TheBibleInstitute org Course nt1 Lessons 1-6 (File nt1 1-6)



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The New Covenant
in Christ
A Survey of the New Testament

&


www.TheBibleInstitute.org
Course NT1 Lessons 1-6 (File NT1 1-6)

(13 lessons in total)


God, who… spoke in time past unto the fathers

by the prophets, hath in these last days

spoken unto us by His Son.”

Hebrews 1:1

Contents

page

Lesson 1 Historical Background 2

Lesson 2 The Synoptic Gospels and Matthew 15

Lesson 3 Mark and Luke 24

Lesson 4 John: Presenting the Son of God 35

Lesson 5 Acts: Witness to the World 40

Lesson 6 Romans through 2 Corinthians 47

Appendix 1: 35 Miracles of the Master 56

Appendix 2: Guidelines for Reading the Bible 56


 Copyright 1999 www.TheBibleInstitute.org



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Suggestions…
This course uses the book The New Covenant in Christ as the reading text. Please answer the questions below from the information given in the book. Each chapter in the text corresponds to a lesson you are doing. For example, the information you need to answer the questions from the first part of lesson one is found in chapter one of the text. Before you begin the questions, be sure and read the chapter for the lesson you are taking.
Also note that some lessons cover more than one chapter in the text. These lessons are longer. It is not necessary that you complete an entire lesson in one sitting, but we do recommend that you try to complete at least the portion of a lesson devoted to one chapter in each sitting.
Please read slowly enough so you understand what you read. It is also always good to pray before each lesson, asking the LORD for wisdom to apply what you learn to your lifeand to enable you to love Him with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength... for this is the first commandment (Mark 12:30).
Response questions are intended to support a basic understanding of the content of the New Testament. These questions are the core part of the study.
Reflection questions go much deeper to ask you to evaluate and integrate the information from the Scriptures with your own views. These questions are important: please make your best effort to answer them, but please also realize there are no right or wrong answers; it is only your best effort and personal growth that counts.
Making It Personal questions bring the biblical principles into practical application. The goal here is change in your own life toward godliness. Again, there are no right or wrong answers—only your honesty with yourself in personal commitments.

Lesson 1 Historical Background


Chapter 1: In the Fullness of Time

But when the fullness of the time was come,


God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,
made under the law.”
- Galatians 4:4

Prophecy Fulfilled

It is often said that with the close of the Old Testament canon of Scripture, a prolonged silence of Divine revelation ensued. This is far from being the case. Though Malachi (c. 400 BC) was the last physical prophetic voice to be heard, God prepared the world to receive His Son by fulfilling His promises as proclaimed by other prophets. That God's Son would someday arrive was certain, for a Divine calendar of the coming Prince had already been given to Daniel. Specifically, Israel had been promised that a command would be issued to rebuild the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. Four hundred and ninety years later, Messiah would appear (Dan. 9:24-27). The people were not to become discouraged. They were to watch and wait upon the Lord.

In the interval of time, many things happened. While the people of the covenant dreamed of their coming Deliverer, important events transpired. One of the most significant was the one which took place in Alexandria, Egypt. According to tradition, at the request of Ptolomy Philadelphus (285-247 BC) a group of seventy scholars translated the Hebrew Old Testament books into the Greek language, called the Septuagint (meaning seventy). Because Greek had become the international language of the time, this remarkable translation allowed those in the Graeco-Roman world to hear and read the Scripture in their own common language. Later, the New Testament would be written originally in Greek. Many of its quotations of the Old Testament would come from the Septuagint, also known as the “LXX” (70). The oldest known copy of the Septuagint is written on vellum (antelope skin). It dates from the 5th century AD and is called the Codex Alexandrinus.

The Power of the Persians

In the Septuagint, the Romans could read of the prophecies predicting their own rise to power, and their destruction (Dan. 2:40-45; 7:7-14). They were merely another people on the world stage of history. Other great empires had preceded them, including the Persians. During the days of Malachi, the Persian Empire ruled the Middle East. Palestine was considered to be just a tiny province (satrapy) under the dominion of a Persian governor (satrap). The Jews enjoyed a measure of peace under their Persian masters and even prosperedalways keeping in mind that the Persian empire was destined to fall according to prophecy (Dan. 2:31-33). However, before its certain demise, the story of several mighty sovereigns would be told. The history of the Persian Empire is embodied in the deeds of powerful men:

Xerxes II 424 - 423 BC

Darius II 423 - 404 BC

Artaxerxes II 404 - 358 BC

Artaxerxes III 358 - 338 BC

Arses 338 - 336 BC

Darius III 336 - 331 BC

The Macedonian Empire

According to biblical prophecy, the Persian empire was to be conquered by the Greeks (Dan. 2:39; 7:5-6). The rise of Philip II (382-336 BC), King of Macedon (359-336 BC) made this possible. Philip used his military and diplomatic skills to create a powerful united state at home prior to making himself ruler of an independent Greece. He became the master of Greece by winning a decisive victory at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC). The power of the Greek city-states was broken. While planning the conquest of Persia, Philip was assassinated in 336 BC.

Taking over his father's army, Alexander (356-323 BC) prepared to win more of the world. Of particular interest was the conquest of Persia, which he completed in three decisive battles: Granicus (334 BC), Issus (333 BC), and Gaugamela (332 BC). Turning towards Egypt, Alexander marched south towards Jerusalem. The Jewish people posed no real threat. He marched into Syria taking Palestine, Tyre (331 BC), and Gaza with ease. Because the Jews of Jerusalem eagerly submitted to his rule, they were treated well. In fact, when Alexander drew near the city, Jewish leaders met him with a scroll of Daniel the prophet to show that he was the fulfillment of Divine prophecy (cp. Dan. 8:18-21). There would be no resistance to his rule.

Alexander continued to march south in order to conquer Egypt (332 BC), and established Alexandria. In 327 BC, Alexander reached the Punjab in India. He wanted to move on to the Ganges, but his troops revolted and forced his return to Babylon. He died there in 323 BC at the young age of 33, having cried his famous lament “I have no more worlds to conquer!”

