Introduction to Paul

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Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.


Introduction to Paul


I. The Canon of the New Testament

A. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts

B. Letters of Paul

1. Letters to churches (decreasing length)

2. Letters to individuals (decreasing length)

C. Hebrews, General Epistles (James, Peter, John, Jude), Revelation


II. Paul's Life Before His Letters

A. A.D. 5-10: birth in Tarsus

B. Age 5-12: elementary education

C. Age 12-14?: tentmaking apprenticeship

D. Age 15-18?: study with Gamaliel in Jerusalem

E. A.D. 32-35 (age twenty-something): conversion/call/commission

F. Until A.D. 47-48: "hidden years" but eventually in ministry in Syrian Antioch


III. Theological Changes from Saul's Conversion

A. Christology

B. Soteriology

C. Eschatology

D. Ecclesiology


IV. Paul's 4 Missionary Journeys


V. Fixed Points in the Chronology of Acts

A. Ascension and Pentecost [A.D. 30] Acts 1-2

B. Stoning of Stephen and conversion of Saul [A.D.32 or 33]

C. Paul's first Jerusalem visit [C.A. A.D. 35]

D. Death of Herod Agrippa I [A.D. 44] Acts 12

E. Height of famine in Judea [A.D. 46] Acts 11:27-30

F. First missionary journey, Apostolic Council, and second missionary journey (1+ years in Corinth) [A.D. 49]

G. Gallio in Corinth [A.D. 51-52] Acts 18:12

H. Third missionary journey [A.D. 52-55]

I. 3 years in Ephesus [A.D. 53-56]

J. Return to Jerusalem/arrest and imprisonment under Felix (2 years) [A.D. 57-59]

K. Accession of Festus [A.D. 59] Acts 24:27

L. Two years in Rome [A.D. 60-62]


VI. Chronology of Paul's Letters

A. Galatians A.D. 49

B. 1-2 Thessalonians A.D. 50-51

C. 1 Corinthians A.D. 55

D. 2 Corinthians A.D. 56

E. Romans A.D. 57

F. Philemon/Colossians/Ephesians A.D. 60-61

G. Philippians A.D. 61-62

H. Titus, 1 Timothy A.D. 62-?

I. 2 Timothy < A.D. 68


VII. The Typical Greco-Roman Letter

A. Salutation: "X" to "Y" greetings

B. Prayer and/or thanksgiving

C. Body

1. Main information

2. Exhortation or request

D. Concluding Farewell


VIII. Disputed and Undisputed Epistles of Paul

A. Undisputed

1. Galatians

2. Romans

3. 1 Corinthians

4. 2 Corinthians

5. 1 Thessalonians

6. Philemon

7. Philippians

B. Semi-disputed

1. 2 Thessalonians

2. Colossians

C. Heavily-disputed

1. Ephesians

2. 1 Timothy

3. 2 Timothy

4. Titus


IX. Ancient Attitudes to Psedonymity

A. Post A.D. 150 (largely Gentile) Christianity

B. Earliest (Jewish and Gentile) Christianity

C. Pre Christian Judaism


X. Epistles and Canonization

A. Disputed books eventually accepted

1. Hebrews

2. James

3. 2 Peter

4. 2 John

5. 3 John

6. Jude

7. Revelation

B. Disputed books eventually rejected

1. Epistle of Barnabas

2. Shepherd of Hermas

3. Didache

4. 1 and 2 Clement


XI. Earliest Post-New Testament Christian Literature

A. Apostolic Fathers

B. New Testament Apocrypha

C. Nag Hammadi Library

D. Ante-Nicene Fathers


XII. Twelve Pillars of Pauline Thought: Blending the Best of the Old and New Perspectives

A. Monotheism and election of Israel

B. Human sin and failure of Israel and her law

C. God's covenant faithfulness in mercy to Jew and Gentile

D. Reflected in salvation through crucified Messiah

E. Vindicated in Jesus' resurrection displaying him as Lord

F. Already but not yet fulfillment of God's promises in Him

G. Life in Christ solely by grace through faith

H. Jesus and Holy Spirit spoken of in language of deity

I. Following Jesus implies "cruciform" living

J. Life in Spirit is foretaste, guarantee of coming glory

K. Countercultural community is crucial

L. Parousia and resurrection as the climax


Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation

Lecture: Introduction to Paul

(The readings of the textbook for this course are important and should be attended as directed by the lecturer. The lecture merely reinforces and repeats and illustrates what is in the textbook. There are also PowerPoint visuals that accompany this course, hopefully adding further clarification to this study.)


I. Opening Remarks

We begin by turning to the Epistles of Paul, the author who is responsible for thirteen of the letters contained in the New Testament Canon. After Jesus Christ, himself, probably no other single individual was more influential in the foundation and formation of Christianity in its early years or perhaps in any period of its history. Some wings of the church today focus a large portion of their study of Scripture on the writings of Paul. They believe his teachings about God and human kind, humanities plight, the need for salvation and the provision God has made through Christ for that salvation are better attested and elucidated in the letters of Paul than in any other major section of the Christian Scriptures. Key thinkers throughout Christian history have under gone personal and then led cooperate Christian revolutions because of their understanding of the writings of the Apostle Paul. One thinks of Saint Augustin in the early 4th century with his dramatic conversion and strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God in leading the lives of People and also in the entire universe and cosmos. Then there was Martin Luther, the first major Protestant reformer in the early 15th century who readings of Galatians and Romans in particularly led him to the conviction that significant teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in which he was raised and ministering were fundamentally misguided. One thinks of the next major reformer chronologically, John Calvin and his highly influential commentaries on the New Testament but particularly on the Epistles of Paul. Or again in the 20th century of the towering theologian from German, Carl Bart who led a theological revolution away from the rampant liberalism of prevailing German thought of the first half of that century into what subsequently became known as neo-orthodoxy. And the list could be extended considerably. What is it, about Paul, this man and his mission, his work and his writing that has proved so highly influential even more so at times than other inspired Scripture?

We may begin by referring to some biography for students who wish to do considerably more study than this short course permits. For the very concise but well-chosen introductory comments and an overview of Paul’s life and letters, one may turn to Richard Longnecker’s little book, the Ministry and Message of Paul or for a slightly more detailed and up to date survey of scholarship but nevertheless still at an introductory level N. T. Wrights treatment of what Saint Paul really said. At an intermediate level, the long used textbook by F.F. Bruss, Paul, and Apostle of the Heart Set Free, still merits considerable scrutiny. A similar sized and up to date equivalent is John Paul Hills, Paul and His Letters. Or for a more theological survey, focusing primarily on Paul’s theology; one may compare Tom Shiners’, Paul’s Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ with James Dun’s The Theology of Paul, the Apostle. For an excellent overview of what people are saying about Paul these days under a number of headings, please consult Ben Livingtons’, Paul’s Quest, the Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus. And the most recent work of those mentions here that in a survey form treats a theological introduction to Paul and His Letters, Michael Gormans’, Apostle of the Crucified Lord. The study of these books can reap great dividends. A full biography of these resources can be found at the end of the chapter on Paul in the textbook.

