North Norfolk Methodist Circuit

Bible Study Notes

Revd John Fenn has prepared Notes to accompany each week's Study and they all appear here. These final notes are for session 5; the notes for earlier sessions appear below the current notes.

Circuit Bible Study – The Letter to the Romans (week 5)

The survival of the Epistle to the Romans to the point where it was included in the Canon of the New Testament is little short of miraculous. There is nowhere else where Paul seeks to set out his preaching in a quasi-systematic way. There is nowhere else where Paul looks so much like a systematic theologian, rather than a sensitive pastor. That however would be a mistake!

The letter belongs to the last phase of Paul’s life and ministry – written in either 55 or 56 AD. It appears to have existed in several versions over the years, corresponding to the major NT manuscripts, plus an addition published by the heretic Marcion, who was living and working in the Roman church from about 140 to 144 AD, when he was removed from membership, because of his view that the God pof the Old Testament was all about law, and obedience to the law, whereas the God of the New testament was all about grace. His conclusion that they were therefore two different Gods, and that Christians were called to follow the second of them, does not accord with Paul’s teaching as we have seen in our study of Corinthians 1 & 2.

Indeed, it is Paul’s relationship with the Law which led to some of his most pwerful grappling in the Letter to the Romans. He has set himself a bit of an issue pastorally and in terms of his personal integrity. But before we trace that, a little more about Romans in general.

The Church at Rome was not of Paul’s foundation. Rome of course was the capital city of the Empire, and Roman citizenship was extended to very many people within the Empire, including to Paul himself, according to Acts. So many people from all over the empire gravitated to Rome, and in chapter 16 we can see the list, which is notable for the number of women, and the number of slaves mentioned, as well as the number of people from across the empire. It’s worth some study in itself. So Paul, in the face I think of some questioning, sets out his stall, somewhat systematically. It’s not real systematic theology because that seeks to set out in a coherent was the ins and outs of a person’s theology, whereas this concentrates on quite a small number of issues.

They are:

1:1-15 Greetings and Thanksgiving

1:16-3:8 A fairly conventional Jewish reaction to the cultural and moral deficiencies of the Roman empire.

3:9-31 Jews, Gentiles and the Law

4 The place of faith in salvation – Abraham, and the faith-reckoned-as-righteousness

5 Freedom from sin

6 Dying and rising with Christ

7 Freedom from the Law

8. Freedom from the Flesh (ie Freedom in the Spirit)

At this point Paul has a problem. Put very bluntly, if God had intended all the time to save the world through faith in Christ, what was he doing monkeying about with the Jewish people and saving them a completely different way. He spends the next three chapters dealing with this.

9, 10, 11 The place of the Jewish People in the providence of God. Only after his conclusion that God intendes to save all his people (old and new) together can he give way to a wonderful paean of praise.

12 begins with the most significant conjunction in the whole of the New Testament

13 sets out Paul’s vision of Christian life in a non-Christian (but fairly benign) society.

14 is about life within the Christian community

15 returns to the theme of a Gospel for all

16 greetings and farewells.


Passages for our special attention:

The Law of Moses in Paul

The Book of Acts – Acts 15:9-21

The Law is in opposition (almost) to Christ – Galatians 3:23-29

The Law is irrelevant to Christian Mission – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

The Law is part of God’s provision to make way for faith – Romans 7:7-12; 8:1-8

“Therefore” Romans 12:1-2


The Second Letter to Corinth (week 4)

Paul’s second “letter” to Corinth was written either in 55 or 56 AD. The correspondence postdates Paul’s first letter to Corinth. That much seems certain from the internal evidence of the Correspondence itself.

Most scholars accept that the letter as we have it is not written all of a piece as are Romans and 1st Corinthians, but that we have probably four answers to the Corinthians’ letters back to Paul, which were written as a result of the receipt of 1st Corinthians.

The divisions in the current text are 1:1- 7:16, however 6:14-7:1 seem themselves to be a separate section; 8:1-9:15, and 10:1-13:13. The reasons scholars beg leave to doubt that these form a single coherent narrative, is that at those points there is a rapid and unmediated change of subject, and/or a vast change of tone. Most scholars do not seriously doubt that most of it is by Paul, and that the arrival of another letter from part or the whole of the congregation (I don’t suppose they would have been as disciplined even as the average group of enraged Methodists is in reacting to the current issues before the church) prompted Paul to add more to the letter. We have seen that he did so in the Letter to the Galatians. However 6:14-7:1 appears to be so very different and to tend in a different direction to its surroundings. It also doesn’t partake of the sake kind of Pauline Greek as the surrounding passages, and many do therefore believe that this is a later addition to the letter. Other scholars find even more reason to doubt the unity even of those sections. I am myself quite conservative about the authorship of this letter. As we shall see the main material bears his hallmarks – no wielding of CPD in an attempt to get the church to obey, but an encouragement to do as he did and to think it out from first principles, with the demands of the love of God before their eyes.

