Author: Jim F.

New Testament Sunday School Lesson 46: Revelation 5-6, 19-22

Ms

The word “end” has at least two meanings in English: the point that marks the boundary or limit, such as the last point in a series, and the purpose or goal. Of course, these two meanings are not necessarily mutually exclusive. When speaking of the end, Latter-day Saints often use a phrase that is worded in a somewhat unusual way: we speak of knowing the beginning from the end. (See, e.g., Elder Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience 38.) This not a scriptural phrase. The closest scriptural phrase is “knowing the end from the beginning” (cf. Isaiah 46:10 and Abraham 2:8). Nevertheless, its meaning is significant. It says more than we may notice. There are various ways of understanding that phrase, but one is that we know the beginning by means of or because we know the end: the end defines and gives meaning to what comes before it. If we remember that in numerous places…

New Testament Sunday School Lesson 45: Revelation

Ms

As with other Sunday School lesson notes, these are intended primarily to help people study for the lesson, not as lesson preparation materials. Of course, anything one uses for study can also be used to help one prepare a lesson. But study rather than lesson preparation is the main purpose of these notes. Background The article on Revelation in the LDS Bible Dictionary is excellent. You should read it before you read the lesson material. In addition, here are some things that may be helpful: So far in our New Testament study this year we have seen three kinds of writings in the New Testament: the gospels, which bear testimony of Christ and his life; letters to congregations of early Saints preaching the Gospel, often in the context of dealing with problems in those congregations; and doctrinal expositions (Romans and Hebrews). Revelation is unlike any of those. Apocalyptic revelations like the book of Revelation were not uncommon in the early…

New Testament Sunday School Lesson 44: 1-3 John

Ms

1-3 John seem to be letters written to different churches in the region of Ephesus mostly in response to a group of apostates whom we call Gnostics. Most scholars believe that John wrote these letters before he wrote the Gospel of John, though that is not a unanimous opinion. There are, for example, some who believe that at least 1 John was written after the Gospel of John, and some such as Stephen Smalley (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 51) argue that the John’s gospel was written before any of the letters. There is also dispute as to whether all four documents (Gospel of John and 1-3 John) were written by the same person. Though few doubt that 2 and 3 John have the same author, there is more disagreement about the authorship of the other two. For these study materials, however, I will not worry about that concern. I will refer to John as the author of all three of…

New Testament Sunday School Lesson 43: 1-2 Peter, Jude

Ms

Before you read the letters from Peter, take a few minutes to recall who he was: What was his position in the Church? What particular experiences did he have with the Savior? What might he have learned from those experiences? How does that background inform these letters? Outlines of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude 1 Peter (adapted from Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude) Like Ephesians, 1 Peter appears to be a baptismal sermon, perhaps written to be read at baptismal services one year and, it seems, addressed primarily to non-Jewish converts. Greeting (1:1-2) The responsibilities that baptized persons have because of the gift they have received (1:3-4:6) Thanks for the gift of a living hope (1:3-12 Admonition to live righteously (1:13-25) Avoiding malice (2:1-12) Loyalty to authority (2:13-17) Maxims for daily living (2:18-3:12) Laborers must be patient (2:18-25) Wives should honor their husbands; husbands should be considerate of their wives (3:1-7) The necessity of humility…

NT Sunday School Lesson 42: James

Ms

We do not know who the author of this epistle was (there are several persons named James in the New Testament), but tradition says that it was James, the brother of Christ and the presiding elder in Jerusalem after Christ’s death. (See, for example, Acts 15:13, where he presides over the Jerusalem conference called to deal with the Gentiles joining the early Church.) What do we know about Jesus’ family’s relation to him prior to the crucifixion? (See, for example, John 7:1-5.) When do you think James became a follower of Christ? Is 1 Corinthians 15:7 relevant? Does that verse suggest any reason that James might be more sympathetic to Paul than we sometimes assume? Chapter 1 Verses 2-4: The word translated “temptations” also has the meaning “trials.” (The Greek word can mean either, but “trials” seems to fit the context better here.) How can we count our trials as “complete joy”? In verse 3, the word translated “patience” could…

