Chapter 18: Paul and His Epistles
The Importance of Paul
Our knowledge of Paul is severely limited, and is virtually all drawn from a dozen or so letters written by Paul himself over a period of less than fifteen years and from what Luke has to say about his career and teaching in the Acts of the Apostles. We do not know, for example, the exact year of his conversion, nor how far his thought developed between his conversion and the date of his first surviving letter, at least fourteen years later, nor can we do more than guess at what happened to him after his two years imprisonment in Rome.
Yet the limitations to our knowledge, though tantalising, need not be unduly lamented. We know far more both of Paul’s career and teaching than we do of any other Christian of the first generation, and it is not too much to say that the career and teaching of Paul have been of more influence in the growth and development of the Christian church than the work of any other man. There were many Christian missionaries in the first age of the church, and Christianity spread in many directions, but the evidence of the second century makes it clear that the decisive rôle in the formation of Christian doctrine and order was played by those churches which Paul himself had founded, or in which his influence had been at work, e.g. Antioch, Ephesus and the churches of Asia Minor, Corinth, and Rome.
It can therefore be counted as providential that we should know both the main outlines of Paul’s missionary work in the spread of the gospel from Antioch to Rome, and the essence of his mature teaching. If the Acts and the Pauline epistles had not survived, the history of later Christianity would have been very different and that of the primitive church impossible to write. Thanks to their preservation we are enabled, admittedly in the face of many lacunae and unsolved problems, to reconstruct an intelligible picture of the way in which ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3) was transmitted and developed until it became the theological system of the later church.
Paul, The Man and Theologian
The facts of Paul’s life, as we know them, can be briefly summarised. He was born of Jewish parents at Tarsus, in Cilicia, and was a pupil of Gamaliel at Jerusalem (Acts 22:3), where he had family connections (the son of a sister of Paul is mentioned in Acts 23:16 as living at Jerusalem in A.D.56), and where he seems to have continued to live himself. He had been brought up as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), with a strict regard for the traditions which clustered about the written Law, and showed a peculiar zeal for these traditions (Gal.1:14). As a young man he was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), and ‘was consenting unto his death’ (8:1); later he took a leading part in the persecution of the Christians, arresting men and women (8:3), and finally being sent at his own request to Damascus with letters from the high priest to the synagogues there on a similar mission (9:1-2). He was miraculously converted on the way and after his sight had been restored by Ananias and he had been baptised (9:18) he preached his new faith in Damascus until his life was in danger and he had to escape by night, being let down through a window in the wall in a basket (II Cor.11:33). He returned again to Damascus, and after three years went to Jerusalem where Barnabas vouched for his conversion and he met Peter. After becoming involved in further controversies, this time with Jews from the dispersion, the church got him away to Tarsus, from where Barnabas brought him to Antioch. Fourteen (or possibly eleven) years later he came to Jerusalem again with Barnabas on a deputation from the church of Antioch, and took the opportunity of discussing the gospel which he preached with the leaders of the Jerusalem church, James, Peter, and John, who gave their general approval and agreed that Paul and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles while they continued their mission among the Jews. Paul and Barnabas carried out a missionary journey in Cyprus and Southern Asia Minor, and after a dispute at Antioch, which seems to have spread to Galatia, over the terms on which Gentiles should be admitted to the Church, Peter was won over to Paul’s view and championed it at the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 49. After the council and Paul’s return to Antioch he went with Silas on a missionary journey through Asia Minor and Greece, which included a two year stay at Corinth and seems to have lasted some years. A third missionary journey through Asia Minor and Greece followed, Paul staying some two years at Ephesus, and finally going up to Jerusalem in A.D. 56. After a few days’ stay he was arrested following a riot, and removed, for fear of assassination, first to Caesarea for two years, and then on his appeal to Caesar to Rome. Here Luke tells us he was kept in confinement to his own hired dwelling for two more years (Acts 28:30) — and we know no more.
Of the influences which shaped the thought of Paul, as it finds expression in the letters of his later life — and it is a few of these only which we possess — three can be distinguished as especially important, his upbringing, the experiences of his conversion and later visions, and the teaching of the apostles and of his fellow-Christians.
‘After the straitest sect of our religion I lived, a Pharisee’ (Acts 26:5), in these words Paul describes his religion before his conversion. They imply that he had been trained not only to regard the keeping of the Mosaic Law, interpreted in the light of numerous oral traditions, as the sole way for a man to be justified before God, but that he had accepted also the hope of a resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6) and the coming of God’s Messiah. Even before his conversion Paul had known the sinfulness of his life and waited for God to intervene and redeem Israel. It is in this consciousness of his own failure to keep the whole Law, sharpened perhaps by the words of Stephen on Christ’s replacement of Law and Temple, that, even while persecuting, Paul may have been led to doubt some of his own cherished beliefs and prepared for his conversion.
Whether his conversion came after such searchings of himself or not, it did not wipe out all the results of his early training. All Paul’s epistles bear traces of the influence of his Jewish training, a stress on the importance of the Law, even although it has been superseded by the work of Christ, a conception of salvation in terms carried over from his past, the use of Old Testament texts according to a Pharisaic type of exegesis. Nor did Paul’s conversion bring him at once to a final system of belief. It convinced him indeed that Jesus was the Son of God, and that he was called to his service; but Paul’s life was from now on to be filled with experiences and visions which were to shape his beliefs and guide his actions continually (e.g. Acts 16:6, 7, 9, 23: 11,27:23, II Cor 12: 2 ff., Gal. 2: 2). Thus it seems that his call to the Gentiles was the result of more than one vision (Acts9:15 and Acts 22:17 ff.).
The third main factor in the development of Paul’s thought was the influence exerted upon him of the general Christian teaching of his time. From time to time he stressed in controversy that the gospel which he preached he had not received from man, ‘nor was I taught it, but it came to me through the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:12, cf. I Cor. 2:10 ff.); it is clear too, that Paul did not shrink from opposing a majority view in the church when he saw it to be not according to the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). Yet elsewhere he states explicitly that James, Peter, and John had given him and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship after listening to his exposition of the gospel which he preached (Gal. 2:2-9), and both Barnabas and Silas, men of standing in the Jerusalem community, found themselves able to work with him on missionary journeys. While Paul clearly worked out his beliefs as the Spirit led him, and some of his teaching bears the stamp of his own personal experience and of original formulation, much of what he taught was in fact the common teaching of Christian missionaries which Paul had more or less unconsciously absorbed from contact with his predecessors and companions.
The conjunction of these three influences, a Pharisaic training and cast of thought, profound spiritual experiences, and conformity with the main lines of primitive Christian preaching, makes Paul’s epistles at times difficult for the modern man to understand without the aid of paraphrases and commentaries. At the same time this combination of gifts gives to Paul’s teaching a special value, in that he was enabled to clothe his experience in language which has played a decisive part in the classical formulations of Christian doctrine, and has in all centuries led men on to similar spiritual experiences and helped them also to understand them.