II. The Canon of the New Testament

We turn now to the question of the Canon of the New Testament and the letters of Paul and more particularly, why do they appear where they do in the Christian Bible. Of course, it made sense for the four Gospels to be placed first because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each in its own way presented the life of Christ who as Christians believe the God Man from an earthy perspective founded the religion now known as Christianity. It made equally good sense to place the Book of Acts next because it was the only history book of the first generation of Christianity after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Except for the Book of Revelation, the remaining New Testament documents are all letters or Epistles. It makes sense to group them together according to their authors because Paul was the most prolific epistle writer and arguably the most important in the life of the early church and influence of the Apostle Documents, Paul’s letters were placed first. The second half of the Book of Acts focuses on the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul and so here we find yet another reason for placing Paul’s letter immediately following the Book of Acts.

Then comes the Epistle to the Hebrews which in the earliest manuscripts for many centuries had no description of authorship attached to it at all. From the earliest years of Church history, Christians debated who the author of Hebrews was. Some argued for Paul, but as we will see when we come to our introduction to Hebrews several other candidates was put forward as well and other church fathers simply admitted ignorance of this letter’s author. Because of the feeling that in some circles, there was some connection with Paul, Hebrews was placed after the letters that were attributed to Paul. But it was not initially identified as coming from him.

Then come letters from four early Christian leaders, James, Peter, John and Jude and best we can tell that they were put in that order because of the prominence of those four men in the earliest decades of the Christian movement. Of course it will come as a surprise to some people that James was initially a more central and foundational Christian leader than Peter but this appears to be what Acts in its first fifteen chapters discourses as James is described as the chief elder of the church in Jerusalem, even as Peter quickly becomes involved in a more iterant ministry due to the persecution of Christians in more heavily Jewish portions of the Roman Empire and Peter remains a very significant Christian leader. His right hand man was the Apostle John and Jude is clearly the least significant of the four. More will be discussed about these individuals when we introduce the letter which they wrote. Revelation, being an entirely different genre, was an apocalyptic work, but also about the end of history as we know it and probably was the last written of all the canonical Christian documents. So it was placed at the end of the New Testament. It’s important to stress that this origination of the books and letters of the New Testament did not occur immediately and without various other orders proposed and used. But when the canon was standardized largely by the 4th century, this sequence more and more came to prevail.

Why do the letters of Paul appear in the order they do? In this survey we will not begin with the Book of Romans and proceed in canonical sequence but rather reconstruct the most probable chorological sequence of the writings of these letters in order to trace the events, historically that took place before and after the composition of each of them. We will draw some connections between the different letters according to those historical developments. But if the canon was not ultimately arranged in such a sequence then what kind of arrangement dictated this order. The answer is a fairly mundane one, it appears that the letters were almost put exclusively in an order of decreasing length; an approach that was not unknown in other collections of documents written by a single individual in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Thus Romans is in fact the longest of Paul’s letters. 1st Corinthians is the next longest, followed by 2nd Corinthians etc. When two of Paul’s letters were written to the same community however, they were placed together and it just happens that his first letter to the Corinthians is longer than the second. This happens also with the letters to the Thessalonians but with 1st and 2nd Timothy, the pattern is broken. Keeping letters to the same audience appears to have superseded the order of decreasing length. Moreover, Paul’s letters can be divided into two broad categories, those which were addressed to entire churches and those which were addressed to individual Christian leaders, although in each case, those leaders seemed to be leaders or pastors of church congregations. Thus Paul’s letters to churches were grouped together first, Romans through Thessalonians, followed by those addressed to individuals first of all, 1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus. Within those two large groupings the pattern of decreasing length and letters to the same audiences were grouped together.

A look at the map of the Roman Empire as it existed in the early Christian years helps us to see the swath of Paul’s influence and the area embraced by the spread of the Gospel. Paul will speak in his letters of his desire to minister to the western most extend of the Roman Empire, the area of Spain and while Scripture itself does not state whether he ever made it there or not, early Christian tradition believe that he did. In Romans 15, Paul does say that he has successfully ministered all the way around from Jerusalem to Illyricum; Illyricum being a Roman province stretching from the Black Sea all the way to Gaul. This was the largely Greek speaking or eastern half of the empire, however Paul expressed his desire to move to the predominately Latin speaking part of the empire.

III. Paul's Life Before His Letters

We will shortly come to the chronology of events in Paul’s life that can be inferred from information directly expressed in the New Testament, but that information is highly selective. What may we infer with some reasonable probability about Paul’s life before and surrounding the period explicitly discussed in the Book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, themselves. How old of a man for example was Paul, originally known as Saul of Tarsus? In the letters he penned in the 50’s and 60’s of the first century A.D., he sometimes referred to himself as an old man, which in some instances in the Greek speaking world due to an average life expectancy of mid to late 40s need only to have meant that he was over 40 years old. Though other documents, it seems to be limited to people closer to the age of 50 or beyond. Such usage would push the date of Saul’s birth close to the beginning of the Christian era or a few years after of what now is the change from BC to AD as in our current usage. Saul, on the other hand, is described as a young man when he stood by and watched the stoning of Stephen in the book of Acts. The term here as used for a young man at times, was quite explicit in describing someone from the ages of 18 to 22 or perhaps just a little bit more. Given here that Stephen was stoned in the year 32, this would push a date for Paul’s birth closer to AD 10, and hence the range of the dates you see on the PowerPoint visual. But we must admit that we simply cannot be entirely sure.

What would Paul’s early years have included? The typical 1st century Jewish boy and unfortunately it was largely limited to boys, particularly in the larger cities with significant Jewish communities with well-organized synagogues; it typical would have something similar to an elementary school education from ages 5 to 12 or perhaps 13. With Tarsus being a leading city in the Greco-Roman world with a significant Jewish synagogue, we believe that Paul would have experienced such a seven or eight year period of grade school education. However, this was not 21st western education, there was only one subject that the Rabbis taught the young school boys and that was the subject of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians today call the Old Testament. There was only one primary method of instruction and that was rote memory. A later rabbinic tradition would say that a person was not deemed competent to discuss a text of Scripture until he had memorized it. This was done undoubtedly to avoid a misuse of the text because of an inaccurate rending of it. As a result, Jewish boys were able to memorize such large amounts of material and often committed large portions of the Hebrew Bible to memory. And those who went on to more formal advanced studies to become a Rabbi at times committed the entire Hebrew Bible and portions of what in the 1st century was the oral law or Halaka, teachings which amplified Scripture and were later written down and later qualified in the document known as the Mishnah was put together in a written form first in approximately 200 AD. Massive feats of memory by ancient standards and yet traditional orthodox and even Hasidic Jews into the 20th and 21st centuries though in ever lowering numbers have accomplished similar feats when they have begun to study and memorize Scripture often chanting it to a musical tune and rhythm to facilitate that memory.

