Paul letters dating of would
Having finished the survey of the historical books (the Gospels and Acts), we now come to the twenty-one epistles of the New Testament, twenty-two if one includes Revelation as an epistle (which in reality it is [see Rev. 1:4]). Because of its unique apocalyptic nature, however, in this survey we are distinguishing it as The Prophetic Book of the New Testament. The Epistles are generally divided into the Pauline Epistles and the Non-Pauline (General) Epistles. Paul’s epistles fall into two categories: nine epistles written to churches (Romans to 2 Thessalonians) and four pastoral and personal epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon). This is then followed by eight Hebrew Christian epistles (Hebrews to Jude). Naturally, many questions would arise as to the meaning and application of the gospel for Christians. Thus, the Epistles answer these questions, give the interpretation of the person and work of Christ, and apply the truth of the gospel to believers.
Background of Paul
Paul was known for many years as Saul of Tarsus. He was born of Jewish parentage in the city of Tarsus of Cilicia. He was not only a Jew, but by his own testimony, he was a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), was a Hebrew of Hebrews (spoke Hebrew or Aramaic), was of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:4-5), and had evidently been taught the trade of tent-making as a youth (Acts 18:3). Evidently at a young age, he went to Jerusalem, and according to his testimony, studied under the well know Gamaliel I, a noted teacher in the School of Hillel (Acts 22:3). In his studies, he had advanced in the religion of the Jews beyond many of his fellows as one extremely zealous for his ancestral traditions (Gal. 1:14).
His zeal as a religious Jew was carried over into the way he zealously sought to persecute the church. As a young Pharisee, he was present when Stephen was stoned and murdered (Acts 7:58-83). In his campaign against Christians, both men and women, he traveled with letters of arrest from the high priest and went to other cities to waste the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:10-11; Gal. 1:13). It was on one of these missions that Saul was converted while on the road to Damascus.
Paul was also a Greek by culture having evidently received a Greek education (cf. Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). He shows acquaintance with Greek culture and their thinking. As such a student, he was familiar with many of the sayings of classical and contemporary writers. In addition, Paul was a Roman citizen, being Roman born (Acts 22:28). Because of this, he could appeal to Caesar as a citizen of Rome while imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:37-39).
Consequently, Paul was uniquely qualified to be the one chosen to carry the message of the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul could easily say, “I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Conversion of Paul
Having energetically and consistently persecuted the church of Jesus Christ, while on the road to Damascus, Paul had an encounter with the glorified resurrected Christ, which had revolutionary effects on his life.
He had denied the Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Further, he did not believe that He had risen from the dead as Stephen had proclaimed when he cried, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). “Liar!” they cried and stoned him. Saul stood by “consenting unto his death.” But when the Lord Jesus spoke to Saul on the day of the great experience outside Damascus, he knew that Stephen had been right and he had been wrong. Jesus was alive after all! And further, he must be the Son of God. Thus, in the synagogues of Damascus, he proclaimed Christ as Savior.
… While the experience was sudden and dramatic, the effects were enduring. The impact must have necessitated great psychological and intellectual readjustments. This may well account for the period spent in Arabia and Damascus before his first visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:16-19). Then he went back to his home territory and for a period of eight to ten years little is known of his activities.37
Distinctive Emphases of Paul’s Epistles
Before the overview of each of Paul’s epistles, it would be well to note in a nutshell the distinctive emphasis and contributions of each of Paul’s epistles.38
The Emphasis on the Lord Jesus:
- Romans: Christ the power of God to us.
- 1 Corinthians: Christ the wisdom of God to us.
- 2 Corinthians: Christ the comfort of God to us.
- Galatians: Christ the righteousness of God to us.
- Ephesians: Christ the riches of God to us.
- Philippians: Christ the sufficiency of God to us.
- Colossians: Christ the fullness of God to us.
- 1 Thessalonians: Christ the promise of God to us.
- 2 Thessalonians: Christ the reward of God to us.
The Emphasis on the Gospel Message:
- Romans: The Gospel and its message.
- 1 Corinthians: The Gospel and its ministry.
- 2 Corinthians: The Gospel and its ministers.
- Galatians: The Gospel and its mutilators.
- Ephesians: The Gospel and its heavenlies.
- Philippians: The Gospel and its earthlies.
- Colossians: The Gospel and its philosophies.
- 1 Thessalonians: The Gospel and the Church’sfuture.
- 2 Thessalonians: The Gospel and the Antichrist.
The Emphasis of the Gospel on the Believer’s Union:
- Romans: In Christ—justification.
- 1 Corinthians: In Christ—sanctification.
- 2 Corinthians: In Christ—consolation.
- Galatians: In Christ—liberation.
- Ephesians: In Christ—exaltation.
- Philippians: In Christ—exultation.
- Colossians: In Christ—completion.
- 1 Thessalonians: In Christ—translation.
- 2 Thessalonians: In Christ—compensation.
As the letter states, Paul is the author (see 1:1). With almost no exception, from the early church this epistle has been credited to Paul. The letter contains a number of historical references that agree with known facts of Paul’s life and the doctrinal content of the book is consistent with the other writings of the apostle, a fact quickly evident by a comparison with his other letters.
A few examples must suffice: the doctrine of justification by faith (Rom 3:20-22; Gal 2:16); the church as the body of Christ appointed to represent and serve him through a variety of spiritual gifts (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12); the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-28; 2 Cor 8-9). Understandably, Paul makes fewer references to himself and to his readers in Romans than in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians, since he had not founded the Roman church and guided its struggles to maturity as he had the others.39
The only question concerning the authorship revolves around chapter 16. Ryrie writes:
The mention by name of 26 people in a church Paul had never visited (and particularly Priscilla and Aquila, who were most recently associated with Ephesus, Acts 18:18-19) has caused some scholars to consider chap. 16 as part of an epistle sent to Ephesus. It would be natural, however, for Paul to mention to a church to which he was a stranger his acquaintance with mutual friends. Paul’s only other long series of greetings is in Colossians—a letter also sent to a church he had not visited.40
Romans, which has been called his “greatest work” or his “magnum opus,” gets its title from the fact it was written to the church in Rome (1:7, 15). Paul did not establish the church in Rome, but as the apostle to the Gentiles, he had longed for many years to visit the believers in Rome (15:22-23) that he might further establish them in the faith and preach the gospel there as well (1:13-15).
Being anxious to minister in Rome, he wrote Romans to prepare the way for his visit (15:14-17). It was written from Corinth, while completing the collection for the poor in Palestine. From there he went to Jerusalem to deliver the money, intending to continue on to Rome and Spain (15:24). Paul did eventually get to Rome, but as a prisoner. It appears that Phoebe, who belonged to the church at Cenchrea near Corinth (16:1), carried the letter to Rome.
Romans was written in about A.D. 57-58 most likely near the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:14; see also Rom. 15:19). In view of Paul’s statement in Rom. 15:26, it appears Paul had already received contributions from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (where Corinth was located). This means he had already been at Corinth and since he had not yet been at Corinth when he wrote to that church (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9), the writing of Romans must follow that of 1 and 2 Corinthians which is dated about A.D. 55.
Unlike some of his other epistles, Romans was not written to address specific problems. Rather, three clear purposes unfold for the writing of Romans. The first was simply to announce Paul’s plans to visit Rome after his return to Jerusalem and to prepare the church for his coming (15:24, 28-29; cf. Acts 19:21). Paul wanted to inform them of his plans and to have them anticipate and pray for their fulfillment (15:30-32). A second purpose was to present a complete and detailed statement of the gospel message God had called him to proclaim. The apostle was not only ready “to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome” (1:15), but he wanted them to have a clear understanding of its meaning and ramifications in all of life—past (justification), present (sanctification), and future (glorification). A third purpose is related to the questions that naturally arose among the Jewish and the Gentile Christians at Rome like what does the gospel do to the Law and such Old Testament rites like circumcision? And what about the Jew? Has God set the Jew aside? Had He forgotten His promises to the Jews? So Paul explains God’s program of salvation for Jews and Gentiles.