NT Sunday School Lesson 41: 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus

Ms

1 Timothy 3 3:15-16: How is the Church “the pillar and ground of truth”? What metaphor is Paul using? How does that metaphor help us understand what the Church does? What does he mean when he speaks of “the house of God”? Does he mean the church as a whole or individual congregations? What does Paul mean when he says “without controversy”? To what is Paul referring with the word mystery? Why is the word mystery an appropriate reference for that case? (Verse 16 seems to be another quotation from a hymn.) What is Paul talking about when he says that Christ was seen by angels? 1 Timothy 4 4:1-3: Paul has just finished speaking of the qualifications of bishops and of deacons. How is that topic related to the one that he takes up now, apostasy? When did Paul and Timothy think the “latter times” would be (verse 1)? What does it mean to give heed to seducing spirits…

NT Sunday School Lesson 40: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

Ms

There is even more to cover than usual in this lesson. The result is 12 pages of study material. Because it usually helps to understand the context in which the verses one studies occur, I will supply some background information about each book, as well as an outline of the text of each. Then I will follow those with a few study questions. Remember as you read these materials that they are to help you study the letters assigned for the lesson. They are not suggestions for teaching the lesson. Of course a person could use these to help her prepare her lesson, but that would mean judiciously picking and choosing what would help her do so. If you are reading these to prepare a lesson, may I suggest that you consider using Philemon and Philippians 2:5-15 as the verses for your lesson’s focus? Philippians 1. Background a. Traditionally the letter was written from Rome, but nothing internal to the…

New Testament Sunday School Lesson 39: Ephesians

Ms

For a variety of reasons most New Testament scholars do not believe that this book was ever an actual letter written to a specific Christian congregation in Ephesus. For one thing, the words “to the Ephesians” in verse 1 is not part of the best manuscripts. Instead of a letter, it appears to be a treatise written as if it were a letter. A significant number of scholars, though perhaps not a majority, also question whether the book was written by Paul. As with Hebrews, for me the best response is that answering those questions doesn’t matter, though I assume that Ephesians was written by Paul. The book is from early Christianity (approximately 62 AD at the latest, if written by Paul). It was either written by Paul or someone reasonably familiar with his teaching. We might think of Ephesians 4:1-3 as the thesis of this book: “1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk…

New Testament Sunday School Lesson 38: Acts 21-28

Ms

I will focus these study notes on Acts 21:1-Acts 23:11. As you read this story of Paul, notice that the Church of his time has spread to many communities. Paul is able to move from place to place, at least in the general area of Palestine and parts of Asia Minor (now western Turkey), and to depend on local branches of the Church as he does so. For example, in verses 3-7 we see him visit the branches at Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea. Clearly the early Church grew rapidly after the Day of Pentecost, roughly thirty years before the story we are reading. (Paul’s journey was in approximately 58-61 AD). Though King Agrippa, son of Herod Agrippa and king of the Roman province of Palestine, had found no crime with which Paul had been charged (Acts 26:32), he could have bee released immediately. But because Paul had demanded a hearing before Caesar—to which he had a legal right as a…

NT Sunday School Lesson 37: Hebrews

Ms

The book of Hebrews is what scholars call a “homiletic midrash” on Psalms 110, meaning that it a sermon responding to Psalm 110. It might be useful to read that psalm before reading Hebrews and to keep it in mind as you read Hebrews. Most contemporary scholars, including some LDS scholars, do not believe that Paul wrote this book. It is last among the letters of Paul because those compiling the New Testament (in the early 3rd century AD) were not sure that Paul had written it. There are a variety of reasons for these doubts, but the most significant is that the language of Hebrews is quite different from that of the rest of Paul’s letters. (However, the content and occasion of the letter are also different, and that might account for the difference in language.) Notice also that, though the title traditionally given to this book is “Letter to the Hebrews,” it doesn’t have the form of a…