What would Saul of Tarsus do upon completing this otherwise mandatory Jewish elementary school education? Almost all Jewish boys were taught a trade by which they could support themselves. More often than not, they were simply apprenticed to their fathers in the boy’s early adolescent years. It may well be that from the ages of 12 to 14 or 13 to 15 Saul learned tent making because his father had be a tent maker or it’s possible that he learned it from some other local tent maker in Tarsus. In the Book of Acts, we are told on several occasions that Saul was one of a handful of elite Jews who had then progressed to what we would call today, seminary education. Only again, we must not imagine it along the lines of contemporary models. Saul went to Jerusalem to study with an individual rabbi just as elite Greek school boys often advanced to study with an individual philosopher. Gamaliel was a member Jewish Sanhedrin or Supreme Court and would have had a small group of young male students surrounding him studying with him itinerantly or peripatetically, learning in a holistic way what it meant to live a life as a Jewish Rabbi. This could easily have occupied Saul’s years from the age of 15 to 18 years.

A Jewish boy upon reaching the age of 18 was considered to be at a marriageable age and had already committed to following a life of obedience to the Torah through to the precursor of what’s called today, a bar mitzvah ceremony. Taking upon himself the yoke of the Torah and being called a son of the commandment, a translation of the word, bar mitzvah. Already at the age of 12 or 13 but by 18 he was considered an adult who had completed their rabbinic training and ready to start with his occupation. We are never told whether Paul completed this rabbinic training or if he did complete it and went on to be an ordained rabbi and went on to minister in a local synagogue. If he was indeed only around the age of 18 or 22 and his own conversion took place shortly after the stoning of Stephen. Again, we will see when we turn to the chronology explicit to him.

It may be that he had not begun to fully function as a rabbi but again we are simply not sure. The issue does have some considerable interest to interpreters of the New Testament because almost without exception, rabbis were required to be married. Paul will describe in 1st Corinthians 7 that he is single as he writes that letter in the mid 50’s, but one wondered if he had once been married and perhaps become a widower. As a requirement for being a rabbi, it was extremely common for adult Jewish men to be married, so it is probable that he would have been married sometime in his life. Saul could have set on the Sanhedrin even for a short period of time. This would account to why he was present, watching the garments of those who were stoning Stephen. It would account for the language later in the Book of Acts when he told his own personal testimony, Paul talks about how he cast his vote against those early Christians, a language suggestive of a formal court room scene. But that language could also be metaphorical for it was extremely rare for a man in his late 20’s to sit on the Sanhedrin so probably we should not proceed with any great confidence with that line of inquiry.

Paul finally is converted somewhere between the years of AD 32 to 35 when he was at the age of twenty something. That conversion also embraces his call or commission to be God’s apostle to the gentiles, but the biblical record misses out the next fifteen years or so of what is sometimes called his hidden years. Only then to have him re-emerge in Acts 9 and 11 as engaging in ministry particularly around Syrian Antioch. A period that overlaps with a testimony Paul gives autobiographically in Galatians 1 as well. What did those hidden years involve? Given that Acts 9 and 11 find Saul ministering and preaching his faith immediately upon his conversion and then engaged in and around his home town of Tarsus when he reappears years later. It’s likely that a large portion of this period was involved with ministry that didn’t take him far afield from his home town. Apparently Luke was interested in recording Paul’s more wide spread missionary journeys in fulfillment of Acts 1:8 in which Christ predicted and promised that his followers would be his witnesses ultimately to the ends of the ends of the earth. Of course, it is also probable that Paul did not distinguish himself or become as well known while his ministry was a local one, but again, we cannot be sure of this.


This is the 2nd lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey.

IV. Theological Changes from Saul's Conversion

Before we turn to trace the better known part of Paul’s life and ministry based on the explicit New Testament testimony, it’s possible to reflect on the theological changes that would have resulted from Saul’s conversion from a very conservative and orthodox form of pharisaical Judaism to the new radical and soon to be declared heretical form of Judaism initially known as the Nazarene Movement or the Followers of the Way and finally the Christian Movement. Paul in a number of places will describe in his letters information about Jesus, deeds and his teachings that he learned from Christian tradition. But he will also describe in Galatians 1 how the core of his Gospel, the fundamental changes in understanding that formed his conversion, his call and his commission which were not revealed by flesh and blood but directly from God. Unfortunately neither Paul nor Acts goes on to specify what changes explicitly fell into this category but we may infer that Paul’s thinks along the lines of four central Jewish and Christian topics would have undergone very quick and radical transformation. Obviously, his Christology would have changed his understanding of who the Christ or the Messiah was. Jews who had not yet come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah by definition rejected the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth and of his first followers. They would still be waiting for a Messiah at some point in the future. Saul would have originally believed that Jesus was an imposture, a fraught, even a blasphemer for all that he had said and claimed, believing as he would explain later in Galatians 3 that a crucified Messiah was the ultimate oxymoron or non-sequitur crucifixion rather demonstrated on the basis of the deuteronomic laws that a person was a criminal or least a severe sinner in God’s eyes. Jesus by virtue of his crucifixion could not have been the Messiah, unless of course something as spectacular as a resurrection vindicated the fact that he was crucified unjustly as an innocent man. Saul would not have had any reason to believe the stories about Jesus’ resurrection up to this point in his life but when he personally encountered and viewed the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, there was no option for him but to change his views.

Because of this radical change in Saul’s Christology, his soteriology would therefore have undergone a similar transformation. For Jews who had not come to believe Jesus as Messiah, salvation was the gift of God to be appropriated first of all by grace out of gratitude for all that God had done for Israel as illustrated by Exodus and the rescue of Israel from Egypt centuries earlier. But salvation for Israel did not stop there, just as the giving of the commandments at Mt Sinai came after the rescue from Egypt and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, so also he who took upon himself the yolk of the Torah as a bar mitzvah as the Son of the Commandment had to work out his religious life and demonstrate that he was remaining faithful to the covenant God made with Abraham and thus with Israel through a life of Torah obedience. Christians were already coming to teach that it was not ones election as part of the covenant community of Israel, confirmed by one’s life of Torah obedience but rather following Jesus of Nazareth, believing him to be the Messiah, trusting him for the salvation that his Cross made possible, apart from any works of law that made a person right with God. Oh, it was true that to be a disciple of Jesus meant a lifelong faithfulness to his teaching, much of which was in deeply seated continuity with the Old Testament. But in no way could those works be said to form a basis for one’s salvation in the various ways that they often at least to come to very close to saying that they did in various branches of Judaism.

If Saul’s Christology and soteriology underwent such a transformation, so must his eschatology undergo such a similar transformation. So long as the Messiah had not come then the Messianic age of Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied new covenant could never have been said to be present in all its fullness or even to have been initiated in part. But if Jesus was the Messiah, the Messianic age had at the very least had begun. The end times were now present even if there were some details of Old Testament prophecy yet to unfold. What was dramatically different was the Christian conviction that Saul now found himself somehow compelled to adopt that Jesus was resurrected ahead of the general resurrection of all people at the end of human history at the time of God’s judgment as prophesied at the end of Daniel 12:2. But Saul and early Christianity in general clearly believed that the time was short until such general resurrection would occur.