Paul’s theme or seed plot in Romans is clearly stated in 1:16-17. In this the apostle shows how God saves the sinner. In these verses, the great themes of the epistle are gathered together—the gospel, the power of God, salvation, everyone, who believes, righteousness from God, Jew and Gentile. Ryrie has an excellent summary of the theme and contents:
More formal than Paul’s other letters, Romans sets forth the doctrine of justification by faith (and its ramifications) in a systematic way. The theme of the epistle is the righteousness of God (1:16-17). A number of basic Christian doctrines are discussed: natural revelation (Rom 1:19-20), universality of sin (Rom 3:9-20), justification (Rom 3:24), propitiation (Rom 3:25), faith (Rom 4:1), original sin (Rom 5:12), union with Christ (Rom 6:1), the election and rejection of Israel (Rom 9-11), spiritual gifts (Rom 12:3-8), and respect for government (Rom 13:1-7).41
Various forms of the words “righteous”and“righteousness” are sprinkled abundantly throughout Romans. The Greek noun , “righteousness,” occurs 34 times, the noun , “a righteous deed, acquittal, ordinance,” five times, the noun (righteous judgment) once, the adjective , “righteous,” occurs seven times, the noun , “justification, acquittal,” twice, and the verb , “declare or show to be righteous,” occurs 15 times for a total of 64 occurrences.
- 1:16-17. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “the righteous by faith will live.” (NET Bible)
- 3:21-26. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God, which is attested by the law and the prophets, has been disclosed—3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 3:25 God publicly displayed him as a satisfaction for sin by his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 3:26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness. (NET Bible)
- 6:1-4. What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 6:2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in new life. (NET Bible)
Picking out key chapters in Romans is indeed difficult for in this great treatise on doctrine and its application to life, one wants to say every chapter is key. But certainly two sections of the book do stand out.
- Chapters 3–5 stand out for their teaching on justification by grace through faith in Christ apart from the works of the law. No place is the gospel of grace set forth more clearly than in these awesome chapters. Here we learn how to be delivered from the penalty of sin through faith in God’s gift, the Lord Jesus.
- Chapters 6–8 are perhaps the most foundational passages in scripture for the spiritual life. These great chapters answer the question of how to experience God’s deliverance from the power of sin through the believer’s union with Christ and the ministry of the Spirit.
Christ as Seen in Romans:
Paul presents Jesus Christ as the Second Adam whose righteousness and substitutionary death have provided justification for all who place their faith in Him. He offers His righteousness as a gracious gift to sinful men, having borne God’s condemnation and wrath for their sinfulness. His death and resurrection are the basis for the believer’s redemption, justification, reconciliation, salvation, and glorification.42
Apart from the introduction (1:1-17), where Paul also states his theme, and conclusion, where he has personal messages and a benediction (15:14–16:27), Romans easily divides into three sections:
- The first eight chapters are doctrinal and outline the basic doctrines of the gospel of a righteousness (justification and sanctification) of God through faith.
- The next three chapters (9-11) are national and describe God’s dealings with Jews and Gentiles and the relationship of each to the gospel.
- The remaining chapters (12-16) are practical or applicational in that they demonstrate the ramifications of the gospel on a believer’s daily life.
I. Introduction (1:1-17)
II. Condemnation: The Need of Righteousness Because of Sin in All (1:18–3:20)
A. The Condemnation of the Immoral Man (the Gentile) (1:18-32)
B. The Condemnation of the Moral Man (2:1-16)
C. The Condemnation of the Religious Man (the Jew) (2:17–3:8)
D. The Condemnation of All Men (3:9-20)
III. Justification: The Imputation of God’s Righteousness Through Christ (3:21–5:21)
A. The Description of Righteousness (3:21-31)
B. The Illustration of Righteousness (4:1-25)
C. The Blessings of Righteousness (5:1-11)
D. The Contrast of Righteousness and Condemnation (5:12-21)
IV. Sanctification: Righteousness Imparted and Demonstrated (6:1–8:39)
A. Sanctification and Sin (6:1-23)
B. Sanctification and the Law (7:1-25)
C. Sanctification and the Holy Spirit (8:1-39)
V. Vindication: Jew and Gentile, the Scope of God’s Righteousness (9:1–11:36)
A. Israel’s Past: Election of God (9:1-29)
B. Israel’s Present: Rejection of God (9:30–10:21)
C. Israel’s Future: Restoration by God (11:1-36)
VI. Application: the Practice of Righteousness in Service (12:1–15:13)
A. In Relation to God (12:1-2)
B. In Relation to Self (12:3)
C. In Relation to the Church (12:4-8)
D. In Relation to Society (12:9-21)
E. In Relation to Government (13:1-14)
F. In Relation to Other Christians (14:1–15:13)
VII. Personal Messages and Benediction (15:14–16:27)
A. Paul’s Plans (15:14-33)
B. Paul’s Personal Greetings (16:1-16)
C. Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction (16:17-27)
That Paul is the author of this epistle is supported by both external and internal evidence. From the first century onward (A.D. 96), there is continuous and abundant evidence that Paul is the author. Clement of Rome speaks of 1 Corinthians as “the Epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul,” in his Epistle to the Corinthians and even cited 1 Corinthians in regard to their continuing factions. The internal evidence is obvious. The writer calls himself Paul in several places (cf. 1:1; 16:21 and see also 1:12-17; 3:4, 6, 22).
Being written to the church at Corinth, this epistle came to be known as Pros Corinthious A, which in effect means First Corinthians. The A or alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, was undoubtedly a latter addition to distinguish it from Second Corinthians which shortly followed this epistle.
Paul first preached the gospel in Corinth while on his second missionary journey, about A.D. 50. While there he lived and worked with Aquila and Priscilla who were of the same trade, tent-makers (Acts 18:3). As was his custom, Paul first preached in the synagogue but was eventually forced out by Jewish opposition. However, he simply moved next door to the house of Titius Justus where he continued his ministry (Acts 18:7). Though accused by the Jews before the Roman governor Gallio (a charge that was dismissed) Paul remained 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17; 1 Cor. 2:3). This letter was written about A.D. 55. toward the end of Paul’s three-year residency in Ephesus (cf. 16:5-9; Acts 20:31). From his reference that he stayed at Ephesus until Pentecost (16:8), it appears he intended to remain there somewhat less than a year when he wrote this epistle.
To grasp the theme and purpose, a little background is necessary. Corinth was a large metropolis (approximately 700,000; about two-thirds of whom were slaves) located on a narrow isthmus between the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea that connected the Peloponnesus with Northern Greece. And though prosperous with a thriving commerce, from man’s point of view, Paul and his associates may have wondered about what kind of success the gospel of God’s righteousness would have in a city like Corinth. As a city, it had a reputation for gross materialism and deep sinfulness. The city was filled with shrines and temples with the most prominent being the temple of Aphrodite that sat on top of an 1800-foot promontory called the Acrocorinthus. In the earliest Greek literature it was linked with wealth (Homer Iliad 2. 569-70) and immorality. When Plato referred to a prostitute, he used the expression “Corinthian girl” (Republic 404d). The playwright Philetaerus (Athenaeus 13. 559a) titled a burlesque play ,which basically means “The Lecher.” Aristophanes coined the verb korinthiazomai, “to act as a Corinthian,” which came to mean, “to practice fornication.” According to Strabo much of the wealth and vice in Corinth centered around the temple of Aphrodite and its thousand temple prostitutes. For this reason a proverb warned, “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.”