The Pauline Epistles, Their Genuineness, Revision, and Order
Not all of the fourteen epistles ascribed to Paul in our Bible can be accepted as his. The epistle to the Hebrews is Pauline neither in its language nor its theology and even in antiquity translation by Luke or Clement of Rome and authorship by Barnabas were suggested to solve the difficulty. The tradition of Pauline authorship seems to have been fostered largely in order to secure the inclusion of such a valuable work in the Canon, but modern critical scholars are unanimous in rejecting it. Serious difficulties are also caused by the style and theology of Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus; the critics are here more divided in their judgements, and it is impossible to speak with certainty, but it is maintained in the discussions of these epistles below (near end of this chap.) in accordance with the views of many scholars, that Ephesians is written by an admirer of Paul, who had a good knowledge and understanding of many of his epistles, and that the Pastoral Epistles, while containing fragments of genuine Pauline letters, are the work of a later age. The doubts which have been expressed about others of the Pauline epistles, notably II Thessalonians, are not so generally felt.
While there is no reason to doubt the Pauline authorship of such
‘key’ epistles as Romans and I and II Corinthians, there are signs that both Romans and II Corinthians may once have circulated in a different form. The evidence for this — textual in the case of Romans, and derived from the different tone of the beginning and end in the case of II Corinthians — is discussed in the treatment of these epistles (in this chap.) but the conclusions there adopted may be mentioned here, that chapter 16 of Romans, except for the doxology (25-27) probably originally formed part of a letter of Paul’s to Ephesus, and that the last four chapters of II Corinthians (10-13) may come from an earlier letter of Paul to Corinth and have been combined with II Cor. 1-9 by a later editor, but that the balance of probabilities is against such a theory. In both these cases the patching, if patching there was, seems to have been done with a minimum of alteration to Paul’s words, and without any doctrinal motive other than a desire to put as much as possible of Paul’s letters into presentable form.
The arranging of Paul’s epistles in chronological order raises only two problems of any magnitude, the date of Galatians and the place of imprisonment from which Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon were written. The early date for Galatians, A.D. 49, is accepted in the discussion of this epistle below, and the theory of an Ephesian imprisonment is rejected in favour of a Roman origin for the ‘captivity epistles’. The order and date of our epistles can then be approximately given as follows (The difficulties of New Testament chronology are considerable, but the dates given, if this order is in fact the right one, are not likely to be more than a year or two out.)
1. Galatians (written from Antioch shortly before the Council of Jerusalem) early in 49 AD.
2. I Thessalonians (from Corinth) . . . 50.
3. II Thessalonians (a few months later) . . 50.
4. I Corinthians (from the neighbourhood of Ephesus) . . . . . . early in 55.
5. II. Corinthians (from Macedonia) . . later in 55.
6. Romans (from Corinth) . . . early in 56.
7, 8. Colossians and Philemon (from Rome) late in 59.
9. Philippians (from Rome) . 60.
If A.D. 29 be accepted as the probable date of the crucifixion, and Paul’s conversion be placed somewhere between A.D. 32 and 35 (cf. Gal. 1:18, 2:1), it will be seen that the letters of Paul which we possess all date from a comparatively late period in his ministry. It is well therefore to be careful in speaking of development in his thought at this stage, especially as many of the variations in the teaching of his different epistles illustrate his own maxim, that ‘I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some’. There is nothing surprising in the similarity of the teaching of Galatians to that of Romans, written some six years later; here Paul is giving once again the very heart of his gospel, worked out long before.
Yet development there is, especially in the later epistles when Paul is in expectation of death, and the earlier hope of the imminent end of the world is replaced by a deeper and even more spiritual interpretation of the life to come. While the epistles do not show a steady change of emphasis in Paul’s teaching over a period of ten years or so, there is a marked move away from the framework of Jewish modes of thought to a wider and more universal conception of religion.
The Epistles in Detail
Circumstances of Writing
Who were the Galatians ? This is one of the classical controversies of New Testament criticism. Two answers are possible. The first, given by Bishop Lightfoot, is that they were the inhabitants of North Galatia, who Paul may have visited in the course of his second missionary journey; this would involve a date for the epistle after the Council of Jerusalem, and raises serious problems as to why Paul has so little to say about the Council that agrees with Luke’s version of what happened. The second answer, more generally accepted by recent critics, is that the ‘Galatians’ were not Galatians by race (i.e. Gauls, who had migrated into the middle of Asia Minor in the third century B.C. and settled there), but Christians of those towns in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia which Paul and Barnabas had visited on their first missionary journey. If this latter view is accepted, and the epistle is taken as written before the Council of Jerusalem, it becomes easier to reconcile Paul’s account of his visits to Jerusalem with those described in Acts 9:26 ff. and 11:30, although even then there are some important variations between the two accounts. It becomes easier, too, to understand the circumstances in which Paul wrote.
The Galatian Christians have been seduced from their newly gained faith by Jewish, and probably Jewish Christian, missionaries who have told them that the keeping of the Jewish Law is essential to their salvation. It was just this controversy within the Christian church that was to be settled by the authority of the Council of Jerusalem, and that had been raised at Antioch itself (Gal. 2:14). Paul accordingly writes to them in the heat of controversy, possibly only a few weeks before leaving Antioch for the Council in A.D. 49.
Teaching of The Epistle
The two main issues dealt with in the epistle are the authority of Paul, which had been attacked, and the place of the Jewish Law in the scheme of salvation.
In the first section of the epistle (1:1-2:14) Paul asserts the divine origin of the gospel which he preaches, which came to him ‘through revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1:13), and demonstrates from a short account of his own life that while he has consulted with the Jerusalem leaders of the church and obtained their approval for what he preaches, he has also resisted pressure from these leaders and their representatives (‘certain from James’ 2:12) when they were in error. The keynote of this section is the aside in 2:8, ‘for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles’.
From his own part in establishing at Antioch the claim of Gentile Christians to full table-fellowship with Jewish Christians, he passes on in 2:15 to the arguments with which he supports the truth that has been revealed to him, that ‘we believed on Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the Law; because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified’ (2:16).( These words probably formed part of what Paul said to Peter at Antioch: ‘We’ are clearly Jews. It is interesting, in the light of this, to read the similar words put into the mouth of Peter at the Council of Jerusalem by Luke [Acts 15:l0-l l], the most ‘Pauline’ speech in Acts.)
