A Lenten study of Acts, led by Duke professor emeritus
The Rev. James “Mickey” Efird has taught biblical studies since 1958, when he was a graduate student at Duke Divinity School. He spent decades on the faculty and is a professor emeritus. For those who haven’t been his students at Duke, Efird frequently leads study series at local churches.
This Lent, he is lecturing on the New Testament book of Acts at First Presbyterian Church. It is part of the church’s annual Lenten Bible study, and from 10:30 a.m. to noon Thursdays through April 10, Efird is “teaching and sharing what he knows to enrich others,” said the Rev. Mark Diehl, interim senior pastor at First Presbyterian.
Diehl called Efird a “remarkable teacher.” Efird is an ordained Presbyterian minister who received his master of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and doctorate from Duke Divinity School. He has written 13 books and has taught the United Methodist Church’s Course of Study program since 1966.
This past week at First Presbyterian, Efird recapped the study’s progress as they worked their way through Acts. They discovered that the Church was founded in Jerusalem with the Pentecost sermon of Simon Peter, Efird reminded the class, who had Bibles open in their laps as they followed along. The Church ran into conflict with religious leadership of Jews in Jerusalem, who saw the new religion as a threat to their power base, he explained.
“A lot of people in Judaism were not happy with what was going on,” Efird said, and were also fed up with the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Politics hasn’t changed much, Efird said. He gave historical context, analysis and referenced other Scriptural passages as the class proceeded through Acts chapters 4 through 9. The story in Acts 5 about Ananias and Sapphira gives the message that “hypocrisy kills,” he said.
Also, Acts has a number of designations to denote the new Christian movement, Efird said, like calling it the Way, the Light and Sect of the Nazarenes.
He noted that one passage has an order of events wrong, but that doesn’t mean you throw the text out. The Church never claimed infallibility of mentions of history or place, though religiously it is true and infallible, Efird said.
“Don’t get bent out of shape if you find a historical mistake in the Bible, because you will,” he said. Efird pointed out the wrong name of a priest used by Mark, which was correctly used by Luke and Matthew.
Church founders suffered for the cause, Efird said. “It wasn’t an easy go here, for the Apostles and the establishment of the Church and this proclamation of a man called Jesus.”
Acts 6 discussed those chosen to serve.
“This business of laying on of hands goes back a long way,” Efird explained, and how someone is set apart for a task by the community. Not necessarily a miraculous gift, he said, people set apart for a task are qualified to do the work on behalf of the community. Like ordination, Efird said.
When Saul is introduced in Acts 8, “we’re getting ready now to see the Church move out to larger areas in Palestine,” Efird said. “It happens because of persecution in Jerusalem,” he said. Saul took men and women to prison, Efird said, pointing out that women were important in the creation and development of the church.
Efird told the class that he bet the headline above Acts 9 in their Bibles read “The Conversion of Saul.”
“But this is not about a conversion,” he said. “Saul is in the right church, just not in the right pew.” Saul was uniquely qualified to spread the Gospel, Efird said, because he was a man of the world, traveled, knew languages and was trained as a rabbi. Saul’s name was not changed to Paul on the road to Damascus, not until Acts 13, so his name change is not directly connected to that experience, he said.
For the March 20 study, Efird will continue studying Acts in chapter 10 as the Church begins to focus and begins a ministry at Antioch in Syria.
While much shorter sermons can seem long, Efird’s hour and a half long lecture went by fast for Louise Owen, she said.
“I wanted him to keep talking. He uses such common sense language,” she said. Owen has attended the Lenten study series for years and encourages her Sunday school class at Grace Baptist Church to attend, too.
“I think Dr. Efird does a great service and he does it so easily,” Owen said.
WHAT: Lenten study of Acts led by James Efird
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. to noon Thursdays through April 10
WHERE: First Presbyterian Church
305 E. Main St., Durham
INFORMATION: 919-682-5511 or http://firstpres-durham.org