Pauline epistles

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The Pauline epistles, also known as Epistles of Paul or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen books of the New Testament attributed to Paul the Apostle, although the authorship of some is in dispute. Among these epistles are some of the earliest extant Christian documents. They provide an insight into the beliefs and controversies of early Christianity. As part of the canon of the New Testament, they are foundational texts for both Christian theology and ethics.


Most scholars believe that Paul actually wrote seven of the Pauline epistles (Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians), while three of the epistles in Paul's name are widely seen as pseudepigraphic (First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus). [1] Whether Paul wrote the three other epistles in his name (2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians) is widely debated. [1] According to some scholars, Paul wrote the questionable letters with the help of a secretary, or amanuensis, [2] who would have influenced their style, if not their theological content. The Epistle to the Hebrews, although it does not bear his name, was traditionally considered Pauline (although Origen, Tertullian and Hippolytus amongst others, questioned its authorship), but from the 16th century onwards opinion steadily moved against Pauline authorship and few scholars now ascribe it to Paul, mostly because it does not read like any of his other epistles in style and content and because the epistle does not indicate that Paul is the author, unlike the others. [3]

The Pauline epistles are usually placed between the Acts of the Apostles and the catholic epistles in modern editions. Most Greek manuscripts place the general epistles first, [4] and a few minuscules (175, 325, 336, and 1424) place the Pauline epistles at the end of the New Testament.


Consensus dates
of Pauline epistles
Captivity letters
Pastoral letters
36(31–36 AD: conversion of Paul)
48 Epistle to the Galatians
50 First Epistle to the Thessalonians
51 Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
54 First Epistle to the Corinthians
55 Second Epistle to the Corinthians
57 Epistle to the Romans
62 Epistle to the Philippians
Epistle to Philemon
Epistle to the Colossians
Epistle to the Ephesians
64 First Epistle to Timothy
65 Second Epistle to Timothy
66 Epistle to Titus
67(64–67 AD: death of Paul)
Beginning of the greek manuscript by Huldrych Zwingli of the Pauline episteles, written in 1517, preserved in the Zentralbibliothek Zurich Divi Pauli Apostoli epistolae by Ulrich Zwingli, Einsiedeln 1517, Zentralbibliothek Zurich, RP 15.jpg
Beginning of the greek manuscript by Huldrych Zwingli of the Pauline episteles, written in 1517, preserved in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich

In all of these epistles, except the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author and writer does claim to be Paul. The contested letters may have been written using Paul's name, as it was common to attribute at that point in history. [5]

Seven letters (with consensus dates) [6] considered genuine by most scholars:

The three letters on which scholars are about evenly divided: [1] If these letters are inauthentic, then the consensus dates are probably incorrect.

The letters thought to be pseudepigraphic by many scholars (traditional dating given): [1] The content of these letters strongly suggest they were written a decade or more later than the traditional dates.

Finally, Epistle to the Hebrews, although anonymous and not really in the form of a letter, has long been included among Paul's collected letters. Although some churches ascribe Hebrews to Paul, [7] neither most of Christianity nor modern scholarship does so. [1] [8]


In the order they appear in the New Testament, the Pauline epistles are:[ citation needed ]

Romans Church at Rome Πρὸς ῬωμαίουςEpistola ad RomanosRomRo
First Corinthians Church at Corinth Πρὸς Κορινθίους ΑʹEpistola I ad Corinthios1 Cor1C
Second Corinthians Church at Corinth Πρὸς Κορινθίους ΒʹEpistola II ad Corinthios2 Cor2C
Galatians Church at Galatia Πρὸς ΓαλάταςEpistola ad GalatasGalG
Ephesians Church at Ephesus Πρὸς ἘφεσίουςEpistola ad EphesiosEphE
Philippians Church at Philippi Πρὸς ΦιλιππησίουςEpistola ad PhilippensesPhilPhi
Colossians Church at Colossae Πρὸς ΚολοσσαεῖςEpistola ad ColossensesColC
First Thessalonians Church at Thessalonica Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς ΑʹEpistola I ad Thessalonicenses1 Thess1Th
Second Thessalonians Church at Thessalonica Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς ΒʹEpistola II ad Thessalonicenses2 Thess2Th
First Timothy Saint Timothy Πρὸς Τιμόθεον ΑʹEpistola I ad Timotheum1 Tim1T
Second Timothy Saint Timothy Πρὸς Τιμόθεον ΒʹEpistola II ad Timotheum2 Tim2T
Titus Saint Titus Πρὸς ΤίτονEpistola ad TitumTitT
Philemon Saint Philemon Πρὸς ΦιλήμοναEpistola ad PhilemonemPhilemP
Hebrews* Hebrew Christians Πρὸς ΈβραίουςEpistola ad HebraeusHebH

