This material was prepared for the Correspondence School Department by Herbert J. Hunt, Dean of Bible Studies for the Unity School of Christianity. Doctor Hunt, whose classes in Bible are eagerly attended by ministerial students, teacher-counsellor trainees, and others, brings to his teaching a rich background of experience both in the Unity ministry and at Unity School of Christianity. We are deeply appreciative of the contributions he has made and is making to the Unity educational program, and especially do we acknowledge the insight and understanding he has expressed in these correspondence lessons.
CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT
FORWARD - PART ONE
The purpose of this course of lessons is threefold: (1) to direct the students to read and study the books of the Bible, giving them a better understanding of events of the Bible as applied to individual unfoldment; (2) to furnish historical helps that shed light on the Bible text; and (3) to provide a key to the spiritual meaning of the Bible as interpreted by Unity. The course is by no means an exhaustive study of the New Testament, but it will familiarize students with the outstanding characters and teachings.
This course is in addition to the regular Unity Correspondence School Course and is not required of those training to be licensed Unity teachers. It will, however, be helpful to them and also to those who are now engaged in the Unity ministry. For students who are taking the regular Correspondence School Course, the New Testament Bible lessons will furnish a rich background. Both courses may be taken concurrently.
THE BIBLE. A Bible with a concordance, dictionary, and maps is recommended. No special edition or translation is required. Bible texts in the lessons are quoted from Nelson's Revised Edition of the American Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated. If the student chooses, this edition may be ordered from Unity School.
Though not required, the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, printed by Unity, would be an invaluable reference book.
- The course consists of twenty-four lessons with ten questions on each lesson. The first five questions of each lesson relate to historical and factual material covered in the Bible. The last five questions refer to metaphysical interpretation.
- Each lesson gives an assignment from the Bible. Before answering the questions, read and study the designated scriptural passages as given in the assignment for each lesson. This will give you a more comprehensive understanding of the lesson and eliminate the possibility of overlapping subject matter in your answers.
- With each assignment a gummed label is provided for your name and address. The label is to be moistened and placed at the head of the first page of the lesson.
- Write the number and title of the lesson just below the label. Number and copy the first question.
- Be sure you understand the question. Your answers should be specific and should cover the point thoroughly. No question should be answered by "yes" or "no," or in one sentence. Questions containing several sections should be answered one section at a time, yet totaling one answer. The several sections are given to assist you in adequately covering the question. If a question has an (a) and (b) part, please make a separate paragraph for each part.
- Please do not include any lengthy quotations, but rather give your own interpretation of the points under consideration. When Bible quotations are used, be sure they are exact. Use quotation marks and give Bible reference.
- We recommend that lessons be written on paper of standard size (8 1/2 by 11). Use typewriter, if possible. Handwritten lessons will be accepted. Write on one side of the paper only.
- Should you wish to ask your instructor some question relative to a lesson, please write your question on a separate sheet.
- Leave a two-inch space at the end of each answer for the instructor's comments.
- Lessons are not required to be submitted on any specified schedule. Feel free to take as long as is necessary to study the lesson.
The policy of Unity is to place no price on its ministry. In compliance with the ideal and practice of this policy, the Correspondence School Department offers these lessons on a freewill offering basis.
To you as a student seeking knowledge of the Bible and understanding of the meaning it has for you today, these lessons are dedicated. As literature the Bible is among the world's greatest; as a source of spiritual inspiration its message is perpetually contemporary. Our prayer is that your study may take you forward in your search for enlightenment.
CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT
Before taking up the first lesson in this course, it may be well to remind ourselves of our main purpose. Our purpose is to make a study of the New Testament—not to study about the New Testament. The difference should be clear. Many books have been written, and many more will be written about the New Testament; and undoubtedly some of these will prove helpful to the student. But with this multitude of books it is easily possible for the student to gather much information about the New Testament, and at the same time remain unfamiliar with the contents of the New Testament itself. Therefore in this course, while reference will be made to a number of books, our main emphasis will be upon the contents of the New Testament. The student will find that as he attains a good grasp of the contents of the New Testament, he will be attracted to helpful study books; but until this grasp is attained, the reading of many books may lead to confusion. Hence, the one necessary textbook is the New Testament. Usually, of course, the New Testament is bound together with the Old Testament, forming the complete Bible. As previously mentioned, Bible texts in the lessons are quoted from Nelson's Revised Edition of the American Standard Version, unless otherwise designated. Various translations are helpful, and may be used by the student for further studies—especially for comparison of certain passages.
