LETTERS OF PAUL
PAUL, THE CORRESPONDENT and HIS EDITOR, LUKE.
Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL, SSL
Part of the Pauline story is told in Acts. The Letters add information. We see the complex person, Paul, more thoroughly in his letters. These he wrote to various communities where he had worked. Many of the letters were occasioned by blazing anger. We know for sure that Luke edited some of these letters and tried to make them more acceptable. I think Luke edited all of the letters of Paul. These letters would be the third work attributed to Luke in the early writings of the Apostolic Fathers.
We need two chronologies for the Letters of Paul:
Chronology/Lifeline of Paul and Chronology of the Letters.
Chronology One: LIFELINE of PAUL: MAIN DATES.
10 A.D. Birth
34 Conversion (Desert; Damascus)
39 Jerusalem (With Barnabas) Syria - Cilicia - Antioch
45-49 First Missionary Trip
49-50 Council in Jerusalem
50-52 Second Missionary Trip
53-58 Third Missionary Trip
58-60 Prison (Caesarea, Palestine)
61-63 Prison (Rome..case dismissed)
63-65 Spain (???)
65-67 Prison (Rome)
67 A.D. Death (Tre Fontani, Rome)
Paul (Saul) was a young man at the time of his conversion. When he died a martyr he was only 57 years old. The sharp language and impatience in action can be understood much better if we keep in mind that he was a young man as he began his missionary work. He was on his own because he was too hard to get along with in the Roman community of Christians. Paul was a young man who wanted to be in charge.
Timothy and Titus were young boys living at home when their families were converted and they came to know Paul. Both of them admired Paul and followed him. This makes the advice of Paul to Timothy and Titus more intelligible. They were not to allow the Christian communities in which they were the official leaders to ignore them because of their youth.
Paul began his first trip when he was 35 and made his third trip when he was 43-48. He was in and out of prison three different times between the ages of 51 and 57. He went out of his last imprisonment in Rome to his death at Tre Fontani at the age of 57.
Chronology Two: CHRONOLOGY OF LETTERS.
1 & 2 Thessalonians ..... 50-51 A.D.
1 & 2 Corinthians 57 A.D.
Philippians 56-57 A.D.
Galatians - Romans 57-58 A.D.
Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon .....61-63 A.D. (captivity letters)
1 Timothy, Titus 65 A.D.
2 Timothy 67.A.D.
* Letter to Hebrews is Joanine, not Pauline.
Paul did all his writing from ages 40 to 57.. He wrote the last letter from the Roman prison just before his death. Keep these ages in mind. Art has depicted Paul and the apostles as old men. All the apostles were young men when called. None lived to be old men except John who was in his very early teens when called, and lived to be almost 100 years old.
The commentaries follow the chronology of the letters - Chronology Two.
1 THESSALONIANS. 50-51 A.D.
Paul was 40 years old as he wrote this letter. The people of Thessalonica had a serious question about the “Second Coming” of Christ. The Greek term is “Parousia” which literally means an “appearance.” Technically, in the biblical and theological context, it means the “Second Coming” or the “Appearance” of Jesus Christ in the final days of the world. Jesus will come and the Kingship will be fully established. The faithful will enter into a final and perfect phase of the Kingdom. The unfaithful will have excluded themselves forever from entrance into the Kingdom.
The Thessalonians listened to Paul and were convinced that this second appearance or Parousia of Jesus would take place within their lifetimes. In fact, there was some indication that Paul himself thought the second appearance of Christ would be a matter of a few years.
The problem arose when Jesus did not return and some of the Christians were dying. What would happen to them in this final appearance of Jesus? Paul did not have an answer because he had not envisioned the problem. Paul assured the flock that they need not worry. Everyone would be treated by God, as he/she deserved.
Paul then urged the faithful to grow in their faith as they had been instructed. God's will for everyone is that we be “HOLY.” This means: We are to be at peace with each other. We are to develop more courage in our daily lives. We are to take care of those who are weak and help them to cope, to be patient with each other and not even to think of vengeance. We are to be happy and to pray. We must give thanks to God for all his generosity and never suppress the Spirit.
2 THESSALONIANS. 50-51 A.D.
This letter is almost like a footnote attached to the other letter. Paul was concerned with the end of time and what was going to happen. It would be fully manifest in the final judgment. Then all people would be called to their reward or loss of it, depending on how they had lived their lives.
1 CORINTHIANS. (Cor) 57 A.D.
Corinth was the center of Hellenism, a magnet for every philosophy and religion, and a notorious center for immorality. To say the least, it was an awkward milieu for the new religion to get started. Some of the greatest minds came from this Hellenistic world. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are prime examples. The upper class of this Hellenistic world spent much of their time listening to anyone who had an idea to expound - no matter how inane. Then they had long and wild dinner parties to take care of the evening and most of the night. After this they slept, went to the baths and started another day. As Paul said, it was a life of debauchery and it gradually destroyed the Hellenistic world.
