NT Sunday School Lesson 32: Acts 18:23-20:38; Galatians

MsThe readings from Acts tell of Paul’s third missionary journey, to Galatia, Ephesus, Macedonia, and Greece. (See the maps in your LDS Bible.)

Acts 20:28-32

Verse 28: To whom is Paul preaching in these verses? (See verse 17 and footnote “b” for verse 28.) The Greek word translated “overseer” is episkopos, the root word for the English word “episcopal.” It is often translated “bishop,” but “overseer” is a good (and very literal) translation because it shows what the episkopos does: he watches over others to see that they do their jobs properly. It may or may not refer to what we mean when we use the word “bishop.”

Over whom should the elders first keep watch? Why? What does it mean to say that Jesus has purchased the church with his blood? What metaphor is Paul using?

Verse 29: How soon does Paul expect the wolves to enter the flock? Who might these wolves be?

He is leaving Ephesus to return to Jerusalem. Is that the departure he is talking about, or is he talking about his death?

Notice that the word translated “grievous” could also have been translated “savage” or “cruel.” Who is Paul concerned about and how are they cruel?

Verse 30: Does this verse say something different than verse 29 or does it repeat what verse 29 says in a different way?

Another good translation for “perverse things” is “distorted things.” As you read Paul’s letters, ask yourself, “Against what distortions of the Gospel is he preaching?” Is the false doctrine itself a problem, or is the real problem that these people draw disciples to themselves, creating divisions in the Church?

Verse 31: How long does Paul say he taught at Ephesus? Against what did he warn them?

Verse 32: What does Paul tell them will strengthen them, presumably against the distorted teachings that are to come?

What does Paul mean when he says “I commend you to God”? What does he mean when he says “I commend you [. . .] to the word of his grace”?

What does “word of his grace” mean here? Some possibilities are the Old Testament (the scriptures of Paul’s day), Jesus’ teaching (had, at the time, primarily as something taught orally), or Paul’s teaching about grace. Are there other possibilities?

What does it mean to have “an inheritance among all them which are sanctified”? Compare what Paul says here with Deuteronomy 33:3-4.


Before you begin to look at the details to which the study questions will draw you, be sure to have read the letter as a whole. Try to outline what you think the central message of the letter is. Doing that will help the closer look that the study questions require more fruitful. In turn, that closer look should help you understand the letter as a whole better. Presumably you will be able to revise your initial outline after you’ve outlined it and looked at it more closely.

Galatians 1-2

Verses 1:1-2:14: Why do you think Paul begins by emphasizing that he was made an apostle by God?

What problem do the churches in Galatia seem faced with?

Why is it important for Paul to explain his relation to the other apostles? What might people been saying about him that would require these remarks and this history of his work? (Compare his claim to apostolic office with the requirements for that office when Matthias was chosen—Acts 1:21-22).

In verse 4 of chapter 2, of what bondage is Paul speaking?

“To be somewhat” (verse 6) could also be translated “to be somebody.”

What is Paul’s point in Galatians 2:7-10?

What is his criticism of Peter in 2:11-13? Why does Paul feel it necessary to deal with Peter’s problem publicly? Did Paul confront Peter publicly immediately, or did he do so only later?

Verses 2:15-16: Is what Paul says here addressed to Peter alone, or also to a wider audience? Perhaps a better translation of “by nature” (verse 15) is “by birth.”

What does it mean to say that we are “not justified by the works of the law”? What does it mean to be justified “by faith of [in] Jesus Christ”? What does “justified” mean? Another translation has “upright” instead of “justified.” “Made righteous” is another way to translate the Greek.

Why is Paul so emphatic about this teaching about works and faith? To what false teaching is he responding?

What does “works [or ‘deeds’] of the law” mean? (Compare Galatians 3:2, 5, 10; and Romans 3:20 and 28.) Compare the end of verse 16 with Psalms 143:2.

Verses 17-21: In verse 17 Paul seems to be responding to a hypothetical objection. What would that objection be? Do we encounter anything like that position today? Do we ever take a similar position?

What is he referring to when he speaks of something being built again after the person who built it destroyed it (verse 18)? What does verse 18 imply about the Judaizers?

To understand verse 19, compare Romans 6:11 and 2 Corinthians 5:15. How has the Christian become “dead to the law” (verse 19)? Does Paul have a particular law in mind or is he speaking of law in general? So what?

How did the law bring death about?

What does it mean to “live unto God”?

We know that baptism is a symbol of our death, burial, and resurrection, with Jesus Christ. What does that have to do with our death to the law (verse 20)?