These arguments include a brief appeal to their own experience of the Spirit through faith and not through works of the law (3:1-5), and the use of Old Testament texts by a Pharisaic type of exegesis to show that Abraham was justified by faith (3:6. James uses the same text Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham was justified by works, James 3: 21-23), that the promise which Abraham received by faith was not annulled by the law, which came later, and that it was to his seed (i.e. Christ) and not to his seeds (i.e. his descendants in general); through baptism into Christ all, whether Jews or Gentiles, put on Christ, and ‘if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise’ (3:29). He goes on to develop the inferiority of the law to the full redemption of Christ, again employing Old Testament texts and the story of Sarah and Hagar to prove his point by an ingenious, but to our minds oversubtle use of allegorical interpretation (4). Then he reminds the Galatians that observance of the law will lose them their freedom, and from this thought is led to remind them that freedom is not an occasion to the flesh (5:13), but for love in the Spirit. With a final attack on the pride and insincerity of the Judaisers he brings them back to the cross of Christ as the centre of his and their hopes (v. 11-18).
Circumstances of Writing
This epistle was written from Corinth on the second missionary journey in A.D. 50 when Timothy had just returned (3:6) from a visit at Paul’s request to confirm the work that Paul had begun with Timothy and Silas in his three weeks’ stay in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2). Its peculiar interest and value for us lie in the fact that Paul is here largely reminding the new converts of the teaching which he has given them, so that we have in summary form a partial recapitulation of the way in which Paul preached the gospel at the founding of a new Christian church containing both Jews and — in large numbers — Gentiles (Acts 17:4).
I Thessalonians is a partial, not a complete recapitulation of Paul’s teaching at Thessalonica. We know, for example, from Acts 17:2-3 that Paul had on three successive sabbaths reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews from the scriptures, ‘opening and alleging that it behoved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus, whom, said he, I proclaim unto you, is the Christ’. His converts had accepted the Lordship of Jesus, and had experienced the power and joy of the Holy Spirit ( I Thess.1:5-6); their faith (1-8) and their patience in persecution (3:4-6, II Thess.1:4) were outstanding, their love of the brethren (I Thess. 4:9) such that ‘ye have no need that one write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God’.
Paul, therefore, makes only short references to most of the great Christian theological doctrines that he had expounded, the repudiation of idolatry and the service of the one true God (1:9), who had raised his Son from the dead to heaven, whence he was to come again to deliver the faithful from the wrath to come and be ever with them (1:10, 4:17). On one point only does he find it necessary to supplement his former teaching, to reassure them about the destiny of those who have died before the coming of the Lord (4:13-18) . This passage, taken with others in II Thessalonians, makes it clear that Paul expected, and had proclaimed to the Thessalonians, the coming of the end of the world at a time unknown but near (5:2), in largely material terms borrowed from contemporary Jewish Apocalyptic. (This conception, which he shared with other Christian teachers of the first generation, and which involved a corresponding destruction of the wicked [5:9, 2 Thess.1:8] is discussed later [Chap. 26] and its relation to the teaching of Jesus himself examined.)
This eschatological expectation in turn gives a special importance and urgency to the ethical instruction of which Paul continually reminds the Thessalonians. Sanctification, and abstinence from fornication (4:3), soberness (5:6), working with their own hands (4:11), ‘knowing them that labour among you and are over you in the Lord’ (5:12), mutual encouragement and long-suffering toward all (5:14) — all these, for which Paul quotes the example of his own behaviour (2:1-12), are the signs that God has indeed
‘appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ’.
Such a pattern of ethical instruction, recurs in somewhat similar form in many of the epistles, and not only in Paul’s. For our understanding of early Christian preaching it is important to remember that the call to belief in Jesus as the Christ was accompanied by instruction in the way of life which could be recognised as the fruit of Spirit. The teaching referred to and reinforced in I Thessalonians can be taken as typical of such a presentation of the gospel to new converts in a predominantly Gentile church.
Authenticity and Circumstances of Writing
The Pauline authorship of II Thessalonians has been attacked on a number of grounds. The vocabulary contains a relatively high proportion of words not found in the genuine epistles, and the style is stereotyped and at times curiously formal; the apocalyptic details of 2:1-12, which form the core of the epistle, are for the most part absent from I Thessalonians, and some critics have held the signs before the end to be inconsistent with its sudden coming predicted in I Thess. 5:2.
Apart from the difficulties raised by any alternative theory of the origin of the epistle, these arguments have not been found convincing by most present-day critics. The epistle is not one of Paul’s greatest, and the language and style may well reflect the practical mood in which it was written, if they are not to be attributed, at least in part, to his amanuensis (3:17). The differences between the apocalyptic expectations of the two epistles are not as great as they are sometimes made to appear, and some reasons for these differences are suggested below.
If the Pauline authorship be accepted, the epistle was written not long after I Thessalonians (2:15). Paul seems to have received further information about the progress of Thessalonians, and to have heard of two problems in the life of the young community, perhaps connected with each other. The teaching is being spread abroad that the day of the Lord is already present (2:2), and some of the brethren ‘work not at all, but are busybodies’ (3:11). Paul, conscious, perhaps, that some of his own teaching has been misinterpreted (2:2), writes to inform them more accurately about the coming of the End and the necessity of working and keeping good order.
The Teaching of The Epistle
The most notable feature of the epistle is the section (2:1-12) on the delay in the coming of the end. This delay is not mentioned in I Thessalonians, because in that epistle he mentions the end only in connection with the need for Christian living and with his solution of the problem raised by the death of Christians before the end. He had, however, as he reminds his readers (II Thess. 2:5) told them, while he was with them, of a power that restrains the already working mystery of lawlessness (2:7), which will be taken out of the way when the lawless one is to be revealed. This revelation of the ‘man of sin’ (2:3) who sets himself forth as God, is to usher in a conflict with the Lord Jesus, and the coming of the Lord Jesus will bring him to nought, together with those who follow him and ‘received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved’.
The meaning of this obscure passage is discussed later (Chap. 26); here it is sufficient to say that Paul’s words reflect the development in early Christianity of apocalyptic views based on the teaching of Jewish Apocalyptic and influenced by Christian prophecy (cf. I Thess.5:20). The apparent inconsistency between the coming of the day of the Lord ‘as a thief in the night’ (I Thess. 5:2) and the war between the man of sin and the Lord Jesus can be accepted as an inconsistency between two different conceptions simultaneously held by Paul (cf. the muddled thought of Mk. 13 in its present form), or it can be resolved by the assumption that ‘the day of the Lord’ covers the whole period from the revelation of ‘the man of sin’, a period when further evangelism would be impossible and men must stand or fall by the character of their lives hitherto.
Besides reminding them of what he has taught on the End, Paul writes with a new note of stern authority on those who have misconceived ‘the day of the Lord’ as a period already begun and those — perhaps the same men — who have abandoned work altogether. Speaking ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (3:6), and appealing to the teaching they had received by word and ‘by epistle of ours’ (2:15), he commands them to ensure the keeping of ‘the tradition’ (2:15, 3:6) by separation from disorderly and disobedient brethren, ‘and yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother’ (3:16).
Circumstances of Writing
The authenticity of this epistle has not seriously been challenged, nor have the attempts of such scholars as Dr. Barnes to reject the Pauline authorship of the great passages on Faith, Hope, and Love (13) and on the Resurrection (15) commended themselves to the great majority of present-day critics. The epistle is indeed perhaps the best attested of all Paul’s epistles in early tradition, and there is general agreement that it was written from the neighbourhood of Ephesus, during Paul’s stay there on his third missionary journey (c. A.D. 53-55).
