Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #38

Posted by Jim F. on October 9, 2007

Lesson 38: Acts 21-28

This lesson completes the biblical history of the early Church with Paul’s trip to Rome. Of course more happens, but none of the biblical records that we have give us the kind of historical record that we have in Acts. Why do you think so much of Luke’s history of the early Church is about Paul? Other of the Twelve were surely also doing missionary work and writing letters. We have a few of them. Why does Luke’s account focus on Paul?

Verses 1-17: How do we know that Luke was with Paul on this journey? What warnings did Paul have that he should not go to Jerusalem? Where have we met Agabus before (Acts 11:27-28)? How do you explain his continuing after he was repeatedly warned (Acts 20:22)?

Verses 18-30: Who seems to be in charge of the church in Jerusalem? Who is he? What warning is Paul given in Jerusalem? Who are those who believe and yet are “zealous of the law” (verse 20)? What does it mean when it says that they “believed”? What plan had the leaders of the church devised to protect Paul from these Judaizers? What restrictions had been put upon the Gentiles who had joined the church? Who caused the turmoil in the temple? Why did the crowd react so angrily? Why would they want to kill Paul? Is there any hint in the text that among those who wanted to kill Paul were Jewish converts to Christianity? If so, what does that suggest?

Verses 31-40: How was Paul saved from the mob who dragged him from the temple, intent on killing him? The “castle” to which the Roman soldiers are taking him is probably the Fortress of Antonia, overlooking the temple. What was the Roman captain amazed when Paul spoke to him in Greek? Why were the Romans on edge at the time of Paul’s arrest? What had previously happened? How did Paul get the opportunity to speak to the mob?

Chapter 22

Verses 1-23: In what sense (or senses) was the title “brethren” appropriate for Paul to use when addressing the mob (verse 1)? What in Paul’s address might endear him more to the crowd? Who are “the fathers” mentioned in verse 3? For what reasons had God chosen Paul (verses 14-15)? What revelation of Paul’s do we find for the first time in the course of this speech (verses 17-21)? Why doesn’t this crowd riot when Paul speaks of the resurrected Christ? What does cause them to riot? Why had the Lord send Paul to the Gentiles?

Verses 24-29: Why does the chief captain decide to beat Paul? Why doesn’t he do so? How did the captain become a Roman citizen? How did Paul? Why does the captain fear Paul?

22:30-23:10: Why is Paul put on trial before the Sanhedrin? What causes the altercation between Paul and the High Priest? (Ananias was particularly noted for his cruelty. Later he revolted against Rome and was assassinated by the Jews) What tactic does Paul use to split the Sanhedrin, and thus preserve his own life? Why was Paul taken back to the fortress?

Chapter 23

Verses 11-25: Why might the Lord himself have come to Paul in the prison? What is his message? What conspiracy is devised among the Jews to kill Paul? How do the Romans receive word of this? Why is he sent to Felix the Roman governor? What protection is given him to guard him against the conspirators? Why such a large group (470 men)? The third hour of the night would be 9:00.

Verses 26-35: What facts of the matter regarding Paul does the Roman captain (Lysias) alter in his epistle to Felix? Why might he have stretched the truth a little? (Caesarea was the Roman capital of Roman Judea.)

Chapter 24

Verses 1-9: What charges do the Jewish delegation bring against Paul? How do you explain the orator’s flowery introductory remarks before the accusation? An orator (verse 1—sometimes translated as “rhetorician”) was a person who claimed to be able to teach you how to make arguments in court and win, or to make arguments for you and to win. What do we call such people today? Felix, who began life as a slave in the emperor’s family, had risen to the rank of governor. He was recalled to Rome two years later for misrule. (Among other things, he tried to have the high priest, Jonathan, assassinated.)

Verses 10-21: What does Paul offer in his own defense? (This is the only time in the Acts that a direct reference is made to the collection for the Jerusalem saints.)

Verses 22-27: What is meant by “that way” in verse 22–sometimes capitalized in modern versions? What instructions are given regarding Paul’s imprisonment? What is Felix’s reaction when Paul teaches him the gospel? What does he hope to gain from Paul? Why might Felix have wanted to court the favor of the Jews by leaving Paul in prison?

Chapter 25

Verses 1-12: Where is Festus, the new Roman procurator, when he learns of Paul? Why does he invite some of the Jews to return with him to Caesarea? Why does Festus want to return Paul to Jerusalem? How does Paul escape from going back?