Paul made his first converts in Corinth. They were intrigued by the new ideas and accepted the practices wholeheartedly. However, there was always the lure of their former life around them, and they soon succumbed to their old habits or tried to mingle the old with the new. Paul got them back on track by his letters.
The first letter to the Corinthians has three major sections:
Section I. Divisisions and Scandals: 1:10 6:20.
Section II. Answers to Various Questions: 7:1 14:40.
Section III. The Resurrection of the Dead: 15:1-58.
The introduction and conclusion that ties these sections together.
Introduction. 1 Cor. 1:1-9.
Paul reminded the Corinthians of his relationship to them and the way in which they had responded to the message of Jesus.
Section I: Divisions and Scandals. 1. Cor. 1:10-6:20.
Dissensions Among the Faithful.
People formed groups based on who instructed and baptized them. They had their slogans and seemed to flaunt them constantly. “I am for Apollos”; “I am for Kephas.” The problem faced by Paul was analogous to the people of our country at the time of elections. Many people broke into noisy and wild groups with banners and slogans for one candidate or another. Paul asked, “Were these people crucified for you?” He said explicitly he was glad he never baptized any of them except the one family, as far as he could remember.
WISDOM: True or False. 1. Cor. 1:10-3:4.
1. True Wisdom is the cross of Jesus Christ: wiser than human
wisdom and stronger than human strength.
2. The Jews demanded miracles and saw the cross as an obstacle.
The Greeks looked for wisdom and saw the cross as madness.
3. Paul reminded them that most of them were not considered
to belong to the wise or the upper class of Hellenist
society before their conversion.
4. Paul presented Jesus crucified so that their faith would
not be founded on any false basis. Their faith was
established on the power of God. There was great
depth to this wisdom of God but the Corinthians
would never understand or accept it until they got
rid of these wild and empty ideas.
5. Acceptance of the Spirit (breath) of God makes the
spiritual man. We have the mind of Christ and
we teach Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
The Christian Preacher. 1 Cor. 3:5-15. Temple of God. 1 Cor. 3:16-17.
One does the planting, another does the watering, but it is God who gives the growth. You are the temple of God and the spirit of God lives among you. If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred and you are his temple.
Stewards of the Mysteries of God.
No Lawsuits; Avoid All Sin. 1 Cor. 4:1-13.
Christians should be able to settle all differences among themselves. Christians should not have to go to a religious court. Above all, Christians should not be contesting with each other in a civil court. Avoid all sin: especially prostitution connected with the fertility cults.
SECTION II: ANSWERS TO VARIOUS QUESTIONS. 1 Cor. 7:1-14:40.
Marriage and Virginity. 1 Cor. 7:1-40.
Paul answered questions that had been sent to him by the Corinthians. It seemed they understood Paul to say that people should not get married or that there was something less perfect about marriage. Paul had a negative notion of marriage. He also talked about the permanence of marriage. He gave us what is often called the “Pauline Privilege.” Paul stressed these were his ideas and that he did not get them directly from God.
The Pauline Privilege concerns two people who are married. One of them becomes a Christian and the other does not. If the non-Christian partner is willing to live in peace and not bother the Christian partner in the practice of his/her faith, the marriage remains. If the non-Christian partner interferes with the Christian’s practice of his/her faith, then divorce and remarriage are permitted. Matthew treated this kind of exception in 5:32 but he referred to it as “porneia” (selfishness) which is a broader notion. I have commented on this point in this passage of Matthew.
Food Offered to Idols. 1 Cor. 8:1-11:1.
There was no moral issue here but the circumstances of Corinth and the pagan practices created a problem. Much of the meat sold in the public market was first offered to the idols. This was a custom of the times. Would a Christian who bought such meat and ate it, be participating in the worship of some idol?
Paul’s answer was clear. The idol was nothing. So offering the meat to the idol did not affect it in any way. However, there was a question of scandal. If the merchant sold the meat, or some other person was going to be scandalized by the Christian buying or eating such meat, then don’t use it. This was not because the meat was tainted by the offering but because of the scandal involved. If you could explain the ignorance away, then feel free to eat the meat. Today such a problem does not exist. However the situation did give us principles that could be extended to other situations.
Paul went on a tangent in regard to what he got from his work. His basic principle was that the laborer was worthy of his hire. This meant that the apostle or the missionary was allowed to live from the work that he was doing. However, Paul had chosen not to demand this recompense. He supported himself so that no one could point the finger of selfish gain at him. He stressed that he adapted himself to the people with whom he worked but did not compromise principles.
A point that Paul stressed in this letter to the Corinthians was that he had been hurt. His tendency was to point this out clearly. He did not seek vengeance but he did want them to know how deep the hurt went.