Paul had founded the church at Corinth on his second missionary journey in A.D. 50 (Acts 18:18), and now found himself obliged to intervene in the disputes which disturbed the new and disorderly Christian community. He had already written at least one letter, which has not survived, in which he warned them to have no company with fornicators (I Cor. 5:9), and he now writes again in answer to a letter requesting guidance (7:1) and in the light of information about the church’s life supplied to him by members of the household of Chloe (1:11), probably early In A.D. 55
The Corinthian church seems to have been overwhelmingly, but not entirely, Gentile in composition, and to have included many slaves as well as freemen (12:13). Its troubles were typically Greek, factiousness, lack of stability and order, and immorality, all of them reflecting the pagan background of the majority of the new converts.
Teaching of The Epistle
Paul finds much to reprove, and has much advice to give, so that, while the epistle falls into six main sections, Factions (1: 1-5 2I), Sexual Problems (5: 1-7 40), Idolmeats and Idolatry (8:1-11:1), Worship and Spiritual Gifts (11:2-14:40), the Resurrection (15) the Collection and Personal Messages (16), other topics keep on intruding and recurring in these divisions.
The factions which split the church arose from the championship of different leaders. Some claimed to be of Paul, others of Apollos (who had been instructed by Priscilla and Aquila at Ephesus and had done valuable work at Corinth in Paul’s absence, Acts 18:24-28), others of Peter, and others of Christ (if these words in 1:12 are not an interjection of Paul’s — ‘but I of Christ’). Paul reproves the pride that had led to such a state of affairs, and emphasises the supremacy of the Spirit and the subordination of all Christian leaders to God’s purpose (3:7, 4: 5). He cannot, however, leave the subject without reminding the Corinthians that he is their father in Christ Jesus (4:14), and that he will come shortly to deal with those that are puffed up (4:18-21).
Paul proceeds to deal with sexual problems that have arisen. A reported case of incest is denounced, and instructions given ‘to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’ (5:5). Every Christian known to be ‘a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner’ (5:11) is to be shunned completely. Even lawsuits before pagans are not permitted (6:4). After this digression he returns to the particular sinfulness of fornication (6:15 ff.), and then, in reply to a question in the letter which he has received, lays it down that no married Christian has a right to refuse normal marital relations except temporarily, or to leave their partner, although, if an unbelieving partner insists on a separation, they are to be let go. In an obscure passage, which seems to imply that some of the Corinthian Christians were living in a ‘spiritual’ and unconsummated marriage, Paul then gives on his own account wise and tolerant advice.
Another problem about which the Corinthians seem to have enquired was the propriety of eating meat which had been offered to idols (at this time most meat which was offered for sale had formally been so offered). Paul, in his answer, uses his own foregoing of the privileges which he might claim as an apostle to stress the need for charity and regard for the conscience of weaker brethren, and takes the opportunity of warning his readers against participation in any form of idolatry.
He goes on to deal with irregularities in Christian worship, especially the active participation of women in services and unworthy participation in the Eucharist. The Corinthians had apparently as yet no church officers of unquestioned authority, and besides the scandals of behaviour at the Eucharist (11:21), and the divisions when they came together in congregation (11:18), the disorderly use of spiritual gifts, especially of speaking with tongues and prophesying, had led to unseemly scenes. Paul urges some sensible regulations, based on his own experience (14:12-33), and shows them the more excellent way of love as more to be desired than even the greater spiritual gifts (12:31-14:1).
He concludes the main part of the epistle by reminding them of
‘the gospel which I preached unto you’ (15:1), the assurance of the Resurrection and of the change by which those who are not to die will put on immortality (15:53). Instructions for the collection of alms on behalf of the Jerusalem church and personal messages close the letter.
Integrity of The Epistle and Circumstances of Writing
Paul refers in II Cor.2:4, 7:8 and 12 to a previous letter of his on a wrong done at Corinth which had made them sorry, though it was written rather that they should know his love toward them. This description does not seem to fit I Corinthians very well, in spite of his fierce words on the case of reported incest ( I Cor. 5:1 ff.); on the other hand, in II Corinthians itself the gentle tone of chapters 1-9 gives place in the last four chapters to an indignant vindication of his authority against some who are challenging it, and many scholars consider that these last four chapters were originally part of this earlier ‘severe’ letter.
There are at least possible parallels for the incorporation of fragments of Paul’s letters out of their true context in other letters; Romans 16 and parts of II Timothy and the epistle to Titus are probable instances of such editorial work, and some critics have seen another example in II Cor. 6:14-7:1, which interrupt the general thought of the surrounding passage. There are, however, a number of difficulties in the way of this view of II Cor. 10-13, notably the parallel references in chapters 8 and 12 to the sending of Titus and ‘the brother’ to Corinth, and it seems better on the whole to accept the epistle as one letter, and to suppose that the ‘severe’ letter has not survived, or, less probably, that I Corinthians was so interpreted by the church at Corinth. The change of time in chapter 10 must then be attributed to a change in Paul’s mood, and a determination matched in many others of his letters,( E.g. I Cor.4:14-21, Gal. 6:l2-17, II Thess. 3:6-15, II Tim. 4:14-18.) not to close without a vindication of his personal authority against his opponents.
On this view of the epistle II Corinthians was written within a year of I Corinthians (cf. II Cor. 8:1O with I Cor. 16:1 ff.) from Macedonia, as Paul was on his way from Ephesus to Corinth late in A.D. 55 before his final journey to Jerusalem (Acts20:1 ff.). Since writing I Corinthians Paul had visited Corinth (II Cor.8:2), a visit not recorded in Acts. The visit seems to have been marred by opposition to his authority (10:10 ff. ?) and to have been followed by the ‘severe’ letter, the success of which in stirring the church to repentance was reported to Paul in Macedonia by Titus (7:7 ff.). Paul now seeks by a further letter to express his joy at the renewal of harmony between himself and the Corinthians and to reassert in plain terms his authority which has been disputed.
Teaching of The Epistle
II Corinthians is the most personal of Paul’s epistles, and its main concern is not so much instruction in Christian doctrine and living as the expression of Paul’s tangled emotions on hearing Titus’ account of the general revulsion of feeling at Corinth towards the acceptance of his authority. It is the letter of a tried man who has been weighed down for some time by continual exposure to danger (I Cor. 15:32, II Cor.1:8, 11:23-26), by physical weakness (12:7-8) and mental depression (2:4, 13, 7:5), and above all by
‘that which presseth upon one daily, anxiety for all the churches’ (11:28), but who has never permitted himself to despair. (4: 8), and who sees even in his sufferings the working of the power of God (1:4-5, 4:7, 11). Now that events have taken a happier turn he writes to the Corinthians, first to express his thanks for the comfort he has received, and to explain his past actions, and then to appeal to their liberality for the collection that he has been making (8-9). He finds himself unable to finish his letter, however, without once more vindicating himself and his authority against those who have opposed him at Corinth (10:13).