This ordering is remarkably consistent in the manuscript tradition, with very few deviations. The evident principle of organization is descending length of the Greek text, but keeping the four pastoral epistles addressed to individuals in a separate final section. The only anomaly is that Galatians precedes the slightly longer Ephesians. [9]

In modern editions, the formally anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews is placed at the end of Paul's letters and before the general epistles. This practice was popularized through the 4th century Vulgate by Jerome, who was aware of ancient doubts about its authorship, and is also followed in most medieval Byzantine manuscripts with hardly any exceptions. [9]

The placement of Hebrews among the Pauline epistles is less consistent in the manuscripts:

Lost Pauline epistles

Paul's own writings are sometimes thought to indicate several of his letters that have not been preserved:

Pseudepigraphic epistles

Several other epistles were attributed to Paul during the course of history but are now considered pseudepigraphic:

Collected epistles

David Trobisch finds it likely that Paul first collected his letters for publication himself. [22] It was normal practice in Paul's time for letter writers to keep one copy for themselves and send a second copy to the recipient(s); surviving collections of ancient letters sometimes originated from the senders' copies, at other times from the recipients' copies. [23] A collection of Paul's letters circulated separately from other early Christian writings and later became part of the New Testament. When the canon was established, the gospels and Paul's letters were the core of what would become the New Testament. [22] [ page needed ]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 New Testament Letter Structure, from Catholic Resources by Felix Just, S.J.
  2. Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004. [ page needed ]
  3. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, publ. Geoffrey Chapman, 1989, chapter 60, at p. 920, col. 2 "That Paul is neither directly nor indirectly the author is now the view of scholars almost without exception. For details, see Kümmel, I[ntroduction to the] N[ew] T[estament, Nashville, 1975] 392–94, 401–03"
  4. Metzger, Bruce M. (1987). The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (PDF). pp. 295–96. ISBN   0198261802. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-01.
  5. Joseph Barber Lightfoot in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians writes: "At this point [Gal 6:11] the apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his name (2 Thess 2:2; 3:17) it seems to have been his practice to close with a few words in his own handwriting, as a precaution against such forgeries... In the present case he writes a whole paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse, eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it, too, in large, bold characters (Gr. pelikois grammasin), that his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul."
  6. Robert Wall, New Interpreter's Bible Vol. X (Abingdon Press, 2002), pp. 373.
  7. Arhipov, Sergei, ed. (1996). The Apostol. New Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press. p. 408. ISBN   1-878997-49-1.
  8. Ellingworth, Paul (1993). The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. p. 3.
  9. 1 2 Trobisch 1994, p. 1–27.
  10. Digital Vatican Library (DigiVatLib), Manuscript –
  11. Also called A Prior Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians "Lost Books of the Bible?". Archived from the original on 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2006-06-29. or Paul's previous Corinthian letter.
  12. 1 Corinthians 5:9
  13. 2 Corinthians 2:4
  14. 2 Corinthians 7:8–9
  15. Ephesians 3:3–4
  16. "Apologetics Press – Are There Lost Books of the Bible?". December 2003.
  17. Colossians 4:16
  18. Charlesworth, James H.; McDonald, Lee Martin (2014-04-24). Sacra Scriptura: How "Non-Canonical" Texts Functioned in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN   978-0-567-29668-9.
  19. Olshausen, Hermann (1851). Biblical Commentary on St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. T. & T. Clark.
  20. 1 2 3 Ehrman, Bart (2012). Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Oxford University Press. p. 452458. ISBN   9780199928033.
  21. "Letters of Paul and Seneca". Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  22. 1 2 Trobisch, David (1994). Paul's Letter Collection. Minneapolis: Fortress. ISBN   9780800625979.
  23. Reece, Steve. Paul's Large Letters: Pauline Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. London: T&T Clark, 2016.[ page needed ]

Bibliographic resources