Course Spotlight: The Early New Testament Church Timeline

Click below to take a good look at a timeline that chronicles the events that befell the early Church following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, ranging from the years 31 to 135 CE!

Course Spotlight from Acts of the Apostles: (Unit 1) The Church Begins

Course Spotlight: How Did Paul “Kick Against the Goads”?

Apparently, “to kick against the goads” was a common expression found in both Greek and Latin literature—a rural image, which rose from the practice of farmers goading their oxen in the fields. Though unfamiliar to us, everyone in that day understood its meaning.

Course Spotlight from Acts of the Apostles: (Unit 2) Apostolic Tour

Course Spotlight: Honesty is Healthy

“In today’s competitive workplace there seems to be ample rationale to tell a lie. Over the past several years, national news has reported on Fortune 500 Companies lying about their finances, and college professors and CEOs lying on their resumes.”

Course Spotlight from Business Relationships in the Church

Course Spotlight: Blowing of Trumpets – A Memorial

The first fall festival is the Feast of Trumpets. Leviticus 23 instructs God’s people to celebrate “a memorial of blowing of trumpets.” What do these trumpets represent, and why should we remember them annually? This Feast pictures the start of the most momentous events in mankind’s history. We should study to understand its meaning clearly.

Course Spotlight from Feast Days: The Feast of Trumpets

Course Spotlight: The Disciples’ Prayer

Did you know since time immemorial, people have practiced the spiritual discipline of prayer in serving the true God or false gods? Prayer is a fundamental act of worship throughout the Bible.

Course Spotlight From Tools for Christian Growth: Prayer

Digging Deeper: Lydia – The Purple Seller

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education


Estimated reading time: 8 min.

Did you know that the first European convert in Paul’s ministry was a woman?

Her name was Lydia. She was also the first female convert Luke described in the entirety of his Book of Acts. Lydia was a businesswoman from Thyatira who traveled to Philippi to sell her valued products. This Digging Deeper profiles this exceptional woman who blessed Paul’s ministry.

Through divine direction, Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to travel to Asia Minor and Bithynia in the early 50s AD to preach the gospel (Acts 16:6-12). Instead, he was guided by a vision to travel across the sea from modern Turkey to Greece. There he preached at a river outside the city of Philippi in the Roman province of Macedonia where women gathered for prayer on the Sabbath because there were not enough men making a quorum to establish a Jewish synagogue (Acts 16:13).

Our focus verses for this study are Acts 16:14-15 (KJV throughout) “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.  (15) And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”

Lydia and purple dye

Luke reported that she worshipped God. The NIV Study Bible explains her status: “Lydia was a Gentile who, like Cornelius (10:2), believed in the true God and followed the moral teachings of Scripture. She had not, however, become a full convert to Judaism” (Tecarta Bible App). As such people were called then, she was a “God-fearer”—a Gentile who associated with Judaism.

Being “a seller of purple,” she was a merchant of dyed garments. Oriental dyeing was prominent in Paul’s world. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight reports: “The Orientals have some very fine dyes. Their favorite color is a bright crimson, and the dye they use to make this color comes from a worm or grub that feeds on oak and other plants. Indigo is made from the rind of pomegranate. Purple is made from the murex shellfish which can still be found on the beach at the city of Acre” (Bible Analyzer 5.4.1.22).

The NKJ Study Bible describes the painstaking effort to create this dye: “Purple dye had to be gathered drop by drop from a certain shellfish. Because it was so expensive, purple dye was used on garments worn by royalty. As an artisan in purple dyes, Lydia was a wealthy woman who had come to Philippi to practice her trade” (Tecarta Bible App).

Word Pictures in the New Testament by A.T. Robertson associates this color with a modern term: “There was a great demand for this fabric as it was used on the official toga at Rome and in Roman colonies. We still use the term ‘royal purple’” (e-Sword 13.0.0). However, not everyone was authorized to wear this color, as explained by The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable: “During the Roman Period, laws restricted who could wear clothes dyed purple because it was the most precious of all colors. Thus Lydia undoubtedly dealt with an exclusive and affluent clientele” (Ibid.).

Lydia’s home town

Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight connects this process to her home city of Thyatira: “She was a merchant who sold the purple dye to tanners, weavers, and others. This business of dyeing with which she was connected, had long been centered in the city of Thyatira. Inscriptions have been discovered that refer to ‘a guild of dyers’ that was located in that vicinity”(Bible Analyzer 5.4.1.22).