Of the themes treated in the epistle two are of special significance. In chapters 3-5, Paul treats of his ministry and sufferings in such a way as to indicate that the experiences of the last few months had left a permanent mark upon his thought. From now on there is to be little in his epistles of the coming of a cosmic catastrophe and judgement in his lifetime, and his expectation of the End is rather to be centred on the idea that death is the gateway to life. This deepening and spiritualising of his view, for which generations of Christians have had reason to be grateful, is apparent especially in 3:18, and in the great passage 4:16-5:10, with its emphasis on the temporary and imperfect nature of mortal life, and the earnest of the Spirit as a pledge of our final transformation into the full glory of presence with the Lord.
In the last four chapters Paul treats of his ministry and sufferings again, but in a very different context. We can only guess at who his opponents were who disparaged his bodily presence and speech (10:10) and were in turn attacked as ‘false apostles’ (11: 13). They seem to have been Jews (11:22), and their attitude to Paul suggests that they claimed for their version of the gospel a higher authority, that of the teaching of one or more of ‘the chiefest apostles’ (11:5), possibly even of Peter (cf. I Cor. 1:12). Paul had met the challenge of the rival teachers of the Galatians with an affirmation of the direct divine revelation of his gospel, and of his independence of human authority, even of Peter’s. Here he reaffirms the divine origin of his authority (10:8, cf. 3:5-6) and cites as evidence of his divine calling the dangers he has endured (11:23-28), his visions and revelations of the Lord (12:1), and the signs of an apostle that ‘were brought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works’ (12:12). The essence of Paul’s appeal lay here, as always, in his ability, conscious as he was of his own possession of the Spirit, to ask of other men
‘know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you’ ? (13:5).
Integrity of The Epistle
The heretic Marcion seems to have used an edition of this epistle that included only the first fourteen chapters. As we know that Marcion often omitted passages in the epistles which emphasised the unity of the God proclaimed by Jesus with the God of the Old Testament, and as there is reason for thinking that even the chapters which Marcion accepted he edited to bring the teaching into closer accord with his own views, there is nothing very surprising in this, except the size of the omission. The description of Christ, for example, in 15:8 as ‘a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God’ would have been an embarrassment to him, like the stress on the collection for ‘the saints that are at Jerusalem’ (15:26-27), and the five quotations from the Old Testament in 15:1-13.
The circulation of this shortened Marcionite version has left its mark in the MS. tradition, some MSS. of the Vulgate bearing traces of having originally contained only fourteen chapters, and the final doxology of 16:25-27 occurring in a large number of MSS. after 16:23. It is possible that the curious omission of ‘in Rome’ by 1:7 and 15 by Origen and the MS. G is due to the circulation of such a short form of the epistle, which has no reference apart from these to its historical situation.
A more serious problem is presented by the placing of the doxology after15:33 in our oldest surviving MS. (papyrus 46, of the third century, from Egypt), taken in conjunction with the difficulties caused by the acceptance of chapter 16 as part of the original epistle.
Both chapters 15 and 16 are clearly Pauline in thought and style, but they do not seem to belong together. Chapter 15 implies a Roman destination for the epistle (cf. 24, 28) and closes (33) with a typically Pauline blessing, parallel to those which close other epistles, e.g. Galatians, I and II Thessalonians. In chapter 16, on the other hand, after a commendation of Phoebe and salutations to 26 persons by name — a surprising number if Paul had never visited the church — there follow a sharp denunciation of those who are causing divisions, written in a tone which suggests that Paul is writing to a community known to him, and acknowledging his authority, another final blessing (20), the greetings of his fellow-workers, and the doxology 25-27.
Certain features of chapter 16 suggest that it is in fact part of a letter to Ephesus and not Rome. The number of individual greetings include Epaenetus ‘the firstfruits of Asia unto Christ’ (5) and Prisca and Aquila, first mentioned at Corinth in Acts 18:2 as lately come from Rome, and subsequently settled in Ephesus (Acts 18:18, 26). Moreover vv. 17-20 would come naturally in a letter to the church at Ephesus, which Paul had founded and to which he could speak with authority. Two of the fellow-workers, whose greetings are given, Timothy and Erastus are mentioned in Acts 19:22 as sent on from Ephesus to Macedonia by Paul in preparation for his journey to Jerusalem, and, if this chapter is indeed part of a letter to Ephesus, the date for it would seem to be before or shortly after Paul’s start from Corinth in A.D. 56.
Those who defend chapter 16 as part of the original epistle to Rome point to the lack of direct evidence for the ending of the epistle at 15:33, and explain the long list of names, most of which can be paralleled from Roman inscriptions, as a deliberate attempt on Paul’s part to establish as many personal contacts as possible before his arrival. On the other hand the presence of Prisca and Aquila at Ephesus as late as A.D. 55 (I Cor. 16:19) makes their presence at Rome early in 56 improbable, and the balance of arguments would seem to favour the view that chapter 16 was written to Ephesus.
The normal explanation of the attachment of chapter 16 to the epistle to the Romans is that it is another example of the later editorial patchwork suggested in II Corinthians and, more convincingly, in II Timothy. Another explanation is possible, that Paul sent a copy of his epistle to the Romans, which contained so much of his mature thought, to Ephesus by the hand of Phoebe with a short note of commendation and greeting. This latter explanation would furnish reasons for the existence of two recensions of the epistle, of which one originally ended at 15:33, and possibly also for the omission of ‘in Rome’ in 1:7, 15.( If Marcion edited a copy of Romans that contained only chapters 1-15 his omission of the last chapter becomes more easily explicable.) It would seem, at any rate, that the letter to Rome and the note to Ephesus were both written at about the same time (cf. Rom. 15:25-26) and probably both from Corinth.
Circumstances of Writing
The epistle can be confidently dated c. A.D. 56, when Paul was looking forward to visiting new fields in the western part of the Empire after his journey with alms to the church of Jerusalem. He names Spain as his ultimate objective (15:24, 28), and appears to visualise breaking his journey at Rome (cf. Acts. 19:21) to acquaint himself with the situation there ‘to impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established’ (Rom. 1:11), and to be ‘satisfied with your company’ (15:24). He does not seem to have known much about the Christian community at Rome, but assumes that it was composed of both Jews and Gentiles, and sets down for their benefit a carefully composed statement of his own general doctrinal position. He does not, of course, cover the whole field of Christian doctrine, but concentrates on the fundamental doctrines of Justification and Sanctification (1-8), with an explanation of the rejection of Israel (9-11) and a final section of practical exhortation (12-15).