Paul deals with:

  1:1-2:13 Paul’s plans and God’s plan

  2:14-6:13 This purpose expressed in Ministry and Mission

  6:14-7:4 Keep away from the temptations of the world (see above)

  7:5-9:15 Paul’s plans for Corinth and their working out in the future,   including the Collection of the Christians at Jerusalem

 10:1-13:10 Reaction to news that has reached Paul – the future is       threatened by a counter-mission

13:11-13 Last words and greeting

This is probably the most personal and the most theological letter Paul wrote. He wears his heart on his sleeve. What happened next?

Of course, we don’t, and can’t know. But we do know that the fourth Pope, Clement of Rome, whose pontificate lasted from 90-100AD, had occasion to write to the Corinthians. So we know that the church survived. And the tone of Clement’s writing is correctional over some points but warm and sunny. So Paul’s strategy of being so personal, of exposing himself just as he was to the Corinthians, of speaking to them in terms of fairly tough and heavy theology does indeed appear to have worked.

Passage for today – 2 Corinthians 4 & 5.

North Norfolk Circuit Bible Study – 3

The First Letter to the Corinthians


What do you think of when you think about this letter?

There is no community with whom Paul corresponded so much, nor is there any community which gave him such angst and such pain as the Corinthians. We know more about his relationship with them than we do with any other group. And yet there is no set of letters as frustrating as 1 & 2 Corinthians. Much more than with Galatians, with the Corinthians we are aware of listening to half of a conversation, and apart from one section of 2 Corinthians we are fairly clear that we are dealing with letters which are of a piece.

The pre-story is also fairly clear. The Corinthians had written to Paul to ask him certain questions, to which he gives the answer. As a result the letter is quite “bitty”; quite dependent of the questions they have put to him, questions which we do not have access to. Life would be easier if we did. In chapter 4 he refers to himself as their father; this is not done in a priestly sense, but in a literal sense. This is his church and he is their apostle, he is the one whose preaching began that church. That is a sense we often do not share in our day and age, though the Chinese Methodist Churches in Britain do. They have a deep sense of obligation and respect for the person whose preaching began things for them and would not for all the tea in England overthrow them in any way at all, even when things might be done better.

It seems the Corinthians had no such scruples.

Chapters 1-3 are an extended meditation upon the nature of power and wisdom, the tendency of the Corinthian church to divide into groups cliques and factions, and three (or four) figureheads which had become badges of honour for different groups; Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and ‘Christ’.

Chapter 4 is a self-defence of Paul’s own position, after which he turns to the questions they have asked:

Chapter 5 concerns sexual immorality, including a member who was co-habiting with his mother-in-law.

Chapter 6 concerns litigation, and then a final passage on sexual immorality, with some teaching on the significance of sexual behaviour to the Judaeo/Christian mind.

Chapter 7 concerns marriage, separation and divorce, with an excursus on celibacy, in the light of the (still) imminent expectation of the end of all things.

Chapter 8 concerns meat offered to idols

Chapter 9 is an excursus on Paul’s missionary strategy

Chapter 10 returns to the issue of meat offered to idols, and the nature, extent and limitations of Christian freedom.

Chapter 11 concerns the worship meeting, and their practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper

Chapter 12 concerns the use of spiritual gifts within worship, and the significance of Spiritual gifts to build up the Body of Christ

Chapter 13 exalts the place of love

Chapter 14 returns to the issue of Spiritual gifts in the worship gathering

Chapter 15 deals with questions concerning the Resurrection of Christ, and the fact that he really did die first.

Chapter 16 concerns the Collection for the Church at Jerusalem, and final greetings and so forth.

And we’re going to look at Chapter 9 (mainly).


Passages for Study

           1.    1 Corinthians 9:1-18 – Paul’s Freedom

           2.    Acts 15:22-29 – compared with 1 Cor 8:1-13

           3.    1 Corinthians 9:19-27 – Paul’s missionary stance


    * * * * * * * * * * 

Chapter 16 concerns the Collection for the Church at Jerusalem, and final greetings and so forth.

