease their idleness, and those who would not do so must be cut off from fellowship in the Church.

Christian literature began with these two letters of Paul.

Questions for the chapter Review:

1. Why does the Book of Acts fail to mention the letters of Paul?
2. What were the oldest books of the new Testament written? By whom? When? When was the Book of Acts written?
3. When were the letters of Paul first collected? when were they included with the other books of the New Testament and accepted as sacred literature? How many books in the new Testament are attributed to Paul?
4. What were the facts which caused Paul to write letters to the branches of the Church?
5. Explain the value of Paul’s letters to the local branches of the Church.
6. What are the two guides which every student should keep in mind when reading the letters of Paul?
7. Of what special value to us are the personal letters of Paul?
8. What is the oldest book of the New Testament? To whom was it written?
9. Explain why Paul would feel so extremely happy over the report of the branches in Thessalonica and Philippi.
10. Explain the purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. What were the conditions about which Paul wrote in his second letter to them? What instructions did he give?


Paul’s Predecessors at Ephesus. (Acts 18:23-28.)

At the close of his short visit to the Ephesians, on his return voyage from Corinth, Paul promised the Ephesians he would return if God were willing; a promise which he later fulfilled. when he left Ephesus, Aquilla and his wife remained behind. Perhaps they had come for the express purpose of preaching in that city.

Sometime between Paul’s departure and his return, there came to Ephesus a preacher named Apollos. He was a Jew from Alexandria, a learned and eloquent man, whose preaching made quite a stir. what he knew of the Lord he had evidently learned in Egypt. but his knowledge of Jesus was very meager, and Priscilla (Paul calls her Prisca) and Aquilla instructed him more fully in the ways of the Lord. Following the help which he received from them, Apollos traveled to Corinth, where he became very influential. More will be heard of him in the study of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Evidently the work of John the Baptist had a wider influence than has sometimes been thought, for here was a Jew from Egypt, far from the land where John had preached, who followed his teachings. When the Gospel of John was later written in ephesus, the author made it clear in his writings that John the Baptist was only a forerunner of Jesus. The emphasis which he placed upon that fact may have been prompted by the existence of a group who followed the teachings of John the Baptist, but rejected those of the Christ.

The early history of Ephesus is not known, but tradition says it was founded in the eleventh century B.C. by a colony from Athens. Before the Greeks had settled there, it had been the center of worship of some native cult. In Paul’s day there stood the famous temple of Artemis, the Ephesian Diana. This temple was said to be one of the seven wonders of the world, and the boast was made that the sun in its course looked upon nothing more magnificent.

The temple was built on a huge artificial platform seven feet high, which had formed the foundation of earlier temples. The tremendous columns which supported the massive building, covering 80,000 square feet, stood sixty feet in the air. Within the temple were priceless pieces of art, the works of Praxiteles and Appelles, who painted grapes so real that it is said the birds pecked at them. But valued above these treasures was a black stone which the Ephesians said was an image of their goddess, which had been sent from heaven.

Besides being the center of the worship of Artemis (Diana), Ephesus was one of the leading commercial cities of early Christian times. It was the capital of the extensive and wealthy province of Asia, and was situated midway along the west coast of Asia Minor. Today, its harbor is choked with silt from the river, but when Paul was there historians report that it was so filled with ships that their masts resembled a forest.

Three Years at Ephesus. (Acts 19.)

When Paul left Antioch to visit the churches in Galatia and Phrygia for the third time, he said goodbye to the city which had become his adopted home. This time he was beginning a journey which was to end in a martyr’s death at Rome. Coming to Ephesus from his visits to the “upper coasts” (country), he met twelve believers who had not received the Holy ghost. They belonged, like Apollos, to that group which followed John the Baptist, and knew only of his baptism by water. Following their baptism in the name of Jesus and the laying on of Paul’s hands, they prophesied (bore testimony) and spoke in tongues. The very brief account given of this incident makes it difficult to understand. A full account of what did occur, together with a statement of Paul’s reasons for what he did, would settle many controversies centering in these verses. (Acts 19:1-7)

Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue for three months, but when many of the Jews spoke evil of the Christian teachings (“the way”), he left, and taught in the school of Tyrannus. The Bezan text adds that he had the use of the school from the fifth to the tenth hour after the business of the city was closed. Like other laborers, he worked from early morning until closing time at his trade, and then when the city was at leisure he went to the lecture room of Tyrannus to preach.