Palestine under the Ptolemies

Having no heir, Alexander left behind two things. First, he left behind a world in which he had disseminated Greek language, culture, and philosophy. Later it would be said, “while Rome conquered Greece, Greece conquered Rome.” The concept is that while the Romans won the military victory, Greek thought and culture dominated and transformed all of Roman society. Then second, Alexander left behind a fragmented empire. His generals struggled for power before dividing the empire into four spheres of influence, the two most important being the Ptolemies in Egypt and Palestine, and the Seleucids in Persia.



Ptolemy I Soter (d. 283 BC) became the ruler of Egypt (305-285 BC). Palestine came under his sphere of influence. Ptolemy occupied the first part of his reign in defending himself from outside attacks and consolidating his government. Because of his graciousness to the Jews, many of them settled in Alexandria, Egypt, a city renowned for its economic and cultural advancements.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus (c. 308-246 BC) was the son and successor of Ptolemy I Soter. Under his reign (285-246 BC), Egypt reached its greatest height. After success in foreign wars, Ptolemy II enlarged the Museum and Library in Alexandria and invited many leading Greek intellectuals to his court.

Ptolemy III Euergetes (d. 222 BC) was the son and successor of Ptolemy II. As king (246-222 BC), he subdued Syria and Cilicia and returned to Egypt with a tremendous amount of wealth.

Ptolemy IV Philopator (d. 205 BC) was the son and successor of Ptolemy III. He began his reign by killing his mother, Berenice. The decline of the Ptolemies’ power is attributed to his indolent reign (221-205 BC).

Ptolemy V Epiphanes (d. 181 BC) succeeded his father, Ptolemy IV, while still a child. It was during his reign (205-181 BC) that court intrigues and conflicts arose which were to overshadow the dynasty for the remainder of the Ptolemaic Period. Despite the treachery of the times, Epiphanes survived and recorded several things associated with his reign. In 1799 a black basalt stone was found called the Rosetta Stone. Recorded in Greek, hieroglyphic (a form of ancient writing, mainly in pictorial characters), and demotic (a simplified form of the ancient Egyptian writing) was the coronation ceremony held in 196 BC for Ptolemy V. In addition, information was detailed on the steps taken to secure the loyalty of the priesthood. The inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone became the key to understanding other inscriptions of the ancient world of Egypt.

Ptolemy VI Philometer (d. 145 BC) ruled Egypt from 180-145 BC. He was the successor to his father, Ptolemy V. Forced to share royal power with his brother, Philometer helped bring about the first intervention of Rome in Egyptian affairs.

Ptolemy VIII Physcon (d. 116 BC) ruled Egypt from 145-116 BC. Usurping the throne from his brother, Physcon ruled with great cruelty and so provoked revolts. He drove the scholars from Alexandria.

Ptolemy IX Lathyrus (d. 81 BC) was king of Egypt from 116-81 BC. He was the successor to his father Physcon. Lathyrus was driven from the throne in 107 BC but returned in 88 BC after expelling his brother Ptolemy X Alexander, whose co-rule his mother had compelled him to accept.

Ptolemy X Alexander (d. 88 BC) was king of Egypt from 107-88. With the help of his mother, he supplanted his brother, Ptolemy IX, until the latter was finally defeated in a civil war. In 88 BC, Lathyrus won back the throne in another civil war.

Ptolemy XI (d. 80 BC). When Lathyrus died, his successor married his widow only to murder her and in turn be murdered by a mob.

Ptolemy XII (d. 51 BC), the illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX, ruled Egypt from 80-51 BC. His mismanagement of the affairs of state brought about his expulsion. He was restored to the throne only by the power of the armies of Rome.

Ptolemy XIV (d. 44 BC) was the last Macedonian king of Egypt (47-44 BC). By the order of Julius Caesar he married his sister Cleopatra VII, who ruled with him. Cleopatra arranged his murder so that her own son by Caesar could take the throne.

Ptolemy XV, the son of Cleopatra and Caesar, did become king and ruled Egypt from 44-30 BC. After Cleopatra’s suicide (30 BC), he was killed by Octavian. Following his death, Egypt became a Roman province.

The Seleucid Rulers

Constantly contesting the Ptolemaic line for control of Palestine were the Seleucids. This Greek dynasty descended from Seleucus, another general of Alexander the Great, who initially took the Persian part of the divided empire. The Seleucids ruled over a vast dominion stretching from Asia Minor to northwest India. However, by the time Rome suppressed them in 63 BC, all that was left to them was Syria. Until that happened, the kings of Syria enjoyed ruling over great spheres of influence. Their major rulers are:

Seleucus I 312-280 BC

Antiochus I 280-262 BC

Antiochus II 261-246 BC

Seleucus II 246-226 BC

Seleucus III 226-223 BC

Antiochus III 223-187 BC

Seleucus IV 187-175 BC

Antiochus IV Epiphanes 175-163 BC

Antiochus V 163-162 BC

Demetrius I 162-150 BC

Demetrius II and Alexander Balas contend for the throne

Alexander Balas 150-145 BC

Demetrius II 145-139 BC

He honored Simon as high priest c.143 BC

Antiochus VII 139-134 BC.


The death of Antiochus VII brought to an end Seleucid power over Palestine. In 198 BC, Antiochus III the Great expelled the Egyptians from Palestine and annexed it to the Seleucid Empire. Severe suffering came to the Jews when Antiochus IV decided to enforce the Hellenistic or Greek culture upon the nation. Between 167-165 BC, he sacked Jerusalem and desecrated the Holy Temple by offering a sow on its altar. He constructed an altar to Jupiter and presented sacrifices to the Olympian god Zeus on the altar of burnt offering. He threatened death for anyone who performed the covenant ritual of circumcision and sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery. All copies of the sacred Scriptures were destroyed. Anyone discovered with a portion of the Bible was tortured. The abominable actions of Antiochus ignited the patriotic Maccabean family to lead a heroic revolt, guided first by the aged priest Mattathias (c. 168 BC) and then by his five sons: Judas (166-160 BC), Jonathan (160-142 BC), Simon (142-134 BC), John (d. 161 BC), and Eleazar (d. 163 BC).

