Bible Studies at Home

 
We are offering two Bible Studies that we can do during our shut down. We ask that you use a contact form below to ask any questions, point out something you have learned or just want to comment. The comments will be collected and we will share those with the other participants here.

Bible Study-Choice One

A Survey of the New Testament

Its been a while since I have led a Bible survey. I like them. We get to cover one of the two Testaments, look at each book, but also see them in context with all the other books. In this Bible Study, all you will need is the Bible and what I send you. I will also send review questions that you can send back to me. Our study:

Week One: Overview

Week Two: The Gospels

Week Three: Gospels that did not make it in the New Testament

Week Three: The Acts of the Apostles

Week Four: The Letters of Paul

Week Five: The Letters of Paul’s Students

Week Six: General Letters

Week Seven: The Book of Revelation

Week Eight: Bringing it All Together

Each weekly study will include readings, questions to make sure you have understood the lesson, and opportunity for you to ask questions.
 

Week One: An Overview of the New Testament

No book or letter in the New Testament was written with the concept that it would be put together in a book. In fact, when the New Testament was written, the book as we know it did not exist. At the time of the life of Christ all writings were put on huge scrolls. Between 100 AD and 200 AD, Romans invented the codex (pages sewn together with leather straps, much like the books we have today, with the exception that the first codices were made of wood with wax on them). By the time of the formation of the Christian Church, after the writings of the New Testament were accepted, not as scripture but as important documents for the congregations to hear, they started to be hand-copied into codices made out of papyrus. Historians believe that because they became so important to the infant Christian community, codices became extremely popular and important in the Roman Empire.

It wasn’t until the middle to later 300’s that leaders of the Church felt a need to define what was “Scripture” and what was not. In the early centuries of the church, there were at least 40 different Gospels circulating. (Interestingly enough, gospels are still being written: 20 gospels have been written between 1830 and 1993!) There began to be arguments among the Church leaders as to what letters and Gospels circulating among the congregations were authentic, and which were not. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, all the leaders were brought together and charged with narrowing down all of the writings to official canon. From this meeting, the New Testament achieved its official form, and the canon was closed permanently. No books can be removed, nor any books added to the New Testament. (The most controversial book was the Book of Revelations: when all the bishops voted on whether to include it or not, inclusion was granted by one vote!)

The New Testament is not arranged in chronological order (the order in which they were written). They are arranged by literary classification.

Gospels a term that translates the Greek word euangelion (good news). Designed to proclaim the “good news” about Jesus, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. The term Evangelist refers to the writer of an euangelium (Gospel). The only literary genre the early Christians invented, the Gospel is a narrative—a story—about Jesus’ deeds and teachings. Although the Gospels recount the actions and sayings of Jesus in chronological order, the four gospels do not use the same timeline. Thus, they are not real biographies in the modern sense. They do not attempt to give us a complete life of Jesus or to explain the social, psychological, cultural, historical, or political influences on him. In all four Gospels only the final week of Jesus’ human existence is related in detail. The Evangelists write primarily to show their understanding of Jesus’ theological or religious significance.

A History of the Early Church the Acts of the Apostles is the only book in the New Testament that gives us an historical narrative. Beginning with an account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and ending with Paul preaching in Rome, Acts narrates a series of crucial parts of the formation of the Christian Church.

Letter (Epistles) The bulk of the books of the New Testament are made up by twenty-one letters ascribed to famous leaders of the early church. The first set was written by Paul or by Paul’s students. Then there are seven letters attributed to Peter, James, Jude and John.

Apocalypse the last book in the new Testament stands on its own. The Greek word that we translate with the word apocalypse means an “unveiling” or “uncovering”. The Book of revelation highlights the cosmic struggle between God and Satan.

The New Testament as Sacred Literature.

While most people will not be familiar with all the sacred texts of the religions of the world, even glancing at them will show a difference between the New Testament and these scriptures. (To see the different scriptures, go to http://origin.org/ucs/ws/ws.cfm). The difference lies primarily in the fact that the New Testament is not a collection of Jesus’ sayings, but is more of a record of the early church’s struggle to understand his teachings. The Good News that the Gospels proclaim is the core of what Jesus came to teach. Each Gospel tells the Good News in a different way: it is as if one were looking at Jesus’ ministry through a prism. The letters also take this approach – each letter focusing on a partial aspect of Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News. The way that New Testament ends is an attempt to color every teaching of Jesus and the disciples in a very specific way, that is very different from the perspective of all the other New Testament writers. The Church, in organizing the books in the way that they did attempted to mold the New Testament in their own theology; a theology that would be very different if the books had been arranged in an historical order. Finally, the connection of the new Testament and the Old Testament has a very definite effect on the writings of the New Testament. No other scripture has so many different theological layers as the New Testament.