From the theater to the harbor ran a beautiful colonnaded road a mile long. Along this avenue were the schools, the libraries, and the lecture halls of Ephesus. Among them may have been the lecture hall of Tyrannus, where Paul the apostle preached of Jesus.

The story of the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-20), attempting to cast out an evil spirit, is a vivid word picture of the conflict between the religion which Paul preached and the system of magical charms so widespread in the world of that day. those who practiced the magic arts saw very little difference between their system and the Christian religion. To them, the only difference was that the appeal for power was made to Jesus rather than to the spirits which they knew. The endeavor of the sons of Sceva to exorcize a spirit in the name of the Jesus whom Paul preached is an example of the attempt of the magic workers to appropriate to their own system the ceremonies of the Christian religion.

The inability of the “vagabond Jews” to perform a miracle in the name of Jesus increased the prestige of Paul and the religion he taught. shortly afterward, $10,000 worth of magical books were publicly burned – proof that their owners no longer had faith in their power.

While Paul was teaching in the lecture hall of tyrannus, there grew in his mind the plan to visit Macedonia and Achaia once more, and then go to Jerusalem previous to his departure for Rome. This plan he later followed, but the visit to Rome came in a rather unexpected way.

the numerous pilgrims to the temple of the Ephesian Diana (not the Grecian “Diana, goddess of the moon, but the Oriental mother goddess Artemis, called Diana of the Ephesians) brought their gifts to her. One of the favorite offerings was a model of her temple, or of the goddess herself sitting upon a throne. The practice was to leave these models in the temple as a gift, or occasionally to carry them home as mementos of the pilgrimage. These images and models were made by the smiths of the city and gave them a large part of their profit. Naturally, the Christian preaching of a God who was not “like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:29), would cause the business of the idol-makers to fall off.

Presumably Demetrius was an employer of a large number of men in that trade, and when he aroused them and others to the danger to their trade and their goddess, the men of Ephesus seized two Christians, Gaius and Aristarchus, companions of Paul, with whom they rushed into the theater. The men spoken of as “certain of the chief of Asia,” who kept Paula way, were “Asiarchs,” imperial officers with religious duties connected with the temples and the services of the emperor. The friendship of these men for Paul and their interest in his welfare bear testimony of his standing with the official class of the city. Paul was a Jew, and there may have been charges made by some in the mob against all the Jews. This would explain why they put forward Alexander to speak for them. What he said was lost in the cry: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”

The two-hour riot was at last stilled by the town clerk, an official of importance who had perhaps before experienced such outbreaks. he showed the people how senseless was their fear that the worship of their goddess could be destroyed by the Christians. They had her temple and the image from Heaven, visible, material proofs that her place was secure. The charges that Paula nd his associates were temple robbers and that they had spoken against the goddess, blasphemed her name, were denied. If the silversmiths had any charges to make against Paul or the Christians, they could do so in the regular way through the courts. he closed by saying that the people should remember that riots of such a nature were a grave danger to their city and might result in action by the Roman government against their freedom.

Although Paul was at liberty to continue his work in Ephesus with the good will of the officers, he voluntarily withdrew from the city after the riot. It may be that he thought that his presence would only intensify the bitterness against the Christians, and that he could help the cause more by going away.

Questions for the Chapter Review:

1. What evidences do we have that there were disciples of John the Baptist outside of Palestine long after his death?
2. Give the story of Apollos, his birthplace, the reason for his limited knowledge of Jesus, the reason for his influence, and the help he received from Aquilla.
3. Locate the city of Ephesus. Trace Paul’s journey from Antioch to Ephesus. Give some interesting facts concerning the city of Ephesus.
4. Tell the story of Paul and the twelve believers whom he met in ephesus.
5. How long was Paul in Ephesus? where did he preach during most of this time? What was his program for a day’s work while in Ephesus?
6. Tell the story of the sons of Sceva.
7. Give the reason for the opposition of Demetrius and his followers. What was the result?
8. Why did Paul leave Ephesus?


Paul’s Letter

Returning to the shores of Syria from Corinth, at the close of his second missionary journey, Paul was confronted with disturbing news. Despite the decision of the council at Jerusalem at the close of his first Gentile mission, which gave him a free hand to bring Gentiles into the Church without circumcision, the Judaizers had continued their destructive work. They were undermining what Paul had accomplished in the province of Galatia. Their attack on Paul’s influence had been two-fold. First, the questioned his authority in the Church. Second, they preached that baptism into the Church was of no value without circumcision.