Paul recalled some of the history of the chosen people when they were with Moses in the desert. He stressed that they were all given the opportunity to leave the slavery of Egypt and go to the blessings of the Promised Land. Yet of that original group, none reached the goal. They all died in the desert for various failures. From this, Paul stressed that all would be tempted but they would not be tested beyond their strength. God always gives the help necessary to handle every situation.
No Compromise with Idolatry!
Paul stressed that the Corinthians must steer clear of idolatrous feasts. He compared their sharing in the cup of Christ with the idolatrous banquets. The idols were nothing so the fact that food had been offered to them was nothing. However, you could not eat and drink at the banquet of Jesus Christ which was a reality, and then take part in an idolatrous banquet which was a sham.
If you had friends who were non-believers and they invited you to their homes for a meal, you certainly could go. The basic principle in all participation is: “Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do, do all for the honor and glory of God.” Don’t be offensive to anyone but don’t compromise your principles.
PROPER CONDUCT FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP. 1 Cor. 11:2-14:40.
A man should never have his head covered if he is praying or speaking publicly. A woman should never have her head uncovered if she is praying or speaking publicly. This custom was definitely Jewish and referred to the conviction that women were of less importance than men. This practice was followed for centuries by the Church. At the present time, it is gradually being dropped.
This passage, 11:17-34, should be carefully read again. This simple meal was supposed to be a commemoration and sharing in the last meal that Jesus ate before he died. Instead, the people brought huge baskets and then got into private groups and ate and drank to excess.
Paul condemned the excess. He said they should keep this meal simple. This meal was primarily a manifestation of the sharing with each other and with Jesus Christ as a true “community” (Koinonia). Paul, in no way, The conclusion by Paul was simple and concise: When you meet for this meal, wait for each other. If you are hungry, eat at home before you come.
Note how clearly Paul talked about the Holy Spirit and its effects. This Spirit or “Breath” is the creative breath of the second Adam that Jesus gave after his resurrection. This is the spirit that permeates the whole community and makes it unique and creative in the contemporary world. The Spirit is the bond that unites all followers of Jesus together, and works in various ways through each of them. One person preaches with wisdom; another gives practical instructions. One has the gift of faith. Another has the gift of healing or prophecy. All these gifts come from the holy spirit and are to be used for the spirit of the community.
Then Paul made his famous comparison to the human body. He told us to take a close look at our bodies. We should note all the different parts and the function of each. The eye is for seeing, the ear for hearing, the touch for feeling, and so on. Each part has its own specific purpose and no part is jealous or envious of the other because of its function. The nose does not feel inferior to the ear because it cannot hear. So also, God has put together this body of Christ: some are apostles, some prophets, some teachers, some miracle workers, and so on. All are necessary for the whole body. All must work together in harmony to accomplish the work of salvation for the whole world.
The Greatest Gift: LOVE. 1 COR. 12:31-13:13.
The last sentence of this passage is the key to all of Pauline thought: “Now there remain these three: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” His opening sentence was, “And I am going to show you a way that is better than all of these.” He used the generic word “charism.” It means “gift.” The words, charism and charismatic, in English, have taken on some overtones that are not in the Greek. All that is stressed here is that of all the gifts of God, love is the greatest.
First, Paul gave some basic comparisons to show what a person would become without love. The most eloquent person in the world, without love, would be a loud, booming, empty gong. If he were a prophet, understood all mysteries, knew everything, had faith in all its fullness so that he could move mountains, but he did not have love, he would be nothing. If a person gave away every possession, and even gave his body to be burned, but had not love, it would do no good. In short, if there is no love, there is nothing.
Then, Paul gave the positive qualities of love: Love is patient and tailor-made to each person. Love is never jealous, boastful, or conceited. Love is never rude or self-seeking. Love does not take offense, nor is it conceited. Love takes no pleasure in the failures of others but delights in the truth. Love is ready to excuse, trust, hope, and endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end. Faith - Hope - Love: The greatest of these is Love.
There is no doubt that love, qualified in this way, would change the whole world in a few generations. However, it means the removal of every slightest form of selfishness. Love and selfishness cannot stay in the same person. They contradict each other and selfishness will always take precedence - if it is not removed.
You will note, I used the word, “tailor-made” rather than “kind” for the second quality. I think this is a better translation of the Greek. The Greek word means “perfectly adapted to each individual.” Matthew used the same word when he talked about the yoke of Christ. Jesus said his yoke was “tailor-made” to each individual, and therefore the burden was easy to bear. (Mt. 11:28-30)
This description of LOVE seems almost to be out of character for Paul. We know that Luke edited many of the letters of Paul. I think Luke edited all the letters and tried to tone down the harsh attitude that came into the words of Paul on many occasions. I think that Luke was the source of this deep insight into love - with all its qualities and power of action.
