In January, we are reading from the Gospels as well as Acts, James, Galatians, I & II Thessalonians, and I Corinthians.
Notes on the Gospels
As we read through the Gospels it’s important to note that we are reading them in chronological order and not the order in which they were written.
Together Matthew, Mark, and Luke form the Synoptic Gospels (viewed together). As we read you will notice some common material amongst these three texts and you will notice common material between Matthew and Luke. The common material between Matthew and Luke is known as Q (quelle is the German word for source). Scholars believe that Q was an oral collection of the sayings of Jesus that was well-known to early Christians.
Matthew’s audience was Jewish thus the author portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Jewish canon. Matthew is the only gospel that uses the word ekklesia (an assembly of citizens)- Christians translate it as the church (Matt. 16:18 & 18:17).
Scholars believe that the text was written between 75-100 CE. Matthew is concerned about his community because there is tension between his community of faith and the emerging Rabbinic Judaism of the time.It is important to note that this tension was not present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Historically, Matthew has been used by some Christians, including Lutherans, as an anti-semitic text. The text has been incorrectly used to blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. As you read please keep the historical setting of Matthew in mind.
In Christian tradition Mark was seen as a summary of Peter’s preaching. However, modern Biblical scholarship has not found enough evidence to support those claims. Scholars believe that Mark was written somewhere between 66-70 CE and it is clear that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a resource.
Mark was originally written in Greek and its writing style is that of spoken Greek. This style doesn’t always come across in English translations because it doesn’t allow the text to flow in English. In the Greek, the author uses kai (and) and kai euthys (and immediately) to transition the narrative. When we reach the end of Mark, depending on your Bible, you will see that Mark has two endings. Our reading schedule stops at the shorter ending. You can find the longer ending here. As with most Biblical manuscripts, the shorter version is likely what the text originally said and the longer was what the scribes thought it should say. “The overall narrative weaves sequences of episodes together in a complex plot with several interrelated themes and conflicts. In the earliest manuscripts, Mark ends abruptly at 16:8. This (apparently original) open ending invites the reader to continue the story of Jesus and the kingdom. In some later manuscripts, Mark’s story was ‘completed’ with resurrection appearances of amalgamated elements from the other canonical Gospels, to make it conform to their common pattern.” (Horsley, Richard A. “The Gospel According To Mark,” The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV with Apocrypha, 2010. Pg1791.
Much of Luke is based on Mark and Matthew, another source that scholars call Q (Quelle), and material found only in Luke which scholars call L.
Luke wrote this text so that Theophilus would have a better understanding of what he has already been told about Jesus. Scholars debated about the identity of Theophilus. Was he a rich patron sponsoring Luke or did Luke write his account for a faithful community of believers? Luke focuses on salvation, the kingdom of God, repentance, and Jesus as Lord of all, all of which tie into the overarching theme of Luke- what it means to be a good disciple.
While John is not a Synoptic Gospel it does contain stories found in those texts.
However, John presents us with a different timeline of events and more so than any of the canonical Gospels emphasizes Jesus’ divinity.
John’s audience and/or patron spoke Greek and were likely very educated, thus the text uses a Greek worldview to set the stage in the prologue. It’s in the prologue where we find the overarching theological theme of John…Jesus is eternal and one with God. Jesus says this about himself throughout the text and it is about him by others throughout the text. In John, you are either in the light and understand what is begging revealed or you are in the darkness and you have missed the point of what has been revealed. In John, Jesus isn’t a prophet sent by God, rather Jesus is God become flesh- he is divine because he is the divine.
Modern Biblical scholars argue that Acts is an extension of Luke. With that being said the two texts don’t appear next to each other in any surviving, documented texts from the early years of the church. Acts gives its audience both the structure and theology as it was known (and assumed) by Luke.
As we read through this text, notice how Luke affirms that Christians worship the God of the Jews and how Christianity is not at odds with the Roman Empire.
For centuries the inclusion of James in the Christian canon has been controversial. The letter was included in the list of canonical books that Athanasius compiled in the late 4th c. CE. It was one of the texts that Luther wanted to remove from the canon.
However, Melanchthon argued that it should be in the canon. Historians don’t know when James was written, but we can assume it was after Paul wrote his letter to the Romans.
Galatia was a Roman province in Asia Minor, the area around modern-day Ankara, Turkey. Galatians focuses on the relationship between Gentile Christians and Judaism.
I Thessalonians is thought to be Paul’s earliest letter. He wrote this letter while in Corinth. As you read keep in mind that the original audience and Paul believed that Jesus would return shortly (likely during their lifetime). One of the main concerns of the community in Galatia is death and dying- how much has changed over time?