NT Sunday School Lesson 36: Romans

Ms

I have to confess that Romans is perhaps my favorite book of scripture. Given the way that most Latter-day Saints think of Romans, that marks me as at least strange, if not perverse. It also means that I will have to restrain myself to keep the notes for this lesson to a reasonable length. To do that I have selected a few verses that I think get at the heart of Paul’s message and focus on those. I have also appended an outline of the book as a whole so that you can perhaps understand Paul’s overall message better. Chapter 1 Verse 7: Why does Paul describe the saints in Rome as “beloved of God”? Doesn’t God love everyone? If he does, why describe any particular group as beloved? In verse 1 Paul said that he was called to be an apostle. In verse 6, he tells the saints in Rome that they too have been called, and in this…

NT Sunday School Lesson 35: 2 Corinthians

Ms

Background 1 and 2 Corinthians are two of perhaps four letters that Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth. The first letter (referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) has not been preserved. 1 Corinthians is the second letter, written partially in response to reports of problems in Corinth and partially in response to questions that the Corinthians had written to ask Paul. As we can see in 1 Corinthians 16:3-6, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he intended to visit Corinth later, and he promised to send Timothy to Corinth. Timothy may have been the messenger who carried 1 Corinthians to Corinth. After writing and sending 1 Corinthians, Paul made a second trip to Corinth, but that visit was a difficult one, with bad feelings between Paul and the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 2:1 refers to that visit.) After that tense visit, it seems that Paul wrote a third letter (no longer in existence) from Ephesus rather than go to Corinth again.…

NT Sunday School Lesson 34: 1 Corinthians 11-16

Ms

Every so often I insert this reminder: These are study notes, not notes for a lesson. Of course, studying the chapter can help one prepare for the lesson, and the same questions used for study can be used to teach a lesson. But the primary purpose of these notes is to help people think about and prepare to talk about the Sunday School lesson. Recall that in this part of his letter Paul is responding to questions that the Corinthians have asked him by letter. (See the questions for lesson 33.) Chapters 7-15 comprise his response to their questions, and one problem we have interpreting his response is knowing when he is quoting their letter and when he is speaking as himself. For example, in chapter 10, verse 23 (and also in 6:12) Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” Many scholars have argued that when he says “all things are lawful for…

NT Sunday School Lesson 33: 1 Corinthians 1-6

Ms

Some background on 1 Corinthians (in addition to that given in the Bible Dictionary): The church at Corinth was founded by Paul in 51 A.D, and this letter was probably written in the early spring of 57. Corinth had a reputation for debauchery in the ancient world, and that in a world that was tolerant of sexual promiscuity of all kinds. Paul and Sosthenes (the two of them are the senders of this letter—see verse 1) are responding to two things: reports from Chloe about what is happening in Corinth (chapters 1-6) and a letter that the Corinthian members have written and sent to him with Stephanas, asking Paul questions about marriage, eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, how women should conduct themselves in church, etc. (chapters 7-15). Paul’s answers to the particular questions of the first century may not be relevant to us, but the principles he uses to answer those questions certainly remain relevant. A man…

NT Sunday School Lesson 32: Acts 18:23-20:38; Galatians

Ms

The readings from Acts tell of Paul’s third missionary journey, to Galatia, Ephesus, Macedonia, and Greece. (See the maps in your LDS Bible.) Acts 20:28-32 Verse 28: To whom is Paul preaching in these verses? (See verse 17 and footnote “b” for verse 28.) The Greek word translated “overseer” is episkopos, the root word for the English word “episcopal.” It is often translated “bishop,” but “overseer” is a good (and very literal) translation because it shows what the episkopos does: he watches over others to see that they do their jobs properly. It may or may not refer to what we mean when we use the word “bishop.” Over whom should the elders first keep watch? Why? What does it mean to say that Jesus has purchased the church with his blood? What metaphor is Paul using? Verse 29: How soon does Paul expect the wolves to enter the flock? Who might these wolves be? He is leaving Ephesus to…

NT Sunday School Lesson 31: Acts 15:36-18:22; 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Ms