From the account in Acts it would appear as if Paul had little fruit among the Jews and that nearly all of his converts were Gentiles. Most of these came from the humbler ranks, although there appear to have been some of the nobler class also (1:26-31). Marked social and economic differences existed among them (7:20-24; 11:21-34); some of them had even been steeped in pagan vices (6:9-11). Yet as Greeks they prided themselves on their intellectualism, although in their case it had degenerated into a crude and shallow type (1:17; 2:1-5) …43
One can certainly see, then, how the immoral and religious conditions of Corinth had negatively impacted the life of the church spiritually and morally. The basic theme of the letter is how the Christian’s new life, sanctified in Christ and saints by calling, is to be applied to every situation of life. This new life in Christ calls for a new way of living through the Holy Spirit (3:16, 17; 6:11, 19-20). God’s wisdom manifested to us in Christ is to change believers on both the individual and social level.
Thus, 1 Corinthians was written as a pastoral corrective to the news he had received to the many problems and disorders in the church there. The problems included divisions in the church (1:11), trust in man’s wisdom or that of the world rather than God’s (1:21-30), immorality (chap. 5; 6:9-20), and a number of questions regarding marriage and divorce, food, worship, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection. Undoubtedly, because of their religious and immoral background, aberrant beliefs and practices of an extraordinary variety characterized this church.
A key word in concept is “correction” as Paul sought to correct the problems in Corinth, but “wisdom,” contrasting God’s wisdom with man’s, is also a key word of the book. “Wisdom” occurs 29 times in 22 verses.
- 1:18-25. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. 1:22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 1:23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.1:24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
- 1:30-31. He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus (of Him you are in Christ Jesus), who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 1:31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
- 2:14. The unbeliever (the natural man) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
- 6:19-20. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 6:20 For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.
- 10:12-13. So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. 10:13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful, who will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure.
Chapter 13, the great chapter on love, undoubtedly stands out as the pinnacle chapter of this book. Certainly, there has never been a greater explanation of love written.
Christ as Seen in 1 Corinthians:
The centrality of Christ as the essence, source, and means of the Christian life is stated in 1:30, “of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom of God: both righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (my translation).
I. Introduction (1:1-9)
A. The Salutation (1:1-3)
B. The Prayer of Thanks (1:4-9)
II. Divisions in the Church (1:10–4:21)
A. The Report of Divisions (1:10-17)
B. The Reasons for Divisions (1:18–2:16)
1. Misunderstanding of God’s message of the cross (1:18–2:5)
2. Misunderstanding of the Spirit’s ministry (2:6-16)
C. The Result of Divisions (3:1–4:5)
1. Spiritual growth is hampered (3:1-9)
2. Rewards are lost (3:10–4:5)
D. The Design and Example of Paul (4:6-21)
III. Moral Disorders in the Church (5:1–6:20)
A. The Case of Incest (5:1-13)
B. The Problem of Litigation in Heathen Courts (6:1-8)
C. The Warning Against Moral Laxity (6:9-20)
IV. Instructions Concerning Marriage (7:1-40)
A. Marriage and Celibacy (7:1-9)
B. Marriage and Divorce (7:10-24)
C. Marriage and Christian Service (7:25-38)
D. Marriage and Remarriage (7:39-40)
V. Instructions Concerning Food Offered to Idols (8:1–11:1)
A. Question: May a Christian Eat Food Consecrated to a Pagan God? (8:1-13)
B. Example of Paul (9:1-27)
C. Exhortations (10:1–11:1)
VI. Instructions Concerning Public Worship (11:2–14:40)
A. The Covering of Women (11:2-16)
B. The Lord’s Supper (11:17-34)
C. The Use of Spiritual Gifts (12:1–14:40)
1. The varieties of gifts (12:1-11)
2. The purpose of gifts: unity in diversity (12:12-31)
3. The supremacy of love over gifts (13:1-13)
4. The superiority of prophecy over tongues (14:1-25)
5. The regulations for the use of gifts (14:26-40)
VII. The Doctrine of the Resurrection (15:1-58)
A. The Importance of the Resurrection (15:1-11)
B. The Consequences of Denying the Resurrection (15:12-19)
C. The Christian Hope (15:20-34)
D. The Resurrection Body (15:35-50)
E. The Christian’s Victory Through Christ (15:51-58)
VIII. The Collection for Jerusalem (16:1-4)
IX. Conclusion (16:5-24)
Again as indicated in the opening salutation, Paul is the author of this letter. Both external and internal evidence is very strong in support of Pauline authorship. In fact, “it is stamped with his style and it contains more autobiographical material than any of his other writings.”44 The only problem concerns the claim of some regarding its apparent lack of unity. Some critics have claimed that chapters 10–13 were not a part of this letter in its original form because of a sudden change of tone.
A popular theory claims that chaps. 10-13 are part of that lost “sorrowful letter.” Although some features of those chapters correspond to what must have been the contents of the lost letter, the principal subject of that letter (the offender of 2 Cor. 2:5) is nowhere mentioned in these chapters. Further, there is no evidence for so partitioning 2 Corinthians.45
To distinguish this letter from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, this letter received the title, Pros Corinthians B. The B represents the Greek letter beta, the second letter of the Greek alphabet.
A careful study of Acts and the Epistles reveals the following summary of Paul’s involvement with the Corinthian church: (1) there was the first visit to Corinth followed by, (2) the first letter to Corinth (now lost). This was then followed by (3) the second letter to Corinth (1 Cor.). (4) This was then followed by a second visit to Corinth (the “painful visit,” 2 Cor. 2:1). (5) Then there was a third letter to Corinth (now also lost). (6) This was followed by 2 Corinthians, the fourth letter to Corinth. (7) Finally, there was a third visit to Corinth (Acts 20:2-3). It should be pointed out that the two lost letters were lost only because they were not intended by God to be part of the biblical canon.
Because of the riot caused by silversmiths (Acts 19:23-41) Paul departed from Ephesus for Macedonia (Acts 20:1) in the spring of A.D. 56. In the process, he made a preliminary stop at Troas hoping to rendezvous with Titus (2 Cor. 2:13) and receive news about conditions in Corinth. Not finding Titus there, he pushed on to Macedonia, undoubtedly with concern about Titus’ safety (7:5-6). There he met Titus, who brought good news about the general well-being of the Corinthian church but bad news about a group who were standing in opposition to Paul and his apostleship. From Macedonia Paul wrote a fourth letter, 2 Corinthians. Paul then made his third visit to Corinth during the winter of A.D. 56-57 (Acts 20:2-3).
Of all Paul’s letters, 2 Corinthians is the most personal and intimate. In it he bared his heart and declared his steadfast love for the Corinthians even though some had been extremely critical and very fickle in their affection for him. The major theme is summoned by James K. Lowery in the Bible Knowledge Commentary.
What concerned Paul preeminently was the presence of false teachers, claiming to be apostles, who had entered the church. They promoted their own ideas and at the same time sought to discredit both the person and message of the apostle. Second Corinthians was written to defend the authenticity of both his apostleship and his message. This was not carried out in a self-protecting spirit but because Paul knew that acceptance of his ministry and message were intimately bound with the Corinthian church’s own spiritual well-being.46
In the process of Paul’s defense, three key purposes emerge: (1) Paul expressed his joy at the favorable response of the church to Paul’s ministry (chaps. 1-7); (2) he sought to remind the believers of their commitment to the offering for the Christians in Judea (chaps. 8-9); and (3) he sought to defend his apostolic authority (chaps. 10-13).