Paul went into a lengthy contrast between the gift of tongues and prophecy. The gift of tongues meant the ability to speak in some foreign language. Prophecy meant the ability to offer advice on how to act to assure a good future. Paul definitely said if there was a choice, go for the gift of prophecy. Then he gave a rule of thumb: If you have the gift of tongues, don't use it unless you are sure there is someone present who has the gift of interpretation, can understand.
At the end of this section, Paul again went into the role of men and women in the meetings. This advice certainly has to be taken in relation to the society of those days. Following the practices of the Old Law, Paul said that women were definitely to remain in the background and should not speak in a meeting. This was definitely the practice of the time of St. Paul and would have created no stir.
However, times have changed and these ideas should change with them. Sad to say, the Code of Canon Law and practices of the Church have much of this (Paul’s) attitude still explicitly contained in them.
SECTION III: THE RESURRECTION of the DEAD. 1 COR. 15:1-58.
Apparently, some of the people in Corinth were saying that there was no such thing as resurrection of the dead. Paul was upset and was strong in his refutation. He called on all the eye-witnesses who actually saw Jesus when he was raised from the dead. This was the guarantee that the resurrection of all others will take place because he promised it.
Jesus Christ is the first-fruits of the resurrection of all mankind. Sin and death came through one man and so also, life and resurrection come through one man, Jesus Christ. What will the resurrection and the risen body be like? Paul said these questions were foolish. First of all, we have Jesus himself. He was the same person and could be recognized and then, at times, could pass for someone else. The risen body will be like our present body but without any of its flaws.
Paul used the comparison of planting a seed. I think this is an ideal comparison. When you put an acorn in the ground, you would hardly believe that it would ever become the towering oak. Yet it does. When you put grains of corn in the ground, you could never envision the large stalks and the big ears of corn that will come from the seed. The resurrection of the body is the same. It will be the result of the life we live here but it will be so different we cannot imagine it.
Conclusion to First Corinthians.
Paul ended the letter with practical notes about a collection for other churches. Timothy was to be encouraged when he came. At the end, Paul said he was actually writing these final few words himself. He had a secretary doing the rest of the writing. It was very probably Luke.
The date for this letter is almost simultaneous with the first letter. The reason is quite simple. This second letter does not seem to hang together. It is almost like a series of fragments that go back to Paul but were put together to preserve them.
Introduction: 2 COR. 1:1-11.
Paul said this letter was coming to the Christians in Corinth from himself and Timothy. Paul told them he had suffered much for the faith. He thanked them for their prayers and asked for continued intercession.
Paul‘s Change of Plans. 2 COR 1:12-2:11.
This is a mysterious passage. Apparently Paul had to change his plans about visiting Corinth and some of his opponents made a big deal out of it. They claimed he was not sure of himself. They said he talked a tough program when he was far away but he was much different when he was on hand. Then there seemed to have been a missionary who came to Corinth and talked to the people. Paul talked as if this person was an enemy but it could have been a typically strong reaction on the part of Paul.
Paul’s Apostolate. 2 COR. 3:12-7:16.
1. Paul made special mention of Titus. He praised him and his work
highly and then stressed his own sincerity as an apostle.
2. Paul contrasted his mission with that of Moses. Moses wrote his
commandments on stone but Paul wrote his in the hearts of his
converts. His interest, love and commands were all to be found
in the hearts and lives of those with whom he worked.
3. Paul stressed that the Lord is Spirit and this spirit is freedom.
Paul in his apostolate was a mirror which reflected the
image of this spirit to the people that all may see.
4. Paul referred explicitly to the opposition of the Jewish leaders to
his work. Then he made a very telling point. He compared the
creative power of Yahweh in the act of creating light to the
preaching of Jesus Christ that Paul was doing. Yahweh said:
“Let there be light” and the darkness was rolled away. Jesus
rose from the dead in all his splendor and is the manifestation
of this creative light from God in the present world.
5. Paul mentioned the trials and tribulations that abound for him in his
apostolate but clearly stated that he was in no way overcome
by them. He referred to his present life as a tent in which
he was busy constructing, in heaven, a permanent and
everlasting home - not made by human hands.
6. Again, Paul emphasized that there was no motive of selfishness in
his work as an apostle. His one ambition was to present Jesus
Christ in such a way that his listeners would accept and follow
him in all that they are and do.
7. Titus joined Paul and this made him happy. He learned that his letter
had caused the Corinthians to feel hurt. Paul said he was not
sorry because it woke them up and they had changed their
ways. He was not trying to be mean but it was his duty to make
sure they kept their ideals high and strove to be perfect.