Teaching of The Epistle
It is impossible in a short summary to do justice to the teaching of this epistle which above all others rewards close and continued study with a commentary.( Those of G. H. Dodd (Moffatt Commentary), K. E. Kirk (Clarendon Bible) and (for those with a knowledge of Greek) Sanday and Headlam (I.C.C.) may be mentioned as of particular value.) The first eight chapters especially contain the most profound working out of the way in which the redeeming work of Christ has bridged over for the believer the chasm between man and God caused by man’s sin and God’s righteousness, which cannot ignore sin. Paul’s arguments are often involved and difficult to follow, especially when he is applying to the Old Testament Pharisaic methods of exegesis in his treatment of the Jewish Law (e.g. in ch. 4), but the reality of the experience which he is translating into theological terms natural for a Jew of the first century A.D. has made his exposition an abiding source of inspiration to Christians of every age.
Paul is concerned with three stages of his own experience, his feeling of sinfulness in the sight of God before his conversion, the release from the power and penalty of his sins and the reception of the gift of the spirit that followed his conversion and baptism, and the continuing struggle with sin in his life that still went on.
In the light of these personal experiences he expounds the place of Christ’s redeeming work in God’s plan. The Jewish Law he knows to be given of God, in spite of its failure to enable men to conquer sin; its purpose he now sees to have been the focusing of men’s minds on the nature of sin and on the penalty of death as the consequence of sin (5:13, 20, 6:17-14).
At his conversion to faith in Christ Paul was baptised (Acts 9:18), a sequence that he assumes as normal for other Christians (Acts 16:30-33, I Cor. 1:13), and his interpretation of the consequences of faith is linked with a mystical conception of the meaning of baptism. Christ’s death has achieved what the law could not do (8:3), our justification (3:24-25) or acquittal in spite of our guilt. Paul thinks of death as the inevitable consequence of sin (5:12) and, as it were, wiping out sin (6:7). Christ’s obedience to God, culminating in his death on the cross (6: 8-19), has been the means of redeeming us from the curse of Adam. This is achieved or symbolised by baptism, in which the descent into the water and coming out again, together with the bestowal of the Spirit by the laying on of hands represent a mystical death of the believer with Christ (5:13), and the rising of the ‘new man’ (6:4) strengthened with the life-giving Spirit (8:9) and freed by his ‘death’ from the penalty attaching to the sinfulness of the ‘old man’ (7:6).
Paul’s own experience has shown him that while he has been justified with God there is still a battle within him against sin (7:15-23), and that we must struggle, though now with the Spirit’s help (8:9), to attain to sanctification (6:19). Yet we have the assurance of Christ’s resurrection that God will finally quieten also your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you (8: 11) of all the sufferings of this present time (8:18-39).
In chapters 9-11 Paul turns aside to a problem that lay very near to his own heart, the rejection of Israel, and shows that it has been both foretold by God in the Old Testament and abundantly justified, but that it is neither complete nor final. Its ultimate purpose indeed is the salvation of all men through God’s mercy (12:25-32).
In these first eleven chapters, although they have become in the course of time determinate for the formulation of Christian theology, Paul is largely working out his own interpretation of the meaning of God’s revelation in Christ. He started from the same assumptions as the other Christian preachers of the first generation (cf. 1:1-6), and developed from them in the light of his personal experience of Christ and of his Pharisaic training a system of thought to justify his belief that the gospel ‘is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (1:16). We can only guess how far Paul’s interpretation was influenced by that of other Christian teachers and how far Paul’s teaching in turn has influenced e.g. the teaching of I Peter, but it is clear that much of what is most profound in Paul’s conception of the union of the believer with Christ is drawn from his own direct experience.
In his final section, chapters 12-15, Paul sketches the great principles of Christian ethics that arise naturally from the contemplation of God’s mercy, and he closes with a brief reference to his own past work and future plans.
Colossians and Philemon
The genuineness of Colossians has been attacked on the grounds of differences in style and vocabulary between this epistle and the other undoubted Pauline letters, and because it has been thought that the heresy attacked was a form of Gnosticism more likely to occur in the second than in the first century. But the style and vocabulary, though in some ways remarkable, are judged by the great majority of critics as fully within Paul’s compass, and to be accounted for by the late date of the epistle and its special subject. There is a general consensus of opinion, too, that the teaching attacked is of a kind fully compatible with first century developments. To clinch the genuineness is the almost universal recognition of the authenticity of the epistle to Philemon, with its manifest close relationship to Colossians.
Circumstances of Writing
The two epistles seem to have been written at the same time to judge by the names mentioned in them, and Philemon was himself probably a member of the church at Colossae (cf. Col. 4:17 with Philem. 2). Paul was in prison at the time (Col. 4:18, Philem. 2), and the epistle is generally dated early in his imprisonment at Rome, c. A.D. 59.
An alternative view, which has gained considerable support, is that the epistles were written from Ephesus. Acts does not mention an imprisonment there, but Acts is by no means exhaustive in its accounts of Paul’s sufferings, as can be seen from II Cor. 11:23-26, especially 23 ‘in prisons more abundantly’, and references in I Cor. 15:32, II Cor.1:8-10, and elsewhere have been taken to imply that Paul had in fact been in prison and in danger of his life at Ephesus on his third missionary journey. In a Latin prologue to the epistle, possibly of Marcionite origin, it is stated that ‘the apostle wrote to them in bonds in Ephesus’. The proximity of Ephesus to Colossae (less than a hundred miles to the south east) is held to make more likely the presence of Onesimus, the runaway slave, with Paul, and Paul’s hope of visiting Colossae (Philem. 22).
There is much in this that must be accounted speculative, and a Roman provenance and later date would better account for some of the changes in Paul’s thought and style, and for his reference to himself as Paul ‘the aged’ (Philem. 9). Rome was notorious as a haven for runaway slaves, and Paul may well have hoped in the early days of his imprisonment at Rome for a quick acquittal and a return to some of the fields of his earlier mission-work.
The Circumstances of Writing and The Colossian Heresy
Paul has not himself visited Colossae (2:1), and the occasion of the epistle lay in what he had learned from Ephesus (Col. 2:7, Philem. 23) and probably from the fugitive Onesimus. He seems to have taken advantage of the return of Tychicus from Rome to his native Asia (Acts 20:4, of II Tim. 4:12) to entrust him with the return of Onesimus to his master (Col. 4:7-9) and with general letters to the churches of Colossae and Laodicea, which were to be interchanged (4:16).
In the second chapter of Colossians Paul warns his readers against a type of teaching which seems to have combined the observance of Jewish customs such as the observance of sabbaths and new moons, and the keeping of food laws (2:16, cf. 2:11), with the cult of angels as a humble form of worship (2:18), and asceticism (2:23). We have only short allusions to these, and it is dangerous to be too dogmatic about the type of teaching referred to, but, in view of the known syncretistic nature of much religion in Asia Minor at this period, the danger may well have lain in an attempt by some of the Colossians to graft on to their Christian faith elements of their former pagan beliefs. Such an explanation would fit the parallelism of Paul’s warning against ‘the rudiments of the world’ (2:8) with his reminder to the Galatians that before the coming of Christ we ‘were in bondage under the rudiments of the world’ (Gal. 4:3).