While the general focus of this epistle is Paul’s “defense” of his ministry and authority, a key word that surfaces is “comfort” (occurring 11 times in 9 verses). As we face the various dilemmas of life, we must all learn to find our comfort in God who is the God of all comfort.
- 4:5-6. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 4:6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
- 4:16-18. Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 4:17 For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 4:18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
- 5:17-19. So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away, see, what is new has come! 5:18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 5:19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.
Chapters 8–9 are really one unit and comprise the most complete revelation of God’s plan for giving found anywhere in the Scriptures. Contained therein are the principles for giving (8:1-6), the purposes for giving (8:7-15), the policies to be followed in giving (8:16-9:5), and the promises to be realized in giving (9:6-15).47
Christ as Seen in 2 Corinthians:
In a later epistle, Paul will stress how we are “complete in Christ” (Col. 2:10). All we need for life is found in Him. In this epistle, we see Him as our comfort (1:5), triumph (2:14), Lord (2:4), liberty or freedom for a new life (3:17), light (4:6), judge (5:10), reconciliation (5:19), gift (9:15), owner (10:7), and power (12:9).
I. Primarily Apologetic: Explanation of Paul’s Conduct and Apostolic Ministry (chs. 1–7)
A. Salutation (1:1-2)
B. Thanksgiving for Divine Comfort in Affliction (1:3-11)
C. The Integrity of Paul’s Motives and Conduct (1:12–2:4)
D. Forgiving the Offender at Corinth (2:5-11)
E. God’s Direction in the Ministry (2:12-17)
F. The Corinthian Believers—a Letter From Christ (3:1-11)
G. Seeing the Glory of God With Unveiled Faces (3:12–4:6)
H. Treasure in Clay Jars (4:7-16a)
I. The Prospect of Death and What It Means for the Christian (4:16b–5:10)
J. The Ministry of Reconciliation (5:11–6:10)
K. A Spiritual Father’s Appeal to His Children (6:11–7:4)
L. The Meeting With Titus (7:5-16)
II. Hortatory: The Collection for the Christians at Jerusalem (chs. 8–9)
A. Generosity Encouraged (8:1-15)
B. Titus and His Companions Sent to Corinth (8:16–9:5)
C. Results of Generous Giving (9:6-15)
III. Polemical: Paul’s Vindication of His Apostolic Authority (chs. 10–13)
A. Paul’s Defense of His Apostolic Authority and the Area of His Mission (ch. 10)
B. Paul Forced Into Foolish Boasting (chs. 11–12)
C. Final Warnings (13:1-10)
D. Conclusion (13:11-14)
Paul identifies himself as the author of this epistle with the words, “Paul an apostle.” Apart from a few 19th-century scholars, no one has seriously questioned his authorship. Further, his authorship is virtually unchallenged. Unger writes, “No trace of doubt as to the authority, integrity, or apostolic genuineness of the epistle comes from ancient times.”49
The title is Pros Galatas, “To the Galatians.” Being addressed to “the churches of Galatia,” it is the only epistle of Paul addressed to a group of churches.
The date when Paul penned this letter depends on the destination of the letter. There are two main views, The North Galatian View and The South Galatian View. Ryrie summarizes this and writes:
At the time of the writing of this letter the term “Galatia” was used both in a geographical and in a political sense. The former referred to north-central Asia Minor, north of the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe; the latter referred to the Roman province (organized in 25 B.C.) that included southern districts and those cities just mentioned. If the letter was written to Christians in North Galatia, the churches were founded on the second missionary journey and the epistle was written on the third missionary journey, either early from Ephesus (about A.D. 53) or later (about 55) from Macedonia. In favor of this is the fact that Luke seems to use “Galatia” only to describe North Galatia (Acts 16:6; 18:23).
If the letter was written to Christians in South Galatia, the churches were founded on the first missionary journey, the letter was written after the end of the journey (probably from Antioch, ca. A.D. 49, making it the earliest of Paul’s epistles), and the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) convened shortly afterward. In favor of this dating is the fact that Paul does not mention the decision of the Jerusalem council that bore directly on his Galatian argument concerning the Judaizers, indicating that the council had not yet taken place.50
The Epistle to the Galatians was the battle cry of the Reformation because it stands out as Paul’s Manifesto of Justification by Faith. It has therefore been dubbed as “the charter of Christian Liberty.” Luther considered it in a peculiar sense his Epistle.51 Galatians stands as a powerful polemic against the Judaizers and their teachings of legalism. They taught, among other things, that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were still binding on the church. Thus, the apostle writes to refute their false gospel of works and demonstrates the superiority of justification by faith and sanctification by the Holy Spirit versus by the works of the Law.
In addition, these Judaizers not only proclaimed a false gospel, but sought to discredit Paul’s apostleship. In the first two chapters Paul vindicated his apostleship and message. In these two chapters Paul demonstrated convincingly that his apostleship and his message came by revelation from the risen Christ. Then, in chapters 3 and 4 he contended for the true doctrine of grace, the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Some, however, would immediately claim such a doctrine leads to license, so the apostle demonstrates that Christian liberty does not mean license. Thus, chapters 5 and 6 show that Christians must learn to live by the power of the Spirit and that the Spirit controlled walk will manifest not the works of the flesh but rather the fruit of the Spirit.
The phrases “justification by faith” and “freedom from the Law” form the key words of the epistle.
- 2:20-21. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 2:21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!
- 5:1. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.
- 5:13-16. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 5:14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.
The fact that believers are not under the Law in no way means the freedom to do as one pleases, but the power to do what we should by God’s grace through the Spirit. In this sense, chapter 5 is a key chapter. Our freedom must never be used “as an opportunity to indulge the flesh” but rather as a basis for loving one another by walking in the strength of the Spirit (5:13, 16, 22-25).
Christ as Seen in Galatians:
Through His death by which believers have died to the Law and through the Christ exchanged life (2:20), believers have been freed from bondage (5:1f.) and brought into a position of liberty. The power of the cross provides deliverance from the curse of the law, from the power of sin, and from self (1:4; 2:20; 3:13; 4:5; 5:16, 24; 6:14).
I. Personal: The Gospel of Grace, Justification by Faith Defended (1:1-2:21)
A. Introduction (1:1-9)
B. The Gospel of Grace Came by Revelation (1:10-24)
C. The Gospel of Grace Was Approved by the Church in Jerusalem (2:1-10)
D. The Gospel of Grace Was Vindicated in the Rebuke of Peter, the Chief of the Apostles (2:11-21)
II. Doctrinal: The Gospel of Grace, Justification by Faith Explained (3:1–4:31)
A. The Experience of the Galatians: The Spirit is Given by Faith, Not by Works (3:1-5)
B. The Example of Abraham: He was Justified by Faith, Not by Works (3:6-9)
C. Justification Is by Faith, Not by the Law (3:10–4:11)
D. The Galatians Received Their Blessings by Faith, Not by Law (4:12-20)
E. Law and Grace Are Mutually Exclusive (4:21-31)
III. Practical: The Gospel of Grace, Justification by Faith Applied (5:1–6:18)
A. The Position of Liberty: Stand Fast (5:1-12)
B. The Practice of Liberty: Serve and Love One Another (5:13-15)
C. The Power of Liberty: Walk by the Spirit (5:16-26)
D. The Performance of Liberty: Do Good to All Men (6:1-10)
E. The Conclusion (6:11-18)
The Prison Epistles
Ephesians along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are sometimes referred to as the prison epistles because they were each written while Paul was confined or in chains. Each of these letters contain references to this situation (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Phil. 1:7, 13; Col. 4:10, 18; Philemon 1, 9, 10).
