The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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Paul the man

What should be written, in a brief introduction such as this, about a man like Paul? He was, quite simply, the greatest man ever to follow the Lord Jesus Christ -- a man whose heart throbbed always with love for God and love for his brethren, despite their failures, despite even their sins against him. He was a man who truly "filled up", or completed, that which was lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24); for he surely took up the cross and followed his Saviour, even unto death. With no pride or arrogance, but in simple truth, he was able to say of himself that he had been: "In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (2Co 11:23-28).

Originally "Saul" (which may sig "appointed by God), he changed his name to Paul -- or perhaps adopted his Greek name more regularly -- a name sig "small, or little". He was a man small in stature (2Co 10:1,10), and perhaps he had become "small" in his own eyes (1Co 15:9; 2Ti 1:15). At any rate, it was a Gentile name for an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:9).

Paul was "a chosen vessel", to bear the gospel of Christ before the Gentiles (Acts 9:17). He was learned in all the Law and the prophets, having been taught by the famous Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was a member of the Sanhedrin. But more importantly, he was directly instructed by Christ (Gal 1:12). No man ever carried out a commission better. It goes almost without saying, therefore, that his writings are fully inspired by God (2Ti 3:16,17).

The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) were Paul's last recorded writings, written after the first imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28:30). Although some (mostly modern) writers would contend otherwise, the general consensus of expositors and historians (which seems more likely) is that Paul lived and worked some years after the captivity related in the last chapter of Acts. Early Christian testimony informs us that Paul's appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11) had a successful conclusion, and that after his first imprisonment he was released in approximately 63 AD. After this he appears to have spent a couple of years of freedom before he was again arrested and condemned. In these last several years he wrote, first of all, 1 Timothy and Titus -- which have much in common. (That Paul was at liberty when he wrote to Titus is substantiated by Tit 3:12.) At the very last, Paul wrote 2 Timothy from prison, in his second confinement, fully expecting to die soon afterward (2Ti 4:6).

With a very few exceptions, Paul's letters were written to meet immediate situations. They were not dispassionate treatises written in the peace and silence of a well-stocked study. There was some threatening situation in Corinth, or Galatia, or Thessalonica, and he wrote a letter to meet it. Or there were dearly beloved "sons" in the faith, like Timothy and Titus, whose hands needed strengthening in difficult positions -- and, again, Paul took time out of an unbelievably busy life to meet the need.

But we must not think that a composition is of no consequence to us because it was written to address an immediate situation which has long since ceased to exist. Indeed, it is just because the frail flesh we all bear does not change that God still speaks to us today through the letters of Paul. In these little letters, a great and good and truly humble man still "lives" and pours out his heart and mind in love to us, his beloved children in the Truth.

Paul's letters

First, as to an overview: Paul's fourteen letters seem to fall into five groups:

  1. The earliest, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and possibly Galatians), were written on his second missionary journey when he first went to Europe.
  2. Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians were written during his third journey, when he spent most of his time in Ephesus. (This was at the time of the troubles in Corinth, when Titus was sent there: 2Co 8:16,23; 12:18.)
  3. Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, and Hebrews were written near the end of his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30), when he was expecting soon to be released, as he indicated in several of them.
  4. Titus and 1 Timothy were written in the period after his release, when he was back working in the same area of Greece, Asia Minor, and Macedonia again.
  5. Finally, 2 Timothy was written, right at the end of his life, from prison again in Rome.
There are several different types of Pauline letters: fourteen letters in all. Nine were written to seven ecclesias (if Galatians be reckoned as an ecclesia) -- there being two each to Corinth and Thessalonica. Just as Jesus Christ in the Apocalypse sent messages to seven ecclesias, so did Paul. (Seven is the Scriptural number of completion and perfection, suggesting that Paul's ecclesial letters contain the complete gospel and perfect instruction for all ecclesias.) Some of the nine ecclesial letters were written to answer special questions (as the two to Corinth); some to oppose special false doctrines (as that to the Galatians); and others to upbuild and strengthen generally.

From a different aspect, these nine ecclesial letters may be divided into three basic groups:

4 doctrinal: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.

3 practical: Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

2 concerning Christ's return: 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Paul's five other letters were also written for several purposes. They consist of one thoroughly personal letter (Philemon); one general letter, to Hebrew Christians with dangerous leanings toward Judaism (Hebrews); and three letters to individuals (Timothy and Titus) who were leaders of ecclesias.

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