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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
Introduction to 1 Corinthians
Instead of just diving into our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, I thought it would serve you better if we took the time to review the first half of the Book of Acts, at least, to sort of get the “lay of the land,” if you will. If you have a basic understanding of the chronological order of events both in Paul’s life and in his ministry, this can be a valuable tool as you study Paul’s writings. It’s always helpful to be able to mark Church-Age events with a date, even if it’s approximated. The Book of Acts and Paul’s letters to the churches often tell us the length of time between one event and another. However, there will be times when you’re going to have to “dig deeper” to determine the year in which a particular event took place, i.e. do some good old Bible research.
Some of the more helpful dates to watch for while studying Paul’s ministry and the early church are the death of King Aretas of Syria in 40 AD, the beginning of the reign of Claudius Caesar as Emperor of Rome in 41 AD; Nero’s succession to the throne after the death of Claudius in 54 AD, and the end of his reign as emperor at the age of 30 in the year 54 AD. Then there’s the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD, and the succession of Felix’s reign as Procurator in Judea by Porcius Festus in 60 AD.
Here is a sample of Paul’s timeline in brief.
Saul’s conversion 34 AD
Goes to Arabia 34-37 AD
Returns to Damascus 37 AD
First Journey 45-47 AD
Second Journey 51-53 AD
Third Journey 54-58 AD
Imprisonment at Judea 58-60 AD
Imprisonment at Judea 58-60 AD
Voyage to Rome 60-61 AD
Imprisonment in Rome 61-63 AD
Post-Imprisonment Journeys 63-67 AD
Here are Paul’s letters to the churches and the approximate dates of their origin.
First Thessalonians 52 AD
Second Thessalonians 52 AD
First Corinthians 57 AD
Second Corinthians 57 AD
Galatians 55-57 AD
Romans 57-58 AD
Ephesians 62 AD
Philippians 62 AD
Colossians 62 AD
Philemon 63 AD
Hebrews 64-65 AD
Titus 64-65 AD
First Timothy 64-65 AD
Second Timothy 66-67 AD
The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ occurred in the spring of 33 AD.
Day of Pentecost occurred 50 days after the Lord Jesus Christ’s ascension (Acts 2).
The Stoning of Stephen (Acts 7)
In 34 AD, the ascended Jesus Christ speaks to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. He is led blind to the home of Ananias. (Acts 9)
Although there is no indication of it in your Bible (you have to “dig deeper”) there’s a time gap of 3 years between Acts 9:25-26. After the attempt on Paul’s life became known – his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). Afterwards, he traveled to the desert of Arabia for these three years. Presumably, this is the period of time in which he received the rudiment instructions regarding the mystery (secret is a better word) from the risen Lord: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12).
At that time the area known as Arabia included the region governed by King Aretas (2 Corinthians 11:32) which extended from Damascus due east to the Jordon River south to Edom with Petra as its capital. Coincidentally, this three year period of time Saul (Paul) spent with the Lord equals the time the twelve apostles spent under the tutelage of Jesus Christ before His prophesied death and resurrection.
Returning from his 3-year absence, Paul traveled to Jerusalem and attempted to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple (Acts 9:26). But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that he had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27).
Paul was with the disciples, moving about freely in Jerusalem speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. He was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. When the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus (Acts 9:28-30).
Peter is sent to Caesarea, to the house of Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort (Gentiles), a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually (Acts 10:1-2). Peter received two visions from the Lord re: this important topic (he didn’t understand the first one) but the Lord Jesus Christ made sure he understood the second one. Peter’s trip to Caesarea, and to the Gentile home of Cornelius represent a “fundamental” turning point in the history of the early church. For the very first time Gentiles will be directly evangelized and admitted into fellowship with Jewish Believers! Our Apostle Paul has been doing this for a good many years. The change I want you to see is now God is showing Peter and the rest of the Jewish Believers that this change is according to God’s guidance and according to His will.
You must understand that prior to this event Jews coming into contact with Gentiles, people who are considered “impure,” and whose food is regarded and “unclean,” was against the Mosaic Law: And he (Peter) said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10)
Word of this activity got back to Jerusalem before Peter arrived there and those folks were pretty upset. Peter had to explain his actions upon his return to Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). At this time in history, the only people receiving the good news regarding the gospel of the kingdom from the Jews were the “Jews alone” (Acts 11:19). But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks (Gentiles) also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21).
Barnabas leaves Jerusalem for Antioch, Syria where he witnessed the grace of God… he left (there) for Tarsus to look for Saul (Paul); and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch for one year (Acts 11:22-26). This must be between the years 41 AD (the beginning of Claudius Caesar’s reign after the murder of Caligula) and 44 AD (Acts 11:28). Believers are first called Christians at Antioch.
James, brother of John, is killed by Herod Agrippa I and he arrests Peter because this pleases the Jews. (Acts 12:1-3).
Herod Agrippa I died in 44 AD because he did not give God the glory (Acts 12:23).
Paul’s first missionary journey begins when Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark: Being sent out by the Holy Spirit, leave Antioch and travel down to Seleucia, Syria, a seaport on the Mediterranean coast and from there sailed to the island of Cyprus. From there they went to many places in Asia Minor returning to Antioch in Syria. This journey lasted about four years between the years 45-49 AD. (Acts 13, 14)
Then they sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, which is now southern Turkey. At this point, John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, speaking out boldly the message of Jesus Christ crucified to the Jews. After the Jews rejected their message, Paul and Barnabas announced: we are turning to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46)
Then it was on to Iconium, where they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord (Acts 14:3). But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead but while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city Lystra (Acts 14:19). Then they retraced their steps back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:19-22)
Paul and Barnabas passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24-28). This is where Paul’s first journey ends.
