Tuesday, December 23, 2008

by Bonnie Calhoun

To finish up our notable people of the New Testament.

Phoebe is one of the few women missionary figures of the New Testament. History indicates that it was not uncommon for women to be in leadership roles in the early church, though it was certainly not typical in Jewish synagogues. Phoebe traveled to Rome, most likely to bring Paul's letter (what we know as the Book of Romans) to the Christians there.

Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria. He was actually a missionary before he met Paul. John the Baptist had mentioned him and helped Apollos become a powerful preacher. He found help for his questions about Jesus in Corinth when he spoke with Priscilla and Aquilla.

The first martyr of the church was Stephen. A young Pharisee named Saul was present. Eventually Saul would be converted and receive the name Paul. His conversion is a sign of the wondrous grace God has in store for those who believe in Him. When Stephen was stoned, he died with a vision of Jesus in sight. He was at peace and thus incensed his captors even more. Before he died Stephen said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Another famous Ananias was Ananias of Damascus. When Paul was converted, he became blind. Ananias was told to go to the house where Paul was staying. He did so, though he knew that the man Saul was coming to arrest Christians. He prayed and the newly converted Paul received his sight back.

Dorcas, who was also called Tabitha, also received a miracle during the early days of the church. She lived in Joppa. She fell ill and then died. Her distressed friends sent for Peter, the "rock" of the church. He prayed for her even as she was dead! She was given her life back and sat up. Many of her friends became believers as a result of this miracle.

Cornelius was actually a Roman soldier and was stationed at Caesarea. He was a Gentile who had joined a synagogue in order to seek God. He was a "God fearer." An angel appeared to him one day and told Cornelius to send for Peter. When Peter came, Cornelius and his entire family learned about Jesus. They were baptized immediately and praised God.

Eutychus had been named well. His name means "lucky." While he was listening to Paul preach, he fell out of a three-story window (he fell asleep) and was lying still and believed to be dead when they reached him. Paul embraced him and he was healed. He had been blessed, not lucky, but his name seems appropriate!

Philemon had an interesting conversion experience. He was a wealthy Christian from Colosse, and he was converted by his slave, Onesimus. Onesimus had rn away and eventually met the apostle Paul and became a believer. Paul sent him back to his master, Philemon, and urged Philemon to receive him as a "beloved brother." Philemon did so and was also saved!

Lydia is one of the few women mentioned in the early church. She was a seller of purple cloth and a Gentile, but sought God by going to a Jewish prayer center. She then met Paul and his fellow missionaries. She became converted, and eventually she and her family and even their workers were baptized. Paul and his friends stayed in her home.

Stephanas and his entire household were the first Christians to convert during Paul's ministry in Achaia. As the church grew in that area, Stpehanas took a more active role in caring for other new Christians. Paul was fond of him and his family and he especially enjoyed Stephanas's visit with him in Europe.

Aquila and Priscilla were a tent-making couple from Corinth. They became Christians after listening to Paul preach. They were dear friends of Paul and supported him to the very end, even risking their lives for him. They were loved and known in many churches in Greece and Asia Minor.

One final note on Paul. Acts closes with Paul incarcerated and under a mild form of house arrest in the imperial capital. He continued preaching the gospel and writing letters to the churches he had established. Acts says nothing more about Paul's appeal or ultimate fate, or that of Peter. Both eventually disappear from the biblical account without any specific word about what happened to them. According to well-established tradition, both apostles were martyred during Emperor Nero's persecution of Christians after the great fire in Rome in A.D. 64.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

by Bonnie Calhoun

We've been talking back and forth with a lot of biblical names here in the New Testament. Let's get a handle on some of the people that we've met and some that we will meet in coming books.

The list of disciples differ slightly from one book to another. The Gospel of Matthew lists Simon, Andrew (Simon's brother), James and John (the Sons of Zebedee), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot. Luke refers to Simon as "the zealot" (a brand of political protestors) and mentions "Judas son of James" instead of Thaddaeus. Many of these men were pillars of the early church.

Peter, who was called Simon before Jesus renamed him, was the first leader of the early church. Peter had a long history with the Lord; he denied Christ three times before the cock crowed but went on in faith following Christ's death and resurrection to become exactly what his new name meant─"the rock."

James and John, both sons of Zebedee, were brothers. They both were active in the early church. Both had been especially close to Jesus, being present at the transfiguration. It is strongly believed that John went on to write the Gospel of John.

Acts introduces the New Testament's second most influential figure (Jesus was the first!), an educated, pious Jew and tent-maker named Saul. Born in what is now Turkey, Saul went to Jerusalem to learn from the esteemed rabbi Gamaliel, grandson of legendary rabbi Hillel, the most prominent pharisaic rabbi of the first century. Given authority by the high priest to arrest followers of Christ in Damascus for blasphemy, Saul vigorously persecuted early Christians. His name was changed to Paul after he experienced a transforming vision and conversion.

Barnabas was one of the earliest convert to Christianity and a close friend of Paul's. A Greek-speaking Jew from Cyprus, Barnabas's real name was Joseph, but because he was an excellent teacher, his friends called him Barnabas, which means "Son of encouragement." He accompanied Paul on the first missionary journey through Asia Minor.

Timothy was one of Paul's main helpers. Paul mentored the younger man through two letters (1 and 2 Timothy) and called him his "true son in faith." Timothy also traveled on his own.

Philip became a missionary and was the first to preach the gospel to those living in Samaria. He is especially remembered for how he helped an Ethiopian read a passage from Isaiah. An angel directed him to go to the Ethiopian. Upon arriving they read the passage together. The foriegner asked to be baptized and became the first Ethiopian Christian.

Silas traveled as a missionary with Paul and Peter. He sang hymns joyously to Christ when he was imprisoned with Paul during the earthquake in Philippi. The jailer became a Christian because he was so moved by their display of faith. He was to Paul a "faithful brother."

I'll finish up the list of notable characters of the New Testament tomorrow night.