Category Archives: The Way

The Epistles

Following the book of Acts is a series of books known as the Epistles. Coming from the Greek word, “epistole” meaning a letter or message, each of these letters were written on a scroll. In all, 21 of the New Testament’s 27 books (from Romans to Jude) were originally written as letters to churches or to individuals. With text often dictated to a scribe, the author then reviewed the scroll prior to having it delivered by a trusted messenger. For example,  Timothy was the scribe and messenger for some of Paul’s letters (namely, Colossians, Thessalonians, and Philemon), with Paul signing each one to verify that he was the author. Meanwhile, 1 Peter was authored by Apostle Peter with Silas as the scribe.

All Epistles were written in a similar format. For example, most of Paul’s letters began by introducing himself and his associates then continued by addressing the targeted audience with the main body of the message. Each letter concluded with a blessing, providing notes to individuals within the recipient church.

As mentioned in a previous post, Paul was the most prolific author of the Epistles, having authored 13 of the 21 of such letters; namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. A subset of these Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon), known as Pauline Epistles, were written by Paul while he and Silas were in prison for two years in Rome (Acts 16:16-40). Meanwhile, Paul’s Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were targeted messages to church leaders to address many teachings and practices of the early church.

The remaining Epistles, known as General Epistles, were written to a universal audience by other authors. While the author of Hebrews is unknown, many attribute the work to Paul. Meanwhile, the Letter of James was authored by Jesus’ half-brother, James; 1 and 2 Peter were authored by Apostle Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John were authored by Apostle John; and the Letter of Jude was authored by another one of Jesus’s half-brothers, Jude.

In summary, the Pauline Epistles are as follows:

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • Thessalonians
  • Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon

While the General Epistles are as follows:

  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

In subsequent posts, I will delve into each of these letters.

What is the significance behind Jesus’ disciples writing His teachings in the form of a letter?

 

Acts

The fifth book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles reflects the second half of the work began in the Gospel of Luke. A historian and travel companion of Paul, Luke wrote this book somewhere between 80 and 90 AD, describing the early church after Jesus’ death. Like the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles (or simply “Acts” as it is often called) continues to address an unknown reader Theophilus while targeting both Jews and Gentiles. Covering roughly 38 years, this book serves as a bridge between Jesus’ life as portrayed in the Four Gospels as well as the ministries of Paul along with the other apostles in continuing the work Jesus began to do and teach, but now through the Holy Spirit. It begins with Jesus’ ascension into heaven in 30 AD and ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in 68 AD, where he awaits trial.

Divided into two parts, this book covers the following:

  1. Early Development of the Church (Acts 1-11). This section focuses on the presence and acts of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the conversion of 3000 people at Pentecost (Acts 2) then continuing with the spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem (Acts 2-8); the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9); and the witnessing of Peter (Acts 8-11). For this reason, many theologians refer to this book as the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
  2. Paul’s Ministry (Acts 12-26). This section focuses on Paul’s ministry in spreading the Gospel to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, and to the rest of the world.

Whether you refer to the book as “Acts of the Apostles”, “Acts of the Holy Spirit”, or simply “Acts”, this book offers all who read it valuable insight into the development of the church during the first century and describes the characteristics of early Christians. Interspersed throughout the book are seven examples of conversions, illustrating the steps the faithful follow, leading to salvation through God’s grace.

What steps did you take in your life that led to your salvation?

The Four Gospels: John

The Sea of Galilee offered fishermen a livelihood for many generations with the calling of the Jewish fishermen being the first step by which God brought the light of the Gospel to shine on all people. John was one such man. The youngest apostle, John was the son of Zebedee and Salome and was mending nets with his father along with his brother, James when Jesus called him and his brother to be “fisher of men”. As author of the Gospel of John as well as four other books of the New Testament (the three Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation), John writes as an eyewitness to the events he recorded.

