The Epistles of the Apostle Paul

Arend Remmers

Overview of the New Testament

A large part of the New Testament is occupied by the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. As Peter the Apostle writes, some of these are hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16). But these epistles are indispensable for every Christian wanting to get a profound knowledge of the Christian truth.

  • Romans shows the pure and full gospel of God for every man and woman.
  • Philippians shows the joy in following the Lord Jesus.
  • Ephesians sets out the thoughts of God regarding His assembly.
  • First Corinthians deals with the inward and
  • First Timothy the outward order of this same assembly. And finally
  • First and Second Thessalonians treats the living hope and the future of the Christians.

Besides this, many other important subjects are dealt with in the Epistles.

The author of these epistles, the Apostle Paul, was originally called Saul. He was a learned Jew of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5) and originated from Tarsus in Cilicia (Asia Minor). He had studied the Jewish law, had sat at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel, and had been educated after the strictest sect of the Pharisees (Acts 22:3; 26:5) and at a very early age excelled his contemporaries in knowledge (Gal. 1:14). At the same time he was hostile, with fanatic zeal, towards Christians. At the time, the Christians grew rapidly in number. Paul persecuted them wherever he could and obtained the consent of the Jewish leaders to do so. On later occasions he remembered the time before his conversion with much sadness (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:13).

While he was on a journey to Damascus his meeting with the Lord Jesus - which was going to have the most far reaching consequences - took place. This meeting was very important as to the future life of Saul (Acts 9). Saul was converted to God who had already separated him from his mother's womb and who called him now to preach His Son among the heathen nations. This is how Paul (as he was called later on – Acts 13:9) became the Apostle of the nations (Gal. 2:7-8: Rom. 11:13; 15:16).

For the time being he preached that Jesus is the Son of God in the synagogues of the Jews in Damascus. As the Jews wanted to kill him he fled to Arabia. We do not know anything about these three years Paul spent there. But we certainly may assume that God quietly prepared him there for his future responsibilities. He then came to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28; Gal. 1:18).

Here the Christians did not want to accept him at first. Later the Jews intended to kill him and he therefore flew to his natal town Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30). This is where Barnabas went to see him after some time and brought him to Antioch in Syria where the first large Christian assembly out of heathens had come into existence and where both Barnabas and Saul served the Lord together for some time (Acts 11:25-26).

From Antioch Barnabas and Saul started their first missionay journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor (around 46 to 49 AD). According to Acts 13 to 14 the stops of this journey were Salamis, Paphos, Perga (from where their young companion John Mark returned to Jerusalem), and Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. On the way back Paul (as he was now called) and Barnabas visited nearly all these places again before returning to Antioch by Attalia.

After a second visit in Jerusalem while at the so-called “council of the apostles” (around the year 50 AD; compare Acts 15 and Gal. 2:1-10) Paul started his second missionary journey from Antioch (around 51 to 54 AD). This time Silas accompanied him. Barnabas had separated from Paul because of his nephew John Mark. This is when Paul came to Europe for the first time. At first he visited Derbe and Lystra again where he found the young believer Timothy and took him with him as further companion. They then went to Phrygia, Galatia and Troas (where Luke joined them) and came to Philippi, their first stop in Europe. This is where they left Luke behind.

Paul went further to Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. [1] Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months and wrote the two Epistles to the Thessalonians in short succession around the year 52 AD. In these epistles Paul furnishes a profound treatment of the questions of the Thessalonian believers regarding the Christian hope.

According to various researchers the Epistle to the Galatians was written during this time as well. – From Corinth Paul returned by boat, via Cenchrea and Ephesus, to Caesarea and Antioch.

Paul started his third mission journey shortly after (around 54 – 58 AD; compare Acts 18:23 – 19:14). He came to Ephesus via Galatia and Phrygia in Asia Minor. This is where he remained for three years (Acts 20:31). He probably wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians towards the end of his stay there, which was in spring 57 AD. This epistle might have been handed over by Timothy (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10) but it is equally possible that Timothy went there later only (Acts 19:22). – There is a possibility that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians from Ephesus, too. Actually the Apostle Paul had intended to travel to Corinth himself as soon as possible (1 Cor. 16:5-6; 2 Cor. 1:15). But he probably refrained from it because of the sad situation in Corinth (2 Cor. 1:15; 2:1) and sent Titus instead.

But then Paul left Ephesus (maybe because of the revolt described in Acts 19:22-41). He first preached the gospel in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12) but had no inner peace and proceeded to Macedonia (Acts 20:1; 2 Cor. 2:13). There he met Titus who was on his way back from Corinth (2 Cor. 7:5-6). From Macedonia Paul wrote the Second Epistle to the Corinthians in the year 57 AD (2 Cor. 9:2-4) which he probably had delivered by Titus (2 Cor. 8:16-18). In Acts we read of one journey to Macedonia and Greece only (Acts 20:1-3) during which Paul obviously had been to Corinth and from where he wrote the Epistle to the Romans (57/58 AD). For in this epistle he mentions the fact that contributions had been made in Macedonia and Achaia for the saints in Judea which he now wanted to bring to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-28). These statements go hand in hand with the ones in the Epistles to the Corinthians. The mention of Phebe (Romans 16:1-2) from Cenchrea (which was the harbour of Corinth) and of Gaius (Rom. 16:23; compare 1 Cor. 1:14) would indicate that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans shortly before leaving for Jerusalem when still at Corinth. His journey from Greece to Jerusalem is described in detail in Acts 20 to 21.