Whether he was imprisoned once or twice in Rome is debated, though two imprisonments seem to fit the facts better. During the first, Paul was kept in or near the barracks of the Praetorian Guard or in rental quarters at his own expense for two years (Acts 28:30), during which these epistles were written. He anticipated being released (Philem. 22), and following his release he made several trips, wrote 1 Timothy and Titus, was rearrested, wrote 2 Timothy, and was martyred (see the Introduction to Titus, Titus 1:1 book note). These, then, are the first Roman imprisonment letters, whereas 2 Timothy is the second Roman imprisonment letter.52
The fact these great epistles were written while Paul was imprisoned, either in Roman barracks or chained daily to a Roman soldier in his own rented house (Acts 28:30), which gave him access to the whole elite Praetorian Guard, is a marvelous illustration of how God takes our apparent misfortunes and uses them for His glory and the increase of our opportunities for ministry (see Phil. 1:12-13). It shows how we may be chained and hindered, but that the Word of God is not imprisoned (see also 2 Tim. 2:9).
As clearly stated in the opening verse of each of the prison epistles, Paul is declared to be the author. That the apostle is the author of Ephesians is strongly supported by both internal and external evidence. Twice, the writer calls himself Paul (1:1; 3:1). Also this epistle is written after Paul’s usual manner or pattern with greetings and thanksgiving, a doctrinal section followed by the practical application of that doctrine with concluding personal remarks. As to external evidence, several church fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Alexander, and others) either quote from or use language closely resembling that found in Ephesians.53
In recent years, however, critics have turned to internal grounds to challenge this unanimous ancient tradition. It has been argued that the vocabulary and style are different from other Pauline Epistles, but this overlooks Paul’s flexibility under different circumstances (cf. Rom. and 2 Cor.). The theology of Ephesians in some ways reflects later development, but this must be attributed to Paul’s own growth and meditation on the church as the body of Christ. Since the epistle clearly names the author in the opening verse, it is not necessary to theorize that Ephesians was written by one of Paul’s pupils or admirers, such as Timothy, Luke, Tychicus, or Onesimus.54
There is some debate as to the title and destination of this epistle. The traditional title is Pros Ephesious, “To the Ephesians.” Many ancient manuscripts, however omit and for this and other reasons, many scholars believe this was an encyclical letter (intended for circulation among several churches).
Several things indicate that Ephesians was a circular letter, a doctrinal treatise in the form of a letter, to the churches in Asia Minor. Some good Greek mss. omit the words “at Ephesus” in 1:1. There is an absence of controversy in this epistle, and it does not deal with problems of particular churches. Since Paul had worked at Ephesus for about three years and since he normally mentioned many friends in the churches to whom he wrote, the absence of personal names in this letter strongly supports the idea of its encyclical character. It was likely sent first to Ephesus by Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-8) and is probably the same letter that is called “my letter … from Laodicea” in Col. 4:16.55
As previously mentioned, the apostle was a prisoner when he wrote this epistle (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). Though scholars differ on whether Paul wrote Ephesians while he was imprisoned at Caesarea (Acts 24:27) in A.D. 57-59, or in Rome (28:30) in A.D. 60-62, the evidence favors the Roman imprisonment. As also mentioned, it is believed that Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were also written during the same time period (cf. Phil. 1:7; Col. 4:10; Philemon 9). Because Ephesians gives no hint of Paul’s release from prison, as in Philippians (1:19-26) and Philemon (v. 22), many believe that Ephesians was written in the early part of his imprisonment about A.D. 60, while Paul was kept under house guard in his rented quarters (Acts 28:30). After he was released he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus, was arrested again, wrote 2 Timothy, and was martyred in Rome.
No specific purpose is stated and no particular problem or heresy is addressed. Rather, in Ephesians, Paul sets forth the glorious mystery, “the church which is Christ’s body,” Christ as the head of the Church (1:22, 23), and believers as co-members of one another and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3; 2:11-22). Clearly, Paul’s purpose is to broaden the believer’s horizons regarding the limitless wealth of his blessings in Christ who is the head of the church, the body of Christ. Out of this, two great purposes emerge in the epistle. The first is to set forth something of the wealth of blessings that believers have in Christ, and how, through them, the eternal purposes of God are summed up in the person of Christ, the things in heaven and on earth (1:3-12). The second theme flows out of the first, namely, the believer’s responsibility to know, grasp, and walk in a manner that is fitting with his heavenly position and calling in Christ (1:18-23; 3:14-21; 4:1).
While not written to be remedial or to correct any specific errors, Paul designed this epistle as a prevention against those problems that so often occur because of a lack of maturity or a failure in grasping and applying what believers have in Christ. Closely associated with this is a short section on the believer’s warfare with the onslaughts of Satan (6:10-18). Thus, Paul writes about the believer’s wealth, walk, and warfare.
In view of the theme or purpose, the key words are “wealth,” “walk,” and “warfare.”
- 1:3. Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.
- 2:8-10. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 2:9 it is not of works, so that no one can boast. 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
- 4:11-13. It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
- 5:17-18. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the will of the Lord is. 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,
As with many of Paul’s epistles, picking a key chapter is difficult, but perhaps chapter 6 stands out because of its very important revelation regarding the nature of our warfare with Satan (6:10-18). While we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3), we are nevertheless faced with a formidable enemy for which we need the armor of God. Thus, we must seriously take the exhortation “to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (6:10).
Christ as Seen in Ephesians:
Phrases in Ephesians like “in Christ” or “with Christ” appear some 35 times. These are common Pauline expressions, but they appear in this epistle more than in any other. By this, we see much of what believers have through their position in the Savior. They are in Christ (1:1), blessed with every blessing in Christ (1:3), chosen in Him (1:4), adopted through Christ (1:5), in the Beloved (1:6), redeemed in Him (1:7), given an inheritance in Him (1:11), have a hope that is to the praise of His glory in Christ (1:12), sealed with the Spirit through Him as an earnest installment of their inheritance (1:13-14), made alive, raised, and seated with Him in the heavenlies (2:5-6), created in Christ for good works (2:10), partakers of the promise in Christ (3:6), and given access to God through faith in Christ (3:12).
I. Salutation or Greeting (1:1-2)
II. The Doctrinal Portion of the Epistle, the Wealth and Calling of the Church (1:3-3:21)
A. Praise for Redemption (1:4-14)
1. Chosen by the Father (1:4-6)
2. Redemption by the Son (1:7-12)
3. Sealed With the Spirit (1:13-14)
B. Prayer for Wisdom a Revelation (1:15-23)
1. The Cause of the Prayer (1:15-18a)
2. The Content of the Prayer (1:18b-23)
C. Positional Relocation (2:1-22)
1. The New Position in the Heavenlies (2:1-10)
2. The New Position in the Household (2:11-22)
D. Parenthetical Explanation (3:1-13)
1. The Mystery, the Product of Revelation (3:1-6)
2. The Minister, Appointed to Proclamation (3:7-13)
E. Prayer for Realization (3:14-21)
III. The Practical Portion of the Epistle; The Walk and Conduct of the Church (4:1-6:24)
A. The Believer’s Walk in Unity (4:1-16)
1. The Appeal to Preserve Unity (4:1-3)
2. The Basis for Unity (4:4-6)
3. The Means of Unity (4:7-16)
B. The Believer’s Walk in Righteousness (4:17-5:18)
1. The Previous Walk of the Old Life (4:17-19)
2. The Present Walk of the New Life (4:20-32)
3. The Pattern for Our Walk (5:1-7)
4. The Proof and Reason for Our Walk (5:8-13)
5. The Power and Provision for Our Walk (5:14-18)
C. The Believer’s Walk in the World (5:19-6:9)
1. As to One’s Self and the Church (5:19-21)
2. As to One’s Home (5:22-6:4)
3. As to One’s Profession (6:5-9)
D. The Believer’s Walk in Warfare (6:10-20)
1. The Exhortation to Arms (6:10-13)
2. The Explanation of Our Armor (6:14-17)
3. The Employment of Our Armor (6:18-20)
E. Conclusion (6:21-24)
Both the internal and external evidence again points to Paul as the author. “The early church was unanimous in its testimony that Philippians was written by the apostle Paul (see 1:1). Internally the letter reveals the stamp of genuineness. The many personal references of the author fit what we know of Paul from other NT books.”56
The epistle to the church at Philippi, the first church Paul established in Macedonia, is titled in the Greek text, , “To the Philippians.”