Serving as one of four canonical gospels in the New Testament, the Gospel of John is traditionally positioned after the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in part due to when the book was believed to be written. Many scholars believe that the three Synoptic Gospels were written while the city of Jerusalem was still standing and contained predictions by Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Meanwhile there is a debate among many scholars as to when the Gospel of John was actually written. Some scholars suggest it was written as early as 65 to 70 AD with portions of the book referring to areas around the temple while it was still in existence. Due to variances however, found in literary style within the gospel, more contemporary scholars believe the gospel was actually written in two or three stages over a period of years, with the gospel emerging in its complete form sometime after the temple’s destruction and John’s exile… around 80 and perhaps as late as 90 AD. This latter account would offer an explanation as to why this book differs from and is not linked to the three Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In terms of audience, the Gospel of John targets Gentiles and Christians of Greece, emphasizing Jesus as the Son of God. Referring to himself throughout as “the one whom Jesus loved”, John covers spiritual themes for strengthening the faith of believers while appealing to unbelievers to come to faith in Christ. Focusing on events and details of Jesus’ life not mentioned in the other Gospels, John conveys God love for humanity and is the only Gospel to refer to Jesus as the Word and the voice of God.

The following is the basic outline of the Gospel of John:

  1. The Prologue (1:1-18), which includes the Word introduced (1:1-5); the Word’s witness (1:6-13); and the Word in Flesh (1:14-18).
  2. The Book of Signs: Jesus Reveals the Father (1:19-12:50), which includes the miracles Jesus performed along with as a number of dialogues and monologues encompassing the Witness of John (1:19-34); the First Disciples (1:35-51); the Wedding at Cana (2:1-12); the Cleansing the Temple (2:13-22); the New Birth (3:1-10); a Monologue on Believing (3:11-21); John the Baptist’s Final Witness (3:22-36); the Dialog with the Samaritan Woman (4:4-26); the Living Water (4:7-15); Worship in Spirit and Truth (4:16-26); Dialog with the Disciples (4:27-42); the Life-Giving Word (4:43-5:47); Jesus – The Bread of Life (6:1-71); Dialogs on Jesus’ True Identity (7:1-8:59); Signs and Teachings (9:1-11:44); and Jesus’ Last Days (11:45-12:50)
  3. The Book of Glory: Jesus Returns to the Father (13:1-20:31), which introduces the Discipleship (13:1-30); the Last Discourses of Jesus (13:31-16:33); Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (17:1-26); Passion Narrative (18:1-19:42); as well as the Resurrection Narrative (20:1-21:25), which includes the First Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection (20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (20:11-18) and to Thomas (20:19-29)
  4. The Epilogue (20:30 – 21:25), which closes the book with the Purpose of the Gospel (20:30-31); Jesus’ Appearance to Seven Disciples Who Were Fishing (21:1-14); Jesus’ Final Words to Peter (21:15-23); and the second ending to the gospel (21:24-25)

Do you think the timing of when this inspiring book was written matters? If so, why?
What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

Four Gospels: Luke

As a Greek physician, Luke was a Gentile and a second generation Christian. That is to say, he did not see or know Jesus during His earthly life. Targeting a broader, Gentile audience than the other gospels, the Gospel of Luke was written between 60-70 AD using a more sophisticated literary style. Similar to the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke begins with Jesus’ birth and baptism by John the Baptist followed by Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem, and culminating with the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

Most noteworthy about the Gospel of Luke though is its construction around a “travel narrative”, illustrating Jesus’ ministry as a carefully planned journey that culminates with His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. To ensure Jesus and his disciples followed a clear and concise route, Luke left out details or filled in gaps with additional details while rearranging some events. For example, Luke expanded the Galilee section of Jesus’ journey (IV below), rearranging the confession at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-33) while omitting the location so as not to mention the event as being outside of Galilee region. Using these and other techniques proved very effective, allowing Luke to include Mark’s Gospel framework while offering the reader an easier, more concise flow with a well-organized narrative to aid comprehension.

For his Gospel , Luke relies heavily on the Gospel of Mark for the narrative of Christ’s earthly life; the sayings collection for Jesus’ teachings (known as the Q source); and a collection of material called the L (for Luke) source for content unique to his gospel. Well-educated, Luke was a careful researcher and an accurate historian, portraying Jesus as the Son of Man and Savior who came to us in service to God as well as a priest and teacher, answering the needs and hopes of humanity through His divine love and care for those with whom the Jewish leaders never even noticed. Unique to the Gospel of Luke is the emphasis of faithful women with Mary (mother of Jesus), Elizabeth, Anna, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and others serving as positive role models for women throughout the ages, up and including today. Further, Luke details the spirituality and power of Jesus as demonstrated through His miracles with the sick and impoverished as well as through His compassion for those who were socially, racially, and religiously ostracized. Together with the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel of Luke provides readers with a compelling history of salvation. Using the following structure, the Gospel of Luke is a powerful narrative describing Jesus’ purpose as demonstrated through His teachings of redemption and salvation and His deeds (miracles).