Verses 13-22: How does Paul come to the attention of Herod Agrippa II? This Herod Agrippa is the great-grandson of Herod the Great and the son of Herod Agrippa I, who had had James put to death with the sword, and who had imprisoned Peter on the occasion when the angel delivered Peter, and whose horrible death is recorded in Acts 12:20-23.

25:23-26:32: Note the difference in setting. This seems not to be a formal trial, but a hearing for the edification and amusement of Agrippa. Note how Festus introduces Paul. What compliment does Paul pay to Agrippa? Remember that Agrippa is allied with the Sadducees, inasmuch as the temple officials were appointed by him. Therefore he probably did not accept the doctrine of the resurrection, which Paul is preaching. What more do we find regarding the message of Christ to Paul when he first appeared on the road to Damascus (v. 16-18)? What in Paul’s speech causes Festus to speak out? What dilemma does Paul force on Agrippa by asking him whether he believes the prophets? What if the king answers “Yes”? (Refer back to vss. 22-23) What does it do to his relationship to the Jews if he answers “No”? So, in effect, he tries to change the subject and laugh it off. Some modern translations (e.g., the NIV) render verse 28 this way: “Do you think that in such a short time, you can persuade me to be a Christian?” What is Agrippa’s final appraisal of Paul?

Chapter 27

Why might Luke have recorded the ship wreck in such detail? (Note that Luke is back with Paul again through this experience.) What role does Paul play in this adventure?

Chapter 28

Verses 1-15: The term “barbarian” refers to any non-Greek speaking people, rather than to those who are uncivilized. It was probably late October or early November when the ship’s company arrived in Malta. What benefit comes to the people of Malta as a result of the wreck and their kindness to those on the ship?

Verses 16-30: What is Paul’s condition while he is in Rome? Why is he eager to call together the leading Jews in the city? Why are the Jews eager to hear his message? What is their reaction to his message? What is Paul’s last recorded message to the Jews in Rome? 

What eventually happened to Paul is unknown. Paul’s letters from Rome indicate that he anticipates being released. Details from his letters indicate a return to Asia Minor, Crete, and Greece. Tradition further indicates he finally went to Spain on a fourth mission and that eventually he died a martyr in Rome.

16 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #38”

  1. BobW said

    I come here every other week as I prepare my gospel doctrine lesson and generally come away with some new and helpful insights into the gospel as it applies to the scriptures identified as the source material by the Sunday School manual. I have a very difficult time with history based gospel lessons because at the end of the day I usually don’t see a message much deeper than “and thus we see that the Lord blessed Paul (substitute Joseph Smith, Nephi, Alma, etc.) in his labors. What is anyone else going to each in lesson 38 besides “and thus we see Paul was blessed …”?

  2. Jim F. said

    BobW: I’m sympathetic to your point about history-based lessons. Some of the worst lessons I’ve encountered have been those. At the same time, my experience is that few members of the Church actually know anything more about New Testament history than the bare outlines of Jesus’ life. History after the gospels disappears for us. So, in spite of my sympathy, I think we need to find ways of helping the members learn the stories of the New Testament.

    I wonder whether any readers here have good ideas for how to teach this lesson in a way that will help class members learn what Luke tells us happened.

  3. Robert C. said

    I try to focus more on finding scriptural patterns and types when teaching history based lessons. I teach kids and so it’s actually easier for me to teach history lessons b/c they like stories more than doctrine.

    My general approach with narratives, which I think would work with adults also, is to first go over the main elements of the story we are reading, then to ask if we see anything like this in other scripture. When I read, I try to look for prominent themes, esp. temple themes such as fall, wandering, atonement, and entering the Lord’s presence, so that almost any story can be related to other stories through these themes. In today’s lesson, for example, I likened Paul’s declaration of readiness to be bound to Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son (since I had previously quizzed the students on who the Gentiles were by quickly tracing the history of the Jews and the 10 tribes scattered among the Gentiles back to the Abraham, and in so doing I emphasized that Abraham was the one who was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac…), which I see as a prominent theme in almost all wandering narratives (i.e. preparing or becoming ready to be reconciled with God) and entering the Lord’s presence (i.e. being ready for anything, no matter the cost—that is, consecration). I also usually say something about how we might think of our own lives in these terms, in this case how we might be ready like Paul to face whatever negative worldly consequences might be a result of our commitment to build God’s kingdom, or how this kind of readiness characterizes all covenants we enter into, a sort of unconditionality and uncertainty associated with not really knowing what exactly what will be required of us, but committing “for better or for worse,” as in marital vows, or submitting mission papers without knowing where we’ll be called to, etc.