The Maccabees

As a leading Jewish family, the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, were able to initially resist the influences of Greek culture on Israel and its religion during the Syrian rule over Palestine. When Mattathias died (166 BC), leadership fell upon Judas Maccabeus (Ben Mattathias). A warrior of great military skill, Judas included in his arsenal of revolt the use of guerrilla warfare. His extraordinary victories against overwhelming circumstances resulted in defeat after defeat of the Syrian armies and a cleansing of the Temple (165 BC), which instituted the Feast of Dedication. In the years that followed, Judas united the offices of priest and civil authority in himself. By the force of his personality he brought peace to the area and freedom to the nation. Palestine would enjoy a 100 year period of semi-independence from Syrian control. The subsequent Hasmonaean priest-rulers which governed included the brothers of Judas: Jonathan (160-142 BC) and Simon (142-134 BC).

John Hyrcanus (134-105 BC), the son of Simon, was able to carry on the political and religious work of his father. He enjoyed victories in the Trans-Jordan region, in Samaria (where he destroyed the rival Temple on Mt. Gerizim), and in Edom. During his time, two great parties arose in Judaism, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The monastic sect called Essenes also appeared according to Philo, Josephus, Pliny and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Khirbet Qumran served as the central location of the Essenes on the northwest shores of the Dead Sea. It was founded c. 110 BC and continued until about 37 AD.

Subsequent rulers to John Hyrcanus did not serve the nation of Israel well. For example, Aristobulus I (d. 104 BC) and his sons brought disgrace to the Maccabean name during the years 105-67 BC. The nation was weakened politically until finally, in the year 63 BC, Palestine was conquered by the Romans under the great general Pompeii. Antipater, an Idumean or descendant of Esau, was appointed ruler of Judea. He in turn was succeeded by his son Herod (the Great), who was appointed king of Judea in 37 BC and ruled until 4 BC.

Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC) was a determined conqueror who secured the destiny of the Hasmonaean dynasty by alienating the Pharisees. Many of the Dead Sea Scrolls date from this period and later (c. 1 BC to AD 70). His wife, Alexandra, emerged to exercise control in political affairs (76-67 BC). Her elder son, Hyrcanus II (d. 30 BC), was appointed high priest. At her death, Antipater (the governor of Idumeae) persuaded Hyrcanus to go to Petra and enlist the assistance of the Nabatean prince Aretas, in order to win the people of Judea for him against the claims of his brother Aristobulus. When the struggle could not be resolved, an appeal was made to Rome which sided with the Hasmonaean monarchy. Aristobulus II (66-63 BC) was carried to Rome and put on public display as part of Pompeii's triumph. Pompeii did more than settle a political dispute. He brought Palestine under Roman control by organizing the Decapolis (lit. ten cities) league in Trans-Jordan to balance the power of Judea, which was reduced in size.

The Rise of Rome to Rule the World

All of this took place against the background of the rise of Rome to world conquest, which began as early as 753 BC. Romans pretended to believe that their city was founded by Romulus who, according to legend, was cared for with his twin, Remus, by a ‘foster-mother’ wolf. The significance of this myth is that it acknowledged a debt to a past that was associated with the mysterious people called Etruscans, who held a special place of honor for the wolf (cp. Rom. 1:18-23). Gifted in the use of metallurgy, the Etruscans wielded iron weapons as they went forth to conquer.

Near the end of the sixth century BC, Rome broke away from the influence of the Etruscans during a period of general unrest on the Italian peninsula. Anxious to assert themselves, the warriors of the small community on the south bank of the Tiber River in Italy went forth to conquer. In the years and centuries to come, military success was not stopped until all rivals had been subdued.

The greatest resistance to this new Roman domination proved to be Carthage, whose ships dominated the commerce of the Mediterranean. The protracted Punic Wars ensued in which the whole western Mediterranean was at stake. The First Punic War (264-241 BC) resulted in Rome’s acquisition of Sicily. The Second Punic War (218-202 BC) forced Carthage to become a dependent entity paying tribute. Prior to being defeated, the Carthaginian general Hannibal made his great march across the Alps with an army which included elephants, and defeated a Roman force twice his size at Lake Trasimene and Cannae (217 and 216 BC). Tragically, at the last, Hannibal met his defeat at Zama in 202 BC and the war ended. The Third Punic War (149-146 BC) came to an end when the Roman general Scipio [Aemilianus] captured the city of Carthage and destroyed it completely, thereby firmly establishing the dominion of Rome over Spain and North Africa.

At the same time, Macedonia was made a Roman province, as was the territory of Achaia (146 BC). In 133 BC, at the death of Attalus III, the king of Pergamum, he graciously willed his domain to the Romans. From this bequeathment came the province of Asia. Meanwhile, fighting continued in the eastern part of Asia Minor until Pompeii was able to subdue Pontus and Caucasus. In 63 BC, the great general made Syria a province and then went on to annex Judea. In Gaul, from 58 to 57 BC, Julius Caesar fought until that area also was made into a Roman province.

Finally, the appetite of Rome was satiated. For 500 years, Roman soldiers had routed every force they faced in a terrifying manner. The army was organized in legions of 5,000 which attacked in solid phalanxes with long spike spears. When hand to hand combat was necessary, the soldiers were well trained to fight in close quarters to the death while showing no mercy. And so it was, from an obscure village, Rome had risen to rule the world.

Roman Rulers in New Testament Times

The expeditious territorial expansion produced significant changes in the life of the Roman people. A strong ruler was essential if the vast and diverse empire was to be held together. Julius Caesar was such a leader.

Pompeii, Caesar, and Crassus had formed the First Triumvirate (60 BC). This was followed by Caesar's Gallic Wars (58-51 BC) and then by civil war as Caesar fought for control of the empire from Pompeii. In the end, Caesar was assassinated in March of 44 BC.

