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23. The Earliest Letters

Leader's page and Student's page best viewed left/right side together

Leader’s notes: James, pre 49-50 A.D., Galatians, 51-53 A.D., 1 and 2 Thessalonians,

51-52 A.D.

Lead from the front.

Perhaps ask the ladies what they think life was like in the time the book of Acts records – highlight as many differences as you can between then, and our lives today?

Communications may be the biggest difference – there were no radios, televisions, CDs and tape players, photocopiers, telephones or computers. Electricity nor batteries for running these things did not exist either.

The few books there were, were handwritten, not printed.

Times have changed!

Make sure the ladies have understood the first three paragraphs opposite.

1. James – research which of four ‘James’ wrote our letter of James?

- share out the readings below and have ladies ready to read. Ask the ladies to read the two for the first James. Then work through the Scriptures for the three other ‘James’ we find in the New Testament.

  • James the father of Judas – mentioned in Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13

  • James the son of Alphaeus - Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13

  • James the brother of John - Matthew 10:2; Acts 1:13, 12:2

  • James the younger half-brother of Jesus - Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19.

Conclusion : the last option fits best.

Now look at the James section opposite.

Share out the first six references - what does James call the people he is writing to in them? What is the significance of the descriptions?

Look altogether at the next Acts (x2) and James (x1) references opposite.

What are the main things James is writing about?

James is very, very practical. It is hard to misunderstand what he is saying.

Read the opposite verses, or get one of the ladies to read them, one at a time.

After each one ask ‘how does this work out in real life?’ Try not to avoid the truths. It is a natural human defence mechanism to do so.

Invite the ladies to fill in their short answer on the bottom line opposite.

You might want a few minutes of quiet to let James’ practical challenges sink into class members’ hearts and lives, as the Holy Spirit works on His word.

Student's page:

Lesson 23 The Earliest Letters - James pre 49-50 A.D., Galatians 51-53 A.D.,

1 and 2 Thessalonians 51-52 A.D.

Sometimes we assume everywhere and every age functions the way we do in our culture and time. But the Middle East was a melting pot of cultures in Bible times - because of the rise and fall of Empires over the years and the growth of geographically wider spread trade. More contacts were made between different peoples.

The first century A.D. was dominated by the Roman Empire - it’s legal structure, it’s geographic occupation of other countries, it’s roads, it’s military retirees settling in far flung corners. The century was also influenced by Greek thinking from the previous Empire. There were centres of education – Rome, Athens, Corinth, Alexandria - with much trade, travel and thinking between them.

On the time line opposite page 5, the earliest New Testament letters are listed as James, Galatians and two to the Thessalonians. We need to try and remember the information we have gleaned from the narrative of Acts, and mix it with the local context from history, plus details found in the letters themselves. Then we can learn from these New Testament letters in colour, rather than only black and white.

1. James

Most people think this was a letter written by James, a younger half-brother of Jesus, who became leader of the church in Jerusalem. He wrote this to Jewish believers, probably before the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15.

In James 1:19, 2:1, 2:14, 3:1, 4:11, 5:19, what does James call the people he is writing to? Three things. Why is this important?

In Acts 2:5-11 Jews from all over the known world were frequently in Jerusalem, some living there, more visiting on business or religious celebrations.

In Acts 2:41 3,000 people were added to the church . Some travelled home again – were these some of the people James wrote to? There was a Jewish diaspora – and then a Christian diaspora - just as there is now a Sudanese diaspora, James 1:1. God knows where we are, always, without fail!

James is practical and personally challenging 1:2-5 How easy do you find ‘pure joy’ in the context of the passage?

1:19-20 Are you quick in producing ‘the righteousness’ that God desires? 2:1-4 Do you treat all people, each individual, equally? Why? What makes it hard? 2:14-18 Do your deeds tell the right things about your Christian faith?

3:3-10 Do you control your tongue or does your tongue control you? Why? 5:19-20 Do you look out for others? Do they look out for you? How?

Now put together 1:5, 3:13, 3:17 and complete this sentence. ‘Get wisdom, show wisdom and humility, by being .......................................................................................................................................... ………………………………………………………………………………………………..............................................................................................................................’

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Leader's page:

2. Galatians

Lead from the front again.

Ask the ladies what they remember about Pisidian Anioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, from our Acts lessons, pages 44-46. Paul was there several times. No-one is sure exactly when this letter to Galatians was written. Letters were precious because they were hand written and were passed on to be shared from one fellowship to another. What do you learn from Galatians 1:1-2? and 6:11?

Paul would have used a secretary to write clearly and well on a scroll exactly what he dictated. Here he is so concerned for the Galatians that he takes up the pen and writes himself to underline the last lines of this letter.

Large letters because he had eye problems? malarial headaches? shaky hands? We don’t know. But his concern and love for new believers shows clearly through.

Ask someone to read the first reference opposite, 1:6-9, and talk about it together.

Next use the two Galatians 3 references together and talk about them. Read all the references one at a time.

Talk about and complete each one before moving on.


Even after the decision of the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15:19-29, there were obviously people who insisted that new believers needed to be circumcised, ‘to be the same as them’. They travelled around trying to influence and persuade new Christians to their way of thinking. Paul says that theologically they are wrong, and they are disagreeing with the decision taken at the Church Council of Jerusalem. “Don’t be foolish or bewitched by them”.

3. Thessalonians – still lead from the front.

Thessalonica was a bustling seaport. It was a trade centre on the end of the busy Egnatian Way, (Via Egnatian), crossing between the Aegean and Adriatic seas.

1 Thessalonians was probably written by Paul from Corinth, Acts 18:11.

After receiving back a report, he wrote 2 Thessalonians while still there.

Ask someone to read the first line of all references opposite and then talk about the texts. Ask for the main thrust of each teaching? Why is Paul writing this particularly?

Share: These letters are encouragement to keep believing

to keep living Christ’s way

to feel supported, ‘we love you and pray for you’

to ‘hang in there’ through difficulties

Think: Who can you encourage this week?

Student's page:

2. Galatians

Acts 13:14-14:23, 16:1-5, and 18:23 all speak of churches in the Roman protectorate, then province, of Galatia – Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. We have seen in Acts that Paul visited this area several times so there may have been other local churches as well for which we do not have names. Antioch in Pisidia was on a trade route between Ephesus and Cilicia. It was a Roman colony with Greeks and Jews living within it. Iconium was a wealthy and productive region. Lystra was a Roman defensive town, while Derbe was on the border.

What did Paul write to them about? Keeping this question in mind construct your brief summary below, for each of the Bible passages:


3:1-6 and 26-29




We all, always, need to be careful of travelling preachers - wherever they come from. Their background and home reputation we do not know and cannot easily verify. They may be saying something quite different from accepted Christian truth. Today this also applies to apparently ‘Christian’ literature, TV, radio, CDs, USB installed teachings as well. Weigh absolutely everything up carefully –

test teaching and people against Scripture – don’t be gullible, easily taken in!

3. Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1

1 Thessalonians 1:2, 6-10

2:1-4, 9-13, 17-18


4:9-12, 13-18


2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

2:1-4, 15

3:6-13, 14-15, 17

Living Christianly is not usually easy. Try to give, and receive, help to/from one another. Page 51


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