Who these men were, we have no way of telling. it is clear that they were not under authority from Jerusalem. One thing is certain – they were of Jewish birth, and belonged to that small group of Jewish Christians who believed Jesus to have fulfilled the covenant made by God to Abraham. In order to benefit from that covenant, one must be a descendant of Abraham or be grafted in as one of his descendants by circumcision, and thus adopted by the Jewish nation. The argument seemed logical to a people who formerly believed in local gods, who showed partiality to favored people. It was possible also to undermine the belief in the authority of one who had not lived, as the apostles had, in the companionship of Jesus in Galilee. The claims of Paul’s enemies made the Galatians wonder what relation Paul had to the authorized leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. Many set about conforming to the demands of the Judaizers.

Paul wished to revisit the Galatians, but for some reason could not do so at that time. So he wrote a letter form Antioch, to answer the Judaizers and reestablish the confidence of the Galatian Saints. It was a burning letter, seemingly penned or dictated in haste, while Paul was in the warmth of his anger at the news of what had been done.

The location of Galatia is a thorn to historians. Modern scholars lean toward the view that the Galatia of that day embodied southern Asia Minor. Some authorities still insist that Galatia was in northern Asia Minor. The difficulty arises from the fact that the name applied to both regions at certain periods, though probably to only one at the time of Paul.

The first two chapters of Galatians deal with Paul’s relationship to the Church. The third and fourth attack the exclusiveness of the Judaizers. The fifth and sixth outline the duties of the Galatians as true Christians. The letter had tremendous influence at the time, but because it applied to a problem which eventually passed, it carries a message of lesser importance to modern readers than others of Paul’s letters. However, the letter is of tremendous value in piecing together the life of Paul, and in arriving at an appreciation of the mental keenness of the man.

Paul begins his letter by reestablishing his authority. He claims that his authority is not from man, but that he was directly commissioned by Christ, just as Peter and the others had been. It was not a self-assumed commission, but Christ had appeared unto him. Paul’s conversion must have been known to the Galatians, hence a mere recital of the event would cause them to remember, and set their minds at ease. Paul further strengthens his position by making clear that Peter and the others at Jerusalem had recognized his authority, and given him a full hand of fellowship. Hence, he felt doubly equipped to preach.

Paul recounts the events at Jerusalem at the time of the council to decide the status of the Gentiles in the Gospel, and the decision there reached. The letters sent by the authorities at that time may not have reached portions of Galatia.

Having thoroughly established his authority both to preach Christ’s Gospel and to bring Gentiles into the Church without circumcision, Paul begins a general attack on the narrowness of Judaism, and proclaims the observance of the Jewish laws a bondage. The Law was only an attendant to bring them to Christ. The Gospel gave religious freedom.

The last two chapters of Galatians caused Dr. Goodspeed to exclaim: “Galatians is in fact a charter of religious freedom. Its noble ideal of the religious life, so far from being outgrown, still beckons us forward, as it did those obscure townsfolk of the Galatian uplands long ago. Paul knew its dangers; but he knew its promises, too, and saw that for those who would sincerely accept it, it opened possibilities of spiritual and moral development which could never be reached by the lower path.” [Goodspeed, The Story of the New Testament, p. 11.]

The real spirit of God, Paul tells the Galatians, is the only genuine Christian guide. If by it Christians would regulate their lives, sin would find no abode, but righteous living and loving kindness would bring a rich reward. Some suppose that Paul wrote the entire letter with his own hand. (See Gal. 6:11) if so, the fact would be extraordinary, for Paul usually dictated his letters. The letter was carried by one of Paul’s trusty followers to the various Galatian churches. Some of them must have had the foresight to make a copy of it, and thus to preserve to the world Paul’s first truly great letter.

Questions for the Chapter Review:

1. Give the story of the founding of the Galatian churches. (Acts 13:13-14:28)
2. What problem caused the letter to the Galatians to be written/ (Gal. 1:6-7; 3:1) why did Paul write with some warmth and indignation to the Galatians?
3. Who were the Judaizers? What were the main points of conflict between the Judaizers and Paul?
4. By what authority did Paul presume to be a guide to the churches? (Gal. 1:1)
5. Explain the various chapters in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. What does Goodspeed say of the last two chapters?


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