The death of Caesar led to the forming of the Second Triumvirate consisting of Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus in 43 BC. When peace among these ambitious men broke down, civil war emerged. The battles at Philippi (42 BC) and Actium (31 BC), left Octavian, the young grand-nephew of Caesar, as the new and only Roman emperor. Changing his name to Augustus, he ruled Rome from 27 BC to AD 14.



While the leading figures of Rome fought for control of the empire, Palestine itself was ruled by Antipater the Idumaean under a Roman grant (55-43 BC). He was assisted by his sons, Herod and Phasael, who were tetrarchs (41 BC). Finally, Herod [the Great] was appointed king of Judea by the Roman senate in 37 BC. He would stay in power until his death in 4 BC.

Augustus (Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, 63 BC - AD 14). Under his rule (27 BC - AD 14) the Roman Empire was firmly established. He was the son of the senator Gaius Octavius, and the great-nephew of Julius Caesar, through his mother Atia. When Caesar was assassinated (44 BC) and his will was read, it was discovered that Octavius had inherited his money and his name. Despite the forming of the so-called Second Triumvirate (Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus), civil war erupted for many years to come. Tired of war, the people desired peace, which Augustus was able to bring finally by defeating Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Now secure in power, Augustus was able to initiate many reforms in the Senate and elsewhere. A large part of the army was reduced and the resources saved were given to private investments. Morality was encouraged among the general population by the building of temples to the various gods. To consolidate the empire at large, Augustus decided to take a census of the population in order to tax it more efficiently. Joseph and Mary were among those who were counted (Luke 2). Augustus also fortified the defense of the frontiers of the Roman borders to secure people against hostile forces. In Rome, a police and fire department of civilians was organized to protect the grain supply. Augustus would boast that he had ‘found Rome brick and left it marble.’ During his long reign of 41 years, he brought order out of chaos, instilled peace, and presided over a solid administration. In gratitude, in 2 BC the Romans gave him the title Pater Patriae, Father of his Country. When Augustus (lit. sacred) died, the Senate made him a god (Divus Augustus).

Tiberius (Julius Caesar Augustus, 42 BC - AD 37). At the death of Augustus, his adopted son Tiberius, whose mother was Livia, was chosen to reign (AD 14-37). At 56 years of age, he was not new to politics. Conservative by nature, he was willing to let previous policies stand when new decisions would have better served the empire. As a result, the armies of Rome suffered defeats in Germany. At home, troubles prevailed because in his personality Tiberius was distant, arrogant, suspicious, and temperamental. Following the untimely death of his heir, Germanicus (AD 19), he was more unpopular than ever. People suspected him of murder. In AD 26, Tiberius retired to the island of Capri, leaving the government in the hands of the city prefect. His absence gave Aelius Sejanus, the captain of the praetorian guard, the incentive needed to initiate a coup. The attempt to take political control of the government was discovered and Sejanus was executed (AD 31). A reign of terror followed so that very few people mourned the death of Tiberius in AD 37.

Caligula (Gaius Caesar, AD 12-41) was chosen by the Senate to rule Rome after the death of Tiberius. He reigned from AD 37-41. Having been brought up in an army camp, he was affectionately called “Little Boots” by the army. Caligula was at first very popular as he pardoned political prisoners, reduced taxes, and provided for public entertainment. In time he became lavish, authoritarian, and vicious. He raided the public treasury and then tried to collect more money by confiscating private property, using methods of extortion, and selling political offices. He became mentally unbalanced. The seriousness of his mental condition was manifested by his mandate to be worshipped as a god. When the Jews refused to do this, Caligula ordered that his statue be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem. A general blood bath was averted when the imperial guards assassinated Caligula in AD 41.

Claudius (10 BC - AD 54) was the grandson of the Empress Livia, brother of Germanicus, and nephew of the Emperor Tiberius. For the early part of his life, Claudius was kept out of sight because of his physical disabilities. An early childhood illness had left him unattractive and with a drooling mouth. Mentally, however, Claudius was very bright. After the death of Caligula, the praetorian guard selected Tiberius Claudius Germanicus as the next emperor. He would rule from AD 41 to AD 54 and prove to be a capable, progressive ruler. As a student of history, he was prepared for the vicious in-fighting of the imperial court. Under Claudius, Rome became a bureaucracy which was governed by committees and secretaries. The borders of Rome were expanded as the army was sent to Britain. Mauretania and Thrace were annexed. In the area of religion, Claudius was determined to restore the ancient Roman gods. This led him to expel from the city of Rome all the Jews because of some riots that had taken place (note Acts 18:2). In AD 54 Claudius died. It was widely believed that he was poisoned by his fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger. He left the imperial throne to a monster of a man named Nero.

Nero ( Claudius Caesar, AD 37-68) was the natural son of Agrippina the Younger (daughter of Germanicus) and the adopted son of Claudius. His original name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. When Claudius died (AD 54), Nero became emperor. The first five years of Nero's reign were peaceful and successful due to the advice of the philosopher Seneca, the Praetorian Prefect, Burrus, and his mother. But suddenly the violence began. Tired of being influenced by his mother, in AD 59 Nero had Agrippina murdered in order to take full charge of the government. Without any restraining influence on his life, Nero turned to sex, singing, acting, and the racing of chariots. Losing interest in government, Nero became anxious to perform upon the public stage. Being irresponsible with the public funds, he used violence to re-establish the money supply. The Senate grew to hate Nero as much as the general public. When a great fire broke out in Rome in AD 64 and destroyed a large part of the city, Nero, in order to divert blame from himself, accused the Christian community of starting the destruction. Peter and Paul, caught up in the madness of the moment, were put to death. The continuing excesses of Nero led to the Conspiracy of Piso (AD 65), which was discovered and put down. Three years later, another major revolt proved successful. Nero fled Rome and was forced to commit suicide.

Galba (Servius Sulpictus Galba, c. 3 BC - AD 69). The revolt of the legions against Nero manifested the fact that the fate of the empire was in the hands of the armyapart from the will of the Senate. In the army there were many strong-willed and capable men who wanted to be emperor. One such person was Galba. Though enjoying an excellent record as governor in Gaul, Germany, Africa, and Spain during the Julio-Claudian Era, Galba would prove to be a terrible emperor. He was mean and capricious. After only a few months in office, Galba was murdered in a palace coup led by Otho, his former supporter who had persuaded the praetorian guard to kill Galba and to make him emperor.