Some of the letters we cover in detail will have to come to grips with the apparent delay of that end. And we see how Christians deal with that theological issue. But we may anticipate their most central answer by saying even here that they like those before them with many of the Scriptural prophesies recognize that from God’s perspective was very soon yet from our human perspective to be a much longer period of time. Finally, we may note that Saul’s ecclesiology, his doctrine of the church or of the community of God’s people would have dramatically changed. No longer was it necessary to be a Jew either by birth or conversion to be a part of God’s elect covenant community. Rather it was that one must be one of Jesus’ followers and disciples, Jew and Gentile alike, able to come to Christ through God on equal terms by faith apart from the works of the law. We will see at the end of this introductory survey of Paul’s life and letters, that there are additional central themes to his teachings. But this four, his understanding of the Messiah, of Salvation, the End Times and of the Community of God’s People can help us see already how he could claim that the broad and fundamental contours of his Gospel came to him if not directly, told to him by the Jesus that appeared to him on the Damascus road, at least logically deducible in a compelling fashion from what Jesus explicitly revealed.

V. Paul's Four Missionary Journeys

What then about the three missionary journeys that occupy so much of Acts 13 to 28 and which form an essential back ground for understanding the letters of the Christian Scriptures. Why did Saul set out to go where he did? And why did he go to the places that Luke describes in the order that he did? Paul’s first missionary journey occupying part of all of the years AD 48 to 49 begins with him helping Barnabas in ministry at Barnabas’s request in and around Syrian Antioch. It is natural therefore for him to set out from there. Paul and Barnabas together proceed to the island of Cyprus which in fact is where Barnabas, the Levite originally came from. It is natural for them to progress to the home island that may not yet have had any significant evangelism. They visited Salamis and Paphos, both port cities. We will see that Paul and his various travelling companions regularly tried to visit the largest urban communities of that day, for if they reached these centers for Christ; they also would reach the outlining areas as well, although the reverse is not the case. The most dramatic conversion narrated in Acts that Paul and Barnabas experienced was in Paphos with the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus. It’s interesting at this point in the Book of Acts that Paul leaves off using his Jewish name and Luke begins to describe him uniformly as using his Roman name, Paulus or in English, Paul. It is not that Saul changed his name when he became a Christian but rather when he begins to minister in Greco-Roman territory and it is at least a coincidental observation that his Latin name, Paulus matches that of Sergius Paulus, the Roman governor there at Cyprus. Did he see that as a strategic way of identifying with the governor there and then continued to use that name. This is an intriguing idea.

From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas and John Mark with them, at least for a little more time, travelled over to Perga of the province of Pamphylia or what today would be the central southern coast of Turkey. This was somewhat of a significant city but instead of ministering there or nearby city of Attaia, they progressed from the larger coastal cities up into the central plateau of southern Galatia and the city of Pisidain Antioch, the largest city of that regent but considerably smaller that the coastal cities and considerably smaller towns of Iconium, east of Pisidain Antioch and then to Lystra and Derbe somewhat south of Iconium near the province of Cilica. This is the one place where Paul departs from ministering in larger cities and is worth asking why Paul did this. It may be that Paul did not stay in the coastal regents because of an illness. He speaks in Galatians 4 having come to the Galatians because of an illness though he never tells us what that illness was. Throughout Christian history a number of suggestions have been made but one popular idea is Malaria. Because we know that coastal regents in those days were a hot bed for the infestation of mosquitoes in those swampy lowlands that bread the disease. Whatever his illness was, it wasn’t something that prevented him from engaging in physical exercise in his many travels and the endurance of flogging and other punishment he received from Jewish leaders from time to time. The very intermittent nature of Malaria could fit this description but again we have to say it is only an educated guess at best. There is another possible reason they proceeded onto Pisidian Antioch and that is archaeology, fairly recently, has uncovered inscriptions that suggest that relatives of Sergius Paulus at various times in the first century occupied Roman leadership posts in Pisdian Antioch as well. Sergius could have requested that his relatives allow Paul and his ban to be allowed to preach the Gospel in their city. At best, this is only a logical inference.

Once Paul and his group arrived in the high country, it would have been natural that they would visit nearby towns. It’s interested to read about the hardships they faced, including nearly dying after being stoned, yet he continued to retrace his steps to follow up on the fledgling Christian communities he helped to found in these southern Galatian communities despite the trouble he experienced there. They then returned to the coast on to their base at Antioch in Syria.

After some time there, he embarks with new companions on his second missionary journey, depending on which dating scheme one follows, somewhere between years AD50-54. From Antioch he travels overland to revisit his hometown of Tarsus, following up on the young church there and then once again to the cities of southern Galatia. Having already written the epistle to the Galatians to counter the theological threats which they faced, he wanted to see what the results were. From there, Paul and his companions wanted to move further west trying to expand their horizons to preach the Gospel to other places. Acts 16 discloses that Paul was unsure of where to go next and following what we describe today as a pattern of open and close doors or theologically forbidden by the Spirit to enter various provinces until he finds himself in the coastal city of Troas in the area of Mysia or today, western Turkey. Here, he has his famous vision of the man of Macedonia. Today, the country of Macedonia still exists but much smaller than the Roman province which now also includes that of Northern Greece, of which is divided up into Eastern Macedonia, Central Macedonia and Western Macedonia. In the vision, Paul is called to come over and preach the Gospel. Paul recognizes this as a vision from the Lord and so sails across the northern portion of the Aegean Sea to the European side and enters into the Greco-Roman province of Macedonia. Today, of course, unlike Turkey, the religion of Islam doesn’t have any influence in Greece, a country where the Greek Orthodox Church Thrives. However, the country of Macedonia is split between 67% Greek Orthodox and 23% Albanian Muslims. Paul proceeds along the coast visiting different cities with Berea being the last one in Macedonia. From there, he crosses over into the province of Achia and arrives in Corinth. After this, Paul sails back across the Aegean Sea to the city of Ephesus where he has been requested to visit by the elders there. However, he is in a hurry to get back to Israel and more specifically, Jerusalem to attend the festival of Pentecost.

After this, he returns to his home base at Antioch and reports to the believers. Once again, Paul heads out overland visiting the cities and towns of Galatia and Asia Minor. This fulfills his promise to spend a longer time in Ephesus which in fact he does as Luke describes in Acts 20 staying nearly three years. It is during this period that he wrote 1st Corinthians and then becomes aware of new problems which make him want to see them. He eventually writes his second letter to the Corinthians. And while he was in Corinth, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans which was next chronologically. He retraces his steps overland to Macedonia and Achaia again. Dangers continued to follow him; he encounters threats in Ephesus and other places. On returning, he meets up with the Ephesus elders at the port city of Miletus. From there he sets sail for Jerusalem again. He arrives in Phoenicia and is presented with collections from the brothers and sisters from letters earlier sent and money as a result of a famine in the later AD 40’s. Little did he know that when he embarked on this journey, a prophecy from Agabus said that if he continued to Jerusalem, he would be arrested and imprisoned. He accepts this as God’s will and the closing chapters of Acts narrates the various imprisonments of Paul in Caesarea by the sea on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and ultimately the appeal of Paul to Caesar and what some call his fourth missionary journey or as others call, his captive journey in which he takes in the fall, winter and spring of AD 59-60, the boat which was ultimately ship wrecked on the Island of Malta where in the spring a boat takes him onto Rome. It is difficult to come up with exact dates of all his imprisonments because many scholars will often change these dates by a year or so, plus or minus.