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible describes her home city: “Thyatira in western Asia Minor was strong in textiles; it was in the region of ancient Lydia, making Lydia a fitting name for this woman. Some scholars believe that 10,000 crushed shellfish were needed to yield a single gram of the costliest purple dye, the sort from Tyre. Some believe that dyers in Thyatira and Macedonia used a less expensive substance (the madder plant, for Thyatira)”  (Tecarta Bible App).

Daniel Whedon’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments narrates the extent of the trade of this product: “The purple traffic in this region was earlier than Homer, and women were the purplers. By the great Roman roads the traffic between Thyatira was, at this time, easy; and inscriptions are still extant describing the trade as it once existed” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Fausset’s Bible Dictionary associates Thyatira with Philippi: “Thyatira being a Macedonian colony had much contact with Philippi, the parent city” (Ibid.).

A responder to the call

Acts 16:14 declares the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. The Holman KJV Study Bible explains this divine-human interaction: “Luke combined both human and divine initiative in the description of Lydia’s response. The Lord opened her heart, but she attended to what Paul said” (Tecarta Bible App).

The Dake Annotated Bible Notes defines the condition for responding to God’s calling: “Some people are honest and yield to the Lord to open their hearts and others refuse all offers of God’s dealings and are hardened” (Bible Analyzer 5.4.1.22). The Pulpit Commentary, edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, explains this miraculous opening: “To open (διανοίγειν) is applied as here to the heart (2 Mace. Philippians 1:4); to the eyes (Luke 24:31); to the ears (Mark 7:34-35); to the understanding (Luke 24:45); to the Scriptures (Luke 24:32) …” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Her baptism in Acts 16:15 was noteworthy for Paul’s ministry, as explained by the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary: “The mention of baptism here (for the first time in connection with the labours of Paul, though it was doubtless performed on all his former converts) indicates a special importance in this first European baptism. Here also is the first mention of a Christian household” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Acts 16:15 details that her household was also baptized. The Holman KJV Study Bible explains: “If the leader of a household converted, perhaps others of the household (children, servants, spouse, etc.) were persuaded to respond in the same way. It is assumed on the basis of Lydia’s response (16:14) and her question to Paul after her baptism that her confession of faith preceded her baptism. This suggests that only those of the household who were mature enough to make their own positive response to the gospel would have been baptized” (Tecarta Bible App).

Her “household” consisted of various adults, as suggested by the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: “Who constituted Lydia’s household is uncertain; it could have included servants, freedpersons, or workers. She apparently heads her own household, which could mean that she was widowed, divorced, or a prosperous freedwoman” (Tecarta Bible App).

A courageous hostess

Acts 16:15 describes Lydia’s inviting Paul and his traveling companions to stay in her Philippian home. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides important cultural background: “Dealers in purple could be persons of means, although Lydia is technically a foreigner in the city. Hospitality was a prized virtue in the ancient Mediterranean world, and Lydia would count it an honor for this ministry team to stay with her. It would not be unusual for Jewish people to provide guests lodging for three weeks if they found the guests trustworthy. Inns were notorious for prostitution and other issues that made them less than ideal for Jewish travelers. Perhaps 10 percent of ancient benefactors were women …” (Tecarta Bible App).

Acts 16:15 notes that Lydia “constrained” Paul and his associates to abide with her. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains this term: “Used only by St Luke in N. T. here and Luke 24:29 of the two disciples at Emmaus. The force used was that of a prayer which would hear no ‘Nay’” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary, edited by Joseph S. Exell, offers reasons Paul may have been hesitant to accept her offer at first: “Up to this time the four teachers may have supported themselves by their own labours, Paul as a tent maker, Luke as a physician, Silas and Timothy in ways unknown. That Paul was reluctant to accept Lydia’s invitation has been argued from the words, And she constrained us (compare Luke 24:29); and this he may well have been, not because of unwillingness to partake of the hospitality of others (see Romans 16:23), or to receive assistance from them when his circumstances required (Acts 24:23; 28:10; Philippians 4:15), but because he wished to avoid the imputation of being actuated by mercenary motives (Acts 20:34; 2 Corinthians 12:17,19)” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

In the early 50s AD, Lydia hosted the Philippian church’s meetings in her house (Acts 16:40). Paul and his associates had just been imprisoned and released there (Acts 16:16-39). This displays her courage in the face of growing civic opposition. She and other converts formed the nucleus of that church, to whom Paul wrote an entire epistle in the early 60s AD. Fausset’s Bible Dictionary notes: “Lydia may have been also one of ‘those women who laboured with Paul in the gospel’ at Philippi (Philippians 4:3)” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Lydia was a devoted female disciple of Paul’s ministry and a generous member of the early Church of God. Her legacy lives on today in the lives of many Christian women who follow her lead.