The Collection: 2 COR. 8:1-9:15
A collection was to be taken up for the Christians in Jerusalem. Paul wanted to make sure that the Corinthians were generous in their offerings. He used every argument for this generosity. He stressed that the more they sowed, the more bountiful will be the harvest.
Paul’s Apologia! 2 COR. 10:1-13:10
As I said before, Paul had a contradictory personality in many senses. He was outspoken to the point of bluntness and yet he was crushed by remarks that most people would overlook. His primary concern was the acceptance of Jesus and his teachings. Yet he could be almost distraught when people did not accept his presentation. In these chapters we get a deep insight into the person who was Paul. He was not a weak character!
It bothered him that people said he talked a big game when he was writing letters from a distance but when he was present, he was a pushover. Paul called on the authority that was his as an apostle. He had a right to command and demand, and he did so - if that was the only way to get them to listen.
Paul said that he stood on his own merits and did not have to get his strength or importance by comparing himself with others. These few verses say that the Corinthians were comparing him and his manner of teaching to other missionaries. Paul was coming off second - as he heard it. Paul did not like to be compared to others. He wanted each person to stand on his own merits. Paul did not like to brag but he would - if necessary!
He was a Hebrew, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham. He was a servant of Christ. And even more: in prison often; five times the 39 lashes of the Jews; 3 times beaten with sticks; once stoned; 3 times shipwrecked; a day and a night adrift on the open sea; in danger from rivers, robbers, his own people and the gentiles; in danger in towns and open country, at sea, and from so-called brothers. He had labored without sleep; and had been hungry, thirsty, starving, cold and without clothes. Plus all this, he had his daily anxiety about all the Churches. He had to be let down in a basket to escape the city.
Paul was given a special vision from God and then he was given his sickness to keep him humble. What this sickness was, was never clearly stated. It was severe enough to demand the help of a doctor and Luke was brought in. Luke stayed with Paul until the end.
The picture that evolved from this personal revelation was a man of tremendous talent, intense feelings, sincere faith, fierce attachment, and tender to the point of deep suffering from any insult. I have often tried to picture what Paul was like as he walked along on his different journeys with his companions. I would imagine he was always discussing some basic point of the teaching of Jesus and its application. He was eager to hear the opinions of all his companions but just as eager to question them. I think he would easily irritate the people around him unless they had the calm disposition of Luke. Timothy would be great because he was so much younger than Paul and knew him as a friend of the family. There was no doubt, the community in Jerusalem was smart to get Paul out on the road to exercise his zeal. He would have been a source of constant friction within the confines of Jerusalem itself.
Conclusion: 2 COR. 13:11-13.
This was the usual closing of a Pauline letter - tender and considerate.
Philippi was one of the principal cities of Macedonia. In 50 A.D., Paul worked there during his second missionary trip. He felt close to the people because he had accepted gifts from them - as was the usual practice. He did not want, in any way, to give the impression that he was making money out of his preaching and teaching.
Paul was under arrest when he was writing this letter but there was no certainty as to which captivity it was. It is primarily a friendly letter with some bits of doctrine included. There is special mention of the “bad workmen” who are trying to overthrow the work of Paul in other places and might arrive in Philippi.
Humility of Jesus. 2:1-11.
Humility is essential if there is to be unity, community and the resultant ability to work together in the ministry of the Word.
Then we have the famous “KENOTIC” text or the song in which Jesus was praised for “EMPTYING” himself. This is a development of the Servant Song (ls.52:13-53:12). I do not think we should take this text to be a statement of the divine nature of Jesus in which he preexisted. The fact is, he could not give up this nature if he had it, and then I think the whole incarnation becomes a charade in which Jesus was God but he acted like man. He was God who could not suffer in any way and yet he suffered the terrible death of the cross. When any question of incongruity or impossibility is brought up, the theologians merely say “It's a mystery.”
The fact is, I think this song is talking about Jesus as the 2nd Adam. He was perfectly obedient to the Father in every detail of his life. Yet he was made to suffer the worst possible pains to atone for the failure of the 1st Adam. Because of this obedience and this victory over sin, death, and failure, he was deserving of the highest praise and honor. He was worthy to be at the right hand of the Father and greeted as the Lord of mankind.
The picture of the Christian takes on more meaning. In day-to-day living each person is to manifest this emptying of self, and the putting on of Jesus, and his obedience. The result is the glory of Jesus in each person.
The letter to the Christians in Galatia and the letter to the Romans should always go hand in hand. Galatians is a fiery sort of letter because Paul was endeavoring to offset a heresy that had arisen in this community. That heresy dealt with the power of faith in Jesus Christ.
The Christians of Jewish origin were teaching that the Old Law must be kept in its entirety if the follower of Jesus was to be saved. They demanded circumcision, all the dietary laws, and the observations of certain ritual practices and feasts. They were demanding these because, they said, faith in Jesus and his words was not enough.