Otho (Marcus Salvius Otho, AD 32-69) was the second Roman Emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors (AD 69). A former drinking companion of the emperor, Otho governed in Spain until Nero's death (AD 68). Initially a supporter of Galba, he organized a coup against him in January of AD 69. He became emperor with the backing of the Praetorian Guard, only to find his own power challenged by Vitellius, the governor of Lower Germany. In the civil war that followed, Otho was defeated. He committed suicide in April of AD 69.

Vitellius (Aulus Vitellius, AD 15-69) was the third of the four emperors who ruled Rome during the Year of the Four Emperors (AD 69). Appointed by Galba as Governor of Lower Germany in AD 68, he was proclaimed emperor by his troops in January, AD 69, but did not actually come to power until April of that year. Once in power, Vitellius was recognized by the Senate, but could not manage his own soldiers nor establish a permanent government. Civil war erupted when the armies of the east intervened in the affairs of state and proclaimed their general, Vespasian, emperor. At the time, Vespasian was engaged in the siege at Jerusalem in an attempt to put down the Jewish revolt that had broken out in the summer of AD 66. Willing to leave his son Titus in charge of that situation, Vespasian went to Egypt where he was able to gain control of the country and cut off the food supply of Rome. In the civil conflict that followed, Vespasian's soldiers were able to capture the city of Rome so that Vespasian could be proclaimed ruler.

Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus, AD 9-79). This Roman Emperor (AD 69-79) was the founder of the Flavian Dynasty (AD 69-96). As a ruler, Vespasian proved to be conservative in his habits and energetic in his administration. He ended the civil wars of Rome by brutally putting down revolts among the Gauls and among the Jews at Jerusalem. He strengthened the frontiers by reducing dependent principalities to the status of provinces, put the empire on a sound financial footing by imposing new taxes, and built the famous Coliseum. Vespasian died in AD 79 leaving the throne to his son Titus.

Titus (Flavius Vespasianus, AD 39-81) was the elder son and successor of Vespasian. He ruled as emperor of Rome from AD 79-81. Though Titus reigned only a short while, he was immensely popular for his generosity, charm, and military victories. Titus sponsored magnificent public entertainment and was generous to the Senate. During his reign, Mount Vesuvius exploded in AD 79 which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, villages on the Bay of Naples. Several months later fire broke out in Rome and destroyed the new Capitol, the Pantheon, and Agripp's Baths. Titus responded to these tragic events by building new buildings, including a large amphitheater.

Domitian (Titus Flavius Domitianus, AD 51-96) ruled as the Roman Emperor from AD 81-96. He was the younger son of Vespasian, and the last of the Flavian emperors. A man with unbridled personal appetites, Domitian tried to promote a higher public ethical level by restraining the corruption of the Roman state and by regulating prostitution. The temples of the old Roman gods were rebuilt. Foreign religions were suppressed, which led to Christian persecution. Becoming increasingly paranoid and growing self-centered, Domitian demanded worship for himself. Ultimately, Domitian made a multitude of enemies including members of his own family. Caught up in a reign of terror in Rome which Domitian unleashed, he was finally assassinated.

Nerva (AD 96-98). Nerva was selected by the Senate of Rome to succeed Domitian as emperor. Advanced in years, Nerva had a pleasing disposition and was regarded as harmless. Knowing that his reign would be brief, Nerva arranged for his successor to be the well-respected general Trajan, who was capable of maintaining the loyalty of his troops while administering a fair government with a forceful hand.

Trajan (AD 98-117). Nerva died in AD 98, and Trajan succeeded him. A Spaniard by birth, a soldier by choice, forceful in temperament and tireless in energy, Trajan ruled well. During his reign, new territory was added to the empire. He died in Cilicia in AD 117.

The Consolidation of Control

The ability to maintain an outward expansion and impose Roman authority and government into new territory is found in the provincial system which Rome retained from her Etruscan past. The word provincia, from which “province” is derived, is a military word. It was used of the office of carrying on war, or of holding a post or command. The undergirding concept was that military authority was extended to the physical sphere of any territory that a general would subdue. This area became his provincia. Each new province which was conquered by the armies of Rome became part of the imperial system regardless of its former size or governmental structure. By using this provincial method, the empire of Rome was able to grow in small and large segments at a time.

Once an area was brought under the sphere of Roman influence, there were two forms of the provincial government. Those provinces or territories that remained peaceful and offered no opposition to Rome were placed under a Roman official called a proconsul (Acts 13:7). The proconsuls were held personally accountable to the Roman Senate and were appointed on an annual basis.

The more disorderly provinces were placed directly under the command of the Emperor who ruled by martial law. Armies were located in the areas of occupation. The political administration was conducted by prefects (mayors), procurators (governors), and proprietors (local officials) who held office as long as an emperor was pleased to provide a given post. Under these administrative officials, the inhabitants of the conquered provinces were permitted a certain amount of freedom and local autonomy under the guidance of the curiates or city-fathers. They could mint coins and worship as they chose.

The rulers of Rome were inclined to follow the suggestions of the provincial councils on bureaucratic decisions. However, there were checks and balances. Any Roman official who was found guilty of abuse of power was subject to indictment and recall. While this did not eliminate corruption, it did reduce it. Meanwhile common roads were constructed, buildings were erected, and business was developed. In order to guarantee Roman authority in the provinces, small settlements of Romans were started at strategic centers in the provinces. A pattern of uniformity displayed Roman influence.

Each provincial city was laid out according to a common grid-pattern. Each had a forum, temples to the gods, a theater, and baths. In addition, the imperial cult was established whereby people pledged themselves to honor the emperor and even worship him when he desired. Caligula, Nero, Domitian, and Commodus demanded divine honors in their lifetime and received it. Citizens of the empire erected for them statues with the attributes of gods. They offered sacrifices in honor of the emperors and provided them with divine titles.