VI. Fixed Points in the Chronology of Acts

How do we put all these dates together? What are the six points in the chronology of Acts that impinge on the life and letters of Paul? One of those fixed points is the year in which Jesus was crucified, resurrected and accented into heaven, then after fifty days came the Jewish festival of Pentecost. But that year the Holy Spirit came on all those who believed that Jesus was Lord. Two major dates earlier discussed which according to calculations of the new and full moons, Passover must have begun on the day we now call Good Friday, AD 30 and 33. The majority of scholars opt for AD30 though we must allow for the possibility for the year AD33 as well which would require a change in thinking of the earlier dates. If the ascension in Pentecost, the two events narrated in the Book of Acts did occur in AD 30, then we move to a second fixed point in the chronology of Acts, namely the death of Herod Agrippa 1st, narrated in Acts 12 and from the story of Josephus must have taken place in AD44. From Josephus as well, we can deduce that the famine which afflicted Judea was at its peak in AD 46 or perhaps 47 and from an inscription found in the archaeological digs of Corinth, we can place the Roman Gallio, who was in Corinth when Paul preached and ministered there from the summer of AD 51 to the summer of AD 52 or again slightly less.

Finally, the Roman Governor of Judea takes up his post in place of Felix, most likely in the year AD 59. This comes from Josephus and other non-Christian sources. How then do we fix the remaining information relative to Saul’s life around these fixed points? Galatians chapter 1 refers to a three year period of time and then a 14 year period of time between Paul’s visits to Jerusalem. The visit that occurred just before his conversion as he was heading from Jerusalem to Damascus and then the two visits that found him meeting with the Apostles and early Christian leaders in Jerusalem. All of this obviously had to happen before Paul could write about it in the letter to the Galatians and as we will see when we discuss the introduction to Galatians. While there is a debate whether Galatians was written before or after the Apostle Council of Acts 15 particularly among evangelical scholars, there is a reasonable consensus and good reason for understanding that it was written before this Council.

This Council forms the hiatus or the most notable event that Luke narrates between Paul’s first and second missionary journeys and it is comparative early in his second missionary journey in which he finds himself in Corinth. How then do we work out dates in between Paul’s time in Corinth overlapping with Gallio, governorship there in AD 51 to 52 and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, probably in AD 30? We need to work backwards, leaving time for the cities that Paul visited before he arrived in Corinth. We learned in Acts that he spent about one and a half years there. We need to leave time for the Apostle Council and other events that took place in between two missionary journeys. We leave time for his comparative brief, 1st missionary journey and in doing so most writers come up with the dates of AD 48-49, 50-52 in Corinth and then leaving after the social unrest there that his ministry caused, sometimes before Gallio’s term of office ended in AD 52. On the assumption that it was written around AD 48-49 just before the Apostle Council, we can come up with dates of about AD 45 for Paul’s first Jerusalem visit. Septhens’ stoning has to be before Saul’s conversion and yet seems to be shortly before it, we may end up putting these two events in the same year.

Factors are complicated as we have noticed and many scholars will vary these times by a year or two from the dates that have been given here. Many ancient writers calculated the dates of significant events in two different ways, often interspersing them. For example, one could speak of the second year of a certain political rulers reign or term of office as being AD 51, an event taking place in January of 51 could be referred to as taking place in the second year of his reign. But it also could be described as taking place in the first year of his reign because twelve months had not yet elapsed. When one allows for this variation to occur in one direction of another every time a date is calculated, one can see how a 17 year period of time could be on 15 or so years by more precise arithmetical calculation and a three year period of time might be only one and a half years. If we then proceed forward from the year that Gallio was in Corinth taking into account that the heart of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey was a three year stay in Ephesus, allowing for that period to be from 52 to 55 or 53 to 56, we then get complete dates for Paul’s third missionary being from 52 to 57. We have him returning to Jerusalem and being imprisoned for two years under Felix who gives way to Festus in AD 59 which enables us to state that those two years of imprisonment is 58 to 59 which fits perfectly with the years suggested for his third missionary journey. And then we have the ill-fated ship wreck voyage from Jerusalem to Rome in the winter of AD 59-60 with the two years of house arrest where the Book of Acts concludes with Paul ministering in his own rented home, loosely chained to rotated guards who watch over prisoners under house arrest during the years of AD 60-62. This is the best that can be done with all the available information assuming this information is accurate.

VII. Chronology of Paul's Letters

More specifically, we must raise the question of how Paul’s letters fit into this chronology. We will focus on how each is arrived at as we introduce them. We may note here because we haven’t commented on it yet but Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians and Philippians are all frequently referred to as Paul’s prison epistles because of the explicit references of Paul being in prison in each of them. The traditional place of Paul’s imprisonment that Christians have attributed these letters to is the two year period of house arrest in Rome where the Book of Acts ends. When these four epistles are introduced, we will look at them much more closely. We will also see why Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians were likely to have been sent out with the same travelling companions and letters carriers and thus dated to an earlier period of time with Philippians reflecting attitudes and events that suggest a less hopeful period of time of Paul’s arrest. Because the Book of Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome, we are on much less secure ground when it comes to dating of three letters known today as the Pastoral Epistles, Titus, 1st and 2nd Timothy. If the early church tradition in which we eluded to earlier found both in the writings of Clement and Moratorium Canon and later echoed by Gerome and Ecivious in the four hundreds. Paul was indeed released after his appeal to Caesar, after his two years in Rome, did indeed continue to travel and ministry reaching even to Spain, but in returning eastward was arrested and imprisoned the second time in Rome and finally executed under the Emperor Nero. Then we can place Titus and 1st Timothy after that 60 - 62 time under house arrest and while Paul was a free man. 2nd Timothy which finds Paul in prison again sure that his end is now near would have been written before his execution which had to have taken place while Nero was still Emperor. Nero committed suicide in AD 68 so 2nd Timothy was written prior to AD 68 and so this is the greatest certainly we can have at this point.

Before continuing on, the question comes up as whether all these dates merit such a treatment or not? Of course the feeling of being overwhelmed with this information is somewhat artificial, because we have grouped it all together in one uninterrupted portion in this introductory lecture. We will come back to the most relevant of these dates as we look at the background to each of the letters specifically, along with the material in the textbook, including the charts and diagrams there; all this allows the student to digest the information easier. But the question still remains as to why fit all this information together in a larger timeline of Paul’s life? We also need to ask questions such as, did event ‘B’ happen just after event ‘A’ even if the text does not state this clearly. Are we meant to infer that it did? Was there a cause and effect sequence? Or was there a significant gap and interval between the two? Or might there be a chronological displacement in which the text treats it for a certain time in topical sequence? Are we not to infer any cause and effect at all? We see examples like this in the book of Acts when we read in Cornelius’ conversion and Peter’s minister with him in Acts 10 to 11 immediately after Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, but realize there is a period of time between AD 32 and 44 into which to fit these events. And as the textbook points out in early church tradition where Peter leaves Jerusalem as late as AD 42 so that we may not imply any connection whether chronological or causal or theologically between the conversion of Saul and the events surrounding the ministry of Peter to Cornelius.