Paul was upset because he had not taught such error. The question had arisen in other communities and was settled officially at the Council of Jerusalem, in 50 A.D. Now this same “Judaizing element” was teaching the error in Galatia and many of the Christians were in a quandary.
Paul was strong in his presentation. He left no doubt that the Law was a preparatory tool to get the people ready for the coming of Jesus. When Jesus came, he fulfilled all the promises and preparations. He gave the Pleroma, the fullness, in his life and teachings. Faith in Jesus is the sole requirement for salvation for everyone: Jew and Gentile.
The letter to the Romans was unusual among the writings of St. Paul for several reasons. In fact, many scholars question whether Paul wrote this letter. There is no doubt the ideas come from him, but was it written in its entirety by some emanuensis?
Editor’s note: an “emanuensis” is a person skilled in writing the ideas of others as dictated or paraphrased. In Paul’s time, the emanuensis would also be skilled in writing on parchment.
The reasons for questioning Paul’s authorship are several. First of all, Paul had not worked with the Christians in Rome. Peter was the apostle of Rome and set up the community there. As a general rule, Paul wrote only to the communities he had founded and, most of the time, to correct or encourage them.
Secondly, the ideas in this letter are too developed and elaborated to fit the style of Paul. He could have written in this fashion. It’s just that he did not ordinarily have the patience for such a detailed thesis.
My own theory is this. Paul wrote his answer to the community in Galatia. He was very angry that they could have been so easily duped. He was even more angry with the Judaizing Christians for waiting until he was gone and then attacking his followers. His anger led him to say a lot of things which might seem outrageous and out of keeping with the decorum demanded of an apostle and teacher.
After Paul calmed down, he saw that the basic core of what he said was good. With Luke's help, Paul removed the angry words, rethought and reworded his ideas. Luke presented us with the finished Pauline product.
Live by Faith. Romans 1:16-17.
This is the text on which the whole rebellion or reformation of 1517 A.D. was based. Martin Luther and many theologians of the times insisted that the Church had drifted away from its pristine holiness and truth. They felt that rituals, processions and donations had taken the place of true faith.
The actual wording of the Greek text is this: “The Good News is the creative power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. The justice of God is revealed from faith to faith.” Faith here is a much more complete notion than is usually learned in the catechism.
1) I UNDERSTAND what is being said.
2) I am CONVINCED of the truth of these ideas.
3) I am COMMITTED to the practice of these ideas.
4) I LIVE IN ACCORD with my convictions.
In this FULL sense of the word, there is no doubt that FAITH is the only source of salvation. Martin Luther, from his writings, and many other theologians of the time, understood Faith in this full sense. However, the Roman authorities and controlling theologians at the Council took the narrow definition. Faith to them was only an intellectual assent. Hence the controversy was over a false definition of the key word.
Paul developed the qualities of faith in the rest of the letter. The development was done step by step. Hence many people in the western world feel they should read this letter first. The last chapters of the letter are a summary and exhortation to all the followers of Jesus.
Colossians is another of the polemic letters of Paul. He was not angry but he was insistent that the errors that were again prevalent in the community must be removed.
The error, this time, did not have its source in the Judaizing element. Rather, it came from the ideas of idolatry. All of the pagan religions had many gods and there was a hierarchy of lesser and greater gods. Some of the Christians in Colossae had tried to combine some of the ideas of the multiple gods with the teachings of Jesus. The result was that there were many divine beings and Jesus was not necessarily the greatest. In short, this was a return to the multiple gods of the idolatrous cults and Jesus was somewhere in the picture.
Paul left no doubt about the supremacy of Jesus as Savior of mankind. There are no other gods or demi-gods. Jesus is not in some crowd of heavenly beings. Jesus is the sole mediator of mankind and the only person through whom we can be saved.
The letter to the Ephesians is a follow-up on Colossians. This letter developed some of his most beautiful ideas of the Good News.
Paul started the letter with a listing of the 7 Blessings or beatitudes that belong to every Christian. Two other times in the New Testament we have the listing of seven Blessings: Matthew 5:1-12 and Apocalypse (Revelation) 1:3ff. Each time the writer was talking about the seven-fold blessing with seven as the number of fullness or perfection.
The word "blessing" or beatitude would be better translated into English as “happiness.” Each of these lists mentioned above referred to the ways in which we can find and establish true happiness in our lives. Happiness is not something that drops into our laps or is given to us as a free gift. Happiness is a state of being which is earned and firmly founded in our own personal lives.
The first list serves as the opening to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus. Paul had just written an angry letter to the community in Galatia. As often happened, he vented his anger in a speech, a note, or a letter and then calmed down and wrote a follow-up letter to the same people or to another group.
