198. The Books of the Epistles (The New Testament, c. 55-65 AD)

“The sound of their voice went out to all the world; their words reached the ends of the earth.”  Romans 10:18

The 21 Books of the New Testament between Acts and Revelation, are largely letters (epistles) and sermons from the Apostles to early churches formed around the Mediterranean world in the years after Christ’s death and resurrection. The first fourteen are referred to as Pauline epistles, written by or originally attributed to Paul, while the remainder (general epistles) were variously attributed to apostles Peter and John, and James and Jude (brothers of Jesus)

A tough read to understand fully in the language of the King James version, so I fell back on a New International translation online https://www.biblestudytools.com/niv/

 I read the more substantial Pauline epistles Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians quite closely, but having got the gist of Paul’s message, I admit I barely skimmed the remainder.

Repeated themes in Paul’s letters besides the actual teaching of the Gospel are

  • Paul’s calling to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, who have not witnessed the miracles and teachings of Jesus firsthand.
  • Faith in God and the resurrection of Jesus has superseded strict observance of the Law of Moses’ time (it matters not if some people eat anything and some only eat certain foods, or if some observe the Sabbath and some don’t, or most controversially if one is circumcised or not : don’t judge others but live in your own faith)
  • The original sin of Adam condemned all people to death, but now Jesus has redeemed us through his death and resurrection setting us free from sin, and we should now live sin-free lives in God’s grace, both Jews and Gentiles, to enjoy eternal life
  • There are false apostles travelling to the congregations, urging some form of Judaic Christianity which retained the Law such as circumcision, which was not the true Gospel of Jesus
  • The hardships of life as an Apostle : beatings, floggings, imprisonment, hunger and thirst, even shipwreck. (Paul was under arrest for several years and eventually beheaded in Rome, possibly on the order of Nero)

The greetings that conclude the letters include many women who must have been playing a prominent role in the early churches, and yet Paul urged that during services women should remain silent in the churches. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The general epistles named for John, Peter, James and Jude, are more sermon-like. James insists that faith alone is not enough, without deeds done in humility to help others. John and Jude warn against false teachers who are claiming that our salvation gives license to sin again.

Favourite lines/passages:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”       1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Personal rating: 4/10

Other reading:   Rather perversely, I read It by Stephen King which had been on my TBR list for years. Seven children band together to stop a shapeshifting monster from another universe, whose favourite form for hunting and killing children is Pennywise the clown. Only partly successful, they reform as adults years later to finish the job. Excellent long read, with King’s way of describing everyday life in such detail that makes things believable while you’re on his journey. Some parts will leave readers uncomfortable for various reasons, but in the end this is a life-affirming and life-celebrating story.



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