Pauline epistles

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The Pauline epistles, also called 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. The Epistle to the Hebrews, although it does not bear his name, was traditionally considered Pauline (although Origen questioned its authorship in the 3rd century CE), 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. [1] Most scholars agree that Paul actually wrote seven of the Pauline epistles, but that four of the epistles in Paul's name are pseudepigraphic (Ephesians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus [2] ) and that two other epistles are of questionable authorship (Second Thessalonians and Colossians). [2] According to some scholars, Paul wrote these letters with the help of a secretary, or amanuensis, [3] who would have influenced their style, if not their theological content.


The Pauline epistles are usually placed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Catholic epistles in modern editions. Most Greek manuscripts, however, 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.


In the order they appear in the New Testament, the Pauline epistles are:

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. [5]

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. [5]

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


Consensus dates
of Pauline epistles
Captivity letters (disputed) in orange
Pastoral letters (pseudoepigraphic) in red
36(31–36 AD: conversion of Paul)
50 First Epistle to the Thessalonians
51 Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
53 Epistle to the Galatians
54 First Epistle to the Corinthians
55 Epistle to the Philippians
Epistle to Philemon
56 Second Epistle to the Corinthians
57 Epistle to the Romans
62 Epistle to the Colossians
Epistle to the Ephesians
64 First Epistle to Timothy
Second Epistle to Timothy
Epistle to Titus
67(64–67 AD: death of Paul)

In all of these epistles except the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author and writer does claim to be Paul. However, the contested letters may have been written using Paul's name, as it was common to attribute at that point in history. [7]

Seven letters (with consensus dates) [8] considered genuine by most scholars:

The letters on which scholars are about evenly divided: [2]

The letters thought to be pseudepigraphic by many scholars (traditional dating given): [2]

Finally, Epistle to the Hebrews, though anonymous and not really in the form of a letter, has long been included among Paul's collected letters, but neither modern scholarship nor church teaching ascribes Hebrews to Paul. [2] [9]

Lost Pauline epistles

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

Collected epistles

The first collection of the Pauline epistles is believed to be that of Marcion of Sinope in the early 2nd century, [12] although it is possible that Paul first collected his letters for publication himself. [13] 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, other times from the recipients' copies. [14] 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. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. 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"
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 New Testament Letter Structure, from Catholic Resources by Felix Just, S.J.
  3. Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004. [ page needed ]
  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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. 1 2 Trobisch, David (1994). Paul's Letter Collection: Tracing the Origins. pp.  1–27. ISBN   0800625978.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. Digital Vatican Library (DigiVatLib), Manuscript –
  7. 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."
  8. Robert Wall, New Interpreter's Bible Vol. X (Abingdon Press, 2002), pp. 373.
  9. Ellingworth, Paul (1993). The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. p. 3.
  10. Also called A Prior Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2006-06-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) or Paul’s previous Corinthian letter., possibly Third Epistle to the Corinthians
  11. "Apologetics Press – Are There Lost Books of the Bible?".
  12. Price, Robert M. "The Evolution of the Pauline Canon". The Journal of Higher Criticism. The Institute for Higher Critical Studies, Drew University. Retrieved February 13, 2019. But the first collector of the Pauline Epistles had been Marcion
  13. Trobisch, David (2001). Paul’s Letter Collection. Bolivar, MO: Quiet Waters. ISBN   978-0966396676. His thesis is that Paul himself collected and edited some of his own letters. (From the Foreword by Gerd Theissen, University of Heidelberg)[ page needed ]
  14. Reece, Steve. Paul's Large Letters: Pauline Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. London: T&T Clark, 2016.[ page needed ]
  15. Trobisch2001

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