There is no doubt that Luke tried his best to edit all the letters of Paul and take the bitterness and anger out of the words. Sometimes he succeeded and at other times, he just had to send the letter with all its harsh words. Such was the personality and character of Paul.
This letter to the Ephesians was written, as we have it, sometime between 61 and 63 A.D. It is one of Paul’s most highly developed verbal pictures of the relationship of Christians to Jesus and to each other. If this picture were truly lived, the conversion of the world to Jesus would be quickly accomplished and be established on a solid basis.
Additional Information from author:
An introductory word is needed about the number “7.” For some reason, 3, 4, and 7, and combinations of these such as 12, 144, 7 x 7, and others, were considered perfect numbers Some say this idea was connected with gambling in some way. Others maintain this notion of “lucky numbers” is connected with the pagan religions. Whatever the meaning, these numbers had a special relevance.
“Eu-logia” is the Greek word for blessing. It is translated into Latin as “bene-dicere” and into English as a “benediction.” The root meaning is “to speak well” of someone or something. In this instance, it is God as Father of Jesus who is “speaking well” or “blessing” from heaven.
1:4: FIRST BLESSING - “CHOSEN.” In Jesus, we are to be holy, spotless
and live through love in the surrounding presence of God.
1:5-6: SECOND BLESSING - “SSNSHIP.” We are all offered adoptive
sonship through our union into Jesus.
1:7-8: THIRD BLESSING - “FORGIVENESS.” Through the death of Jesus,
we are offered a new freedom.
1:9-10: FOURTH BLESSING - “HEADSHIP” of Jesus. “Anakephalaiosis”.
This is an action word which means that all things are
brought together to form one body, with Jesus as the
head, governing and directing and giving life to all.
1:11-12: FIFTH BLESSING - “CHOSEN PEOPLE.” The Hebrews (Jews)
were chosen in a special way to prepare for the coming of
Jesus and then to bring him to the whole universe.
1:13: SIXTH BLESSING - “HOLY SPIRIT.” The Spirit is the seal or stamp
of reality given to the promise. This is the establishment
of the “breath of the first creation” in the fulness of the
“breath of the second creation.”
1: 14: SEVENTH BLESSING - “INHERITANCE AND FREEDOM.”
God has claimed us so we inherit freedom to
continue the work inaugurated by Jesus.
Paul gave the significance of the church (gathering) in this letter. (1:23) The church is the body of Christ, the fulness of him who fills the whole of creation. In 4:1-6, Paul listed all the qualities that establishes the unity of all mankind in the church. There is one body, one breath, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father of us all. We need only think about the meaning of these terms and we can see the ease with which perfect harmony can be established in the world through the implementation of these truths.
Paul gave a detailed list of ways a person can fail against these ideals. The list is practical and applicable to modern life without changing a word.
He has a fine development of the qualities that go to make a good home life. He showed this from the viewpoint of the parents and the children. In 5:32, he said that marriage and the home are the “magnum mysterium,” the “great truth” of the Christian Revelation. He showed that this was the first point of daily contact between Christ and the world.
He ended in 6:14-20, with a description of a Christian as a true warrior of Jesus and told us explicitly what are the weapons.
ARMOR of God vs. TACTICS of the devil.
TRUTH: the armor around the waist;
INTEGRITY: the breastplate;
READINESS: the shoes of the warrior;
FAITH (Amen): Shield against all the fiery darts of evil;
SALVATION: the helmet;
THE WORD OF GOD: Sword of the Breath.
To get the full implication of this imagery, it is necessary to understand its military significance in the days of Paul and the Roman army. Then it can be applied to the life of a person, today.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this note to Philemon. Philemon was a fellow worker in the ministry of the Word. One of his slaves, Onesimus, had run away and was recaptured and brought back. In the society of those days, the slaves were the chattel or property of the owner and the owner could treat them as he saw fit. If a slave ran away and was recaptured as in this case, he was usually beaten severely as an example, and might even be put to death if he was not too valuable as a worker.
Onesimus was put in prison with Paul and while there, he became a convert to the Christian way of life. Now he was to go back to his master who was also a Christian and a convert of Paul.
Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. He offered to pay for any damages that Onesimus had cost. Paul stressed that the slave was to be treated as a brother in Christ. Note: Paul did not condemn buying and selling of slaves as against the natural law or innately wrong. He just said that Onesimus had to be treated as a brother in Christ.
Paul emphasized that he was writing this note in his own hand. And if all these arguments did not convince Philemon, Paul reminded him that he would be there shortly for a visit. The implication was clear. If Philemon had not handled the matter in a Christian manner, as Paul wanted, he would have to answer to Paul.
Paul was 55 years old at this time. He had been a Christian and missionary for 31 years. He was to die as a martyr in a couple years. He was looking to the continuance of his work in his successors.
