“I’m a first-century guy” is Jeff Weima’s simple claim. But he’s also a 21st century scholar and professor of New Testament Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary. So when he led Calvin Seminary students and other adult learners in a Biblical study tour and credit course of Turkey and Greece in January, they got the best of both “Weima worlds.”
Weima’s passion for his seminary students is that they understand more fully the cultural, political, and religious contexts for the earliest years of the Christian church, especially as Paul and other apostles carried the gospel good news to the Gentiles living in what is now western Turkey and Greece.
As a teacher of Greek with a keen interest in archeological studies, Weima reminded the seminarians again and again that all biblical translation of the early text involves interpretation, and interpretation must be informed by the context of the day. The more a preacher knows about the context in which the New Testament was written, the more he or she can explain the text and engage the listeners in its meaning.
Cities known only by name from the book of Acts or the letters to the seven churches of Revelation came alive as students walked the excavated ruins of these formerly- or still-thriving cities.
Students stood beneath the shadow of the Parthenon, perhaps the very place where Paul addressed the Areopagus (Acts 17) and taught them about the one true God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
They sat in the theater at Ephesus (Acts 19) where a riotous crowd, infuriated with Paul’s preaching against idols, gathered in that very place, shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for hours. Students hiked to the Acrocorinth on whose slopes the ancient of the city of Corinth was built, strategically located on the narrow isthmus that separates most of Greece from the Peloponnesus peninsula.
At each ancient site, Weima led the group on “show and tell” walks and a few heart-thumping hikes. Notes were taken and lots of photos recorded.
The imperative was to imagine the ancient bustling city, picturing the place as well as the challenges these cultural centers posed to the earliest churches. Lectures on the buses or back at the nightly hotel site solidified the learning and kept students occupied from early morning until a late dinner. No one complained.
The faith of first-century Christians was countercultural to their times. Paul pastored them with truth and love so that these fledgling Christians would mature, growing up in Christ, bearing fruit in every good work.
It was not lost on these traveling seminarians that our own 21st century faith also needs to be countercultural. Their calling is to be like Paul, equipping and encouraging the flocks God entrusts to them.