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Course Spotlight: Proselyte

Do you know what the word “Proselyte” means? Take a quick look at the definition, and a peek into our course on the Apostolic Tour if you haven’t already!

COURSE SPOTLIGHT FROM ACTS OF THE APOSTLES: (UNIT 2) APOSTOLIC TOUR

Course Spotlight: Roman Spectacle in Second Temple Jerusalem

Here’s a description of some of Herod’s building works and activities during the early church period…

COURSE SPOTLIGHT FROM ACTS OF THE APOSTLES (UNIT 1) THE CHURCH BEGINS

Course Spotlight: Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus

Did you know there was a discovery of a burial box that James the brother of Jesus Christ may have been buried in? In the fall of 2002 this discovery incited much scholarly debate over it’s inscription’s authenticity, which stated, “James the son of Joseph the brother of Jesus.” 

Course Spotlight From The General Epistles: (Part 1) The Letters of James and Peter

Digging Deeper: Teach Us to Number Our Days

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education


Estimated reading time: 7 min.

Did you know that Moses composed a prayer asking God to teach him to number the days of his life?

Deep inside, humans know they have limited life spans. Nonetheless, people go about their daily affairs as if there would be no end of days. God inspired a psalm to remind us that, because of sin, human life is limited. He wants believers to make the most of their limited time serving Him. This Digging Deeper challenges its readers to think deeply about the brevity of mortal life while anticipating life eternal.

Our focus verse comes from a psalm that frames Moses’ prayer: Psalm 90:12 KJV throughout: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Moses was not the only man of God to make such a request. David prayed a similar prayer in Psalm 39:4 “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”  By contrast, notice how God views time in Psalm 90:4 “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

Notice the immediate context of Psalm 90:12 in v. 10: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” The NKJ Study Bible explains this lesson of counting our years: “The point here is not to set a maximum, but to present a context for the brevity of human life. No matter how long people live, it is inevitable that they will fly away to death” (Tecarta Bible App).

Life spans shortened in the wilderness

B.H. Carroll’s An Interpretation of the English Bible provides some background for this psalm: “The author of Psalm 90 is Moses. He wrote this psalm while he was in the wilderness of Arabia. The internal evidence that Moses wrote it at this time is that it bears the stamp of the wilderness period all the way through” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Henry Morris in his Days of Praise commentary for Psalm 90:10, entitled Threescore Years and Ten, wrote: “When Moses wrote these words near the end of his life, he was 120 years old (Deuteronomy 34:7), but all the rest of the people of Israel (except Caleb and Joshua) who had been over 20 at the beginning of the 40-year wilderness wanderings, had died there (Numbers 14:28-34), and so there were no others over 60 years old…Thus, the normal lifespan by Moses’ time was down to 70 or 80 years, and he prophesied that this would continue. It is remarkable that, with all the increase in medical knowledge, this figure has stayed about the same, and there seems to be little the gerontologists can do to increase it.”

F.B. Meyer in his Through the Bible Day by Day pictures the Israelites’ trauma as they witnessed the older generation dying off because God judged them for refusing to enter the Promised Land as He instructed: “The ceaseless succession of graves was the bitter harvest of Israel’s rebellions. Oh, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom that we may not fail of God’s rest” (e-Sword 13.0.0)! The Treasury of David, by C.H. Spurgeon, elaborates further: “Poor Israel was greatly afflicted. These deaths in the wilderness made her a perpetual mourner, but Moses asks that God will return to his people, cheer and encourage them, and let the few days they have to live be bright with his presence” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

B.H. Carroll’s An Interpretation of the English Bible notes a fascinating correspondence between this psalm and a section of Deuteronomy: “There are several parallels between this and Moses’ Song and Blessing in Deuteronomy 32-33. For example, Psalm 90:1 equals Deuteronomy 33:27 a: Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations (Psalm 90:1). The eternal God is thy dwelling-place, And underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27 a). Psalm 90:12 equals Deuteronomy 32:29: So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12.) Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end, (Deuteronomy 32:29.)” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Moses had properly instructed the people in God’s ways, but their rebellion resulted in multiple graves instead of blessing.

