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Knowing the story

Woven all throughout your New Testament and mine, buried somewhere beneath the jumbled mess of books, chapters, and verses that is our present arrangement of scripture, is the story of the first century of church. Unearth that story and you have unlocked buried treasure.

Here are some sample questions to see if you are familiar with that story:

1)How many of Paul’s letters were written within the timeframe covered in the book of Acts?
2)Where were Priscilla and Aquila living in the year A.D. 58?
3)How many shipwrecks did Paul endure during his lifetime?
4)When and how did the church in Colosse begin?
5)Why did Paul come to Corinth determined to know “nothing but Christ and the cross”?
6)When did Paul and Apollos meet?

Chances are you’re much better at offering proof texts for certain doctrines than you are at answering these questions. If so, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. The vast majority of Christians are reared, not on the first century story, but on systematic theology. So many beliefs and practices drawn from a virtual “cut-and-paste” approach to the scripture rather than from a thorough reading of the whole Divine drama which played itself out between the years A.D. 30-70. Again I say, unearth that story and you have unlocked buried treasure.

As I said in the previous post, about four years ago I heard a message from a man who was saying precisely the same thing. Whether it was the way he said it, the particular insights he shared concerning things I’d personally never considered before (he was telling the story behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians), or simply the Holy Spirit’s revelation to my own heart, my eyes were opened as I sat listening to that message. I saw a dimension to the New Testament that I never even knew existed. Since then I have read my Bible with an eye to chronology and historical context, and I must say the scriptures have opened to me in a way unlike ever before.

So I began my own project to re-arrange the order of my New Testament and reconstruct the first century story. My first steps in this direction were faltering, at best. After a while, though, I began to notice there were a few other people out there also breaking ground in this field. I also realize that scholars, some scholars at least, have been paying attention to these kinds of things (chronology, dates, places, ect.) for quite some time now. But why had I never heard anyone talk about the importance of viewing the scripture in this light? Why had no one taken the time to point out to me the tremendous benefit such a reconstruction could lead to in my own faith, resulting in such a simple, yet startling, discovery of what the Bible, the New Testament in particular, is really saying?

Well, over time the passion for my own project began to wane, though I have continued to read the New Testament in this way ever since. And I must say that many of my own false mindsets have been broken along the way. For instance, it is all too common for a person viewing the Bible to look at the scriptures through a particular doctrinal lens, reading into the text certain beliefs and practices which in fact are not really there, and learning the first century story has helped free me from such shackles. Recently, though, my passion to reconstruct the story of our brothers and sisters in century one has been renewed; thus the motivation for this blog.

So what do you say? Does my rhetoric interest anyone out there in the least little bit? Allow this post to serve as an introduction. More will follow on this subject from time to time, hopefully on a weekly basis. Take those sample questions and see if you can find the answers to them, if you didn’t know them already, that is. See if they awaken the slightest bit of interest in you to know the New Testament, not as a jumbled mess of chapters, verses, and out-of-order books which men cut and paste to form doctrines out of, but as one beautiful, sweeping drama-the story of Christ and His church.


About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend.


6 thoughts on “Knowing the story

  1. I think it’s a great start. You have my interest. I was wondering if you know where we can find the order of the New Testement books so we can read them in order.

    Posted by Duane Czaicki | September 22, 2011, 1:40 am
  2. Yep. I’m interested. I also follow Bill’s site (which you link to in your sidebar) for this same reason. It is impossible to understand exactly what the NT authors were saying apart from context, and the historical background is part of that context. (Yes, you can understand part of what they were saying without considering historical context, and perhaps some of the most important things.)

    One of the most obvious examples to me is the historical placement of Paul’s two letters to Timothy. They are generally placed very near one another chronologically, near the end of Paul’s life. But the tone and contents of the two letters are very different, and it makes me wonder if they shouldn’t be spread farther apart, primarily by moving 1 Timothy to a period earlier in Paul’s life. (And there are a few – though a minority – scholars who agree with an earlier dating of 1 Timothy.)


    Posted by Alan Knox | September 22, 2011, 12:42 pm
    • Great point, Alan. I’ve come across the same thing with the letters to Timothy. The possibility I’m considering is that 1 Timothy was written sometime shortly after Paul’s initial departure from Ephesus (Acts 20), which would make sense if his primary concern at the time was Timothy recognizing elders, the very elders he met with at Miletus on his trip back through the area later the next year. If there were already recognized elders in Ephesus that early on, why would Paul need to write this letter outlining qualifications to Timothy all those years later?

      Posted by Josh | September 22, 2011, 2:17 pm
  3. Josh,

    Yes, I think 1 Timothy fits well with a time just after Paul left Ephesus also. There are two things that we know from Acts: 1) Paul often sent/left people here and there and 2) Luke does not tell us everyone Paul or anyone else went/stayed. So, I think fitting 1 Timothy into the time between Acts 20:1 and Acts 20:17 works with both the chronology of Acts and the purpose of 1 Timothy. During that time, we know that Paul went through Macedonia, to Greece (where he spent at least 3 months), then back to Macedonia before returning to Troas then Miletus. For part of that time, Timothy was not with Paul (Acts 20:5), but we don’t know where Timothy was when Paul first left Ephesus.


    Posted by Alan Knox | September 22, 2011, 2:33 pm
    • Alan,

      It’s a plausible reconstruction, and lately I’ve found myself wanting to believe it more and more, if only for that fact that it makes for less speculation trying to fit the letter in later in the story. Thanks for your two cents on this one, it helps me a great deal!

      Posted by Josh | September 22, 2011, 3:08 pm

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