And we’re going to look at Chapter 9 (mainly).


Passages for Study

           1.    1 Corinthians 9:1-18 – Paul’s Freedom

           2.    Acts 15:22-29 – compared with 1 Cor 8:1-13

           3.    1 Corinthians 9:19-27 – Paul’s missionary stance


    * * * * * * * * * *

Bible Study Session 2

The Letter to the Galatians


Date of writing – probably 54 or 55 AD either in Ephesus or in Macedonia, to the churches in Galatia – Lystra and Derbe being amongst the places receiving the letter. It is a circular letter, meant to be passed round the churches and read out at worship. If that is to be done creatively, I suspect wed all agree it cannot all be done in one sitting, if the recipients are to take it in.

Why write the letter?

Some disturbance has occurred to the Churches for which Paul was responsible – he was their Apostle, and some of it turns upon his own apostolic authority and status. Hence the long initial passage which sounds like setting out his credentials to be and to do what he has (1:11 – 2:21). The nature of that disturbance and reading it correctly are crucial to an understanding of the Epistle.

Then Paul turns to questions of Law and Faith (3:1 – 5:1). In chapter 5, he turns to the nature of Christian freedom, and contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the spirit (5:16-26). Chapter 6 concentrates on practical advice, and finishes with a passage which in the original letter was apparently written in Paul’s own hand (6:11-18).

Now all of us come to this kind of document with a whole set of questions we want to ask of it. How we read the text is dependent upon what questions we bring. That is very important indeed, and Paul has suffered from many misreadings in the past. For instance, what we think is going on in chapters 1 & 2 will be coloured – in some cases, controlled – by the questions we have to ask of it. For instance, Martin Luther. Now, I like and respect Luther, not just for his rediscovery of the power of the Bible, his earthy and wonderful vernacular German, and his clear sight with regards to issues of human power and the nature of the Gospel. But he was fighting to reform a church which had placed too much emphasis on works rather than grace, and in particular through the selling of Indulgences was implying that one could buy one’s way to heaven. If that were the case, then Christ died for nothing.

So he read Galatians 1&2 as support for his position, not works but faith is what saves human beings. Therefore, it must be Jews (a blind spot for Luther) who had come along and upset the Galatians, because of the belief that we are saved by keeping the Law. Proper (Pauline) Christians on the other hand believe in salvation by faith. Not works-righteousness, but the righteousness which flows from faith. The problem is, no one believed that! Not before the destruction of the temple in AD 70, which was some 15 years in the future. The Jews believed they were saved by the grace of God in election. The Law was there, not as a way to get into the Covenant, but as a description of what you do to maintain that state; the Hebrew word Torah means Guidance, not Law.

So what on earth was going on?

Passages for Study

         1.    Galatians 1:11-24

         2.    Galatians 2:15-21

         3.    Galatians 3:19-29

         4.    What marks out someone as a Jew?

         5.    Galatians 5:16-26

         6.    Galatians 6:11-18

    * * * * * * * * * *

Session 1


“Safe” Pauline corpus:

1&2 Thessalonians (50CE & either slightly later or slightly earlier); Galatians (54/55), 1&2 Corinthians (54/ 55 & 55/56), Philippians (53-58?), Romans (57-8?), Colossians (58-60), Philemon (?58-60).

Probably not by Paul
Ephesians (80-100).

Bits of them are probably by Paul
1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

Certainly not by Paul
Hebrews (the only person who seriously considered it to be by Paul was Martin Luther.)

What do you think of when Paul is mentioned?


Col 3:18-22

1 Corinthians 14:33b-36


The greetings – Paul gets personal! Involving women as much as men – Romans 16:1-16

Other prejudice – LGBT issues
Romans 1:26-27

    * * * * * * * * * *

The next meetings are 

Tuesday 2nd February Issues in Galatians – Will the real Paul please stand up?

Tuesday 9th February Issues in 1 & 2 Corinthians – Dealing with a troublesome bunch.

Tuesday 16th February The Miracle of Romans – How on earth did that get there?

? Tuesday 23rd February Colossians and Ephesians – Rewritten for a different age.


  • Circuit Office, North Walsham Methodist Church
  • Grammar School Road
  • North Walsham
  • Norfolk
  • NR28 9JH

07535 528613
Email Us