In 49 AD, Paul and Barnabas go to the council in Jerusalem (15 years after Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus) to discuss two important issues concerning their charges the Gentiles. #1: Do Gentiles have to become Jews first before they become Christians? #2: Do Gentiles have to observe the Mosaic Law after they become Christians? Circumcision was also high on the list of topics to be discussed.
You see, some Jewish Christians were teaching Gentile Believers that they had to observe the Mosaic Law, and Jewish “traditions,” especially circumcision, in order to be saved. This teaching CLEARLY contradicted the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Truth that salvation is by grace through faith – alone.
Because of his experience with Cornelius and the members of his household (back in Acts 10), Peter reminded the group how the Holy Spirit was given to uncircumcised Gentiles in the same manner as the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and other Jewish Believers on the day of Pentecost (Acts 15:7-9).
James, Jesus’ half-brother, who had become the leader of the church in Jerusalem, agreed with Peter declaring: “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles… (Acts 15:19; Galatians 2:1-9).
Judas called Barsabbas and Silas return to Antioch, Syria with Barnabas and Paul where they continued some days (Acts 15:35-36), possibly in the winter of 49-50 AD.
In Acts 15:36 thru 18:22 we have the record of Paul’s second journey. His fellow workers included Silas and Timothy. This preaching tour lasted approximately four years (50-54 AD). Their journey took them from Antioch, Syria to the Roman regions of Cilicia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, Galatia, Mysia in Modern Turkey, westward across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia; they turned south into Greece, Achaia (southern Greece), sailed eastward across the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor, then to Samaria, Jerusalem and back to their home church in Antioch, Syria.
It’s significant to note that the Holy Spirit forbid the Apostle Paul and his companions from traveling in Asia and Bithynia. Instead, God divinely directed them by a dream to travel westward in answer to a Macedonian call (Acts 16:6-12). Macedonia included the modern regions of northern Greece, parts of Bulgaria, Albania, and southern Yugoslavia. Thus by divine directive God had ordained that His gospel would penetrate the European Continent.
It’s also worth mentioning that Paul refused to take John Mark along with him on this journey: Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. A sharp disagreement arose between Barnabas and Paul over this issue causing them to separate from one another. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left… And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia (now southeastern Turkey) strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41)
Paul is in Philippi in 51 AD which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony. There outside the city a woman name Lydia, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening (to Paul preach); and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul and later the Philippian jailer as well (Acts 16:14-34).
In Acts 17 Paul and Silas traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and came to Thessalonica where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17:1-2). After explaining and giving evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead… some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a number of God-fearing Greeks (Gentiles) and a number of the leading women (Acts 17:3-4).
But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar (over Paul’s teaching), saying they act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus (Acts 17:5-9).
Those friendly to Paul and Silas immediately sent them away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews (Acts 17:10). Now these (folks) were more nobleminded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word (of God) with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things (Paul spoke of) were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men (Acts 17: 11-12).
But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds (against him). Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there… those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, Greece (Acts 17:13-15).
Paul’s Sermon on Mars Hill
While Paul was waiting for his companions at Athens, his spirit was being provoked
within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present (Acts 17:16-17).
Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,” – because he was preaching Jesus Christ and the resurrection (Acts 18).
We know from history that “Epicurean” philosophers generally believed that God existed but that He was not interested or involved with humanity and that the main purpose of life was pleasure. The “Stoic” philosophers” on the other hand held the worldview that God was the “world’s soul” and the goal of life was to rise above all things so that one showed no emotional response to either pain or pleasure.
These two groups and others like them, with their radically opposing worldviews, loved to debate and discuss philosophy and religion. It’s no surprise that they were interested and intrigued by Paul’s babblings about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so they brought him to the Areopagus where the Athenians and foreigners spent their time in nothing other than telling and hearing something new (Acts 17:21).
Paul begins by connecting to his audience, always a good place to start: “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you (Acts 17:22-34).
Then Paul proceeds to present the gospel to his audience using the altar of “the unknown god,” the altar the Athenians had built to some unknown deity just in case they’d forgotten one… to introduce them to the one true God; and the only way of salvation, Jesus Christ.
Paul at Corinth
After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth, Greece where he meets up with Silas and Timothy around the time of 50-52 AD (Acts 18:1-5). This is where Paul encounters Aquila and Priscilla for the first time. This married couple had just come from Rome, from which Claudius Caesar had banished all Jews. Paul also wrote first Thessalonians from here in 52 AD (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, 6). We know that it was written from Corinth, and not from Athens, because Silas and Timothy had already rejoined Paul (1 Thessalonians 1:1 and Acts 18:5). Second Thessalonians was also written from Corinth. We know that it was soon after the first letter, because like the first letter, Silas was with Paul when second Thessalonians was written. After staying 18 months, Paul leaves Corinth; there is no further mention of Silas traveling with Paul.
Paul left by boat with Aquila and Priscilla to Cenchrea across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla remained there where they would later meet Apollos (Acts 18:19 and 26).
Paul in late 51 AD is brought before Gallio but is soon released (Acts 18:12-18). In early 52 AD he goes to Cenchrea where he takes a vow and gets a haircut. He, Aquila and Priscilla then travel to Ephesus (by ship) and he left them there. Paul sailed on to Caesarea and went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch - where the second journey ends. Paul hoped to be in Jerusalem for the “feast,” if possible (see KJV translation - Acts 18:21).
[Published weekly on Friday]
(To be continued)
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