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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). Whether Paul wrote the three other epistles in his name (2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians) is widely debated. According to some scholars, Paul wrote the questionable letters with the help of a secretary, or amanuensis, 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 Rome 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.
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, and a few minuscules (175, 325, 336, and 1424) place the Pauline epistles at the end of the New Testament.
|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)|
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.
Seven letters (with consensus dates) considered genuine by most scholars:
- Galatians (c. 48 AD)
- First Thessalonians (c. 49–51)
- First Corinthians (c. 53–54)
- Second Corinthians (c. 55–56)
- Romans (c. 55–57)
- Philippians (c. 57–59 or c. 62)
- Philemon (c. 57–59 or c. 62)
The three letters on which scholars are about evenly divided: If these letters are inauthentic, then the consensus dates are probably incorrect.
The letters thought to be pseudepigraphic by many scholars (traditional dating given): The content of these letters strongly suggests 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, neither most of Christianity nor modern scholarship does so.
In the order they appear in the New Testament, the Pauline epistles are:
|Romans||Church at Rome||Πρὸς Ῥωμαίους||Epistola ad Romanos||Rom||Ro|
|First Corinthians||Church at Corinth||Πρὸς Κορινθίους Αʹ||Epistola I ad Corinthios||1 Cor||1C|
|Second Corinthians||Church at Corinth||Πρὸς Κορινθίους Βʹ||Epistola II ad Corinthios||2 Cor||2C|
|Galatians||Church at Galatia||Πρὸς Γαλάτας||Epistola ad Galatas||Gal||G|
|Ephesians||Church at Ephesus||Πρὸς Ἐφεσίους||Epistola ad Ephesios||Eph||E|
|Philippians||Church at Philippi||Πρὸς Φιλιππησίους||Epistola ad Philippenses||Phil||Phi|
|Colossians||Church at Colossae||Πρὸς Κολοσσαεῖς||Epistola ad Colossenses||Col||C|
|First Thessalonians||Church at Thessalonica||Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς Αʹ||Epistola I ad Thessalonicenses||1 Thess||1Th|
|Second Thessalonians||Church at Thessalonica||Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς Βʹ||Epistola II ad Thessalonicenses||2 Thess||2Th|
|First Timothy||Saint Timothy||Πρὸς Τιμόθεον Αʹ||Epistola I ad Timotheum||1 Tim||1T|
|Second Timothy||Saint Timothy||Πρὸς Τιμόθεον Βʹ||Epistola II ad Timotheum||2 Tim||2T|
|Titus||Saint Titus||Πρὸς Τίτον||Epistola ad Titum||Tit||T|
|Philemon||Saint Philemon||Πρὸς Φιλήμονα||Epistola ad Philemonem||Philem||P|
|Hebrews*||Hebrew Christians||Πρὸς Ἑβραίους||Epistola ad Hebraeos||Heb||H|
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 three pastoral epistles addressed to individuals in a separate final section. The only anomaly is that Galatians precedes the slightly longer Ephesians.
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.
The placement of Hebrews among the Pauline epistles is less consistent in the manuscripts:
- between Romans and 1 Corinthians (i.e., in order by length without splitting the Epistles to the Corinthians): Papyrus 46 and minuscules 103, 455, 1961, 1964, 1977, 1994.
- between 2 Corinthians and Galatians: minuscules 1930, 1978, and 2248
- between Galatians and Ephesians: implied by the numbering in B. In B, Galatians ends and Ephesians begins on the same side of the same folio (page 1493); similarly 2 Thessalonians ends and Hebrews begins on the same side of the same folio (page 1512).
- between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy (i.e., before the Pastorals): א, A, B, C, H, I, P, 0150, 0151, and about 60 minuscules (e.g. 218, 632)
- after Philemon: D, 048, E, K, L and the majority of minuscules.
- omitted: F and G
Lost Pauline epistles
Paul's own writings are sometimes thought to indicate several of his letters that have not been preserved:
- A first, or "zeroth", epistle to Corinth, also called A Prior Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, or Paul's previous Corinthian letter, possibly referenced at 1 Corinthians 5:9.
- A third epistle to Corinth, written in between 1 and 2 Corinthians, also called the Severe Letter, referenced at 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 2 Corinthians 7:8-9
- An earlier epistle to the Ephesians referenced at Ephesians 3:3-4
- A possible Pauline Epistle to the Laodiceans, referenced at Colossians 4:16
Several other epistles were attributed to Paul during the course of history but are now considered pseudepigraphic:
- Third Epistle to the Corinthians, a correspondence of two letters allegedly sent by the Corinthians to Paul, and then a reply letter allegedly sent by Paul to the Church of Corinth. It was considered genuine for some time by the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, but is now widely dated in the second half of the 2nd century CE.