Apply your hearts to wisdom

Even so, there is hope for all sinners. Bob Utley’s You Can Understand the Bible provides broader context for understanding this psalm: “Psalm 90:7-12 This strophe clearly admits that YHWH’s judgment on His people is the direct result of their sin. However, His people trust and hope in the basic character of God—mercy! To me, Psalm 103:8-14 is a sure hope in the character of God (cf. Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 4:31; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 145:8)” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Among his final statements, Moses admonishes the repentant to pray: “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil (Psalm 90:15) “.

In Psalm 90:12 God’s people are counseled to apply their hearts to wisdom. The NET Bible defines heart: “The Hebrew term ‘heart’ here refers to the center of one’s thoughts, volition, and moral character” (e-Sword 13.0.0). The Jamiesson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary describes what wisdom entails in this context: “The ‘wisdom’ meant is that which flows from a right consideration of the brevity of life, and our guiltiness as the cause of God’s, anger against us; and consists in ‘fearing God’ and ‘departing from evil’ (Job 28:28)” (Ibid.). This is the essence of repentance.

The Sermon Bible Commentary, edited by W. Robertson Nicholl, enhances the meaning of wisdom: “Wisdom is a great word, because the idea it symbolizes is great. Wisdom represents that finer power, that higher characteristic of mind, which suggests the proper application of facts, the right use of knowledge, the correct direction of our faculties. He whose heart is applied to wisdom has put himself in such a position that he can think divinely—think as God would think in his place” (e-Sword 13.0.0). The Expository Notes by Dr. Constable then summarizes wisdom: “A heart of wisdom refers to discernment of Yahweh’s purposes” (Ibid.). Bible study and prayer reveal the mind of God to the faithful.

The Treasury of David by C.H. Spurgeon illuminates true spiritual wisdom: “That is the great matter, after all, to get the heart applied to wisdom, to learn what is the right way, and to walk in it in the practical actions of daily life. It is of little use for us to learn to number our days if it merely enables us to sit down in self-confidence and carnal security; but if our hearts be applied to true wisdom, the Lord’s teaching has been effectual” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

W. Robertson Nicholl’s The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts elaborates with practical steps: “It means to gauge and test our own career in the light of its moral and spiritual issues. And as God teaches us this we understand the secret of true wisdom. For wisdom lies in a just estimate of the real values of things. T. H. Darlow, The Upward Calling, p. 436” (e-Sword 13.0.0). God’s wisdom teaches His adherents the things that really matter to prepare them for service in His eternal Kingdom.

Seeking eternity in a short life

Daniel Whedon’s Commentary specifies what God is trying to accomplish: “This looks to the end of all divine judgment. Lamentations 3:39-40. God’s displeasure is manifested to awaken a salutary fear of him, which shall turn men from sin, and lead to the practice of wisdom. So long as men treat sin as a trifle they will treat God with irreverence and themselves with abuse. Revelation 15:4” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

The Sermon Bible Commentary, edited by W. Robertson Nicholl, presses upon devotees the right use of their limited time: “A short life should be wisely spent. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify us in misspending a single quarter of an hour. Neither are we sure of enough of life to justify us in procrastinating for a moment. If we were wise in heart we should see this, but mere head wisdom will not guide us aright” (e-Sword 13.0.0). God gives Christians limited time – use it wisely!

Henry Morris’ Defender’s Study Bible makes an impressive comparison: “Compare Deuteronomy 32:29 in Moses’ valedictory address to the children of Israel. A person has only about eighteen thousand days in which he could apply his life to eternal values, so it is vitally important to be ‘redeeming the time’ (Ephesians 5:16)” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Bob Utley’s You Can Understand the Bible provides reassuring words to begin to bring this brief study to a close: “Once we realize our frailty and His permanence, then and only then, can we live a life of joy, peace, and trust. Our hope is completely in Him. Our service to Him brings meaning to life” (e-Sword 13.0.0)! The time that God does provide believers should be expended in His service. The NKJ Study Bible pinpoints the central lesson of Psalm 90:12: “This is more than just having a sense of mortality; it means valuing the time we do have by using it for eternal purposes” (Tecarta Bible App).

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.