I Preface (Luke 1:1-4)
II Infancy (Luke 1:5-2:52)
III Preparation for Jesus’ Ministry (Luke 3:1 – 4:13)
IV Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14 – 9:50)
V The Journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 – 19:27)
VI Jesus’ Ministry in Jerusalem (Luke 19:28 – 21:38)
VII The Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus (Luke 22:1 – 24:53)

What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

Four Gospels: Matthew

Born in Palestine, Matthew worked as a tax collector in Capernaum before preaching God’s Word. Writing primarily to a Jewish audience who had Messianic expectations, the Gospel of Matthew was most likely the second Gospel, written somewhere between 40 to 60 AD.

Matthew’s goal for this book was to convince reads that the King of Kings has come, using words and names his audience would be familiar with and presenting Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one and rightful King. In fact, Matthew sprinkles quotes from the Old Testament (over 60 in all) throughout the book, presenting various aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry as the fulfilment of Old Testament messianic prophecy with the unique expression, “that it might be fulfilled” which is spoken by various prophets.

The structure of Matthew’s Gospel is divided into three parts: the prologue (1:1-2:23), the body (3:1-28:15), and the epilogue (28:16-20). The prologue focuses on Jesus’ genealogy, linking Him to Israel’s greatest King, David and to Abraham.

The main body of the book is constructed around five distinct discourses or sermons for strengthening faith and evangelism:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29)
  • The Commissioning of the Apostles (10:1-42)
  • Parables about the Kingdom (13:1-52)
  • Relationships in the Kingdom (18:1-35)
  • Olivet Discourse (24:1-25:46)

Each of these discourses end with a recognizable closing statement such as “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” or “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples…” Another interesting aspect of the book are the intricate parallels made between the first discourse (Sermon on the Mount) and the fifth (Olivet) discourses, and the second (Commissioning of the Apostles) and fourth (Relationships in the Kingdom) discourses. By doing this, Matthew made the third discourse (Parables about the Kingdom) the focal point of this book.

Of special note… some biblical scholars have also compared Jesus’ baptism with his death, with a rather striking parallel between “That they shall call Him Immanuel”, which is interpreted as “God with us” (1:23) in the prologue with Jesus’ last words, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20) in the epilogue.

What is your favorite parable?
What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

Four Gospels: Mark

When I first read the first four books of the New Testament … the Four Gospels… I wondered about their backstory. You know… who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were behind the scenes, how they came to know Jesus, and how their experiences with Jesus influenced their point of view. I also wondered how their individual works compared and contrasted with one another. So this past week, I did a bit of research on each of their backgrounds to shed some light on what they witnessed and the aspects of Jesus’ life they chose to focus on.

For starters, I learned that three of the four gospels (that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke ) are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. With synoptic coming from the Greek word, synoptikós meaning seeing all together, these three gospels include many of the same stories, are often similar in sequence, and at times use identical wording in their accounts of events Jesus’ life and his teaching. Meanwhile, only the Gospel of John stands out as being distinctively different in its focus.

The following is a beautiful graphical depiction I found on Wikipedia that highlights the relationship among the three synoptic gospels.

Gospels

From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synoptic_Gospels>

As you can see, over three-quarters of Mark’s content is found in Matthew, and much of Mark is similarly found in Luke. Additionally, Matthew and Luke have material in common that is not found in Mark. So it is that I begin with Mark.

Mark was a disciple of Peter. Well educated, some sources say Mark served as Peter’s scribe. What most sources agree on is that the Gospel of Mark was likely the first Gospel (40 to 55 AD). His work targeted a Gentile audience, primarily Roman and Greek, and explained Jewish terms, customs, and Aramaic terms to a non-Jewish audience. The focus of this gospel was on Jesus’ works rather on His words, highlighting Jesus’ miracles and actions. The frequent use of “immediately” and “then” keeps his narrative moving rapidly, portraying Jesus as a Servant who came to suffer for the sins of many.

