New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 17

Acts - Introduction to the Letters of Paul

Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 17
Watching Now
Acts - Introduction to the Letters of Paul

Paul and His Letters

Part 1

I.  Introduction

A.  Letters or Epistles?

1.  Epistles - formal and do not assume a prior relationship

2.  Letters - informal and build on a prior relationship

3.  Examples

a.  Romans - epistle

b.  Philemon - clear letter

B.  Normal Form of a Letter

1.  Salutation

a.  "A" to "B"

b.  "Greeting"

c.  Jewish - "Peace"

d.  Paul - "Grace"

2.  Thanksgiving and/or Prayer

3.  Body of letter - largest section

4.  Exhortation and instruction

5.  Conclusion

a.  Benediction

b.  Wish for peace

c.  Greeting

d.  Concluding

e.  Autograph

f.  Kiss

  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


Dr. Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Acts - Introduction to the Letters of Paul
Lesson Transcript


Let me talk a little bit about the letters of Paul, because now we have two letters of Paul that have been written. Sometimes we refer to Paul’s epistle to the Romans and Paul’s epistle to Philemon; or Paul’s letter to the Romans and Paul’s letter to Philemon, etc. Epistles tend to be very formal, and not assume a prior relationship or knowledge, and tend to explain things pretty carefully. Letters build on a prior relationship, a prior understanding. They’re much more difficult for outsiders to understand.

I remember once getting a letter. My wife and I were in Israel, and our daughter wrote a letter which said something like “We went to get hamburgers, but we had to have fish again.” No one knew what that meant. It’s a letter. Our daughter was building on a common experience that she and her parents had had. That experience was, once we went into Hardee’s to order hamburgers. As we were waiting for them, a grease fire spread throughout the whole kitchen, and the whole place closed down. So we went next door to Arthur Treacher’s and had fish and chips. The letter was perfectly understandable to us. We had that experience. What happened was that they had gone to Hardee’s again, and there was another grease fire, so they went over and had fish and chips at Arthur Treacher’s.

Letters are understandable to the people they are being written to, because they build on a relationship. So when Paul talks about baptizing for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15, he and the Corinthians knew what that meant. We don’t have access to it. And when the writer of the Book of Revelation writes about the number of the beast being 666, he and no doubt his audience, knew that. Letters [i.e., epistles?] are addressed to people who aren’t into a more intimate circle, and therefore they’re more general in nature. And when you talk about Paul’s writings, Romans is more like an epistle; Philemon and Philippians are much more like letters. And so if you talk about Paul’s writings, what do you call them? Do you call them epistles or letters? I don’t know, since they usually tend to be a combination of the two.

The normal form of a letter was from A to B. A secular letter generally had greeting --we find examples of that in Acts 15:23, where they greet the church. James 1:1 also has that same kind of greeting, interestingly enough. On the other hand, Jewish letters would always begin with “Shalom”, or “Peace”. Christians had their own introduction. And so when Paul writes his letter, he borrows many times “peace”, but “grace” is especially prominent, and has now been added to the salutation. He uses “grace and peace”, or “grace, mercy, and peace”, or something like that. But grace has been added there.

This is generally followed to a thanksgiving, e.g., “I thank my God on every remembrance of you”, “I pray for you always”, “Blessed is our God and Father …”, etc. There’s always a word of thanksgiving or prayer. We will look at the letter of Galatians and will note that there is not one there, and that says an awful lot as to what Paul is getting at.

Then there’s the exhortation and instruction. This is followed by a conclusion, a benediction, and a wish for peace, some sort of a greeting or some sort of concluding autograph, e.g., “I write this with my own hand and a kiss”.