- Epistle to the Alexandrians, an alleged epistle written by Paul to the Church of Alexandria. It is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment (2nd century CE), which denounces it as a spurious work forged by Marcion of Sinope. Its text has been lost and nothing is known about its content.
- Non-Pauline Epistle to the Laodiceans versions:
- The Marcionite Epistle to the Laodiceans. The Muratorian fragment (2nd century CE) denounces a claimed Epistle to the Laodiceans as a spurious work forged by Marcion of Sinope. Its text has been lost and nothing is known about its content.
- The Latin Epistle to the Laodiceans. It is found in some old Latin Bible manuscripts, but is widely considered a forgery, and is largely a copy of verses from the Epistle to the Philippians. Theories vary, but it was possibly made as a counterforgery to offset the popularity of the Marcionite epistle.
- Correspondence of Paul and Seneca, a collection of correspondence claiming to be between Paul and Seneca the Younger. They are universally considered a forgery from the 4th century CE.
David Trobisch finds it likely that Paul first collected his letters for publication himself. 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. 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.[page needed]
- New Testament Letter Structure, from Catholic Resources by Felix Just, S.J.
- Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004.[page needed]
- 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"
- 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.
- 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."
- Robert Wall, New Interpreter's Bible Vol. X (Abingdon Press, 2002), pp. 373.
- Arhipov, Sergei, ed. (1996). The Apostol. New Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press. p. 408. ISBN 1-878997-49-1.
- Ellingworth, Paul (1993). The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. p. 3.
- Trobisch 1994, p. 1–27.
- Digital Vatican Library (DigiVatLib), Manuscript – Vat.gr.1209
- "Lost Books of the Bible?". Archived from the original on 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
- Apologetics Press, Are There Lost Books of the Bible?, Reason & Revelation, Volume 23 #12, published 1 December 2003, accessed 12 June 2023
- 1 Corinthians 5:9
- 2 Corinthians 2:4
- 2 Corinthians 7:8–9
- Ephesians 3:3–4
- Colossians 4:16
- 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.
- Olshausen, Hermann (1851). Biblical Commentary on St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. T. & T. Clark.
- Ehrman, Bart (2012). Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Oxford University Press. p. 452–458. ISBN 9780199928033.
- "Letters of Paul and Seneca". www.earlychristianwritings.com. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
- Trobisch, David (1994). Paul's Letter Collection. Minneapolis: Fortress. ISBN 978-0800625979.
- Reece, Steve. Paul's Large Letters: Pauline Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. London: T&T Clark, 2016.[page needed]
- Aland Kurt. "The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries." Journal of Theological Studies 12 (1961): 39–49.
- Bahr, Gordon J. "Paul and Letter Writing in the First Century." Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966): 465–477. idem, "The Subscriptions in the Pauline Letters." Journal of Biblical Literature 2 (1968): 27–41.
- Bauckham, Richard J. "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters." Journal of Biblical Literature 107 (1988): 469–494.
- Carson, D.A. "Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy." Dictionary of New Testament Background. Eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000. 857–864.
- Cousar, Charles B. The Letters of Paul. Interpreting Biblical Texts. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.
- Deissmann, G. Adolf. Bible Studies. Trans. Alexander Grieve. 1901. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988.
- Doty, William G. Letters in Primitive Christianity. Guides to Biblical Scholarship. New Testament. Ed. Dan O. Via, Jr. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
- Gamble, Harry Y. "Amanuensis." Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. Ed. David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
- Haines-Eitzen, Kim. "'Girls Trained in Beautiful Writing': Female Scribes in Roman Antiquity and Early Christianity." Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.4 (1998): 629–646.
- Hart, David Bentley. "The New Testament." New Haven and London: Yale University Press: 2017. 570–574.
- Kim, Yung Suk. A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011.
- Longenecker, Richard N. "Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles." New Dimensions in New Testament Study. Eds. Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974. 281–297. idem, "On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters." Scripture and Truth. Eds. D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983. 101–114.
- Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995.
- Richards, E. Randolph. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul. Tübingen: Mohr, 1991. idem, "The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul's Letters." Bulletin for Bulletin Research 8 (1998): 151–66. idem, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.
- Robson, E. Iliff. "Composition and Dictation in New Testament Books." Journal of Theological Studies 18 (1917): 288–301.
- Slaten, Arthur Wakefield (1918) "Qualitative nouns in the Pauline epistles and their translation in the revised version". Chicago, Illonis: The University of Chicago Press. OCLC 1051723498
- Stowers, Stanley K. Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity. Library of Early Christianity. Vol. 8. Ed. Wayne A. Meeks. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1989.
- Wall, Robert W. "Introduction to Epistolary Literature." New Interpreter's Bible. Vol. 10. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. 369–391.