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.
About three 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 (far more ground than I had even dreamed-like this brother, for instance). 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, and I have decided to go public with my intention of doing just that (public, at least, to the four or five of you who read this blog 🙂 ). Perhaps I might even enlist one or two of you to go along for the ride and help in the research.
So what do you say? Anyone interested? Allow this post to serve as an introduction. More will follow on this subject from time to time. 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.