Biblical scholars debate if this text was written by Paul. Just as in I Thessalonians the audience and author believed that Jesus’ return was imminent.
Scholars agree that Paul is the author of this letter. What scholars debate is if this text was composed as one letter or three separate letters )1:1-6:11, 7-9 & 12-16, and 10:11-11:34 & 6:12-20. In this text, Paul addresses the social and ethical issues of being a Christian in Greco-Roman culture.
Below are a few questions to help guide you as you read. There are no right answers to any of these, they are here to help us reflect.
Questions to Guide Us Throughout This Practice
- What stood out to you in the readings?
- What did you notice about God?
- Did anything in the readings make you feel uncomfortable?
- How does what you read impact your life and your faith?
Questions to Guide Us Through the Gospels
- If you had to write your own Gospel what would you write? Think about what you would include, what sources you would use, and your writing style. If you have a reading partner this would make for a great discussion question.
- How is Jesus different in this Gospel than in the other Gospels?
- What does it mean to be saved in this Gospel?
- Summarize Jesus’ministry in this Gospel.
Questions to Guide Us Through Matthew
- What purpose do the parables serve in Matthew?
- What does it mean to be a disciple in Matthew?
- Have you ever heard some use or read something that uses Matthew in an anti-semitic context? If so, what was the context? If you have a reading partner this makes for a great discussion question.
- Did you have a favorite passage in Matthew? If so, what was it? Has this always been your favorite or did it change after reading through Matthew?
Questions to Guide Us Through Mark
- What is the Kingdom of God in Mark’s gospel?
- How does Jesus disappoint the disciples in Mark? Were you disappointed by Jesus in Mark? If you have a reading partner this makes for a great discussion question.
- Did you prefer the shorter ending or the longer ending? Why? If you have a reading partner this makes for a great discussion question.
Questions to Guide Us Through Luke
- What do you think it means to be a good disciple in Luke? According to our faith tradition? According to you?
- Are there any stories in Luke that surprised you? If so which ones? If you have a reading partner this makes for a great discussion!
Questions to Guide Us Through John
- Are there stories in John that surprised you? If so, which ones?
- How does the high Christology in John make you feel? How does it compare to the Christology of our faith community?
Questions to Guide Us Through Acts
- What stories in Acts surprised you?
- Do you think the modern church can learn anything from Acts? If so, what? If you have a reading partner this makes a great discussion question.
- What is the theology at the heart of Acts? Is it different than that of Luke’s gospel?
Questions to Guide Us Through James
- Do you think that Lutheran theology and the theology in James are at odds?
- What theology do you think is at the heart of this text?
Questions to Guide Us Through Galatians
- Do you agree with how Paul handled the controversy in Galatia? What might you have done differently? If you have a reading partner this is a great discussion question.
- How would you summarize Paul’s message in Galatians?
Questions to Guide Us Through I Thessalonians
- If you had to write a pastoral letter to our faith community what would you write? If you have a reading partner this makes a great discussion question.
Questions to Guide Us Through II Thessalonians
- How does II Thessalonians differ from I Thessalonians in terms of theology regarding Jesus’ return?
- Do you think modern Christians can learn anything from this letter? If so, what?
Questions to Guide Us Through I Corinthians
- Do you think I Corinthians was one letter or three? Why? Do you think it matters?
- What social and ethical issues do you think Christians deal with in our modern time?
Daily Reading and Podcast Links
The hyperlink for the reading will take you to Bible Gateway*. The hyperlink “podcast” will take you to the podcast that matches the reading. Please note that some of the Podcasts overlap with some of the readings this month and don’t exactly match our daily readings. Click here for a link to the podcasts for all of the readings…you can figure out what works best for you.
1/1 Reading |Podcast
1/2 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/3 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/4 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/6 Reading |Podcast
1/7 Reading |Podcast
1/8 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/9 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/10 Reading |Podcast
1/11 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/12 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/13 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/14 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/15 Reading |Podcast
1/16 Reading |Podcast
1/17 Reading |Podcast
1/18 Reading |Podcast
1/19 Reading |Podcast
1/20 Reading |Podcast
1/21 Reading |Podcast
1/22 Reading |Podcast
1/23 Reading |Podcast
1/24 Reading |Podcast
1/25 Reading |Podcast
1/26 Reading One|Reading Two|Podcast
1/27 Reading |Podcast
1/28 Reading |Podcast
1/29 Reading |Podcast
1/30 Reading |Podcast
1/31 Reading |Podcast