The plan of study for these lessons may be outlined as follows:
After reading through this Introduction, take up the first lesson, together with your New Testament, and then:
- Read carefully the first New Testament passage, as given in the first section of the lesson. Do not try at this time to read all the passages given in the lesson—only the passage connected with the first section.
- When the above reading is completed, read and consider the notes relating to this passage, as given in the lesson. This will help to clear up certain obscure points, and also make the entire passage more understandable.
- Then read the New Testament passage again. This time the reading will prove much more interesting and helpful. Above all, do not hurry in these readings. Better to read a little with understanding, than to read much without attaining such understanding.
- Following this, read the next New Testament passage given in the lesson, and so on; in each case taking the several steps suggested above.
- After this procedure has been followed, carefully and systematically, to the end of the lesson, the student should be in a position to start answering the questions.
However, prior to putting into operation the suggestions given above, a few words regarding the New Testament books to be studied may be in order. In this first part of the Study of the New Testament we shall be reading from the Gospels; and these cover the life, teachings, and activities of Jesus Christ. The remainder of the New Testament will be covered in the second part of the course.
The Gospels are four in number, as follows:
Mark is the shortest and earliest of the Gospels, and was written about A.D. 65. Mark (or John Mark, as he is sometimes called) is mentioned in other parts of the New Testament, and was associated with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). Later on, Mark attached himself to Peter, as interpreter and secretary — see I Pet. 5:13. An early writer (about A.D. 140) gives the following information regarding the writing of Mark's Gospel:
"Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, without however recording in order what was either said or done by Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow Him, but afterwards, as I said, attended Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs of his hearers, but had no design of giving a connected account of the Lord's oracles (or words). So then Mark made no mistake while he thus wrote down some things as he remembered them; for he made it his one care not to omit anything that he heard, nor to set down any false statement therein" (Hastings, "Dictionary of the Bible," p. 579).
Mark's Gospel is written in a simple, straight-forward manner, and is notable for movement and dramatic effect in its descriptions. The word straight-way, for example, occurs about fifty times. Actually, what we have in this Gospel bears all the marks of an eyewitness account — and this eyewitness seems to have many of those characteristics that we usually associate with Peter.
Matthew's Gospel has several outstanding features. To begin with, we have here a firsthand account of many of the events recorded—since Matthew (sometimes called Levi) was an actual disciple of Jesus. (See Matt. 9:9 and Luke 5:27.) Then, the style of writing in this Gospel indicates that the writer was a well-educated man, and accustomed to the best forms of public address. There are indications that Matthew wrote down many of the actual sayings of Jesus—possibly at the time of utterance, or shortly thereafter—and that these "sayings," transcribed onto small slips of parchment or papyrus, circulated freely among the early Christians. However, around A.D. 70 Matthew, or someone closely associated with him, put these "sayings" into connected form, adding the circumstances surrounding and leading to them, together with other important information, and thus forming our present Gospel according to Matthew.
Matthew's Gospel seems to have been written especially for the Jewish Christians, and therefore it places emphasis upon the messiahship of Jesus. Indeed, the theme of this Gospel might be stated as: "Jesus, the Jewish Messiah." Matthew writes of Jesus as "King of the Jews"; shows that Jesus was connected with the royal line of David; and as a background for the birth of Jesus, he mentions kings, priests, wise men, and other exalted personages. Matthew makes frequent use of Old Testament quotations, and a characteristic phrase, repeated over and over again, is: "That it might be fulfilled." (See Matt. 1:22.)
Luke was not a disciple of Jesus, but was a convert of the apostle Paul. Thus, the information contained in Luke's Gospel is not of the firsthand type found in Matthew. Luke's information came through the apostle Paul and other early leaders, and through personal research. The "preface" to Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) indicates how careful and painstaking Luke was in compiling his Gospel; and it would appear that some part of the material was personally gathered during the two years Luke spent in the vicinity of Jerusalem, while Paul was in prison there. (See Acts 23-26.) This would be around A.D. 57- 59—although the actual Gospel according to Luke was not completed and in circulation until around A.D. 70.