What does Paul mean when he says (verse 20) that he is no longer alive, but Christ lives in him?

Against whom is verse 21 directed? Are there any contemporary positions like that against which it is directed?

Why has Christ died in vain if we can be made righteous by the law?

What does the word “grace” mean? To think about that question, think about the many ways in which it can be used in English: in its scriptural context, as here; to describe a person (“He carried out his duties with grace”); as the name of a prayer of thanks (“She said grace before the meal”); . . . . What do these usages have in common that might help us understand its use in the scriptures?

Galatians 3

What must Paul’s relation to the Galatians have been like for him to get away with the insult of verse 1?

How do the things that Paul reminds the Galatians of in this chapter support his claim at the end of chapter 2?

What does verse 3 tell us about the preaching of those who have corrupted the church in Galatia?

In the first five verses, Paul appeals to the experience of his hearers. What does he imply about that experience?

Why does turn to scripture in verse 6, in particular to the example of Abraham? Of what is Abraham an example in the context of this letter?

What is the teaching of verse 7?

What does verse 10 tell us about the law?

In verses 11-12, Paul quotes from Habbakuk 2:4. Why does he quote this from the Old Testament? What is he teaching about the law in verses 11-12?

What has verse 13 to do with verse 10?

In verses 15-18 the word translated “covenant” has two meanings and Paul is playing on those meanings. It means “last will and testament” as well as “covenant” as we use it in understanding Israel’s relation to God.

Paul is explaining scripture in verse 16, and he is pointing out that in Genesis 15:18 and similar scriptures, the word “seed” is singular, not plural: “descendant,” not “descendants.” What descendant does Paul have in mind?

What point is Paul making about the covenant and the law in verse 17?

How does verse 18 show that the Judaizers are wrong?

According to verse 19, what is the purpose of the law? Why was it given? (See Romans 4:15; 5:13-14 and 20; and 7:7-13.)

How does verse 24 explain the law?

Does verse 25 mean that we no longer need to be obedient? If not, why not?

What is the point of verse 28? What is the promise of verse 29?

Galatians 4

The beginning of chapter 4 might be better translated as “This is what I am saying.”

As you read this chapter, it is important to remember what Paul reminds his hearers of in verse 1: children in a household had no more rights than did slaves. The father of the family had the right to do with them as he wished. Technically that right included killing his children, though few did so and doing so was strongly disapproved of—but it was not illegal. It may also be helpful to remember that tutors and governors (verse 2), were almost always themselves slaves.

Why is the teaching of adoption important? Aren’t we already sons and daughters of God? If so, why do we need to be adopted?

In verse 12, why does Paul tell them not to worry about having injured him? What is he thinking of?

What is the point of verses 12-16? Could you paraphrase them using your own language?

How does Paul’s image of giving birth to the Galatians (verse 19) fit with the sermon he has been preaching? What do you make of the additional image, that of the Galatians gestating Christ in themselves? Can you explain each of these images and their relevance to Paul’s sermon?

One commentator (Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary) says that “change my voice” means “exchange my voice for this letter,” in other words, speak to them in person. Do you think that is a good interpretation? Are their other possibilities?

Galatians 5

From 5:1 to 6:10, Paul offers a series of exhortations to the Galatians. This is not a sustained argument on one topic, but a series of exhortations that he thinks they need.

There is general agreement that the KJV translation of the first verse of this chapter is weak. Here is the translation of the New American Bible, a Catholic translation: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Does that translation help you understand anything that you didn’t understand with the King James translation?

What liberty (freedom) has Christ given us (verse 1)? How do we receive that freedom? What bondage is he admonishing us to avoid?

Explain verse 15.

How do verses 16-18 explain the difficult teaching of chapter 3?

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit (verse 17)?

What does the word “flesh” mean here (verse 24)? What does it mean to crucify the flesh? What did it mean for Christ, and is that helpful in understanding what it means here? Is the resurrection relevant to understanding the crucifixion of Christ? If so, is it relevant to understanding what it means for us to crucify the flesh? Does “with the affections and lusts” tell us how to crucify the flesh (“crucify the flesh with X”), or does it tell us what characterizes the flesh (“crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts”)?

Galatians 6

Verses 1-10. How can Paul give these admonitions, having just argued that the law cannot save us?

To whom do verses 12-13 refer? How do these verses help us understand the problem that Paul is facing?

What does it mean to say that “a new creature” is required of those who are in Christ Jesus (verse 15)?

What rule is Paul referring to in verse 16?

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