The Problem of Paganism

Though Rome circled the Mediterranean Sea by military might and diplomatic maneuvering, much of society did not fully enjoy the spoils of victory. A universal military mind-set administered by dictatorial mandates is not conducive to cultivating a philosophy of compassion to helping the poor. Nor does it foster a readiness to return land to its original owners. Greed was considered good in the Roman world. The rich were able to become richer through government control of land; the poor could only get poorer. Despite their wealth, the rich and the rulers of the classical world did not sleep well. Some of the Roman emperors had large mirrors installed at strategic spots in their palaces in order to detect potential assassins. Tiberius may have died from unnatural causes as his four successors certainly did.

The middle class almost disappeared. It could not compete with war, conscription, and cheap labor. In time, the streets of Rome became filled with those who had no job, no home, and little food. There was great social unrest. The plebian (poor) people were willing to follow any strong leader who promised to help their plight. Class division was intense. Individuals lived by their wits. Children were encouraged to be wicked and morally corrupt.

In addition to the poor, a large proportion of the population of the Roman empire consisted of slaves. It has been estimated that less than half of the inhabitants of the Roman empire were free men, and not all of them were citizens with full legal rights. New military conflicts, personal and national debt, and indiscriminate births enlarged the ranks of the slave population at a rapid rate.

Cultural Achievements



Law and Engineering. In these two practical areas the Romans eventually excelled. Especially in the second and third centuries AD, the jurisconsults began the accumulation of legal commentary that would serve the European world well in the centuries to come. Taking advantage of the availability of slaves, the Romans were able to combine their technological advances with cheap labor to produce impressive works of hydraulic engineering. They built enduring bridges, aqueducts, theaters, and baths. After inventing concrete and the vaulted dome, the Romans revolutionized the structure and shape of buildings. Volume and lighting suddenly became part of the architectural design and thinking. The Romans learned how to use the principle of the arch to produce a pleasing outcome. Later, the Christian community would find ways to teach spiritual symbolism in the spaces of the great cathedrals they would build.

Literature. Despite the open debauchery that characterized much of Roman life, there were cultural attainments during this period. Under the emperor Augustus, a renaissance in literature was enjoyed, reflected in the poet Vergil. In his work Aeneid, Vergil set forth the divine beginning and future of the Roman Empire after presenting an idyllic picture of primitive Rome. Horace and Ovid made their poetical contributions. The Stoic moralist Seneca wrote philosophical essays and tragic drama. A lady of wealth and leisure named Petronius gave the world a novel which is still useful for understanding ordinary life in Roman society. In the latter part of the first century, Pliny the Elder recorded with care his Natural History, which is one of the first attempts to objectively observe and categorize life in the natural world. Quintilian studied grammar and rhetoric, while Martial wrote the more sensational news of the day. Suetonius and Tacitus were capable historians. Tacitus wrote his Annals and Histories and by so doing became an unwitting witness to the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Christ concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. The satirist Juvenal was a severe judge of the manners and morals of the Romans. He knew that most people did not really believe in the pagan gods, like Mars or Venus. “These things,” he wrote, “not even boys believe, except such as are not yet old enough to have paid their penny for a bath.” In contrast, early Christians appealed to the pagans on the basis of history, not myth. Clement of Rome wrote about Jesus, “He that satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes... will raise the dead. For we testify all these things concerning Him.... we who have eaten and drunk with Him, and have been spectators of His wonder-filled works and of His life.”

Music and Drama. Music and drama were designed to entertain the masses rather than to stimulate any serious creative thinking. The public performances were often found to be obscene, repulsive and crude. Music was “popular.”

The Arena. In the great cities of Rome, overshadowing civilization itself in all public places, was the Arena. In the Arena, brutality and butchery mingled with blood and violence against the background of the mighty screams of the masses. Unspeakable personal contests took place between men and beasts or between men and men. These events were allowed, in part, to solidify the people into a Roman culture through cultural urbanization. Another reason was the desire of the rich to display wealth and secure political power. Beginning c. 254 BC, pretending to be part of something glamorous, prisoners of war, criminals, slaves, and even an emperor engaged in the very popular gladiatorial games despite the gore and shocking savageness of the situation. Spectators showed no mercy to those in the Arena. As the Christian Saturus lay dying from the attack of a leopard, the crowd jeered him with shouts of, “Well washed! Well washed!” referring to the ritual of believer’s baptism.

Languages. There were four major languages in the Roman world. There was Latin, the language of the law courts and literature. Latin was spoken in North Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain and Italy. There was Greek, the common trade language of the people. There was Aramaic, which was the predominate tongue of the Middle East (cp. Acts 22:2; “abba” Romans 8:15; “maranatha” 1 Corinthians 16:22, and John 19:20). Finally, there was Hebrew, which was really a dead language for practical purposes.

Education. Formal education changed little in practice or content from one century to the next. All educated Romans were bilingual, able to speak Latin and Greek. The training of children in the average Roman household was entrusted to the paidagogos, a slave who was responsible for the first lessons (note Gal. 4:1-2). Education took place in the public alcoves, which were halls near the market place and shops of commerce. Rote memorization was emphasized. Lessons were learned through endless repetition. Corporal punishment was frequently administered. The schoolrooms were unimpressive, frigid, and unattractive. The educational curriculum was basic and practical, consisting of reading, writing, arithmetic, Greek and Latin poetry, and oratory.

The Providential Provision of God

As Rome went forth to conquer, the culture of Rome became increasingly influenced by the Hellenistic spirit. This was due in part to the simple fact that the empire had first conquered and then absorbed many Greek colonies which had been established along the seacoasts of Gaul (France) and Spain, on the island of Sicily, and on the mainland of the lower Italian peninsula. With natural pride, the Romans considered themselves the masters, but the Greek “servants” were often the real mastersthrough the power of education. The Greek slaves became teachers, physicians, accountants, and overseers of farms and businesses. Into the Greek universities of Athens, Rhodes, and Tarsus came young Romans who learned to speak Greek. It has been observed that while the Romans outwardly conquered the bodies of men, the Greeks conquered the minds of all.