Almost all of our lessons cover an incredible amount of material. However, this lesson covers even more material than usual: 3 and one-half chapters of Acts, 5 chapters of 1 Thessalonians, and 3 chapters of 2 Thessalonians. To try to make the material more manageable, I will focus on 1 Thessalonians 4-5. As you will see, however, even that has produced a long set of study materials. 1Thessalonians is the oldest New Testament document we have, written before any of the Gospels or other letters. Thessalonica was a Greek city, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. You can see its location on your Bible maps. Acts 17:1-14 tells of Paul’s missionary work in Thessalonica. A review of those verses would be good background for reading this letter. Some of Paul’s letter are letters of correction, responding to doctrinal and other problems in congregations that he has left behind. 1 Thessalonians, however, is a letter of exhortation. Paul wishes…

NT Sunday School Lesson 30: Acts 10-14; 15:1-35

Ms

This part of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the mission beyond the area immediately surrounding Jerusalem to “the uttermost part of the world” (Acts 1:8). As you read these stories, notice how important the Twelve are in that work. Why do you think that they didn’t delegate more of the missionary work? Is there any connection between the extreme dependence of the early Church on the Twelve and the later apostasy? Notice also that the members of the Church come into greater conflict with traditional Judaism because of this missionary work. For most of the first century and perhaps even into the second, Christians did not think of themselves as a different religion from Judaism. Why did missionary work eventually change that? Does that perhaps suggest something about our relation to contemporary Christianity? To try to keep these materials to a reasonable length, I will concentrate on chapters 10 and 15. Acts 10 Verses 1-8: Where was…

NT Sunday School Lesson 29: Acts 6-9

Ms

Acts 6 Verses 1-7: Who were the “Grecians”? We would probably call them “Hellenists.” Remember that as yet the Gospel has not been preached to the Gentiles, so who might these people have been? Who were “the Hebrews”? Is there anything comparable to this division in today’s Church? Why were the Grecians complaining? The word disciples (verses 1-2) translates a Greek word that means “learners” or “students.” Why would Luke use that name to describe the members of the Church? In verse 2, the phrase “serve tables” is a misleading translation of a Greek idiom meaning “keep accounts.” (Just as one of our words for bench, bank, can mean either “bench” or “financial institution,” the Greeks used table to mean both the tables at which they ate and the tables at which they conducted monetary transactions.) The second translation fits the context better: “It isn’t reasonable that we leave the work of preaching the gospel to do bookkeeping.” What do…

NT Testament Sunday School Lesson 28: Acts 1-5

Ms

There are several stories in these chapters: In chapter 1, we learn that Jesus ministered to the apostles for forty days after his resurrection and that Matthias was chosen to fill the vacancy left by Judas. Chapter 2 tells us of the visit of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, the gift of tongues given to them as a sign of the Holy Ghost, and Peter’s sermon admonishing those who hear them to repent and be baptized. Chapters 3-4 tell of Peter and John healing a lame man which resulted in many people believing their preaching, and the high priest, Caiaphas, and his family demanding that they cease preaching that Jesus was resurrected. Of course they didn’t heed that demand. Chapter 5 begins with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who withheld part of the money they received for the sale of their property, lying to Peter about how much they had received—and dying as a result of…

NT Sunday School Lesson 27 (JF): Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21

Ms

Matthew 28 Verse 1: Who was the other Mary? (See Matthew 27:57.) Verse 2: Rather than “And behold,” “Look!” is probably a better translation. The angel only rolls back the stone when the two Marys come to see the tomb. Does Jesus leave the tomb at that time, or has he already left? Verses 2-5: Why don’t the women faint when the guards are so frightened that they do? Verse 5: Why does the angel describe Jesus as “which was crucified” rather than “your Master” or “who wrought the Atonement” or in some other way? Verse 6: “He is risen” translates a Greek clause that can more accurately be translated “He has been raised.” Verse 7: In Matthew 26:32, Jesus told the disciples that he would go before them into Galilee. Here the angel tells them he has done so. Why do you think he went to Galilee to reunite with his disciples rather than do it where they were,…

