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Who is the Audience?

July 13, 2015

Who is the Audience?

 

A common practice of academics when studying a passage in the bible is to ask, “Who is the intended audience?” This is an important question as it gives context to the passage. We can understand how the language had developed up to that point to aid our understanding. We can examine the culture of that specific author/audience to pick up on idioms (phrases understood by the people of that day/time/place), jargon, or any literary devices that give more insights.

 

To make my point, let’s ask Paul this question. The answer is, in part, a simple answer since he provides it in the greetings of his letters. Look carefully at the following greetings from Paul’s 13 letters in the New Testament. Generally speaking, who is his audience?

 

  • “Paul … to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints” (Rom. 1:7)

  • “Paul … To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To the churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To the saints who are at Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons (Phil. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae (Col. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To Timothy, my true child in the faith (1 Tim. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To Timothy, my beloved son (2 Tim. 1:1)

  • “Paul … To Titus, my true child in a common faith (Titus 1:1)

  • “Paul … To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house

 

Now, we stand 2000+ years later and the question is the same but the answer has changed. First, the introduction.

 

Introduction: The “ … ” in each of these verses is Paul’s introduction of himself. These vary book by book and are not the focus of this blog. Rather, what we need to do is see if there are some conclusions we can draw from these greetings that are present in all of Paul’s writings. There is a common feature that runs through all of them except both books of Timothy and Titus. These three books are to individuals while all of the others are to churches. Philemon fits both categories as it was written to both individuals and a church.

 

We see common terms like beloved, saints, faithful. However, the one term that is most obvious is church. Paul was writing, with minor exception, to churches. He was communicating what he had received in a revelation from Jesus (Gal. 1:7). He was communicating doctrine (the biblical word; theology is the contemporary concept) to the pew sitters in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, etc.

 

So, here is the point that should be emphasized. The bible, our beloved text that Christians hold as sacred and as the word of God, was not written to priests, preachers, or academics! It was written to the church. From this we can assume that Paul had the intention of writing something that everyone in the church could and should understand.[1] Assuming that Paul thought his audience should have “ears to hear” (cf.[2] Matt. 11:13-15, 13:9; Lk. 8:8, 14:34-35), it is only natural to think that the bible was written in a way that every Christian should be able to work with the word to understand the essence of the Way (Matt. 3:3; Acts 9:2, 16:17).

 

Please understand, I am not advocating the end of our college support system that trains people to handle the word in a more, for lack of a better word, professional way. This does not mean that we do not need Priests, Ministers, and Academics. They have their place in the church community. They are devoted students of the word who have the time and dedication to spend long hours in study (and shame on you if you’re not!) because they are paid to be free from a job that takes them away from ministry.

 

What I am suggesting is that we stop treating the members of the body of Christ as if they can’t learn theology. I know an elder who insists that the members over whom he has oversight cannot learn some of the deeper teachings. I would ask him, “Is the Spirit not able to lead these Christians into an understanding?” This question poses the idea that the growth in the knowledge of Christ is the interaction of the Spirit and the Christian in the Word. This requires that the believer spend quality time in deep study. Like the Berean Christians, they need to “examine the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (NASB95, Acts 17:11). I fear that one of the faults in this lies in the preaching and the nature of the sermons heard on a typical Sunday morning. I will have more to say on that next time.

 

So, here is the question for discussion: What is the relationship of the Spirit and the Word? Can we anticipate the activity of the Spirit in the growth of the Christians’ knowledge of Christ?

 

__________

 

 

[1] I have attached a paper on Intentionality. It is not an easy read but it may give you another tool in your study tool belt to help you grow in the knowledge of Christ.

 

[2] Cf.  is an abbreviation meaning compare with. It originates from the Latin confer, which means ‘compare’. (Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson, eds. Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.)

 

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