The influence of Greek culture was pervasive. It touched all societies including the Jewish community, manifested in the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Septuagint during the days of Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt (285-246 BC). The Roman world also adopted Greek customs and manners, Greek architecture, and the Greek language (koine, common) which became the language of the people. This common ‘trade language’ enabled clear and rapid communication of the gospel of Christ throughout the civilized world.

In the providence of the Lord, the gospel also would be proclaimed freely in a world which, for the moment, enjoyed the Pax Romanathe peace of Rome. Individuals could travel from one end of the Mediterranean world to the other without fear. Even before the advent of Christianity, God had sovereignly used Rome to provide for its spread throughout the world.

Chapter 2: The Conception of Christianity


A Jewish Culture in a Roman World

The Jewish State

Like many other conquered people, the Jews were ready to endure the Roman enslavement and the cultural influences of the Greeks. Jewish leaders knew that any semblance of a political state existed at the mercy of the Romans. They would do the best they could to survive in three ways.



First, most Jews decided as a people to accept their difficult situation as the will of God. Some, called Zealots, were ready to assassinate any Roman at any given opportunity. But for the most part, the Jews recognized the rule of Rome.

Second, the Jews remembered their rich spiritual and political heritage. The children were taught about the Babylonian Exile, the return to Jerusalem, and the fight for freedom under the Hasmoneans (142 - 37 BC).

Then third, the Jews kept their Messianic hopes alive by honoring a religion rooted in the Torah, the Targums, the Talmud. The synagogues were looked after by the Sanhedrin, the ruling body consisting of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.

The Hebrew word torah, normally translated ‘law,’ eventually became a title for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Later, the term was expanded to include all of the Scriptures setting forth the revelation from God. As the Hebrew language gave way to the more prevalent use of Aramaic in Palestine, collections of the Old Testament books were translated from Hebrew into Aramaic, along with various Jewish traditions and oral sayings. These were called targums, and were later amplified by the Talmud. The Talmud reflects the Hebrew civil and canonical thinking of the rabbis from c. 300 BC to AD 500. The Talmud (lit. teaching) consists of the Mishnah, or traditional oral law concerning the written law of Moses itself, and the Gemara, a commentary on the legal traditions associated with the Law.

Despite being sent into exile as a result of the Babylonian captivity (586 BC), members of the Jewish community committed themselves to keeping their faith by establishing local synagogues in place of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue (Gk. synagogue, lit. a gathering or assembly) was first established in the homes of the exiles in Babylon (cf. Ezek. 8:1; 20:1-3). After returning from the Exile, these “house synagogues” developed into formal public assembly places of worship and prayer. When ten or more men were present in an area, a synagogue would be constructed for reverence and instruction in the law and the prophets (cf. Luke 4:16-30) through the study of the Talmud. Closely associated with the Talmud in the services of the synagogue was the Midrash. This body of literature records early synagogue sermons in Hebrew and Aramaic, interpreting the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Midrash was widely used from c.100 BC to AD 300.

Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes

While the Jews waited for the Messiah, rich and poor lived side by side, as did freeman and slave. Some people were virtuous, and some people were criminals. The majority of the people in Palestine were poor, though in Judaism there was a wealthy aristocracy. The aristocracy consisted mainly of the families of the priesthood and the leading rabbis. Their wealth was derived from the business traffic associated with the Temple, such as the sale of animals for sacrifice and the exchange of money. Despite the class division between the rich and the poor, every Jew could hope to be rich towards God by doing good works. Therefore, obedience to the Law was culturally important.



Pharisees. To inspire people to keep the Law, a religious political party arose named the Pharisees (lit. to be separate). The Pharisees first emerged during the Maccabean period in the days of John Hyrcanus (134-104 BC). Though they had courageously remained faithful to the Lord during the attacks of Antiochus Epiphanes on Jerusalem in 168 BC, the Pharisees went on to become rigid legalists who spoke often of prayer, repentance, and giving of almssometimes in the wrong way without a whole heart toward God (cp. Matt. 23:1-39).

Sadducees. Opposed to the Pharisees were the Sadducees. Descending from Zadok, who was appointed a priest by Solomon (cp. 1 Kings 2:35), the Zadokites became the liberals of their day. As aristocrats, they were worldly-minded priests who observed the letter of the Law, but denied essential truths such as the resurrection and future retribution. The Sadducees embraced Greek culture. They were willing to sacrifice spiritual principles upon the altar of personal gain, and to do business with any barbarian to enhance their enjoyment of earthly things. The worldly existence of the Sadducees infuriated the Pharisees, which in turn caused the whole Hasmonaean kingdom to be weakened politicallyin a world that readily devoured smaller countries.

Scribes. Allied with the Pharisees against the Sadducees were the scribes. The primary job of a scribe was to copy the Holy Scripture. This daily working with the sacred text made the scribes very familiar with the Mosaic Law, and so they were also called ‘lawyers.’ They grew influential with the people and became teachers too, knowledgable sources regarding what the law said. Initially the work of the scribes was very important, for there were few copies of the Word of Godthey were all copied by hand in Hebrew.

The Hebrew language used square characters for consonants, which were to be read from right to left, with small dots or signs variously attached for vowels. A good memory was extremely important for the reading of Hebrew, because the vowel system was not introduced until the 6th century AD. It was easy to produce various readings. Consider the two letters “bd” without a vowel symbol. Should the word be “bed,” “bad,” “bud,”, or “bid”? Despite variant readings, God has been faithful to preserve His Word so that the variant readings and marginal notes made by the copyists can be recognized and dealt with. Despite variations in the manuscripts, there is a recognized and reliable Hebrew text, known as the Massoretic Text.

The Rise of Christianity

Into this world of culture and cruelty, wealth and waste, military might and mindless mobs came Christianity. It was the “fullness of time.” The prophecies of Daniel (9:24-27) and the promises of God (Gen. 3:15) would be realized. Ordinary men and women would be called upon to do extra-ordinary things on behalf of a Man from Galilee, the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in the reign of Augustus (27 BC - AD 14), according to Luke 2:1. He was reared in obscurity in order to be dramatically displayed as the true Hope of humanity. He was the Light and Life of lifeless men. He was the only One who could and would take away the sins of the world.