NT Sunday School Lesson 26: Matthew 26:47-27:66; Mark 14:43-15:39; Luke 22:47-23:56; John 18-19

Ms

These study materials will focus on Matthew. Matthew 26 Verse 47: This crowd came from the temple priests, so it may have been the temple police rather than a mere mob. Verses 48-49: Just as it is today for many, a kiss on the cheek seems to have been a standard greeting, but it seems not merely to have been that. Ulrich Luz (Hermeneia commentary on Matthew, page 415-17) says that in first-century Palestine, the kiss was a sign of solidarity and reconciliation and, so, “One would hardly be able to say that the kiss of greeting was a completely normal and thus meaningless ritual in the Jewish society of that day.” For two millenia writers have taken this kiss to be the symbol of betrayal. The only alternate voice seems to have been that of Origen, who recognized that Judas was neither fully good nor fully evil and, so, probably vacillated in his feelings for the Savior (Luz 412).…

NT Sunday School Lesson 25: Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46

Ms

As important as the events in the Garden of Gethsemane were, they receive very little attention in scripture. Matthew has 11 verses on it, Mark also has 11, Luke has 7, John tells us nothing about it at all, though he was as close as anyone to what happened. The Doctrine and Covenants has 4 verses about it and the Book of Mormon 1. Why do you think the scriptures are relatively silent about such an important event? Does that tell us anything about how we should understand what scripture is or is not? Here is a link to a document with a side-by-side comparison of all of the scriptures about the events of Gethsamene. Matthew 26 Verses 36-46: The word gethsemane means “olive press,” so the garden of Gethsemane was an olive grove within which, presumably, there was an olive press. Is there any symbolic connection between the events in this grove and its name? The first part of…

NT Sunday School Lesson 24: John 16-17

Ms

Remember: though these may be useful in helping a person to prepare a Sunday School lesson, they are intended primarily to help one study and prepare for taking part in Sunday School. That’s why you’ll find questions with no answers; they are study questions. John 16 Verses 1-3: In verse 1 Jesus tells the disciples that he taught them what he did in chapter 15 so that they would not be “offended.” A more literal translation might be “caused to stumble,”“scandalized.” In Matthew 26:31 Jesus tells the disciples that they will be offended or scandalized by him that night. What particular things were the disciples facing that might make them stumble? What things in our lives are like those things? How would the particular teachings of the previous chapter, chapter 15, strengthen them against those difficulties? How long was it before some people began to think that persecuting Christians was a service to God (verse 2)? Are we ever guilty…

NT Sunday School Lesson 23: Luke 22:1-38; John 13-15

Ms

Getting caught up (as you can see). With this lesson we begin to read about the part of Christ’s life that is traditionally called “the Passion,” the time between the Last Supper and his death on the cross. The word “passion” and the word “passive” are related terms. Why is this part of Jesus’ life called the Passion? The longest part of each of the New Testament gospels is the part describing the Passion. As Latter-day Saints, our tendency is to focus on the resurrection rather than the Passion. Why do you think the gospels give so much attention to the Passion? Does 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16 explain that attention? Why might the Book of Mormon focus its attention, instead, on the resurrection—or does it? What should our focus be today? The Jerome Bible Commentary, a Catholic commentary, says that in the Passion stories of Matthew and John we are invited to worship Jesus as we see him completing his mission…

NT Sunday School Lesson 22: Matthew 25

Ms

Verses 1-13: The Parable of the Ten Virgins How does the parable relate to that given in Matthew 24:45-51? We know little about marriage ceremonies in Palestine during Jesus’ day. Indeed, we can assume that the customs varied from one place to another in Palestine, making it even more difficult to recover them. Most of what we say about such things is really a description of customs 200 years or more later. Perhaps those later customs reflect what happened in Jesus’ day, but we cannot know that they did, and the tremendous social upheaval resulting from the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. may well have interrupted the continuity of traditions. Nevertheless, we can infer some things from this parable itself: Wedding feasts seem to have been held at night, otherwise there would be no reason for the bridal attendants to bring their lamps or torches. (Ulrich Luz makes good case that these were torches rather than oil lamps:…