While many Greek and Roman authors would freely re-write their source material in their own way much like today’s authors, Mark did not. In fact, he took the utmost of care as he knew his sources were precious traditions, carefully passed on in memorized form or in written notes. He respected their contents and even, whenever possible, their formulation. It is with this mindset that Mark arranged and linked all this existing material into a chronological sequence to formulate a compelling narrative. In fact, during my research, some compared Mark to an artist who painstakingly fit existing pieces into a beautiful mosaic or to a composer who arranged existing melodies into a new symphony. Viewing his work not as his own, Mark saw himself as an arranger rather than a writer who compiled and presented Jesus’ work into a simple geographical structure:

Mark 1,1-13 Introducing Jesus and His baptism
Mark 1,14 – 6,6a Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee
Mark 6,6b – 9,50 Jesus’ apostolic journeys
Mark 10,1 – 52 Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem
Mark 11,1 – 16,20 Jesus’ ministry and passion in Jerusalem.

Once arranged, Mark bound all this material together into a compelling story that focuses on the mystery surrounding Jesus’ personality. Beginning with His baptism, Mark cites Jesus’ calling as a servant to humanity. Both a teacher and a healer, the common thread woven throughout His ministry is the question: ‘Who is this man they call Jesus?’ This mystery only intensifies when Jesus tells demons, disciples, and converts alike not to reveal His identity. The turning point though is when Peter cites Jesus’ profession as “You are the Christ!”. It is in this powerful statement that prepares us as the reader for Jesus’ declaration in Jerusalem before the High Priest: “You will see the Son of Man Jesus) sitting at the right hand of Power God)” and the centurion’s admission after His death: “Truly, this man was the Son of God!.”

Why do you think Jesus did not want those who were healed not to tell anyone?

What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

In the beginning…

Once we place our lives into God’s capable hands, our lives do not become perfect over night. It’s in fact only the beginning of a life long journey to perfect the beautiful masterpiece God has designed us to be. Growing closer in our relationship with God and immersing ourselves in His Word daily is part of our journey towards perfecting that masterpiece. Whether you are just becoming familiar with God’s Word for the first time, or are returning home to God’s Word after being away, this post is for you. What follows is a light introduction to God’s Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him,
and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.
-John 1:1-5

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.
-John 1:1-5

The Bible consists of two main sections – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament consists of anywhere from 39 (Protestant), 46 (Catholic), or more (Orthodox and other) books written by various authors and produced over a period of centuries. Christians traditionally divide the Old Testament into four main sections:

  • The first 5 books or Pentateuch (Torah).
  • Next is a series of history books sharing the history of the Israelites, from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon;
  • Followed by the poetic and “Wisdom books” dealing, in various forms, with questions of good and evil in the world; and
  • Wrapping up with a series of books of the biblical prophets, warning of the consequences of turning away from God.

Meanwhile, the New Testament consists of 27 books. Originally written in Greek, these books record the life and teachings of Jesus and His earliest followers. The New Testament consists of:

  • 4 narratives of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus called “Gospel” or the Good News.
  • 1 narrative of the Apostle ministries in the early church, called the “Acts of the Apostles”;
  • 21 letters, often called “Epistles” from Greek “epistole”, written by various authors, and consisting of Christian doctrine, counsel, instruction, and conflict resolution; and
  • 1 Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, which is a book of prophecy, containing instructions to 7 local congregations of Asia Minor, and includes prophetical symbology about the end times.

The following is a short video illustrating the enormous impact the Bible has had on us throughout the centuries.

What impact has the Bible has on your life?

The Walk, Part II

Before spreading the Good News, I would like to begin as Apostle Paul did…sharing with you, my readers, of my conversion. It is as follows.