    I don’t know that this addresses Bob’s question very directly, but I do think there is a big and critical difference between reducing these stories to a doctrinal maxim and reading these varied and nuanced stories playing out temple/scriptural patterns as a script we and our fathers enact, a script that binds all these stories and our own lives together (to steal an etymological link I recently Joe Spencer articulate on the word script-ures)—a way of turning our hearts to our scriptural fathers I suppose. . . .

  4. Jordan said

    May I share a different perspective? I LOVE the history lessons. I love the history because it’s the backdrop for the doctrine. Take the D&C, for example. It CAN be read. And it CAN be applied to us all. But how much richer is our appreciation and understanding of the principles taught therein when we are familiar with the context of the story? We can know that the early Saints settled in Utah. But how much more do we appreciate this fact when we come to an awareness of the sad, sorrowful tale of struggle and strife that laid the path west?

    My point, if I have failed to show it, is that this is an OPPORTUNITY for us as teachers to zoom out and display the whole portrait of Paul, instead of focusing in on specific patterns and techniques of his “painting”, if you will.

    The fact is, many of the members are NOT scripture scholars – and, thus, many of the Saints are NOT inherently familiar with Paul’s life. We have a chance to make Paul as real and important as Brother Joseph or Nephi! We can drive home the fact that Paul weighed in on the scales of eternal life as heavily as anyone we know (short of Christ)!

    With a better mental picture of Paul, most will better retain AND VALUE his teachings, his significance. With a clearer image of this great Apostle, we disciples of Christ will more clearly recognize and appreciate these doctrines that Paul shook HIS world with that WE take for granted as “givens” today.

  5. Naismith said

    I used the DVD segment provided for this lesson, and thought it was worth the 11 minutes.

    Many of the previous segments did not seem worth the effort of getting the equipment set up, but this was very well done.

    I particular liked the way Paul was shown standing on a stool when he preached, which helped us appreciate the humanity.

  6. Robert C. said

    Naismith, I don’t think I’ve looked at any of the DVD segments, but I’ve been having some problems keeping the attention of some of my students—maybe showing a DVD will help them get more interested and excited about the scriptures, esp. in the sense that Jordan describes. Thanks both of you.

    This question about history is one I’ve wrestled quite a bit with in my own scripture study, so I appreciate the discussion. That is, sometimes I will spend quite a bit of time studying various scholarly commentaries for a particular passage, but when it comes to actually interpreting (and esp. teaching) the passage, I am more confused than when I started. I think this work is ultimately a good thing in that it forces me to think about and experience many different issues, in the text as well as in my own life. But, esp. as a teacher in SS, I think my responsibility is to choose an interpretation to put forth, setting aside—at least to a certain extent—many of the doubts and uncertainties and oddities and unresolved questions in the text and history the text is situated in in order to say something in faith about or in response to the text.

    I’m not articulating what I want to say very well here. Maybe I’ll have time to try and clarify later. But, in my own weird way, I suppose I’m saying thanks to Jim F. for all the very challenging questions he raises for each lesson. It’s often left me feeling very disoriented and “ungrounded,” but it’s forced me to really humble myself before the scriptures and do a lot of deep soul searching. More than finding any answers per se, I think it is this process of searching and studying that is important for us to go through as we study scripture.

  7. Jim F. said

    Robert, I think you’re right that teaching Sunday School requires that I take up some particular interpretation and make that the point of my lesson, that I have to set aside my unresolved questions. I don’t need to pretend to have confidence where I don’t nor to pretend that the interpretation of a passage is prefectly clear when it isn’t. However, my job as a Sunday School teacher is to use the scriptures to teach the gospel. That’s a very different job than it would be were I teaching a course on scriptural hermeneutics.

    Sunday School teaching requires that we have studied the scriptures well before we teach them, and I think that requires that we be aware of what we know and don’t know. It means that we have to see whether there aren’t things we thought we knew that we didn’t or, especially, new things that we’d not seen before. It also means bringing all of those things together into a lesson that is ultimately about the gospel rather than about the kinds of things that academics are interested in. Academic things may well inform our lessons, but they usually ought to do so in our preparations, behind-the scenes, rather than overtly in class.

