Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paul and the Philippians - Week 2

. . . When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.
Letter of Paul to the Corinthians

. . . be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Letter of Paul to the Ephesians

. . . they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before sunrise and reciting an antiphonal hymn to Christ as to God, . . .
Letter of Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

Welcome back. I hope you found the first lesson in this series helpful, challenging, and fun. And for those just joining us, take a look at the previous post to see the initial study activities.

This week's format is similar to last time, beginning with a few aids to help prepare for the study. Following the preparation section, we'll look at the next two sections of Paul's letter, and we'll interact with a key passage in the study of Christian origins, Philippians 2:6-11, sometimes know as the Hymn of Christ. Pay close attention to these verses as you study this week's text.



The Christian Life/Hymn of Christ - Philippians 1:27 - 2:18
1. In the face of opposition, what would be the evidence of the Philippians’ salvation and the destruction of their enemies?
2. What two privileges has God given the Christians at Philippi?
3. What do these Christians need to do to make Paul’s joy complete? What situation in the church might have precipitated Paul’s request?
4. What does Paul see as the role of humility in this church? How realistic is his advice?
5. If Philippians 2:6-11 is a hymn, what is the story line of the hymn?
6. What examples of Christ devotion do you find in the hymn?
7. What do you understand Paul to mean when he tells the Philippians to “work out their salvation”?
8. What does Paul believe he can boast in on the day of Christ?

Travel Plans - Philippians 2:19 - 2:30
9. How does Paul describe his relationship with Timothy? What is his plan for Timothy?
10. What can you discover about Epaphroditus and his relationship with Paul and with the Philippians?

Comment Question
Consider the role the hymn plays in Paul's letter? What do you think the Philippians would have understood Paul to be saying for their life together? What do you understand him saying to you, his modern reader?

As a springboard for your thoughts, consider the following two charts. Which one best represents the conceptual background of the hymn - Pre-existence (compare with John 1:1-18) or Second Adam (compare with Paul's thinking in Romans 5:12-21).

Other Resources
  • To listen to a performance of the earliest Christian hymn with musical notations, click here.
  • Here is a brief article on the mission and message of Paul by New Testament scholar James Tabor.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Paul and the Philippians - Week 1

Welcome to revJohn and this four lesson study of Paul and the Philippians.

To all ages of the Church - to our own especially - this epistle reads a great lesson. While we are expending our strength on theological definitions or ecclesiastical rules, it recalls us from these distractions to the very heart and centre of the Gospel - the life of Christ and the life in Christ.
J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, 1868

Lightfoot's observation from his classic commentary gives the primary justification for choosing this letter for an online course; it provides us a great lesson. And because of its brevity, it offers us an opportunity to understand more about Paul without loosing something of the man in the theological density of his longer letters such as Romans and Corinthians.

This course is primarily an inductive reading of Paul’s letter. Each Wednesday I’ll post a new lesson with several questions as a guide for your reading. Feel free to ask your own questions of the text. This is about discovery and self-learning, not in "getting the right answers" for me.

So that we can have some sense of community, I'll ask one Comment Question each week and encourage you to add your comments for others to read.

This week there are three links under the “Preparation” heading that will help you better contextualize Paul’s letter. Just click on the link and investigate what’s there. At the conclusion of this and the remaining lessons, I’ll also give you some other resources to consult if your time permits.

Thanks for joining this week’s study.

  • The Acts of the Apostles provides our only account of the founding of the church at Philippi. As preparation for today’s lesson, read Acts 16:6-40.
  • Here are a couple of maps to help you visualize the geography of Paul’s missionary activity: Map 1 and Map 2
  • Here is a brief look at ancient Philippi.

Let’s begin the textual portion of this week’s study by looking at the first section of the letter, the Greeting/Prayer of Thanksgiving in Philippians 1:1-11.
1. How does Paul identify himself in the greeting to the Philippians?
2. Compare how he identifies himself in the opening verses of Romans, Galatians, and both Corinthian letters and note how Philippians is different. What are some possible reasons for the difference?
3. How does Paul identify the recipients of his letter?
Prayer of Thanksgiving
4. Some scholars have noted that in other Pauline epistles, the thanksgiving section introduces the letter’s theme. If that is also true here, how would summarize the theme of Philippians?
5. What is Paul’s prayer for these Christians?
6. What does Paul mean by the “day of Christ”?

The second section that we’ll look at this week is Philippians 1:12- 26.
Paul's Situation
7. We know from several places that Paul is in prison when he writes this letter. How has his situation impacted the spread of the gospel?
8. What does Paul have to say about his rival missionaries?
9. Is Paul showing false bravado when assures the Philippians of his deliverance?
10. What is you sense of the danger that Paul is in?

Comment Question
In these two sections of the letter, what is Paul’ primary concern. Give several examples to support your answer.

Other Resources
If you have time, here is a short introduction to Philippians that provides information on dating, location, history, etc.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Qumran - Dead Sea Scrolls

Copyright 2007-2009 UCLA Qumran Visualization Project

It's been awhile since I've mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls. They continue to rightfully occupy much scholarly attention.

The Virtual Qumran Project is a significant resource for understanding the Qumran community by "seeing" how it looked through scholarly reconstructions. To visit Virtual Qumran, click here.