Luke, being himself a Gentile, wrote for Gentile Christians, and made his theme: "Jesus, the Saviour of Mankind." This universal viewpoint is readily recognized in "sending out the seventy" (Luke 10:1- 20), the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and many other passages. Also, when telling of the birth of Jesus, Luke (in contrast with Matthew) uses as a background the humble shepherds and the overcrowded inn, with the birth taking place in the outbuildings of the inn. This does not mean that the stories in Matthew and Luke should be regarded as contradictory. Rather, they are complementary, and together they make one complete picture; for Jesus was both the Messiah of the Jews and also the Saviour of mankind. The Gospel of Luke is written in such an interesting and helpful way, and contains so much of what is often termed "the human touch," that it has been designated "the most beautiful book in the world."
The above three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are sometimes referred to as "the Synoptic Gospels"; and the student should become familiar with this term. The word synoptic, as here used, means "seeing from the same general viewpoint." In other words, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke cover similar ground, and have much in common. However, there are also some differences—and it is these similarities and differences that give rise to what is known to New Testament students as "the synoptic problem." This problem may be briefly stated as follows:
- All three Gospels contain much similar material. Indeed, in many instances the same story is told in word-for-word fashion.
- Practically the whole of Mark's Gospel is reproduced somewhere in Matthew or Luke.
- However, some material is found in Matthew and Luke which does not appear in Mark.
- Furthermore, in Matthew and also in Luke there are some stories which are peculiar to these Gospels. Matthew has some material which is found only in Matthew; while Luke also has material which is found only in Luke.
The "problem" is to find an explanation that will satisfactorily cover all the above points; and the suggested solution is briefly as follows:
- Mark's was the first Gospel to be written (as noted above).
- At the time when Mark's Gospel was first circulated there were in circulation some strips of parchment, or papyrus, on which appeared some "sayings" of Jesus. These "sayings" were highly prized by the early Christians, who seem to have used them freely at the early church gatherings; and these "sayings" are now technically known under the symbol "Q."
- Thus, when Matthew and Luke started to write their Gospels, they would have had before them the completed Gospel of Mark, and also some collections of the "sayings of Jesus" ("Q"). The Gospel of Mark and these "sayings" were freely drawn upon by both Matthew and Luke. This would account for points 1, 2, and 3 of the "problem."
- Both Matthew and Luke also had their own special sources of information—and the material thus at hand was incorporated by each in his Gospel. This would satisfactorily explain point 4. The above brief explanation is given so that the student may not be confused by the similarities and differences found in the Synoptic Gospels. Of course, many other theories have been put forward from time to time; but what is given above seems to meet the situation.
The Gospel of John stands in a class by itself, and is sometimes referred to as "the Spiritual Gospel." This term should not be regarded as a reflection on the Synoptic Gospels, nor is there any suggestion that they are not of a "spiritual" nature. Rather, the term Spiritual is intended to indicate that there are several marked differences between John's Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels.
- John's Gospel was, in all probability, written at Ephesus, sometime between A.D. 90 and A.D. 120. This makes it of much later date than the Synoptic Gospels. The contents also indicate that John's Gospel was written for what might be termed "advanced students"—that is, those who were already familiar with the Synoptic Gospels.
- John's Gospel gives a great deal of what is usually termed "advanced teaching"—such as "the New Birth" (John 3), "the Bread of Life" (John 6), "the New Commandment" (John 15), to mention only a few such teachings. Then, there are the "I AM teachings"—"I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), "I am the resurrection, and the life" (John 11:25), and many similar passages. These "I AM teachings" do not appear in the Synoptic Gospels.
- John's Gospel does not contain parables, such as are found in the Synoptic Gospels. However, it will be noticed that the writer of John's Gospel frequently uses miracles to illustrate certain important teachings, instead of parables. Thus, we have the teaching, "I am the Light of the world"—and following is the account of healing the man born blind (John 8-9). Then there is the teaching, "I am the bread of life"—closely followed by the miracle of feeding the five thousand (John 6 ) ; and there are several other instances of this sort. However, all this will be fully explained in a later lesson.
- The Synoptic Gospels record the Sermon on the Mount, in various forms—and this apparently covers teaching given during the earlier part of Jesus' ministry. In contrast with this, John's Gospel gives us the "Upper Room discourses" (John 14-17) — and these were given at the close of Jesus' ministry.
Thus, John's Gospel gives us not only the "facts" of Jesus' ministry, but also the interpretation of many of His teachings and activities. Indeed, the writer of this Gospel sums up the entire record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in a clear statement of purpose:
"These are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name" (John 20:31).
We are now ready to take up the first regular lesson.