A similar example is when we compare the latter portion of Acts 11 with Acts 12 which seems to be topically grouped around events taking place in and around Antioch of Syria and not forming part of Paul’s missionary journeys which will begin in Acts 13. Once we realize that the death of Herod Agrippa comes in AD 44 but that is narrated in Acts 12 while the height of the Famine predicted, occurs in Acts 11 which does not take place until 46 to 47. We have to recognize that this one point in Acts narrative Luke is doing what he does far more commonly in his Gospel, arranging material by topical or thematic sequence rather than in purely chronological order so we shouldn’t in any way infer that the famine of Acts 11 or the Christian response to it had anything to do with the persecution of Christians with which Acts 12 begins. A second kind of an example as to why Chorological information is important is to allow us to test various theories of various scholars and lay-Christians have come up with over the years. One popular one involves the intriguing events that Paul describes at the beginning of 2nd Corinthians 12, when he talks about being caught up in the 3rd heaven and having unutterable visions and ecstatic experience in which he seems to think, what today we would call having an out of body experience and vision of the very throne room of God himself. There are those throughout Christian history who have not spent much time with the seemingly tedious task of chronology who have wondered whether this was something that accompanied that vision described in Galatians 1 that happened to Paul on the Damascus road. Sometimes the assumption that a correlation would be natural, have led to theories that such visions are available for other Christians or that they even normative for other Christians for form desirable parts of the Christian conversion experience and should be sought by one process or another.

All of this seems intriguing and tantalizing until one does some simple arithmetic. This will be explained in more detail when we introduce 2nd Corinthians dated within a year or two of AD 56. But in 2nd Corinthians chapter12, Paul will refer to this vision as something that happened to him fourteen years ago. That brings us back to AD 42, give or take a bit, but even on the latest date of Paul’s conversion of AD 35, there is a six or seven year gap which makes it impossible to say that his experience in 2nd Corinthians 12 had anything to do with his conversion, his call or commission and therefore to make any inference about what should form part of any other Christian’s conversion, or call or commission is entirely unwarranted and even disproved. Perhaps these brief examples are enough for the time being to convince the student to persevere with the Chronological date when we encounter them later on.

Now to Paul’s life and content, the textbook goes into some detail, at least in an introductory fashion about the typical Greco-Roman letter. How it would have been written and delivered; the various rhetorical and literary genre or sub-genre’s in which epistles can be divided. The even smaller literary forms or constituent elements that comprise recognizable forms of Greco-Roman writing embedded within Paul’s various letters and much of this information to the extent that it relates to specific letters will the repeated both in the textbook and in the lectures as we proceed letter by letter through Paul’s writings. But one model that is recurring, dominant and important enough to merit reinforcement and illustration by means of additional information is the outline of a typical Greco-Roman letter. Somewhat different from modern letters, certainly different from the growing trend to abandon written letters for the very casual and virtual electronic emails, the young Greco-Roman boy was taught in school and exercises were given to him for practice. Writing letters were done in a form that had four basic parts or five if you count the two subsections of the body of the letter separately. Whereas we sign a letter at its end, the Greco-Roman world impressed on writers what was called a salutation immediately at the beginning, taking the form of the sender, followed by the recipients and then a word of greetings. From some points of view, that makes better sense then one doesn’t have to go to the end of the letter to find out who wrote it. It was also equally conventional to offer a brief prayer or wish of well-being for the recipients or in those cases where the author of the letter had information of the recipient to offer a word of thanks, often couched in explicit religious language of given thanks to God or gods. Paul will in fact in the vast majority of his letters just as he will uniformly adopt a salutation.

The significance of the observation is more for those occasions which he deviates from this. Omitting these points will show that there is a very serious situation in a given community that requires a need to shock the audience into attention. Or a greeting or prayer may be unusually long or short or theological or devoid of any theological preview and again we see as we proceed through the letters which may be reasonable deduced about the circumstances leading to the composition of these letters from the variety and variation of standard form. Every letter, of course, had a body, the reason for writing the letter in the first place. The body typically communicated the main information or reasons for writing in declarative or indicative prose. And then if the author had one or more requests and in a position of authority and had exhortation or commands to give to give someone in a position of subordination, those would tend to be grouped together at the end of the body, though by no means is this a rigid pattern beginning with the salutation and a prayer, ending with a concluding farewell and bringing greetings to and from relevant parties. Again we will see ways in which Paul’s letters follow or deviate from these patterns and make appropriate conclusions on the basis of those observations. Readers or students new to contemporary Biblical scholarship are sometimes surprised to learn that the Bible begins thirteen of its letters with the name of Paul at the beginning where the writer’s name was to appear. Only seven of these thirteen letters are reasonably undisputed in terms of the description of authorship.


VIII. The Typical Greco-Roman Letter

The textbook goes into some detail about the typical Greco-Roman letter, how it would have been written and delivered, the various rhetorical and literary genres and sub-genres into which epistles can be divided. The even smaller literary forms and constituent elements that comprise recognizable forms of Greco-Romnan writing embedded within Paul’s various letters and much of this information to the extent that it relates to specific letters will be repeated both in the textbook and the lectures as we process letter by letter through Paul’s writings.

But one model that is recurring, dominant and important enough to merit reinforcement and illustration by means of additional information is the outline of a typical Greco-Roman letter. Somewhat different from modern letters, certainly different from the growing trend to abandon written letters for the very casual and virtual electronic emails, the young Greco-Roman boy was taught in school and exercises were given to him for practice. Writing letters were done in a form that had four basic parts or five if you count the two subsections of the body of the letter separately. Whereas we sign a letter at its end, the Greco-Roman world impressed on writers what was called a salutation immediately at the beginning, taking the form of the sender, followed by the recipients and then a word of greetings. From some points of view, that makes better sense as one doesn’t have to go to the end of the letter to find out who wrote it. It was also equally conventional to offer a brief prayer or wish of well-being for the recipients or in those cases where the author of the letter had information of the recipient to offer a word of thanks, often couched in explicit religious language of given thanks to God or gods. Paul will in fact in the vast majority of his letters just as he will uniformly adopt a salutation.