The two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus are frequently called pastoral letters because of their content. Paul was writing to both of these men at the end of his life. He knew that he would soon be put to death for his faith. He had taught these men, trained them for the ministry of the word, and appointed them as “episkopoi” (overseers) in their areas.
“Episkopoi” is translated “Bishop” - a person who is in charge of a diocese and the priests and religious groups within the territory. Originally, in Greek, it meant “overseer” and could be used in many contexts. We know that for Paul it meant that Timothy and Titus were in charge of several groups of Christians and their elders. In fact, Timothy and Titus were answerable to Paul only.
We met Timothy earlier. Paul was a good friend of the family and stayed with them in his apostolic travels. Apparently, Timothy admired Paul and decided to follow in his footsteps.
Timothy had the duty to watch for false teachers and to suppress them. This makes sense because otherwise they would nullify his work. The false teachers were mostly the Judaizing element who tried to win the converts back to the observance of the Old Law.
Paul told Timothy that he should pray for everyone in the liturgical prayer. This included the rulers even if they were pagan and opposed to the ministry of the Word or the communities.
Paul made definite mention of the place of women in the community. Paul definitely looked upon women as second class citizens and said this was part of the plan of God. They were not to speak up during instructions. They were to remember that woman led man into sin, and not the other way around. Paul saw women as inferior. All the other writings in the New Testament give women equality and respect.
Timothy was to be careful in the kind of men he chose for elders and deacons. They were in a position of responsibility and leadership and their actions reflected back on Timothy himself.
There would be false teachers so be on the lookout for them and put a stop to their work. Timothy was not to let people walk over him because he was a young man. He had the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of Jesus himself at his disposal.
Timothy was to speak in a gentle and kindly fashion at all times to all people. Paul pointed out a few groups that deserve special kindness. As for elders, Timothy should not be hasty in imposing his hands. He must be sure that the candidate was trustworthy and lead a wholesome life.
The point of slavery came up again. Paul did not condemn the practice as immoral but said that the slaves should be treated as human beings - especially if both slave and master were Christian.
Life was not to be spent in the pursuit of money - the root of all evils. Warn the wealthy to use wealth for the good of others. Above all, Timothy was not to take part in pointless and empty philosophical discussions. These lead nowhere and can easily subvert the faith.
There is not a lot to be said of this letter because Titus, too, was a convert of Paul and became one of his “bishops.” Paul wrote to him as he did to Timothy to alert him to the role of leader that was his, and the responsibility that he had for the whole community.
Paul stressed there was an unchanging message of tradition and Titus must see that this was handed on. He warned Titus of the false teachers. He said explicitly that salvation was open to every human being no matter what the race. Paul stressed the fact that all Christians must be leaders in their obedience to civil authority.
Titus was not to take any backtalk. If somebody asked questions, that was good. But if a person was disputing or rejecting what he said, warn him once and then warn him a second time. After that, if he persisted in his obstreperous attitude, he was to be thrown out.
This was Paul’s “swan song.” He knew he was to die soon. He had appealed to Caesar and he would be judged by the Roman court. He knew the outcome of that court. He would be beheaded.
The place in which he was executed is called “Tre Fontani,” “Three Fountains,” in Rome. It is a place of pilgrimage. There is a legend that when they cut off the head of Paul, it bounced three times. Each place that it touched the ground, a fountain of water sprang up.
The level of the street from those days is 20- 30 feet below present day surfaces. So you have to kneel down and squint into the dark to see the water flowing deep down below. Many a pilgrim is convinced they saw or heard the water running. However the most that can be said for this story, is that it is a pious legend of several centuries’ duration.
This letter is a note of encouragement to Timothy as a dear friend and a great consolation for Paul in his last days. Paul clearly showed that he was glad to give his life as a witness to the Word. Yet he was afraid. In short, he had all the qualities of a great martyr.
He warned Timothy again to be alert for false teachers. He told him something of great importance for the use of the Old Testament or Jewish Scriptures. He told Timothy to remember that all of this writing was inspired by God and useful for instruction, refutation of error, guiding people’s lives, and teaching them to be holy. In fact he said this is the way to be equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3: 16-17)
Then Paul gave the beautiful summation of his life: “I am being poured out as a libation. I have fought the good fight to the end. I have run the race to the finish. I have kept the faith. Now there is waiting for me the crown of righteousness reserved for me which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day. And not only to me but to all who are waiting for his appearance.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8)
Short Summary of the Pauline Writings.
This is a short summary of all the writings of Paul. Paul was influential in the foundation and spread of the Christian life and beliefs in the Roman world of the times. His influence has continued down through the centuries. However, it must be remembered that he was alive for only 37 of the first years of the life of the Church. He was a very hostile enemy of these ideas and ideals at first. His heritage and contributions go on but must be understood in the perspective of his times.