Exd & Cnq

Παυλος, δουλος Ιησου Χριστου, κλητος αποστολος...


The Apostle Paul

  • If we read the NT with the goal of coming to understand Jesus, there is a paradox.

    • Scholars assume the following:

      • The earlier a source, the more accurate it is.


  • the problem:

    • the gospels tell of the life of Jesus,

    • but Paul's letters were probably written before them.

      • So, any info Paul has to tell us about Jesus must be considered first.


  • Paul is the best represented writer in the NT,

    • but he tells us the least about Jesus.

    • two reasons:

      • Paul never knew the 'pre-Easter' Jesus- only the resurrected Christ.

      • He taught his followers about Jesus when he was with them

        • and his letters assume that the reader is already familiar with this info.


  • Nevertheless, he is EXTREMELY important-

    • 1st Christian theologian- no NT writer  contributes more to our understanding of the significance of Jesus' death.

    • Controversial- his teachings on subjects like women, sexuality, slavery, church authority, Judaism have often been misunderstood and misused.

    • Brilliant & Original


  • Of the 27 books in the NT, 21 are 'letters' or 'epistles.'

    • 13 of these bear Paul's name, and   

      • Hebrews has long been associated with Paul.

    • Scholars debate whether or not Paul actually wrote all of them, and

      • only 7 are generally accepted as from Paul's own hand;     

      • the other 6 are probably from a 'Pauline school,'

        • Paul's followers who sought to apply his teachings to new and changing situations.

        • These 6 vary from the other 7 in terms of style, vocab, theology.


    • But BE CAREFUL with this:

    • the question of authorship is complicated:

    • technically, Paul probably 'wrote' NONE of these letters:

      • he used an amanuensis-

        • a scribe trained in letter-writing.

        • To what extent did the scribe paraphrase or take liberty with what Paul said?

        • Was it the same one each time?

        • [Examples:

          • Romans 16:22

          • 1 Cor 16:21

          • Gal 6:11]

      • Also, Paul is often NOT the only sender:

        • Paul: Rom

        • Paul & Sosthenes: 1 Cor

        • Paul & Timothy: 2 Cor, Phlp, Phlm

        • Paul & 'all the brothers who are with me': Gal

        • Paul, Silvanus, & Timothy: 1 Thess

      • for these reasons, no letter can be easily dismissed.


  • 2 main sources of information about Paul:

    • His letters in the NT and

    • Lk's account of his missions in Acts of the Apostles.

      • The 2 do not always agree,

      • when they don't, the letters are favored over Acts.

    • All of Paul's letters were composed in a relatively short period of time:

      • 50-64 AD, roughly 15-20 years after his encounter with the Risen Christ.

        • [Acts was written 80-90 AD]

      • The 7 undisputed letters of Paul are the earliest written books of the NT

        • therefore the books closest to the time when Jesus lived.

    • Paul's letters are not arranged in the NT according to importance or chronology:

      • letters addressed to communities are first, from longest to shortest.

      • letters addressed to individuals are next, again from longest to shortest.


    • they are 'occasional' literature,

      • written for specific times, situations, places, audiences.

      • They  assume a degree of shared background information.

      • little like listening in on one side of a telephone conversation:

        • We don't know exactly what the other person said to elicit the response we find in the letter.

    • To correctly understand a letter, we need to know, as much as possible, the circumstances in which the letter was composed.

      • Because Paul's letters are occasional,

      • they do not contain everything he believed or thought,

      • and they are not 'systematic.'


  • A biographical sketch of Paul's life:

    • referred to in Acts as Saul (13:9; 7:58),

    • not uncommon for Diaspora Jews to have 2 names:

      • one for Jewish circles (Saul) and

      • another for Hellenistic circles,

        • Paul was a common Roman name.

        • [others: John Mark, Didymous Thomas]

      • Born in Tarsus, located in Asia Minor

        • During his lifetime, an important Greek city-

        • declared free during Augustus' reign,

        • famous as a center for learning with an Academy that rivaled Athens.

        • Explains influence of Hellenistic thought in Paul's letters (esp. Stoicism).


      • From the tribe of Benjamin, (named after a famous Benjaminite, King Saul.)

      • a Pharisee (Phil 3:5),

        • explains Paul's-

          • apocalypticism

          • emphasis on Mosaic Law

          • thoughts on resurrection of the dead

      • righteous under the law (Phil 3:6),

      • advanced in Judaism beyond many of his own age (Gal 2:14),

        • Acts claims Paul was educated 'at the feet of Gamaliel,'

          • a respected rabbi,

        • himself the student of Hillel,

          • the most respected rabbi during Herod's time.

      • zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Gal 2:14).

      • a tentmaker/leatherworker by trade (Acts 18:3);

        • continued to do this throughout his missionary activity.

      • A persecutor of Christians,

        • who as a result of an encounter with the risen Christ considered himself called to preach the gospel to gentiles.

        • present at the stoning of Stephen (the first Christian martyr, Acts 7:58) and approved of it.

      • A Roman Citizen (Acts)

        • by birth, so entitled to appeal his case to the emperor,

        • and worthy of execution by beheading rather than crucifixion.

      • probably fluent in at least three languages:

        • Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic.

        • In his letters, he most often quotes the LXX.

        • In Acts, 2x he quotes Greek literature.


  • A possible chronology for Paul's life:

    • 5 BC-10 AD: Birth in Tarsus

      • Educated in Tarsus & possibly Jerusalem.

    • 30-36: Arrives in Jerusalem,

      • becomes aware of Christian 'blasphemy'

      • persecutes Jesus' followers

    • 33-36: Encounter with the Risen Christ 

      • called/converted on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians

    • 33-39: Spends 3 years in Arabia & Damascus (Gal 1:17)

    • 36-39: First post-call visit to Jerusalem (Gal 1:18)

      • meets for 2 weeks with 'Cephas' (Peter) and James 'the brother of the Lord'

    • 37-48: missions establishing churches in Syria, Cilicia

    • 46-59: Paul's 3 or 4 Missionary Journeys (Acts), during which the Undisputed Letters are written

      • 45-49: First Missionary Journey

        • 47-51: The Jerusalem 'Council'

          • Paul meets w/ the apostles to discuss

            • the Gentile mission and

            • ? of whether or not the Law was binding for Gentiles.

      • 49-52: Second Missionary Journey

        • 50-52: Paul spends 18 months in Corinth

          • 50-51: 1 Thessalonians

      • 52-59: Third Missionary Journey  

        • 52-57: Stays in Ephesus for 2-3 years

          • possibly imprisoned there.

          • 53-54: 1 Corinthians

          • 55-58: Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, 2 Corinthians

        • 54-58: Arrest in Jerusalem

        • 58-59: Romans

    • 60-63: Imprisonment in Rome (Acts, Eusebius)

    • [62-68: Possible further mission to Spain (Romans)]

    • 64-68: Death in Rome, during Nero's persecution (Eus)