The significance of the observation is more for those occasions which he deviates from this. Omitting these points will show that there is a very serious situation in a given community that requires a need to shock the audience into attention. Or a greeting or prayer may be unusually long or short or theological or devoid of any theological preview and again we see as we proceed through the letters which may be reasonable deduced about the circumstances leading to the composition of these letters from the variety and variation of standard form. Every letter, of course, had a body, the reason for writing the letter in the first place. The body typically communicated the main information or reasons for writing in declarative or indicative prose. And then if the author had one or more requests and in a position of authority and had exhortation or commands to give to give someone in a position of subordination, those would tend to be grouped together at the end of the body, though by no means is this a rigid pattern beginning with the salutation and a prayer, ending with a concluding farewell and bringing greetings to and from relevant parties. Again we will see ways in which Paul’s letters follow or deviate from these patterns and make appropriate conclusions on the basis of those observations. Readers or students new to contemporary Biblical scholarship are sometimes surprised to learn that the Bible begins thirteen of its letters with the name of Paul at the beginning where the writer’s name was to appear. Only seven of these thirteen letters are reasonably undisputed in terms of the description of authorship.

IX. Disputed and Undisputed Epistles of Paul

It hasn’t always been this way; in the history of the church all thirteen letters are understood to have been written by Paul. In the rise of Biblical criticism and the 19th century German manifestations of it which were the most radical devised, there were times when only Galatians, Romans and 1st & 2nd Corinthians were largely undisputed and there were the occasional scholar who believed that none of these letters came from Paul. But today, the seven letters are undisputed and they include the four that largely survived the criticisms of the 19th century and became known as the ‘chief letters’. These letters were the most theological prominent of Paul’s letters, along with 1st Thessalonians, Philemon and Philippians. Two letters, however, 2nd Thessalonians and Colossians were labeled as semi-disputed because roughly half or so of non-evangelical scholarship, those that are already committed to accepting the straight forward claims of Scripture because of belief in its inspiration. Approximately half of that scholarly world finds reasons for thinking that these two letters could not have come from Paul and we will discuss those briefly as we introduce those letters individually. Even more disputed are the Book of Ephesians and the pastoral letters of 1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus. This is mentioned for the purpose of additional student research and understanding that this is the situation outside of evangelical circles throughout the 21st century.

X. Ancient Attitudes to Psedonymity

The technical term for writings whose authorship is doubted and this applies to any literary work in the Bible for elsewhere is pseudonyumity. The ascription of what in fact turns out to be a false name to a particular document in terms of its authorship. There is a lively debate as to the ethical nature of pseudonyumity in the ancient world. The conservative student when first presented with this theory is often tempted to simple conclude that scholars that treat certain books as from writers other that the books ascribe them are simple talking about forgeries, plain and simple. That in fact it was a deceptive practice with scholars proposing theories of pseudonyumity are claiming that the Jewish and Christian authors of the books of the Bible where allegedly pseudonymously intended to deceive their audiences. The evidence, however, is not that clear cut for that matter, even in the modern world. We might pick up a book from the book shelves of a store the autobiography of a famous person only to read in the fine print on the title page or preface that it really is the life and times of a person as told to another person who in fact is a ghost writer. We have come to expect that busy people in the public eye not to have the time and sometimes not the literary ability to write interesting and well written autobiographies. But we do not charge such works with the libel of forgery. The same is true when we come across a work completed posthumously. When writers begin a project even a drafted detail outline of it in the initial stages and then the project had to be taken up by other people who try to complete the work as close to the original designs of the project. Once again, as long as that information is acknowledged, no one would be accused of forgery. In the ancient world there are Jewish and Greco-Roman example of precisely these things that were going on except that the writers that completed the projects did not feel bound nor were there literary or moral conventions that required them to acknowledge that they were the ones that completed the project rather than in the name of the person it was accredited to.

If one narrowly looks at the period of time immediately before and after the New Testament, they can find documents written in the name of ancient leading religious and philosophical people who were transparent fiction, people that were long since dead but with their names on books which had recently appeared. The reasons for using a synonym may have been due to a debt owed to the person by the writer or to the features of their lives that were well known or because the writer wanted to commend it as a particularly authoritative work or at times because the writer believed that he or she had some kind of vision or paranormal experience with that physical dead individual. There is no question in the Judaism leading up to the 1st century and to the origins, Christianity accepted numerous inter-testamental works very appropriate for religious study and devotion though none was ever formally canonized which were pseudonymous, and there was no evidence that these pseudepigraphical works, various Dead Sea Strolls and other such documents were ever impugned as immortal or unethical or deceptive forgeries. On the other hand, the earliest existing Christian evidence from the second half of the second century continuing ahead in the centuries to come, suggests that Christians, both gentile and Jewish never accepted as acceptable for inclusion into their sacred canon such pseudonymous works. To date, the unanswerable question is, was there an earlier period of time in between these two movements in which Christianity was more influenced by Jewish convictions, would have accepted such pseudepigraphical pseudonymous writings not only those not designed to be forgeries and appropriate for religious devotion but even as acceptable for inclusion into the Christian canon. Until the discovery of more information, the most responsible scholarship will admit that we simple don’t know. We should not then just dismiss as inconsistent with theories of inspiration or inherency of Scripture, theories of pseudonyumity, but we simply have to judge them on their merits, case by case, as we will in fact attempt to do as this series of lectures progresses.

XI. Epistles and Canonization

We have a related question that often comes up to the curious introductory theological student, at least in our time of many modern novels that raise many kinds of questions about the process of the canonization of the New Testament. Is the question of what books were seriously considered at any point in the earliest Christian centuries for being included in the Christian canon in that list of books of uniquely scared and normative Scripture. And which of the books that did come to be included were ever seriously questioned, and what were the reasons for those debates? It’s interesting that we have no evidence to suggest that any of the four Gospels or the Book of Acts was ever seriously questioned or that any of the later Christian apocryphal Gospels or acts not to be confused with the inter-testamental apocryphal books were ever serious put forward as candidates for canonization. Indeed, with one exception, all of the disputed books that were accepted were epistles. And in our textbook, we have itemized the reasons for each of these briefly. We simple list the books here: Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd & 3th John, Jude and then the Book of Revelation.

The textbook doesn’t discuss any of the disputed books that were eventually rejected of which there were only two of which there was significant debate and another two with less debate. Greatly debated was the 2nd century epistle ascribed to Barnabas and another written by a pastor called Hermus, while largely orthodox in their theology. Two other works, the Didakay and the Writings of Clement, part of the writings that eventually became known as the Apostolic Fathers. There were just enough newer and troublesome doctrines that eventually lead to their rejection. The Epistle of Barnabas, while dealing with the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, was viewed as being too anti-Semitic in that it rejected too much of the Old Testament and the Jewish dispensation for it to be accepted in the same way as 1st century Apostolic teaching. The Shepard of Hermus, while attractive because of a particularly section of parables and visions with at times intriguing parallels near to the parables of Jesus or the visions of the apocalypses of John in Revelation was also seen as being too apocalyptic, visionary and speculative thought to be like those writings of the 1st century apostles. The Didakay, is the ancient Greek word for ‘teaching’ and the full title being ‘the teachings of the 12 Apostles’. This is a pseudonymous document written perhaps around AD 90 or a little later, dealing with instructions on topics as prayer, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, identifying true verses false prophets, but again was considered to be sub-apostolic, not entirely in agreement with the corresponding instruction, valuable though it was, it was omitted from the canon. The same is true for two letters attributed to Clement, the first, more likely being authentic but again the second century, including statements that were explicit and implicit suggesting that the authors themselves whether Clement or someone else recognized that they were writing from a derivative level of authority and not inspired by God as directly or to the same extent to those of the first century. The modern novels with all of their claims about countless works that were suppressed due to political motives now needing to be given a hearing that they never received is however excited in terms of movies but are in fact, fiction.