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Hostile Jews seized Paul soon after his arrival in Jerusalem. He nearly became the victim of their fury - had not the Romans intervened and helped. The Romans then took him into protective custody. He remained a prisoner because of the false accusations made by his compatriots. He stayed in Jerusalem and then, for two years, in Caesarea. When the Roman governor Felix handed over his office to Porcius Festus [2] in 60 AD a new hearing was arranged during which Paul - being a Roman citizen - appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12; 26:32). Afterwards Paul was sent to Rome where he finally arrived after a perilous journey and where according to the final report of Acts he remained prisoner for two years in relative freedom (around 61 to 63 AD; Acts 27 to 28).

During this time in Rome Paul wrote the so-called prison Epistles which are: Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. All these epistles have probably been delivered by Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7). Towards the end of his imprisonment followed the Epistle to the Philippians in which Paul expresses the hope of his soon release (Phil. 1:25-26; 2:24; compare also Philemon 22). – Nowadays some researchers, especially Bible critics, think that Ephesus or, according to some, Caesarea might have been the place of writing rather than Rome!

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Asia Minor at the Time of the New Testament

Paul in these letters writes of himself as being a prisoner for Christ's sake. The reason for his imprisonment was the fact that he had preached the gospel of the grace of God in Christ to the nations (heathens). According to this world-wide gospel both the former nations and the hitherto people of God (the Jews) are lost sinners. But by faith in the gospel they both possess the same privileges as children of God and members of the one body of Christ (which is the assembly of the living God) through Christ Jesus.

The New Testament does not contain any further indications regarding the life of the apostle Paul than what is said in the Pastoral Epistles. The end of Acts however would indicate that Paul has been released after two years of imprisonment in Rome. Afterwards he wrote the First Epistle to Timothy in 63/64 AD and the Epistle to Titus wherein he does not mention anything regarding imprisonment but instead mentions various places to travel to. He visited the assembly in Ephesus where he left Timothy behind (1 Tim. 1:3). He himself went on to Macedonia. During this time he told Titus, who was another co-worker, that he had the intention to winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). He once again visited Troas and maybe Ephesus as well (2 Tim. 4:12; 1 Tim. 3:14). From there he went to Milet and Corinth (2 Tim. 4:20) and was taken captive a second time. We do not know much about this though. He was brought to Rome again and condemned to death. It was from there that he wrote his last inspired testimony which was the Second Epistle to Timothy (autumn 66/67 AD). He was deserted by many but strengthened by his Lord.

In addition to the many testimonies of the church fathers regarding the various epistles Papyrus 46 is probably the weightiest testimony to Paul's epistles. This papyrus-codex, which is not complete anymore, dates back to the time around 200 AD. Unfortunately it stops at First Thessalonians. And yet it contains (besides Hebrews) eight of Paul's epistles. They are listed in the following order: Romans (starting from chapter 5:17), Hebrews, First and Second Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians.

 

 

Chronological Table to the Life of the Apostle Paul

 

 

Outward privilege

But no approval

Conversion of Paul

around 36 AD?

First Mission Journey

around 46 – 49 AD
“Council of the Apostles”around 50 AD

Second Mission Journey

around 51 – 54 AD

First Epistle to Thessalonians

around 52 AD
Second Epistle to Thessaloniansaround 52 AD

(Epistle to Galatians?)

around 52 AD

Third Mission Journey

around 54 – 58 AD

First Epistle to Corinthians

around 57 AD

Second Epistle to Corinthians

around 57 AD

(Epistle to Galatians?)

around 57/58 AD

Epistle to Romans

around 58 AD

Imprisonment in Jerusalem

around 58 AD

Captivity in Caesarea

around 58 – 60 AD

Journey to Rome

around 60/61 AD

Captivity in Rome

around 61 – 63 AD

Epistle to Ephesians

around 61/62 AD
Epistle to Colossiansaround 61/62 AD

Epistle to Philemon

around 61/62 AD

Epistle to Philippians

around 63 AD

Release of Paul

around 63 AD

First Epistle to Timothy

around 63/64 AD

Epistle to Titus

around 63/64 AD

Second Captivity in Rome

around 66 – 67 AD

Second Epistle to Timothy

around 66/67 AD
Paul's Deatharound 67 AD?

 

 

 

 

[1] In 1905 an inscription was found in Delphi mentioning Gallio, deputy of Achaia (Acts 18:12). This inscription - which stresses the accuracy of Luke's report - probably originates from 52 AD.

[2] Josephus as well as Tacitus mention Felix handing over his office to Festus (Acts 24:27).