I was very fortunate to be given the time and space for a three month Sabbatical over the summer of 2020. I wanted to try and find the person we know as Paul the Apostle and those early small Churches he engaged with and wrote to. The letters are unique in Scripture as we mainly know who wrote them, when and to who. If we go looking, we can find a fair amount about the history of the era and uncover some details of early synagogue life to help inform what those early churches may have started with.

The other unique thing in the New Testament to do with Paul’s letters, is that they are all undoubtedly written before anything else – the Gospels or other Epistles. They can be read as self-supporting documents whose only inspirations were Paul’s encounters with the risen Jesus and the Holy Spirit, his excellent knowledge of Old Testament Scripture and Traditions alongside any oral history that may have been circulating. They therefore give a unique insight.

I wrote a summary of my Sabbatical that will in time end up on here, (It was primarily written for myself, so I don’t forget what I learned. Its front cover image is alongside) once the five talks are completed, along with other resources as they become available. The videos of the talks, as they happen, will be archived below as they are completed. (They can also be watched on the live streams of services on St Jude’s Church YouTube Channel) The first item available to download is the ‘Map and Timeline’, handed out with the first talk:


There is a danger in reading scripture closely, that was highlighted at an early stage of a major piece of reading at the start of my Sabbatical in: “The New Testament in its World” by Tom Wright and Michel Bird. It was an excellent resource, and in reading from cover to cover (987 pages) it gave a phenomenal summary of the history I needed. However, as they wrote (pg 174), when we approach scripture with an open mind:

“This process of rethinking will include the hard and often threatening question of whether some things that our traditions have taken as ‘literal’ should be seen as ‘metaphorical’, and perhaps also vice-versa – and, if so, which ones.”

When I found just such challenges, I decided I didn’t have the time within the Sabbatical to then consider what the later Church modified from Paul’s times and found myself writing this in the summary of my small booklet:

“This sabbatical wasn’t a time to consider whether the later changes to the wider Church as it evolved from Paul’s times were helpful or not, rather I wanted to see these early small churches as they were, through Paul’s eyes”    but…   “This then leaves something to ponder – they still thrived without all of Christendom’s later changes…”

The weekly talk titles from the 4th October 2020 will be as follows:

1. Introduction    2: Paul    3: Jesus AND The Holy Spirit    4: Unity    5: Uncomplicated

I hope you find the talks and resources as they are uploaded helpful.

Tim Smith – Autumn 2020

Video from the 4 October 2020. Talk 1: Introduction

Video from the 11 October 2020. Talk 2: Paul

Video from the 18 October 2020. Talk 3: Jesus AND the Holy Spirit