Despite the tumult that surrounded the civil rulers of Rome, Christianity survived to grow from an obscure Jewish sect into a major world religion. How this happened is the wonderful story of God’s sovereign grace. Apart from the person of Jesus Christ, it simply would not have happened.

He ministered, died, and rose again from the dead in the reign of Tiberius (AD 14-37) as per Luke 3:1. Under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, the Church grew during the reigns of Claudius (AD 41-54) (Acts 18:2) and Nero (AD 54-68). Notwithstanding the cultural challenges and political changes taking place, God advanced the spiritual kingdom that Christ came to establish in the hearts of men. When the rulers of the kingdom of this world (Rome) tried to demolish the Lord’s kingdom, they were in turn destroyed (cp. Dan. 9:27).

Formation of the New Testament

While the Old Testament had taken many years to formulate, the New Testament Scriptures were written within one hundred years of each other. However, like the Old Testament canon, it would take time until they could be duly considered by church leaders and guided by the Holy Spirit to formulate a canon.

Because of false teachings springing up, and because the Church was being persecuted for possession of a multitude of various writings (Luke 1:1) from the first century, it was necessary for the Church to consider more closely and formally which books should make up the New Testament, i.e. which books were really the inspired “Word of God,” and therefore worth dying for.

Writing in the early part of the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea stated that some texts were still being debated. By the middle of the fourth century, the Codex Vaticanus, a Greek volume of both Old and New Testaments, listed the complete New Testament as it is known today. And in AD 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, explained in his annual Easter Festal Letter to all the churches and monasteries within his sphere of authority what the Old Testament and the New Testament canon of Scripture should be. By the first part of the fifth century, the consensus of tradition concerning the canon of Scripture was established and honored. Jerome, in a letter written in 414, accepted the New Testament books listed by Athanasius.

A key in understanding the formation of the New Testament canon is that it was never an arbitrary choice based on the decisions of men. Four criteria were used powerfully by the Holy Spirit among widely dispersed groups to bring unity in the formation of the canon. Inspired books should have:

1. authors who were in direct contact with Christ or the Apostles,

2. consistency in doctrine, and evidence of being inspired by the Holy Spirit,

3. wide acceptance and use by churches in all regions, under the guidance of the Spirit,

4. produced dynamic changes in lives, as used by the Spirit.

The New Testament canon uniquely meets these criteria; it truly has been formulated by the hand of God!

Mountain Tops

Although every word of Scripture is inspired of God and useful to us (2 Tim. 3:16), there are nevertheless certain passages in the New Testament which are extremely important and powerful for the edification of the believer. Every chapter of every book has something to say to us, but we find ourselves going back again and again to these passages for encouragement or insight. The list here is by no means complete or conclusive, but it represents a starting point for those who are wanting to get more serious in their understanding of the ways of God:



Mountain Tops of the New Testament

The Sermon on the Mount Matt. 5-7 ways in Christ’s Kingdom

Christ Teaches His Own John 14-17 intimate relationship

Man’s Ruin and Utter Need Rom. 1-2 rejection, rebellion

God’s Gracious Redemption Rom. 3-5 justification by faith alone

Identification with Christ Rom. 6-8 victorious Christian life

Authority Rom. 13 rebellion vs. submission

What Love Is 1 Cor. 13 the greatest gift

Christ Lives! 1 Cor. 15 the resurrection

The Fruit of the Spirit Gal. 5 “love, joy, peace...”

Heavenly Riches Eph. 1 inheritance of the saints

Spiritual Warfare Eph. 6 the believer’s armor

Wonderful Work of Christ Phil. 2 Christ’s humanity & deity

Fullness of Deity in Christ Col. 1 the supremacy of Christ

The Great “Hall of Faith” Heb. 11 examples for encouragement

Discipline Heb. 12 the role of suffering

Tests of True Faith 1 John faith and works

Worship Rev. 4-5 “God Reigneth.”


Books of the New Testament

Book Chapters Date (AD)

Gospels Matthew 28 c. 58-68

Mark 16 c. 65 (prior to)

Luke 24 c. 60

John 21 c. 80-90


History Acts 28 63
Epistles Romans 16 58

1 Corinthians 16 57

P 2 Corinthians 13 58

A Galatians 6 54

U Ephesians 6 62

L Philippians 4 62

I Colossians 4 62

N 1 Thessalonians 5 53

E 2 Thessalonians 3 53

1 Timothy 6 67

2 Timothy 4 68

Titus 3 67

Philemon 1 61
G Hebrews 13 58

E James 5 c. 45-61

N 1 Peter 5 c. 60-67

E 2 Peter 3 c. 60-67

R 1 John 5 c. 60-95

A 2 John 1 c. 60-95

L 3 John 1 c. 60-95

Jude 1 c. 60-67


Prophecy Revelation 22 Early date: prior to 70

Late date: c. 90-95



Study Questions: Lesson 1

1. In the Fullness of Time

First please read chapter 1 in the text.

RESPONSE

Prophesy fulfilled


1. What is the Septuagint?

The Macedonian Empire; Palestine under the Ptolemies


2. What two things did Alexander the Great leave behind when he died?

The Maccabees


3. What is noteworthy about the Maccabee family?

Roman Rulers in New Testament Times


4. Under whose reign was Jesus born? What were some of his accomplishments?

The Consolidation of Control


5. What were the benefits of the Roman “provincial system?”

The Providential Provision of God


6. Describe some aspects of the “providential provision of God” in preparing the way for the Gospel through Greek and Roman influence.

REFLECTION


7. a. Name the three major empires which influenced the Middle East up to the first century.

b. Which one do you think contributed the most to the spread of Christianity?

2. The Conception of Christianity

First please read chapter 2 in the text.

RESPONSE


8. Identify the following:

a. Torah

b. Targum

c. Talmud

d. Synagogue

e. Pharisees

f. Sadducees

g. Scribes

h. Zealots.

9. From the “Books of the New Testament” chart (page 26), list the five major groupings of the New Testament books.




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