  8. Robert C. said

    Jim, for me it’s sometimes very hard to discern between—let alone move between—“the kinds of things that academics are interested in” and things that “are ultimately about the gospel.” On some level, I think I have a working understanding and ability to make this distinction, but . . . well, for now let me just say that any advice anyone can give on how to do this better would be greatly appreciated!

  9. Jim F. said

    I understand the point you’re making, but I wonder if it is that difficult in practice. In Gospel Doctrine class, my job is to teach gospel doctrine and to do so from the scriptures. The questions for me are “What is relevant to doing that?” and “What will be seen by my audience as off-putting or condescending?”

    Referring to Greek words is sometimes helpful to clarify a verse, but I try to avoid doing so very much. I don’t want people to begin to think that one must know Greek to learn from the New Testament. Rethinking what Paul says about same-sex relations in Romans 1:27 or about what he means when he says we ought not to be yoked unequally with unbelievers might also be relevant to teaching a Gospel Doctrine class lesson. However, though I’ve learned those things from Cheryl’s scholarship, I can introduce them and talk about them in class merely by using the text.

    My experience is that people don’t mind learning what the scriptures teach nor do they rebell against being challenged by what the teacher says that they’ve not heard before. But they want it to be something that doesn’t judge them for not being scholars and that is about the gospel itself.

  10. Cherylem said

    Jim, very well put.
    Robert, I bet you’re better at this than you are giving yourself credit for.

  11. Jim F. said

    Cheryl: “Robert, I bet you’re better at this than you are giving yourself credit for.”


  12. Robert C. said

    [Thanks for the thoughts and advice, and esp. for humoring me, Jim and Cheryl, on this mini-thread-jack, which I’m bracketing off in an effort not to detract from the more relevant and edifying material of this post.

    I don’t mean to be (merely) self-deprecating, and I think you’re right that this is actually more of a problem for me in theory than in practice. Actually, I think the challenge I feel is closely related to the beginnings of Feast (the blog and wiki), as well as my recent thinking about Mormon Studies more generally, and the distance, say, between a personal yet scholarly essay ruminating about a scriptural text (think Gene England) and a historical critical analysis of the same text. The Feast and Mormon Studies communities are not exclusively face-to-face communities like a SS class is, so it’s harder to detect when I’m being off-putting, and these are communities that seem to be somewhat of a mix of scholarship and the gospel. So when it comes to talking about “the gospel itself,” as Jim put it, I have a harder time knowing what that really means in these more mixed faith-and-intellect contexts—which in turn makes me wonder anew about what it means in more familiar contexts, like in a SS class or in an academic setting. I think my comments above were provoked by this this “identity crisis” I’m facing (I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, I actually think we should face a mini identity crisis every time we read scripture, or pray, or have a meaningful conversation with another person) which I think provoked my comments above.

    Thinking more about Jim’s “the gospel itself” phrasing in #9 has flooded my mind with a whole host of other thoughts and questions, but I’ll spare the blog and stop here (though I will likely not be so restrained on the lds-herm list!)]

  13. Jim Lucas said

    Here’s an approach: The second part of the Book of Acts describes Paul’s fulfillment of the mission that was revealed to him through Ananias in 9:15-16 — he is to witness to the children of Israel, kings, and Gentiles. Luke gives the full text of 3 speeches which Paul gives to each of these 3 audiences. You have to go back to the specch at Mars’ Hill in Athens to get the speech to the Gentiles. These chapters give the speeches to the children of Israel and to kings. The history background helps us to appreciate how Paul tailors his message to each group while grounding it always in his personal testimony. This can then easily lead into a discussion of how we would use Paul’s example to discuss the Gospel with various kinds of people that we might encounter. Discussion questions might include: how does Paul’s speech at Mars’ Hill relate to how we might share the Gospel with agnostics or secularists, how does Paul’s speech at the Temple suggest how we should (or maybe should not) address people who are already religious, and how does his speech before Festus and Agrippa suggest how we should address the worldly powerful people we might deal with (for example, our boss or some other prominent person)?

  14. Cherylem said

    #13 Jim Lucas,
    Thanks for this!

  15. Jim F said

    Jim Lucas: Good outline for a lesson. Thanks very much.

  16. BobW said

    Thank you all very much. These responses are exactly what I was looking for.

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