The January Smithsonian addresses the issue of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. To read the article, go here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NRSV Online

Do you want to read the bible online?

There are number of sites such as Bible Gateway that offer a variety of translations, but few offer the New Revised Standard Version as an option. Here is the place to go to read/search the NRSV:

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Continue to remember the people of Haiti with your prayers and resources. Here is a link to Week of Compassion and what Disciples are doing to help relieve the suffering in that country.

Click here to donate online. If you plan to give through Hillside, make your checks payable to Hillside Christian Church with "WOC-Haiti" in the memo line.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Life of Jesus - Sources and Problems

Phil Harland at Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean has started a three-part podcast on key historical sources and problems in reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus. If you're interested, check the opening installment here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Baptism in the Early Church

Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed hopes to start a substantial Saturday book review. The initial post may interest members of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Reviewed by Marius Nel, the book by Everett Ferguson is Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Anyone researching the origins and practice of baptism will need to consult this major work. For those who don't know Ferguson's work, he is a highly respected teacher, church historian, and long-time member of the Church of Christ.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Apocalypse Then

Christian New Testament scholars continue to slug it out over the historical Jesus. Was he an apocalyptic preacher or not. Now a Jewish New Testament scholar, Rabbi Joshua Garroway, gives us his impressions of Jesus at Reform Judaism Online. In summary, he concludes: “Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish prophet. He thought the world as he knew it was about to end, and he taught and acted accordingly.” To read Rabbi Garroway's article, click here.


OK, not the same recognition factor as "Elvis," but Rock-In-Roll Hall of Fame member Allen Toussaint is a musical force. His songs you'll immediately recognize, and many have been covered by the likes of Jerry Garcia, the Rolling Stone, and that other Elvis, Elvis Costello. See his bio and a list of essential songs here.

Allen Toussaint's music covers a range of genres: Rock, R&B, Funk, Jazz, Blues. He is an icon in the New Orleans music scene, and his new CD, The Bright Mississippi, is up for a Grammy. Last night, Toussaint played here in KC. One of the highlights of the evening was his version of the classic St. James Infirmary. Here's the CD performance. Enjoy.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Madonna. Pick your favorite pop recording artist. Now ask: How many gospel CDs (Albums) did they record. Right, none. How about Elvis? At least three. Nominated for 14 Grammys, he won only three times, all for gospel performances. Today is his birthday. Grace and peace, E.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christianizing the Historical Jesus

John P. Meir in Volume IV of his monumental A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus takes an in depth look at Jesus and the Law. Here are a few of his observations in the opening chapter:

"Indeed, it could be argued that the "Christianizing" of the historical Jesus reaches its high point in the question of Jesus and the Law, where the Jewish Jesus regularly morphs into the Christian Paul, Augustine, Luther, or Barth - not to mention those anonymous Christian theologians of the Law whom we cal Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John."

"In other words, to comprehend the historical Jesus precisely as a historical figure, we must place him firmly within the context of the Jewish Law as discussed and practiced in 1st-century Palestine."

" . . . the historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus, that is, the Jesus concerned with and arguing about the Mosaic Law and the questions of practice arising from it."

If Meir is correct, how has "Christianizing" shaped (misshaped) your understanding of Jesus?

Word of the Day


The legal portions of the Talmud or any legal ruling according to Jewish law; halakhah is concerned with understanding the obligations placed on the believer by the biblical text.

From The Jewish Study Bible - Glossary - p. 2122, 2129

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Magi in Art and Literature

Robin M. Jensen, Professor of Church History at Andover Newton, has an appropriate article for Epiphany on The Magi in Art and Literature on the Biblical Archaeology Review website. The article includes several great images with explanatory captions.


Peter Paul Rubens, 1634, The Adoration of the Magi

Today, January 6, is Epiphany, and for many Protestant churches, marks the beginning of the Season of Epiphany, which lasts until Ash Wednesday. The term "epiphany" means "to show," "make manifest,""make known," etc. and focuses on the manifestation of God in Christ in the world at times such as the visit of the magi and the baptism of Jesus. In what ways, has God been made known to you in this world?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Torah Study

As a follow up to yesterday's post, if you're interested in doing Torah study with a rabbi, the Union for Reform Judaism offers commentary on the weekly parashah. To sample, click here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Is a Parashah?

A "parashah" is the weekly Torah portion that is read publicly in the synagogue so that all the Torah is covered during the course of the year. This past Sunday our church adult education class studied the opening chapters of Exodus. We are also in sync with the weekly Sabbath reading for next Sabbath when the reading is Shemot (the names), Exodus 1:1 - 6:1. In case you're interested, here are the weekly schedule and summary of each parashah. Specifically, here is the summary for Shemot.

A Decade of New Testament Studies

James Crossley at the University of Sheffield has a rather lengthy post at Earliest Christian History on a decade in New Testament/Biblical studies.

Ephesian Terrace Houses

Ephesus is a key city in the history of Christianity. In our upcoming course on Paul, we'll look at the possibility of Ephesus as the location of Paul's imprisonment as he penned his letter to the Philippians. Ben Witherington has some very impressive pictures of the interior of terrace homes in Ephesus being excavated by Austrian archaeologists.