As with Ephesians, this epistle was written while Paul was imprisoned. His reference to the Praetorian guard (Phil. 1:13) along with the possibility of death (vv. 20-26) suggest he was writing from Rome. Though death was possible, Paul also seemed confident of his release. This suggests Philippians was written after Ephesians later in A.D. 60 or 61.
Whereas Ephesians sets forth the glorious mystery, “the church which is Christ’s body,” Christ as the head of the Church (1:22-23), and believers as co-members of one another who are equally blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3; 2:11-22), Philippians guards the practice of Ephesians. Philippians guards against the failure to practice Christ-provided unity and against the failure of believers to rejoice in their blessings and position in Christ (Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 4:1f.). The theme of Philippians might well be “joy and unity in Christ.”
Paul had several obvious purposes in writing this letter to the Philippians: (1) He sought to express his love and gratitude for the gift they had sent him (1:5; 4:10-19); (2) to give a report about his own circumstances (1:12-26; 4:10-19); (3) to encourage the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution and rejoice regardless of circumstances (1:27-30; 4:4); (4) to exhort them to live in humility and unity (2:1-11; 4:2-5); (5) to commend Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippian church (2:19-30); and (6) to warn the Philippians against the legalistic Judaizers and the libertarian antinomians who had slipped in among them (ch. 3).
The key word, occurring in one form or the other some 16 times, is “joy” or “rejoice.” “Unity” or “oneness” is another key idea of the book. This is expressed in a number of ways like, “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2:2); “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together” (1:27), and “be in harmony” (4:2).
- 1:21. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
- 3:8-11. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ, 3:9 and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is based on Christ’s faithfulness. 3:10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
- 4:11-13. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 4:12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.
Chapter 2 is certainly a key chapter in the way it sets forth Christ as our example in putting others before ourselves by having the mind of Christ. In the process of this, Paul then launches into a grand revelation regarding the humility and exaltation of Christ in 2:5-11.
Christ as Seen in Philippians:
No passage is clearer and more declarative regarding the nature, fact, and purpose of the incarnation of Christ as is found in this book, the great kenosis passage (2:5f.). Further, in view of all Christ was, is, has and will accomplish, Paul declares Christ as the believer’s life, “for to me to live is Christ” (1:21), that He is the perfect model of humility and sacrificing love (2:4-5), that He is the one who will transform our humble bodies into the likeness of His glorious body at the resurrection (3:21), and He is our means of enablement in any and all circumstances of life (4:12).
I. Salutation and Thanksgiving for the Philippians (1:1-11)
II. The Personal Circumstances of Paul in Rome: The Preaching of Christ (1:12-30)
III. The Pattern of the Christian Life: Having the Mind of Christ (2:1-30)
A. The Exhortation to Humility (2:1-4)
B. The Epitome of Humility (2:5-11)
C. The Exercise of Humility (2:12-18)
D. The Examples of Humility Seen in Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30)
IV. The Prize of the Christian Life: Having the Knowledge of Christ (3:1-21)
A. The Warning Against Legalistic Judaizers (3:1-4a)
B. The Example of Paul (3:4b-14)
C. The Exhortation to Others (3:15-21)
V. The Peace of the Christian Life: Knowing the Presence of Christ (4:1-23)
A. Peace With Others (4:1-3)
B. Peace With Self (4:4-9)
C. Peace With Circumstances (4:10-23)
Because of the greetings in 1:2, Colossians became known as Pros Kolossaeis, “To the Colossians.” As with the other epistles of Paul surveyed thus far, both the external and internal evidence strongly support Paul’s authorship. But the authorship of this epistle has been doubted by some on the grounds of the vocabulary and the nature of the heresy refuted in this epistle. Expositor’s Bible Commentary has an excellent summary of the key issues involving the authorship and date of Colossians.
That Colossians is a genuine letter of Paul is not usually disputed. In the early church, all who speak on the subject of authorship ascribe it to Paul. In the 19th century, however, some thought that the heresy refuted in ch. 2 was second-century Gnosticism. But a careful analysis of ch. 2 shows that the heresy there referred to is noticeably less developed than the Gnosticism of leading Gnostic teachers of the second and third centuries. Also, the seeds of what later became the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century were present in the first century and already making inroads into the churches. Consequently, it is not necessary to date Colossians in the second century at a time too late for Paul to have written the letter.
Instead, it is to be dated during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, where he spent at least two years under house arrest (see Ac 28:16-31).58
Paul wrote all four prison epistles during his first Roman imprisonment. This means he wrote it in A.D. 60-61 (see the discussion on the date of Ephesians and Philippians).
The theme is the fruitful and effective power of the gospel message which heralds the supremacy, headship, and the utter sufficiency of Christ to the church which is His body. In this little epistle, we see Paul’s “full-length portrait of Christ.”59 Colossians demonstrates that because of all that Jesus Christ is in His person and has accomplished in His work, He, as the object of the believer’s faith, is all we need for in Him we are complete (2:10). In scope, Colossians presents the all supremacy, all sufficiency, uniqueness, and the fullness of the person and work of Jesus Christ as the God-man Savior, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the total solution for man’s needs both for time and eternity. It is a cosmic book, presenting the cosmic Christ: the Creator/Sustainer and Redeemer/Reconciler of man and all the universe.
Key words in this book are “supremacy” and “sufficiency.”
- 1:15-20. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 1:16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. 1:17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 1:18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead so that he himself may become first in all things. 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him 1:20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—whether things on the earth or things in heaven.
- 2:8-10. Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 2:9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
- 3:1-3. Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 3:2 Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, 3:3 for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Chapters 2 is key in that it demonstrates why and how the believer is complete in Christ and needs nothing added to the saving person and work of Christ. Chapter 3 then builds on this as root to fruit or cause and effect. Because believers are complete in Christ (2:10) and are thereby risen with Him, they now have all they need for Christ-like transformation in all the relationships of life (3:1f.).
