Divisions in the Early Church

A quick look at the 13 books historically attributed to Paul, recognition of which probably were and were not actually written by Paul, and a focus on those that are “authentic.” This is the other “side” of the Pauline story.

Scripture Readings:

  • Galatians 1:11-17 (Paul’s conversion, per his own description)
  • Romans 3:21-31 (it’s interesting to read the entire chapter for context)
  • Romans 6:1-14 (again, would suggest reading the whole chapter)

Teaching Points:

  • Traditionally, 13 books (letters) were attributed to Paul: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. (Hebrews was sometimes included as a 14th attribution.)
  • In modern scholarship, only 7 letters are agreed upon as authentically Pauline: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon. The remaining 6 (or 7, if you include Hebrews) were probably not written by Paul, though debate remains about some more than others.
  • When I preach to my congregation about Pauline authorship, I include only the 7 books known to be Pauline.
  • We want listeners to understand that writing under the pseudonym of one’s mentor/teacher was a common practice at that time and was seen as an honor to the teacher (Paul, in this case). Authors were not trying to be intentionally misleading or trip us up.
  • That said, it is really helpful to know which books are Pauline and which are not, because they are quite different in theme, style and content… and can give confusing messages if we are not clear on their context and timeline.

Discussion Questions:

  • Paul describes his own conversation in much less detail than does the author of Acts. Paul was writing earlier and, obviously, knew his own story. What do we make of that?
  • The letter to the Romans is a deeply theological (and complex) book in which Paul articulates his understanding of concepts like sin, grace, justification, and righteousness. These passages from chapters 3 and 6 articulate some of his thinking. How do we make sense of the idea of justification today?
  • How does Paul seem to explain grace in relationship to our responsibility to avoid sin? This has been a real point of contention in the church over the years! How do we understand it today?
  • Paul loves to use the metaphors of dying and rising, in conjunction with the idea of baptism, to talk about how we are transformed as Christians. How does this use of metaphor help us understand the way Paul writes?
  • Though they are not included in our readings, the authentic Pauline letters (like the letters to the Corinthians and Philemon) seek to address some very real problems and conflicts in the church at the time. Who is writing the “contemporary epistles” of our own time and attempting to address and unravel conflict in the church?

Podcast:

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_29

Image by TuendeBede from Pixabay

Father Abraham

Introduction: There are no fossil record, extra biblical support, or other historical evidence for any of the stories in Genesis or Exodus. (As opposed to early New Testament texts, for which we have ample supporting texts written by other folds outside the tradition.) So, the genealogies provided may or may not have any measure of historical accuracy to them, and they are certainly not reliable for establishing timelines or supposed time elapsed. So, it is assumed these stories were passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition in order to reveal how people thought about God and how they imagined their own origins and development. So, it might be a good idea if you are leading a group to start a chart of what we are learning about the character of God and of humans

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will understand the story of Abraham and Sarah
  • Students will explore what we learn about human nature through this story

Scripture Reference: Genesis 22:1-19

Teaching Points:

We are introduced to Abraham in the final verse of Genesis 11; his story begins in earnest in Genesis 12. It begins with a command and a promise that God will make a great nation of him and his family.

A few points will bear some explanation:

  • God makes a covenant with Abraham (Abram)to make a great nation of him, but God takes a long time to deliver on that promise. In the meantime, Sarah and Abraham take matters in their own hands in multiple ways. Sometimes these efforts have heartbreaking consequences, and we can learn a lot about our own human nature from these stories. (i.e. Hagar/Ishmael)
  • God is not always consistent in God’s response to human beings. Sometimes God seems quite frustrated and judgmental (i.e. when Sarah laughs), while sometimes God is quite forbearing (i.e. in his tolerance of Abraham having a son with Hagar and God’s later care for Hagar and Ishmael).
  • Once Abraham finally gets his promised son with Sarah, we encounter this bizarre and disturbing story in Genesis 22, in which Abraham is “tested” and asked to sacrifice the very son for which he has waited so long. It may help us contextualize this story to know that first-born children were sacrificed in many of the surrounding cultures as a way to gain favor and power with various deities.

Discussion Questions:

  • Springboard Question: Have you ever wanted something really bad, but had to wait awhile to get it? Please share.
  • What do we learn about human nature from the stories of Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael? Can you think of situations in your own life when you have taken matters into your own hands? Maybe were impatient about something? What happened?
  • What troubles you about this story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22? What are some traditional interpretations of this story? What do those interpretations suggest about Abraham? About God? Do you agree?
  • If child sacrifice was likely prevalent in the surrounding cultures at this time, how might it help us to reinterpret this difficult story?
  • Does understanding the historical context of this story change your thinking about the story?
  • Do you think God requires sacrifice from us? Are there other/better ways to think about loyalty/faithfulness?
  • Abraham was called by God even though he was flawed. Where do you think God is calling you?