XII. Earliest Post-New Testament Christian Literature

There are three main bodies of literature available from the post New Testament Christian period. All written by alleged Christian writers of one kind of another that is often discussed in many different contexts. We have already mentioned The Apostolic Fathers, a collection of second century writings that is largely orthodox in content but not entirely so. The New Testament Apocrypha, late 2nd century but primarily 3rd and 4th century that tend to be more unorthodox by not entirely so but tent to repeat the historical genres of the New Testament such as the Gospels and Acts and fill in the gaps by curious Christians wanting to know more about the life of Jesus and his followers. It’s interesting that there are few Apocrypha epistles and only one or two Apocrypha apocalypses. Finally and probably best known in our age of fascination with non-Christian explanations of Christian origins, there is the Nag Hammadi library, that corpus of scrolls discovered at the same time as the Dead Sea Scrolls several years after World War II; in this case, a site in Egypt that’s known as Nag Hammadi which is largely Gnostic in origin but not exclusively. At times these documents recast early Christian beliefs and teachings of Jesus and the Apostles in considerably unorthodox form, quite different in both form and content from anything we fine in the New Testament.

Once again, there is no existing evidence that even the community that used and created such literature ever put them forward as equal to the twenty seven canonical books of the New Testament. If they did, that information has been entirely lost and yet to be discovered. The writings that did compete were the writings that the most orthodox even if they were ultimately deemed to be sub-Christian or sub-apostolic in some minor respects. The writings that were the least orthodox in the post New Testament period were those that we have no evidence from the ancient world that they were ever put forward; however, they may have been used in communities that produced them as equal to Christian or Jewish Scripture. There is one more large, almost encyclopedia collection of all the other early orthodox writings after the mid to later 2nd century, sometimes defined to include those of the Apostolic Fathers but moving well beyond them to include all existing literature, most of it in Greek with some being in Latin from Christian writers, otherwise orthodox prior to the Council of Nicaea in 323 AD at which consensus was arrived concerning a number of Christian theological debates.

XIII. Twelve Pillars of Pauline Thought

Let’s end this introduction to Paul’s life and letters with a brief review of the twelve items that Michael Gorman singles out in his book as forming the heart or pillars of Paul’s thoughts. It introduces the debate between the reformation era of understanding of Paul that prevailed at least within protestant scholarship through to the mid-20th century and later 21st century often known as the new look or new perspective on Paul. We will say more about this debate as we look at the letter to the Galatians to which we will turn to in the very next lecture. But in anticipating some of our synthesis and following Gorman precisely, we may identify a dozen key defining theological convictions that permeate not just a single or two or three letters but in every case a number of epistles to give us a key window into understanding his major points before we take things apart and look at Paul’s letters one at a time.

As one who continued to consider himself thoroughly Jewish even if now a follower of Jesus of Nazareth as well, Paul remained unrelentingly monotheistic. In no sense could he be called a polytheist, he believed in one God, Yahweh, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the creator and sustainer of the universe and the one who from Genesis 12 onward had singled out Israel to be the elect community of God’s people for whom God’s work would eventually touch all of the world. Secondly, any Jew or anyone else reading the Hebrew text and despite God’s creation of the world and of humanity as first perfect; humanity fell into sin and Israel failed at many stages to live up to their calling even provisionally, once they were given the law at Mt. Sinai; the entire history of Israel’s experience in Old Testament times can be described as cycles of obedience and disobedience. And in response to this, God either blessed or withheld his blessing to various degrees from the land, the people and also from its rulers.

Thirdly, despite human sin and Israel’s faithlessness, God did remain and will remain faithful to his covenant promises. His promises to be merciful to the Jew and through the promises to Israel beginning in Genesis 12 to be a blessing to all the nations so that the promises of his covenant extending to all humanity that punctuate the New Covenant God will make with Israel, not like the older one. The new one will include the gentiles along with the Jew and will indeed be fulfilled.

Fourthly, the Messiah was the same individual as the suffering servant and this was fulfilled through Jesus himself as shown in Isaiah 52 and 53. The seemingly oxymoron of a crucified Messiah will be overcome by Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the grave, vindicating his claims to deity, occasionally explicitly and more often implicitly and certainly his claims to Messiahship that punctuated his earthly ministry. His resurrection now displays the legitimacy of his title as Lord and Master for Yahweh, God the Father himself in a way that never compromised Jewish monotheism. True, not all of the Old Testament promises have yet to be fulfilled or even been fulfilled in him but Paul believed that the last days had been inaugurated and that the new age had begun and therefore that the coming fulfilment that yet remained unfulfilled was guaranteed and of course we know this to be the second coming of Christ. Further, individuals experience the salvation available through Jesus, the crucified Messiah solely by God’s grace as they are related to him through faith and not by works in any fashion. This doesn’t mean that Paul is against doing good as he regularly refers to Christian works as the necessary outgrowth of a truly saved life as shown in Ephesians 2:10 following the famous grace through faith passage in verses 8 through 9. But those good works are the outgrowth, the response of gratitude that flows from saving faith and not in any sense part of what merits salvation.

Life is not only in Christ for Paul but through the Holy Spirit and as a results, it becomes clear in other parts of the New Testament, Paul can speak of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit in language once reserved for Yahweh attributable only to deity itself. Paul is clearly articulating incipient Trinitarianism; he is providing all of the raw data for an understanding of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as fully personal agents of God co-equal with God, divine in themselves and yet in no way denies the one God of the universe. More on that when we come to 1st Corinthians 8; the Christian life though does not mean that we share in the divine attributes at least not to the extent as Father, Son and Holy Spirit do. If anything, for Paul, based not least on his own experience, the devoted Christian life is more often replicating Christ’s crucifixion or at least the kinds of suffering that lead to his crucifixion rather than anything that be called triumphant in this life. The coming glory is precisely that, a promise only in the age to come. But, life in the Holy Spirit is afore taste and is a guarantee of coming glory as Paul uses such metaphors as the Spirit being the pledge or down payment of the full fulfillment of Gods promises to his people. Meanwhile, it is the task for Christian, not merely to live in discipleship, following Christ, even when it means suffering, in splendid isolation from one another. They are commanded to form themselves into counter cultural communities of local churches living out the counter cultural Gospel that Paul articulates and the ethics that flow through it, which we will be scrutinizing in more detail. The final point, deals with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of all humanity, the final judgment and eternal state for believers and unbelievers. With this broad framework we are now ready to embark on the next lecture on a more detailed study which may be chronologically the first of Paul’s epistles, namely the letter to the Galatians.


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1 Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Quiz 1

Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Quiz 1


36 min

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