NT Sunday School Lesson 21: Matthew 24 (JST)

Ms

It is sometimes helpful to have the Joseph Smith revision (JST) and the King James translation side-by-side, so I have put both versions of chapter 24 together in a PDF file for those who would like to use it. Traditional Christianity finds this chapter ambiguous: in some ways it seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 A.D.; in some ways it seems to refer to the Second Coming. It seems to me that Joseph Smith makes it more clear which passages refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and which refer to the Second Coming. You may also wish to read Doctrine and Covenants 45:60-75 as background for understanding the Joseph Smith version better. I’ve marked references to the JST with “JST.” Other references are to the KJV. From Matthew 21:3 to Matthew 24:2, Jesus has been in the Temple confronting the Temple hierarchy and other community leaders, a confrontation that seems designed to bring about…

NT Sunday School Lesson 20: Matthew 21-23; John 12:1-8

Ms

Matthew 21 Verses 1-7: The end of verse 3 could also be translated “and straightway he will return them.” Verse 5 puts two scriptures together, Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 (as they appear in the Greek rather than the Hebrew version of the Old Testament). What does “daughter of Sion” mean? Why is it important that the Lord enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (rather than a horse, for example)? Verses 8-11: Why did the people put their cloaks and branches from the trees on the road in front of Jesus? “Hosanna” means “save, we pray.” Do you think that the people were using it because of its meaning or only as a shout of acclamation (much as we use the word “amen” without usually thinking about its meaning)? In Israelite history, who was first called “son of David” as a title? What did that name signify? What does it have to do with the temple? What does…

NT Sunday School Lesson 19 (JF): Luke 18:1-8, 35-43; 19:1-10; John 11

Ms

Luke 18 Verses 1-8: The chapter division here (an artificial division not in the original text) makes us not see the connection between the end of Luke 17 and the beginning of 18. Might Luke have any particular prayers in mind in verse 1? How about the desire mentioned in Luke 17:22? In verse 1, Luke tells us the teaching of the parable before he gives the parable. Why? After reading the parable ask yourself whether there are other ways to read it, perhaps ways that Luke wants to forestall. We will later see that Paul particularly likes the language that Luke uses here, “pray always” (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Romans 12:12, and Ephesians 6:18) and “do not faint” (the word translated “faint” means “to become weary or exhausted” and can mean “lose heart”—for places where Paul uses the term, see for example 2 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 4:1 and 16, and Galatians 6:9). What kind of fainting…

NT Lesson 18 (JF): Luke 15, 17

Ms

Luke 15 As I learned from Bruce Jorgensen, it is important to read the parables of Luke 15 together. Consider the setting that Luke gives us in verses 1-2 and then imagine Jesus telling each of these parables in response to what happens in those verses: he hears the Pharisees and the scribes complaining because he eats with sinners, so he tells the parable of the lost sheep; evidently they don’t understand his point because he immediately tells another parable, that of the lost coin—I imagine a silent pause after the first parable, with Jesus waiting for the Pharisees and scribes to respond; they seem not to understand the second one either, so he tells them a third, more complicated parable, the parable that we often call “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” As I learned from Arthur Henry King, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” is a strange name for this parable. It draws our attention to one of…

NT Lesson 17: Mark 10:17-30; 12:41-44; and Luke 12:13-21; 14; 16

Ms

Given the quantity of material in these chapters, rather than try to cover everything, I will focus my questions on the verses from Mark and selections from the verses in Luke. As you read this material, be sure to ask how it applies to us who live in the latter-days. What do these verses teach us about taking up our cross (cf. Jacob 1:8, 3 Nephi 12:30, and perhaps Alma 39:9)? What do they teach about riches (not what do we recall others saying that they teach, but what do they really teach)? What does the parable and explanation in Luke 16:1-12 teach us about our relation to the world? Mark 10:17-30 How is the story of verses 13-16 connected to that in verses 17-30? Why does the fact that the man is running suggest? Why does he kneel? That is an unusual thing to do before a teacher, which is a  more accurate translation of the word that the…