Christ as Seen in Colossians:
Wilkinson and Boa point out:
This singularly christological book is centered on the cosmic Christ—“the head of all principality and power” (2:10), the Lord of creation (1:16-17), the Author of reconciliation (1:20-22; 2:13-15). He is the basis for the believer’s hope (1:5, 23, 27), the source of the believer’s power for a new life (1:11, 29), the believer’s Redeemer and Reconciler (1:14, 20-22; 2:11-15), the embodiment of full Deity (1:15, 19; 2:9), the Creator and Sustainer of all things (1:16-17), the Head of the church (1:18), the resurrected God-Man (1:18; 3:1), and the all-sufficient Savior (1:28; 2:3, 20; 3:1-4).60
I. Doctrinal: The Person and Work of Christ (1:1-2:3)
A. Introduction (1:1-14)
1. Paul’s Greeting to the Colossians (1:1-2)
2. Paul’s Gratitude for the Colossians’ Faith (1:3-8)
3. Paul’s Prayer for the Colossians’ Growth (1:9-14)
B. The Person of Christ (1:15-18)
1. In Relation to the Father (1:15)
2. In Relation to the Creation (1:16-17)
3. In Relation to the New Creation (1:18)
C. The Work of Christ (1:19-2:3)
1. The Description of His Work (1:19-20)
2. The Application of His Work (1:21-23)
3. The Propagation of His Work (1:24-2:3)
II. Polemical: The Heretical Problems in Light of Union With Christ (2:4-3:4a)
A. The Exhortation Against False Teaching (2:4-8)
1. Exhortation Regarding the Methods of False Teachers (2:4-5)
2. Exhortation to Progress in the Life of Faith (2:6-7)
3. Exhortation Regarding the Philosophy of the False Teachers (2:8)
B. The Instruction of the True Teaching (2:9-15)
1. The Believer’s Position in Christ (2:9-10)
2. The Believer’s Circumcision (2:11-12)
3. The Believer’s Benefits (2:13-15)
C. The Obligations of the True Teaching (2:16-3:4)
1. Negative: Emancipation from Legalistic and Gnostic Practices (2:16-19)
2. Negative: Emancipation from Ascetic Ordinances (2:20-23)
3. Positive: Aspirations for the Heavenly Life (3:1-4)
III. Practical: The Practice of the Believer in Christ (3:5-4:6)
1. In the Inward Life (3:5-17)
2. In the Home and Household Life (3:18-4:1)
3. In the Outward Life (4:2-6)
IV. Personal: The Private Plans and Affairs of the Apostle (4:7-18)
1. His Special Representatives (4:7-9)
2. His Personal Salutations (4:10-18)
As declared in 1:1 and 2:18, all evidence (external and internal) supports the claim of the book that Paul is the author of 1 Thessalonians. Early church fathers support Paul’s authorship beginning as early as A.D. 140 (Marcion). Those things that characterize Paul are evident throughout (cf. 3:1-2, 8-11 with Acts 15:36; 2 Cor. 11:28). In addition, a number of historical allusions in the book fit Paul’s life as recounted in Acts and in his own letters (cf. 2:14-16; 3:1, 2, 5-6 with Acts 17:1-15). In view of this evidence, few (some radical critics of the nineteenth century) have ever questioned Paul’s authorship.
As the first of two canonical epistles to the church at Thessalonica, this book was called in the Greek text, Pros Thessalonikeis A, “First to the Thessalonians.”
Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written from Corinth during the apostle’s eighteen-month stay in that city (cf. Acts 18:1-11). The first epistle was written during the earlier part of that period just after Timothy had returned from Thessalonica with news of the progress of the church. The second letter was dispatched just a few weeks (or at the most a few months) later. Any date assigned will have to be approximate, though probably A.D. 51-52.
The purpose and burden of the apostle in writing to the Thessalonians can be summarized as follows: to express his thankfulness for what God was doing in the lives of the Thessalonians (1:2-3), to defend himself against a campaign to slander his ministry (2:1-12), to encourage them to stand fast against persecution and pressure to revert to their former pagan lifestyles (3:2-3; 4:1-12), to answer a doctrinal question pertaining to the fate of Christians who had died (4:1-13), to answer questions regarding the “Day of the Lord” (5:1-11), and to deal with certain problems that had developed in their corporate life as a church (5:12-13; 19-20).
Two key words and concepts stand out in this short epistle: “sanctification” (4:3, 4, 7), and “the coming of the Lord,” which is referred to in every chapter of the epistle (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23). The coming of the Lord should not only comfort our hearts, but stir us to godly living.
- 1:9-10. For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 1:10 and to wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.
- 2:13. And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, that is at work among you who believe.
- 4:1-3. Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; (NASB)
- 4:13-18. Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and arose, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 4:15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will arise first. 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord always. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Chapters 4 and 5 undoubtedly stand out as key chapters because of their teaching on both the coming of the Lord for the church, the rapture (4:13-18), and the day of the Lord (5:1-11), the time in the future when He will intervene in human events to consummate His redemption and judgment.
Christ as Seen in 1 Thessalonians:
With the coming of the Lord mentioned in every chapter, Christ is presented as the believer’s hope of salvation both now and at His coming. When He comes, He will deliver us from wrath (undoubtedly a reference to the Tribulation) (1:10; 5:4-11), give rewards (2:19), perfect us (3:13), resurrect us (4:13-18), and sanctify (set apart) all those who have trusted in Him (5:23).
I. The Past: The Work of Faith (1:1-3:13)
A. The Commendation of the Thessalonians (1:1-10)
1. The Evaluation of Paul (1:1-4)
2. The Evidence of Life (1:5-7)
3. The Explanation of the Evidence (1:8-10)
B. The Conduct of the Apostle and His Fellow Workers (2:1-12)
1. Their Witness (2:1-2)
2. Their Word (2:3-7a)
3. Their Walk (2:7b-12)
C. The Conduct of the Thessalonians (2:13-16)
1. Their Reception of the Word (2:13)
2. Their Response to the Word (2:14)
3. The Rejection of the Word (2:15-16)
D. The Concern of the Apostle (2:17-20)
1. His Heart for the Thessalonians (2:17)
2. His Hindrance by Satan (2:18)
3. His Hope in the Thessalonians (2:19-20)
E. The Confirmation of the Thessalonians (3:1-10)
1. The Sending of Timothy (3:1-5)
2. The Report of Timothy (3:6-10)
F. The Concluding Prayer (3:11-13)
1. The Prayer That He Might Return to the Thessalonians (3:11)
2. The Prayer That the Thessalonians Might Grow in Love (3:12)
3. The Prayer That Their Hearts Might Be Established in Holiness (3:13)
II. The Present: The Labor of Love (4:1-12)
A. Their Love for God Expressed in Sanctified Living (4:1-8)
B. Their Love for the Brethren, an Expression of Being God Taught (4:9-10)
C. Their Love for the Lost Expressed in Godly Living (4:11-12)
III. The Prospective: The Endurance of Hope (4:13-5:28)
A. Concerning the Day of Christ: The Comfort of His Coming (4:13-18)
1. The Resurrection of Sleeping Saints (4:13-16)
2. The Rapture of Living Saints (4:17-18)
B. Concerning the Day of the Lord (5:1-11)
1. The Coming of the Day of the Lord (5:1-5)
2. The Conduct of Christians (5:6-10)
3. The Conclusion (5:11)
C. Concerning Deportment in the Congregation (5:12-28)
1. The Concluding Prescription (5:12-22)
2. The Concluding Petition (5:23-24)
3. The Concluding Postscript (5:25-28)
As with 1 Thessalonians, this letter was also written by Paul (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1). However, Paul’s authorship of this epistle has been questioned more often than that of 1 Thessalonians, even though it has more support from early church writers. There is no evidence among the writings of the early church fathers that his authorship was ever doubted. In fact several fathers mentioned Paul as the author of this epistle in their writings. It was not until the 19th century that certain questions were raised about the authorship of this epistle. The doubts came from rationalistic critics who likewise refused to accept the Bible’s claim to divine inspiration. Regardless, external and internal evidence support Paul as the author.
Objections are based on internal factors rather than on the adequacy of the statements of the church fathers. It is thought that there are differences in the vocabulary (ten words not used elsewhere), in the style (it is said to be unexpectedly formal) and in the eschatology (the doctrine of the “man of lawlessness” is not taught elsewhere). However, such arguments have not convinced current scholars. A majority still hold to Paul’s authorship of 2 Thessalonians.62
As the second letter to the church at Thessalonica, this epistle is called in the Greek text, Pros Thessalonikeis B, the “Second to the Thessalonians.”
