The Early Outreach of Jesus Christ

Important Note To Students And Teachers

Typically people who regard the Bible to be God's word use the New Testament to understand Christianity by just reading. They search for teachings "that are important or necessary today." Frequently, three things happen. (1) They "read over" [pass without awareness] information that does not "catch their attention." (2) They decide meaning by considering today's concerns without learning original concerns. (3) They assign purpose and significance with little understanding of the situation of those who originally received the writing.

If asked, "Did Jesus die for the sins of the world?" Christians would respond, "Yes!" If asked, "Is Jesus a Savior for all people?" Christians would say, "Yes!" If asked, "Is the gospel for all nations?" Christians would say, "Yes!"

How would today's Christian answer the following questions? Were all first century Christians alike? Was one of the gospel's objectives to make all people alike? Did belief, repentance, and baptism destroy people's differences? In the first century, was the gospel preached only to people who had much in common, who were very similar?

The New Testament noted the existence of the following groups in the Jewish society or in societies that were not Jewish: the righteous; the sinners; the Pharisees; the Sadducees; the proselytes; the worshippers of other gods; the philosophers; and the people who rejected all gods. Many of these groups had little in common. Even the groups that were similar in appearance had major differences.

When the righteous and the worshippers of other gods accepted Jesus, did they become identical? If a Pharisee and a philosopher (who was not Jewish) were baptized into Christ, would they immediately hold identical personal convictions? Would they ever hold identical personal convictions?

Too often, today's New Testament student reads scripture as if every book, every chapter, and every verse were written to identical people. By saying, "It is all the inspired word of God," many dismiss any responsibility to understanding anything about the situation or conditions of those who first received the writing.

Is the New Testament God's word? Certainly. Is it inspired? Surely. Does that grant a person the right to use a verse to prove or declare anything he or she chooses while ignoring scripture's contextual meaning? No. A statement means what the writer intended to say to a specific person or group. Understanding the original intent of the statement enables a person to make healthy application of that statement to his or her life. Christians need to understand what a scripture meant to make application of that scripture to their lives.

That always was true of teachings from God's word. Every Christian has a responsibility to learn (as best he or she can) the teaching originally intended in each book, chapter, and verse. No one has the right to (a) force verses to say something they did not say; (b) apply statements in ways that violate the meaning of the writer; or (c) "lend authority" to teachings the biblical writer did not teach.

To acknowledge and accept this challenge, we need to understand the diversity of those who first heard the teachings of Jesus Christ.


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