For as long as I can remember, acceptance… from self and others has meant everything. In fact, in what was my Dad’s last Christmas in 2011, I asked him “Dad… are you proud of me?” In a rare, lucid moment with Alzheimer’s disease, his answer came as if from God, “It does not matter what I think; we all have our own path in life.” My path has not been a straight-forward one; rather it’s been one filled with bumps, twists, turns, and potholes. Like many, my life began with inherited spiritual beliefs. Raised Catholic, I was baptized as an infant with my godparents accepting Jesus Christ on my behalf; confirmed at age 10 without fully being aware of what a Christ-filled life meant; and educated in Catholic schools for 12 years where religion books with select biblical verses were open rather than the Bible. At age 24, I married well, but without a faith-based foundation, the marriage eventually fell apart. By 1996, I was a divorced parent with two young children. Hoping to find support from a local church I regularly attended, I received little. Divorced, I was excluded from fellowship and parts of worship. Feeling abandoned, I left the church, and for a time, God too.

Still there was a part of me that sought to fill a void felt in my heart. I began by exploring other faiths… ranging from a variety of Christian denominations and Mormonism to Universal Universalist, Native American Spirituality, and Buddhism… attending a variety of indoor, outdoor, and home-based services along the way. While all faiths were enlightening with many beautiful traditions, the God each one spoke of was beyond reach and somewhere in the distant heavens. None addressed the whispering presence I kept hearing and feeling close to my heart. By November 2008, I was lost, broke, in poor health, underemployed, (and for a time unemployed), and genuinely scared as to whether I would continue to have a roof over my head. Clearly, my life was not working.

At the height of my brokenness, God placed a spiritual guide in my life — a gentle man who from the age of 12 explored religions of the world; a gentleman with a humble spirit who had more knowledge than formal education; and more wisdom than anyone I had ever known. Through contemporary storytelling, he introduced me to the Bible and to God’s Word. He spoke of an all-powerful Heavenly Father filled with immeasurable love and grace; of Jesus Christ, His Son, who not only died for our sins so we would have everlasting life, but who also showed us The Way in which to live life according to God’s plan; and most of all… to the Holy Spirit who resides within our hearts when we choose to believe with powerful whispers that guide and protect us while on our path in life. He also introduced me to the power of prayer; not the memorized words of my youth, but real conversations designed to strengthen my relationship with God. By July 5th, 2010, I was reborn. Soon after my life started to turn around. Overcoming many of my past struggles, I was given a second chance at life… this time following God’s plan for me, not mine. Part of that plan was to be baptized again … this time as an adult. It is then that I saw a reflection in the water that of a prodigal daughter coming home. In accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, in committing to a living Christ-like life, I long last found real acceptance. My new life, my walk, my relationship with God is a life long journey. Along the way I know I will still stumble and make mistakes. In times of weakness though, I know I can confidently reach out to God in prayer for guidance, wisdom, and strength as Apostle Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthian 12:9: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

The Walk, Part I

Whether you have been on your spiritual walk most of your life or have just begun, we all reach a point in our lives where we want to make much needed changes, but are at a loss as to what to do or where to begin. Crying out in desperation and seeking out God’s help is the first step. And as we take that first step, we often feel unworthy of His grace and unconditional love. You’re not alone in experiencing this anguish. Hope, reassurance, and an incredible amount of inspiration can be found in the story of Apostle Paul. In fact, to demonstrate credibility Apostle Paul began preaching the Gospel by first telling the story of his conversion.

Introduced as Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:1-19, Paul was the biblical time equivalent to today’s ISIS leader, killing literally thousands of Christians in an effort to save the Jewish faith from those following “The Way”. On his way to Damascus, Syria, Saul saw a light suddenly flash from the heavens. Blinding him and now knocked to the ground, Saul heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Scared and unable to see, Saul was led by the men traveling with him over the next three days into Damascus. Upon arriving in Damascus, Saul was met by a disciple by the name of Ananais. Sent by God, Ananais placed his hands on Saul’s eyes and had a message for him to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles. With his sight restored, Saul became a believer in Jesus Christ, was baptized as Paul, and went onto become the most devoted follower and preacher of Jesus Christ’s teachings, not to mention the most prolific author of the New Testament, writing 13 of 27 books!

If God can transform Apostle Paul’s life from a Christian killer to the New Testament’s most prolific writer, just imagine what He can do with yours!!