The Teaching of The Epistles
The note to Philemon needs little comment. It is at once tactful and truly Christian in its intercession for one who might legally be punished with the most extreme severity.
In Colossians Paul, writing to a church that he has not himself visited, attunes his teaching to what he thinks to be their special needs. In the first place he stresses the uniqueness, completeness and eternity of Christ (1:15-17, 2:9) against the danger of regarding him only as the partial instrument of revelation, and proclaims Christ as the mystery of God now at last revealed (2:2, cf. 1:26-27 and Rom. 16:25). We are united with Christ in our baptism (2:12), and Christ is the Head from whom all the body increases with the increase of God (2:19).
This leads Paul on to reinforce his moral teaching (3:1-4:6) with the reminder that now ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (3:3) and that the Christian virtues are those of the body in which we are called to the peace of Christ (3:15). Personal messages and greetings (4:7-18) close the letter.
Circumstances of Writing
This letter, too, was written from prison (1:7, 13, 17). Ephesus has been suggested as the place of writing, as in the case of Colossians, and inscriptions from Ephesus have established the presence there of Praetorians (1:13) and of members of Caesar’s household (4:22). There are also a number of close affinities in language with the epistle to the Romans, although this argument loses much of its force if the early date of Galatians, with its resemblances to Romans, is accepted. A Roman provenance, however, and a date towards the end of Paul’s imprisonment c. A.D. 60, seem more likely on the whole. Paul seems to look back in his old age over a long period (1:5, 23,4:10, 15), Timothy is with him (cf. Col. 1:1), the Praetorians and those of Caesar’s household are most natural of all in Rome. Time must have elapsed for the Philippians to have heard of his presence there, for Epaphroditus to have arrived, and to have recovered from his illness (2:25-28), so that a date towards the end of Paul’s imprisonment is probable.
The occasion of the letter is the homesickness of Epaphroditus (2:25-26), whose return to Philippi Paul accompanies with a letter of thanks for the gift he has received (4:10-19) and of exhortation to the Church.
Teaching of The Epistle
Paul is writing to a church without serious dissensions (4:2), and one with which his relations seems to have been universally cordial (4:15-16). For the most part the epistle is concerned with Paul’s thanks and his own experiences and plans (1:3-23, 3:4-14, 4:10-23), and with his concern for the Philippians to live worthily of the gospel of Christ (1:24, 2:4, 2:12-22, 3:17-4:9). Two features of the epistle, however, call for special comment.
In 2:5-11 Paul illustrates the mind that Christians should seek to have by the example of Christ Jesus, self-emptying and humility. It has been noted that 6-11 possesses a certain rhythm, and that a number of the expressions used are without parallel in Paul, some of them indeed without parallel in the New Testament. It has accordingly been conjectured by some scholars that Paul is here quoting from an early Christian hymn, and there is much to be said for such a view, although most of the distinctive christological ideas occur elsewhere in Paul’s epistles; with the ‘self-emptying’ of Christ (7), may be compared II Cor.5:21, 8:9, with ‘being made in the likeness of man’ (7) Rom. 8:3, with ‘obedient even unto death’ (8) the thought of Rom. 5:18-19, 6:10, with the exaltation of Jesus over the whole universe (10) Col. 2:15, cf. I Cor. 2:7-8; on the other hand the application of ‘servant’ to Christ (7) is not in accord with Paul’s usage.
In 3:1 Paul is apparently about to close his letter (cf. ‘Finally’) when the tone suddenly changes to a denunciation of either Jews or Judaisers. Some critics have assumed that here a fragment of another letter has been inserted, but such changes of plan and tone have already been noted as not untypical of Paul, and the connection of thought here is perhaps supplied by the later reference to his experiences at Thessalonica (4:16), where Paul on his arrival from Philippi during his second missionary journey had experienced the hostility of the Jews and twice received gifts from the Philippians in the midst of his troubles.
The Influence Of Paul: Ephesians, And The Pastoral Epistles
The wide circulation and influence of Paul’s epistles in the later years of the first century and the beginning of the second century are sufficiently witnessed by the quotations that occur in Christian writers of this period and by the early collection of a number of his letters.
It is to the working of this influence that we probably owe the composition in Paul’s name of the Epistle to the Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus. The genuineness of these epistles, especially Ephesians, is still maintained by many scholars, but detailed study of their language and teaching has convinced the majority of modern critics that they are not from Paul’s own hand, except for fragments of Pauline letters incorporated in II Timothy and Titus. Ephesians has come to be widely regarded as the work of an unknown religious genius who understood and appreciated Paul’s thought so well that the teaching of his epistle can still be justly termed ‘the crown’ of Paul’s teaching; the reasons for his assumption of Paul’s name are discussed in connection with the date of the epistle below. The Pastoral Epistles do not show the same understanding of Paul’s theology, although clearly written by a devoted follower of Paul, who sought to support his views on the doctrine and church organisation by using Paul’s name and incorporating fragments of genuine Pauline letters.
Non-Pauline Elements in The Language
The arguments against the Pauline authorship of Ephesians are drawn mainly from the style and vocabulary of the epistle, and from its doctrine. The relationship with Colossians is so close, and there are so many echoes of phrases from other Pauline epistles, that the choice of authorship must lie between Paul and someone steeped in his teaching. The style in Ephesians is far more involved than in the genuine letters of Paul, with sentences of great length, e.g. 1:3-14, the piling up of synonyms, e.g. 1:19, and the repetition of phrases, notably the five times repeated ‘in the heavenly places’ which is never used elsewhere by Paul. The vocabulary, too, contains more than forty words which occur in the New Testament, but not in Paul, and nearly forty words which occur nowhere else at all in the New Testament, a high proportion when the close relationship to Colossians is considered. A comparison with Colossians shows the use of some of the key-words of that epistle in a different sense, e.g. body, mystery; the wealth of abstract expressions in Ephesians finds some parallel in Colossians, but, whereas in Colossians these expressions are integral to the argument, in Ephesians they appear to be used without real cause, and to envelop comparatively simple doctrines in mystical language.
The theology of the epistle is of course steeped in Paul’s thought, but there are developments and applications which suggest the work of another mind. The first three chapters form in effect a great prayer of thanksgiving in which the mystery of God’s will (1:9, 3:4-11) now revealed by Him to men, and proclaimed by Paul (3:1-3), is declared to have been achieved by the raising of Christ from the dead and his exaltation (1:17-22). The effect of this has been to unite Jew and Gentile (2:11-18) in the church which is the body of Christ (1:23), and shares his exaltation (2:6), so that it is the means of God’s revelation not only to men but to
‘the principalities and powers in the heavenly places’ (3:9-11). The author’s speculation is here influenced by Colossians (especially Col. 1:15-20), but the conception of the cosmic function of the church is a new development of his own.