When were the Books written:

Approx Date Title Author

50 1 Thessalonians Paul

54-55 2 Thessalonians Paul

56 1 & 2 Corinthians Paul

56-57 Galatians Paul

61 Romans Paul

61 Colossians Paul

62 Philippians Paul

62 Philemon Paul

66-70 Gospel of Mark Anonymous

80-85 Gospel of Matthew Anonymous

85-90 Gospel of Luke, Book of Acts Anonymous

85-90 Hebrews, 1 Peter, Ephesians, James Anonymous

90-95 Gospel of John Anonymous

95 Revelation John of Patmos

95-100 Letters of John The Elder

110-130 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus Anonymous

130-150 Jude, 2 Peter Anonymous

Questions for Reflection

(I would like for you to write your answers and get them back to me; this is optional. Please send any questions that you have to me, and I will get the answer back to you.) You can use the form below and I will get it as an email. Rev. Cope

  1. Try to define and describe the New Testament to someone who has never heard of it. In what ways does the NT differ from other sacred books?
  2. The literary form or category in which writers chose to convey their ideas always influence the way in which those ideas were expressed. Why do you suppose early Christian writers invented the Gospel form to express their views about Jesus? Why do you think that all four Gospels authors focused on the last week of Jesus’ life?
  3. Given that the New Testament contains four different accounts of Jesus’ ministry why do think there is only one narrative of the history of the church?
  4. Do you find the Gospels or the Letters easier to read and understand? If you had to remove one book from the New Testament which would it be? Why? Which book is your favorite book? Why?

Further Study

Watch this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd7wPFgg-eQ

It provides the historical background of Israel from the end of Old Testament to the time of Jesus.

Homework for next week: Read, or skim, the Four Gospels.
 
Use this Contact Form for Questions or Comments to Rev. Cope:

 
 
 
 
 
 

Bible Study-Choice 2

Following Walter Bruggemann’s books The Message of the Psalms and Praying the Psalms

Obviously, this is a study of the Psalms. Bruggemann wrote The Message of the Psalms in 1984, expanding on a theme that originated in his book Praying the Psalms. Bruggemann utilizes a ‘scheme’ of orientation – disorientation-new orientation ‘to help us to see things we might not have seen otherwise.’ “I have concluded at the end of the study that the shape and dynamic of the Psalms can most usefully be understood according to the theological framework of crucifixion and resurrection.”

Our study will look at the Psalms in this manner:

Introduction

Psalms of Orientation

Psalms of Disorientation

Psalms of New Orientation

Christians in Jewish Territory

Overview

The Message of the Psalms

Lesson 1: Introduction

What is a Psalm? Simply, Psalm is a sacred poem. Therefore, the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible is a book of poetry. As Robert Alter states in his Introduction to his translation of them, “[Psalms] are in their origins intricately rooted in an ancient Near Eastern world that goes back to the late Bronze Age (1600-1200 BCE) and that in certain respects is quite alien to modern people.” Alter does not limit them to their historical context: “Untold numbers (from both Jewish and Christian traditions) have repeatedly turned to the Psalms for encouragement and comfort in moments of crisis and despair.”

Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, has written several books about the Psalms: The Message of the Psalms, Praying the Psalms, The Spirituality of the Psalms, The Psalmist’s Cry, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, among others. His purpose behind all his study is to explore how we can use them to find strength in our life. Going beyond the historical-critical interpretation that has been the main scholastic frame for understanding them during the past 150 years, Brueggemann’s studies do not try to find meaning in their use in the Temple in Jerusalem, but to discover their usefulness in our day-to-day life.

Brueggemann explains the Psalms in this way:” . . . the psalms present human persons in situations of regression: when they are most vulnerable in hurt, most ecstatic in naïve joy, most sensitized to life, driven to the extremities of life and faith, when all the ‘covers’ of modern rationality or ancient convention have disappeared or become dysfunctional.”

In his Introduction to his book, The Message of the Psalms, Brueggemann states that the Palms are organized around three themes: poems of orientation, poems of disorientation, and poems of new or reorientation. He explains

  • Human life consists in satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for the constancy of blessing. Matching this we will consider “psalms of orientation,” which in a variety of ways articulate the joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God, God’s creation, God’s governing law.
  • Human life consists in anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering, and death. These evoke rage, resentment, self-pity, and hatred. Matching this, we will consider “psalms of disorientation,” poems and speech forms that match the season in its ragged, painful disarray. This speech, the lament, has a recognizable shape that permits the extravagance, hyperbole, and abrasiveness needed for the experience.
  • Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through despair. Where there has been only darkness, there is light. Corresponding to this surprise of the gospel, we will consider “psalms of new orientation,” which speak boldly about a new gift from God, a fresh intrusion that makes all things new. These psalms affirm a sovereign God who puts humankind in a new situation. In this way, it is proposed that psalm forms correspond to seasons of human life and bring those seasons to speech. The move of the seasons is transformational and not developmental; that is, the move is never obvious, easy, or “natural.” It is always in pain and surprise, and in each age it is thinkable that a different move might have been made.

 

Brueggemann holds that we understand these categories of Psalms as “Two decisive moves of faith”: a move out of a settled orientation into disorientation and from a context of disorientation to a new orientation. He wants to place these movements in a Christian context – “a connection among (a) focal moments of Christian faith (crucifixion and resurrection), (b) decisive inclinations of Jewish piety (suffering and hope), (c) psalmic expressions that are most recurrent (lament and praise), and (d) seasons in our own life of dying and being raised.

 

Yet, before discussing Brueggemann’s writings, it will be helpful to understand the Psalms as poetry. Therefore, we can turn back to Robert Alter, who gives a short summary of the syntax and form of the poetry of the Psalms.

 

For next week, I am giving you two tasks: choose three Psalms that you particularly like. Don’t try to interpret them. Just choose three psalms. email them back to me (or call me); I will use them in our study.

 

The second task is to write down times in your life that correspond to Brueggemann’s three categories: (1) times of orientation; (2) times of disorientation; (3) times of reorientation. We will use these in our later studies.

 
Use this Contact Form for Questions or Comments to Rev. Cope: