Acts of the Apostles
We start with Acts, which tells of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire. Acts is the second of the two books written by ‘Luke’ (whose real identity remains a mystery) around 80-90 CE. It begins with the ascension of Christ, goes on to describe how Peter took the message to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected it, and concludes with the conversion of Paul and the story of his missionary trips.
The remaining books of the NT, with the exception of Revelation (the finale) are all Epistles (formal, instructional letters written by and to members of the early church). The epistles were written before the gospels – interesting indeed when we consider how little actual detail they contain about the life of Jesus. Where then did the gospel writers get their information?
The Epistles are essentially just a whole bunch of letters written by characters we’ve met in the NT so far (or attributed to them, at least). They are an important part of church doctrine; in the Revised Common Lectionary followed by mainline Protestant churches, an excerpt from an Epistle is read at each and every service, and we’ll find many of the well-known ‘quotable quotes’ treasured by Evangelicals in them as well. Of course, only the best cherry-picked verses will do! But we’re going to read them all, and most are not so pretty… So as I go through them I’ll just highlight the good, the bad, the ugly, and the familiar quotes, similar to how I commented on Proverbs (if you remember back then). No point in writing an essay on each and every Epistle, or spending too much time on the boring or irrelevant stuff.
First up is Romans, written by Paul around 55-58 CE. It is the longest of the Pauline epistles and is considered his “most important theological legacy”. Its purpose was to explain that salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Next are the two letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians; the First during his time in Ephesus (53-54 CE), and the Second, a year or two later from an unknown location. Paul’s first letter was written to correct what he saw as erroneous views in the Corinthian church. The main point of the Second letter appears to be Paul’s defense of his actions and apostleship after the people of Corinth challenged his authority.
Rome is easy enough to find on a map, but the next few letters after Romans were addressed to places that I needed a map to find. So here is a map showing the locations of the various congregations Paul wrote to. He sure got around. And Christianity seems to have gotten its start in some pretty out-of-the-way places. Don’t you think that if Jesus had been a real person, it would have been more logical for it to have been centered in Israel and then spread out from there?