In chapters 4-6 follows exhortation to work out the purpose of God in the new common life (4:1-6). The influence of Colossians is again manifest, but there are new features, such as the stress on the unity of the Church (4:4-6) and the parallel drawn between marriage and the relationship of Christ to the Church (5:22-32).
These developments of Pauline thought are of great value and importance, but seem to be the building of another thinker on Pauline foundations rather than Paul’s continuation of his own work. This impression is confirmed by the nature of the epistle itself which does not address itself to a particular situation, as all of Paul’s genuine epistles do, but is more of a treatise than a letter. The personal references (3:1, 4:1, 6:21-22) appear to be selected from Colossians, and the reference to ‘holy’ apostles (3:5) sounds strange from Paul’s pen, although natural to a writer of the next generation.
Circumstances of Writing
The best MSS. of the epistle omit ‘at Ephesus’ in the first verse. It is possible, therefore, that the address was originally a general one ‘to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus’, although alternative suggestions have been made that the epistle was originally addressed to another church, whose name has disappeared, or that it was a circular letter ‘to the saints who are. . .’, the place being filled in differently when Tychicus read it in different churches. These last explanations carry most weight when the Pauline authorship is accepted; Marcion, for example, styled it ‘the epistle to the Laodiceans’ (cf. Col. 4:16), and it is difficult to imagine Paul writing to the Ephesians without conveying numerous personal greetings.
If the Pauline authorship, however, is rejected, the form of a general epistle becomes easily understandable, especially if the theory is accepted that Ephesians was written by an admirer of Paul, who collected his epistles and provided them with a general introduction in this letter, to which he gave Paul’s name. Such a theory, however, is highly speculative, and all that can safely be said is that the epistle must have been written within a generation of Paul’s death (it is quoted by Christian writers soon after the beginning of the second century), probably in Asia Minor. Its incorporation in the collection of Paul’s epistles made a title inevitable, and the choice of Ephesus seems to have been dictated by the desire of Ephesian Christians to claim one of Paul’s letters as written to them (cf. II Tim. 4:12).
The Pastoral Epistles
Non-Pauline Elements in The Language and Teaching of The Epistles
If the author of Ephesians shows a deep knowledge and understanding of Paul’s thought and a devotion towards him, the author of I and II Timothy and the epistle to Titus shares both his knowledge and devotion but lacks such a profound understanding. It is clear that, quite apart from the passages in these epistles that are probably fragments of genuine letters of Paul himself, the influence of Paul’s teaching and language is everywhere present. Yet the marks of another hand are evident.
The proportion of words not found elsewhere in Paul’s epistles is significantly higher than in any of the nine epistles generally accepted as genuine, and many Pauline words are used in new senses. The difference in the use of particles from the normal use of Paul is particularly marked. The style, too, is smoother and more correct, and lacks the close-knit fervour of Paul. The cumulative force of these arguments is reinforced by the author’s treatment of his opponents; he is content to denounce without employing the dialectic of Paul (e.g. I Tim. 6:3-5), and he lays down general directions on ecclesiastical organisation in a manner quite different from Paul’s more particular instructions.
In matters of doctrine Paul’s influence is clear, but there are significant differences (cf. I Tim. 2:5 with Gal. 3:20), and instead of Paul’s stress on his ‘gospel’ (Rom. 2:16) we find an insistence on ‘the teaching’ (I Tim. 6, Tit. 2:10) as a generally received
‘faith’ (I Tim. 6:1, 5:8).
The evidence of teaching as of style and vocabulary is strongly against Paul’s authorship, nor are these arguments seriously weakened by any supposition that the epistles were written late in Paul’s lifetime and to meet a new type of situation. The three epistles show such a unity of thought and expression that they must be the work of one man, but for the author we must look rather to one of Paul’s admirers than to Paul himself.
Circumstances of Writing and Use of Genuine Letters of Paul
The key to the understanding of how these epistles came to be written lies in the probable use of at least two short letters, or fragments of letters, written by Paul himself. There are many widely differing views as to the extent of this genuine Pauline matter and its original form, and there is never likely to be general agreement on the subject. Perhaps the simplest explanation of the writing of the epistles is to assume that the unknown author knew or had in his possession short letters written by Paul to Timothy and Titus, and that he used these as frameworks on which to compose II Timothy and Titus. Later, encouraged perhaps by the success of his experiment, he wrote I Timothy entirely by himself; the affinities of the longer I Timothy with Titus suggest that he would hardly have composed Titus if I Timothy had been already written.
The separation of the genuine Pauline fragments into their original settings is fraught with difficulties. The letter to Titus may have been only a short note, which can perhaps be reconstructed from Titus 1:1a, 4, 3: 12-15, written from Macedonia in the autumn of A.D. 55 on his third missionary journey and urging Titus to prepare to join Paul at Nicopolis. The Pauline portions of II Timothy are more extensive, and seem to include at least the personal references in (II Tim.1:1-2, 16-18, 4:9-22), as well as other possible fragments (e.g. 4:5-8). If these fragments all come from one letter, they imply that Paul returned to Asia. Minor (4:20) after being released from his imprisonment at Rome (1:17); it is perhaps more probable that fragments from more than one letter have been included.
As I and II Timothy are both quoted by Polycarp early in the second century, an early date for the pastoral epistles is certain. There is nothing inherently improbable in the problems of ecclesiastical organisation and of ‘gnostic’ heresies having become urgent within a few years of Paul’s death, and these letters may well have been composed as early as A.D. 70-80, perhaps in the neighbourhood of Ephesus (II Tim.4:19).
Teaching of The Epistles
The term ‘Pastoral Epistles’, first applied to all three in the eighteenth century, hardly fits the exhortation of II Timothy, where the author employs his Pauline material to reinforce his general appeal for loyalty to the Pauline ‘pattern of good words’ (1:13, cf. 3:10), the avoidance of ‘strife about words to no profit’ (2: 14), and perseverance in the face of suffering (3:12) and false teaching (3:1 ff., 4: 3-4). The epistle to Titus is concerned with the qualifications needed in ‘bishops’ (1:7), who appear in fact to be as yet ‘elders ‘(1:5) and not in sole authority, and with the teaching to be given to older men, women, younger men, and slaves (2: 1-10); this leads on to the divine purposes of God and their requirements of Christian conduct (2:11-3:8), and to a warning against tolerance of heretics (3:9-11).
I Timothy covers much the same ground as the epistle of Titus, but in more detail, e.g. the qualifications of deacons and their wives (3: 8-13), and with instruction on the conduct of public prayer (2: 1-2, 8-9) and on the unity of God, Christ’s mediation (3:5), and the purpose of his death (3:6). Timothy is given advice on his own teaching and conduct in terms which apply, and were meant to apply by the author, to all young Christian leaders (4:6-5:2).