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DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE

IN THE

EPISTLES

INTRODUCTION

THE long course of Old Testament revelation ends with the book of Malachi. The New Testament revelation begins with the advent of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The earthly life of Jesus (from B. C. 4 to A. D. 31) was filled with action and suffering, and, in the later portion, with oral teaching. No written document of Christianity has come down to us from those years. Before history can be written it must be acted. Yet all subsequent Scriptures are the unfolding of the elements of the divine-human life of Christ.

In the apostolic age the deeds and words of Jesus were familiar in the form of oral tradition. No written record was thought of. But as the church scattered to places where the story was not known, as correspondence increased between distant places and persons, as unauthorized and corrupted variations of the oral story appeared, and as the original witnesses advanced in age and passed away, the churches began to feel the need of authoritative forms of the gospel in written records from reliable persons. Thus one by one the Gospels arose.

The Epistles had a different origin. When the apostles were separated from the churches which they had planted,

and could no longer give them oral teaching, they continued to correspond with their fellow-disciples, to encourage, warn, and instruct them, to recall forgotten lessons, and to apply the well-known doctrines to various sins and errors as they arose. Out of this correspondence some precious documents have been preserved. How much has been lost we do not know. We may reasonably believe that the churches were guided by the Holy Spirit in keeping and multiplying those which had the most general and permanent in

terest.

The first church was established at Jerusalem in A. D. 31, soon after the resurrection, and it was chiefly Jewish in membership. It was to Christians of Jewish origin that the letter of James, the letter to the Hebrews, and First and Second Peter were addressed.

The Apostle Paul was converted about A. D. 36. It was his particular mission to preach to the Gentiles. His letters are, in great part, adapted to the Gentiles. The letters of John were written long after Jewish and Gentile Christians had come together in separate Christian churches.

In this Introduction will follow: 1. A statement of the chronological order of the letters, with approximate dates as given by good authorities; 2. The specific purposes of each letter, with the situation of the author and readers; 3. An indication of the progress of thought and organization in the churches. But such a brief statement will become more clear if each book is carefully studied in the order named.

Mayor, a recent authority, concludes that this book was written between 33 and 43 A. D., in the first decade of Christian church history. It reveals a church in the beginning of organization, with errors and sin threatening its health and

The Epistle
of James

prosperity.

It was not a controversial document on the doctrine of justification, and a contradiction between James and Paul is out of the question. The purpose is immediately practical. The letter is addressed to Christians of the Hebrew race, "to the Twelve Tribes of the Dispersion." The central thought is that religion is love to God and to man, and that love manifests itself in beneficence. All evil comes out of man's own bad choices; all good is inspired by the Father; all men are to be treated with impartial kindness, and the poor are to be honored; just and beneficent actions are the forms in which our justification is declared and manifested.

This is the earliest of Paul's letters which have come down to us. It was written at Corinth, A. D. 51-54. The persons addressed were mostly Gentiles, and there are no quotations from the Old Testament.

First Thessalonians

It seems to have been occasioned partly by his wish to express his earnest affection for the Thessalonian Christians, and to encourage them under their persecutions; but it was also called for by some errors into which they had fallen. Many of the new converts were uneasy about the state of their relatives or friends who had died since their conversion. They feared that these departed Christians would lose the happiness of witnessing their Lord's second coming, which they expected soon to behold. In this expectation others had given themselves up to a religious excitement, under the influence of which they persuaded themselves that they need not continue to work at the business of their callings, but might claim support from the richer members of the church. Others, again, had yielded to the same temptations which afterward influenced the Corinthian church, and despised the gifts of prophesying in comparison with those other gifts which afforded more opportunity for display.-Conybeare and Howson.

This was written a little later than First Thessalonians, and from Corinth. The apostle's purpose is to correct perverted inferences from his teaching about the appearing of Christ.

Second Thessalonians

The excitement which he had endeavored to allay by his first epistle had increased, and the fanatical portion of the church had availed themselves of the impression produced by St. Paul's personal teaching to increase it. . . The early church, and even the apostles themselves, expected their Lord to come again in that very generation. St. Paul himself shared that expectation, but being under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth, he did not deduce any erroneous conclusions from this mistaken premise. Some of his disciples, on the other hand, inferred that if indeed the present world were so soon to come to an end, it was useless to pursue their common earthly employments any longer. They forsook their work, and gave themselves up to dreamy expectations of the future; so that the whole framework of society in the Thessalonian church was in danger of dissolution.-Conybeare and Howson.

It was to check these moral and social evils that Paul writes this epistle, and recalls Christians to their present duty.

This Epistle of Paul was written about 56 First Corinthians or 57 A. D., from Ephesus. The purposes of the writing may be indicated in the analysis of topics:

The spirit of partisan schism is condemned and fraternal unity is urged (ch. 1–4:21); discipline of a grossly immoral member is commanded (ch. 5); quarrelsome lawsuits before heathen magistrates are forbidden (ch. 6); rules of marriage and domestic life are given (ch. 7); duty of Christians to various classes of weak members (ch. 8, 9); regulations of church order and of the Lord's Supper (ch. 10, 11); unity in diversity of gifts (ch. 12); charity as the comprehensive grace (ch. 13); gifts and special graces (ch. 14); the resurrection and the coming kingdom (ch. 15); collections for the poor, and exhortations to love (ch. 16).

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