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The Start of Sunday School: A Joyful Event

The Start of Sunday School: A Joyful Event

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on September 13, 2023

TLDR: Sunday School for all ages started with a bang. Read below for more about this and for a sample lesson of one of our new studies. Hope to see you Sundays at 10:15 in the Bentley Educational Center.

September 10th was one of the most joyful Sundays I have had in a while. Church attendance was high for all services, lots of young people stayed for Sunday School, and the two additional adult studies we started, Clase de Biblia en Español and Clergy Musings had twelve participants each, which is a great beginning.  The two traditional studies, Listening with Andy Johnson and Lectionary Bible Study with Richard Leach had their customary attendees, while folks who were new to Sunday school tried one of the new studies. There was an air of excitement throughout the Bentley Educational Center, as young families navigated the hallways to drop kids off in their classrooms and find their own space for the education hour. I feed on all this energy, laughs, loud talking, hugs and greetings… then the silence that falls on hallways as the classes begin. From ages 2 to 100 there is a discipleship/formation/catechism program for all learners. I hope you will consider joining us at 10:15am at the Bentley Education Center, or at 1:00pm on Zoom for Marilyn Patterson’s Screwtape Letters.

During Clergy Musings, I decided to start a quick survey of the Bible, beginning with Genesis and hopefully ending with Revelation next May. But this will not be a linear Bible Study in which the entire Scripture is read in a year or two-year cycle. This will truly be a “musings” class. I will cover interesting passages within each book with an eye for the story the overall narrative is trying to tell us. There are thousands of fascinating rabbit trails we can take as we unfold the overarching story of the Bible. And we will make connections between those rabbit trails and how their themes, metaphors, experiences, or customs are used by other works in the Bible. Let me give you an example.

The Pentateuch, also known as The Law of Moses, or Torah has been seen throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity as (a) The history of the world from Creation to the death of Moses, (b) A biography of Moses (both an origin story and the wonderful works of Judaism’s most important figure), (c) The National History of Israel from Abram to the death of Moses, (d) A collection of books about Torah (the Law of Israel). In fact, these five books have been known as Torah for centuries. And (d) “A collection of instruction books in the form of a biography of Moses.”[1] The collection uses historical narrative, lawgiving, liturgical material, poetry, and instruction (teaching) within the overall frame of Moses’ origin story and life.

But there is an interesting question here, and our first rabbit trail. Why are there five books when the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy present a cohesive instruction? When you read the five books, it feels as though you are reading five chapters of the same story, so why a division into five separate books? I always believed this division evolved out of theological concerns: Genesis talks about creation and the Patriarchs, Exodus is all about Moses and the end of the Egyptian slavery, Leviticus (to Numbers 11) is all about the codification of the Law given at mount Sinai, Numbers 12 to 36 tells us the stories of the 40-year journey to the Promised Land, and Deuteronomy is the re-telling of the Law as Moses is about to die and the people are about to enter the Promised Land. Perhaps these books were always meant to be separate books, each with a unique theme, but sharing common characters and storylines.

The reality is less attractive than my theory. It all has to do with the preservation of these scrolls at an age where these writings would have been preserved in Papyrus, which is not as durable and reliable as other materials. Preserving these instructions in five smaller chunks was more advisable than risking the loss of the entire document by trying to write the whole thing in one tome. By the time the more durable Parchment became the norm, the people of Israel had grown accustomed to five separate books. In fact, there was a reverence for the “Five Books of Moses” that can be seen in a number of places. (a) In Deuteronomy, Moses preaches three long sermons and invokes two long prayers in the five sections of the book. Many believe that this division into five sections is a nod to the Pentateuch (Pentateuch means 5 books). (b) The Psalms were written over the span of 1400 years, with many of them redacted during the post Babylonian exile era, and many new Psalms also written at this time. It is interesting, however, that when the Psalms were finally organized as a canonical (approved) collection, the book was divided into five sections, each ending with a benediction[2]. This division into five sections was a definite nod to the authority of the Pentateuch. (c) We know that Matthew takes 90% of the Gospel of Mark and incorporates into it five different sermons or teachings he believes Mark omitted.[3] These five instructions are a New Testament nod to the Pentateuch.

So, it appears as though a cohesive one story, divided most likely for convenience and preservation concerns, became five separate books, which have remained the foundational core of Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament. And there you have it. Our first rabbit trail of our Clergy Musings. Do you want to hear more interesting tidbits and fabulous teachings from Scripture? Join our Lectionary Bible Study, our Listening Group, or our Clergy Musings. I promise that you will be transformed by the inexhaustible comfort and guidance provided by God’s Word.

Blessings to all,

Fr. Roman+

[1] Wenham, Gordon J. “Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch”.

[2]Book One: 1-41, which ends, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen”. Book Two: 42-72, with an ending, “Blessed be his glorious name for ever…” Book Three: 73-89, which ends, “Blessed be the Lord for ever. Amen and Amen.” Book Four: 90-106, ending, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting…” and, Book Five: 107-150, which ends with, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

[3](a) Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7), which ends with “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things…” (b) Missionary Instructions (Chapter 10), ending at 11:1, “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples…” (c) Collection of Parables (Chapter 13:1-53), with the following ending, “When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.” (d) Community Instructions (Chapter 18), which ends at 19:1, “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” And (e) Sermon on the End of Days (Chapters 23-25), which ends at 26:1, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples…”

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