Because the historical circumstances are very similar to those of 1 Thessalonians, most believe it was written not long after the first letter—perhaps about six months. While conditions in the church were similar, the persecution seems to have grown (1:4-5), and this, with other factors, led Paul to write this letter from Corinth sometime in A.D. 51 or 52 after Silas and Timothy, the bearers of the first letter, had returned with the news of the new developments.
Second Thessalonians was evidently prompted by three main developments that Paul heard about: (1) there was the news of increasing persecution which they were facing (1:4-5), (2) to deal with the reports of a pseudo-Pauline letter and other misrepresentations of his teaching regarding the day of the Lord and the rapture of the church (2:1f.), and (3) to deal with the way some were responding to belief in the imminent return of the Lord. This belief was still being used as a basis for shirking their vocational responsibilities. So the apostle wrote to deal with the condition of idleness or disorderliness which had increased (3:5-15).
To meet the needs that occasioned this epistle, Paul wrote this epistle to comfort and correct. In doing so he pursued three broad purposes. He wrote: (1) to give an incentive for the Thessalonians to persevere by describing the reward and retribution that will occur in the future judgment of God (1:3-10), (2) to clarify the prominent events belonging to the day of the Lord in order to prove the falsity of the claims that the day had already arrived (2:1-2), and (3) to give detailed instructions covering the disciplinary steps the church should take in correcting those who refuse to work (3:6-15).
The key words or concepts are “judgment,” “retribution,” and “destruction” all revolving around the return of the Lord in the day of the Lord. In fact, in this epistle, 18 out of 47 verses (38 percent) deal with this subject. In 1 Thessalonians, the focus was on Christ coming for His Church (4:13-18) where as in 2 Thessalonians, the focus is on Christ coming with His Church in judgment on the unbelieving world (1:5-10; 2:3, 12).
- 2:1-4. Now regarding the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered so as to be with him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2:2 that you not be easily shaken from your composure or be disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not be here unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. 2:4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God.
- 3:1-5. Finally pray for us, brothers and sisters, that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored as in fact it was among you, 3:2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith. 3:3 But the Lord is faithful and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 3:4 And we are confident about you in the Lord that you are both doing, and will do, what we are commanding. 3:5 Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and the endurance of Christ.
- 3:16. Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.
Chapter 2 is key in that it corrects a serious error that had crept into the Thessalonian church which taught that the day of the Lord had already come. Here the apostle taught them that the day of the Lord had not come and could not until certain events had taken place, not for the rapture of the church which is imminent, but for the day of the Lord, Daniel’s seventieth week.
Christ as Seen in 2 Thessalonians:
A major theme of this book, especially chapters 1-2, is the return of Christ in judgment when He will put down all rebellion and bring retribution. Second Thessalonians anticipates Christ, the coming Judge.
Apart from the salutation and benediction, the book easily divides up into five sections:
I. Salutation or Introduction (1:1-2)
II. He Commends and Comforts Regarding Persecution (1:4-12)
III. He Corrects and Challenges Regarding the Day of the Lord (2:1-17)
A. In Relation to the Present (2:1-2)
B. In Relation to the Apostasy (2:3a)
C. In Relation to the Man of Lawlessness (2:3b-4)
D. In Relation to the Restrainer (2:5-9)
E. In Relation to Unbelievers (2:10-12)
F. In Relation to Believers (2:13-17)
IV. He Commands and Convicts Regarding Idleness (3:1-16)
A. The Confidence of the Apostle (3:1-5)
B. The Commands of the Apostle (3:6-15)
V. His Concluding Benediction and Greeting (3:16-18)
The Pastoral Epistles
The last major group of Paul’s epistles have generally been called the “Pastoral Epistles,” a term used to designate the three letters addressed to Timothy and Titus (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). Originally, they were regarded as mere personal letters and were classified with Philemon, but because of their strong bearing on the life of the church, they began to be called the “Pastoral Epistles.” Though addressed to individuals, these books are not only not limited to personal and private communications, but they are more official in character. Paul addressed them to Timothy and Titus to guide them in matters concerning the pastoral care of the church, which is the household of God (cf. 1 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:6-15 with 2 Tim. 2:2).
The term, “pastoral,” is an 18th century designation that has stuck down through the years,63 and though not entirely accurate, it is a somewhat appropriate description of these three letters. Further, due to the large portion of these epistles that deal with church order and discipline, the term “pastoral” is accurate. These epistles deal with church polity, policies, and practice, all of which are concerns vital to the pastoral health of the church. However, the term pastoral is inaccurate in the sense that Timothy and Titus were not pastors in the present-day sense of the term. So what were they?
First, they were official representatives of the apostle Paul whom he dispatched to various churches like Ephesus and Crete. Once there, they functioned in an official capacity to deal with special situations and meet special needs. During the interim from the time of the apostles to the more complete transition to elders and deacons, these men were sent by Paul as his apostolic representatives to repel and deal with certain conditions and people who were threatening to hurt the work and ministries of these churches.
Second, Timothy and Titus undoubtedly possessed the gifts needed for pastoral ministry and while there was an element of pastoral care in what they did, they were not elders or pastors who are given by the Lord to various churches for more long-term ministries (1 Pet. 5:1f.). Rather, as official delegates of Paul, they were sent to assist churches in establishing their ministries pastorally speaking (cf. Tit. 1:5f.).
All in all, in their content, these books are pastoral in nature and give directions for the care, conduct, order, ministry, and administration of churches or assemblies of believers. This is true whether they deal with personal matters or the corporate ministry of the church. In summary, then, these books were designed by God to aid us in our pastoral responsibilities and in organic development and guidance for the life of local churches.
In this regard there is an important observation that might be made. Of Paul’s thirteen letters, these were the very last books he wrote. What is so significant about that? Since these books deal with church order, ministry, and organization, why were they not first? If you or I were doing this (especially today) we would probably first try to get the administrative organization in order, the structure, and then worry about the doctrine. So here are some suggestions to think about:
Suggestion 1. Of course, organization and order is important. The church is a spiritual body, an organism, and each believer is a member with special functions and tasks to carry out, but the primary need so essential to functioning as God has designed the church is right theology (teaching) and understanding of the Word, along with its personal application for Christ-like living. This provides us with the spiritual and moral foundation on which we base our methods, strategy, and administration. So, while our methods will often vary, they must never contradict the moral or spiritual principles of the Word of God.
Giving, for instance, is a corporate and individual responsibility, but our giving and the collection of money must be so done that it does not violate certain biblical principles such as giving voluntarily rather than by methods that employ coercion or manipulation.
Suggestion 2. Organization, or better, the organic and unified growth of a church, must be based on right teaching, which is based on rightly handling the Word, i.e., God’s objective truth along with the use of those people who are qualified and spiritually right with God. When we try to run an organization based on tradition or background, we end up with an organization that is not only not biblical, but which will lack the spiritual fervor and capacity to function as God intends.
These books, then, deal with matters of church order or ecclesiology not hitherto addressed, but before God gave the church directions for church organization (or order as specific as those we find in the pastorals) He gave us Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Is this because organization is unimportant? No! It is because organization and administration are not primary. They are secondary. Further, it is because sound teaching and spirituality are what ultimately produce ministries that are effective according to God’s standards and that manifest the spirit and character of Christ in ministry and outreach.
Suggestion 3. Closely related to this is another concept. Some areas of ecclesiology are more difficult to determine than others. As a result, students of the Word have debated certain issues for years like the exact form of government or how we select and appoint men to leadership. Is this selection to be carried out by the board of elders, by the congregation, or by both working together?
Since there is such a divergence of opinion does this mean we should give up on matters of church government? Of course not. We should carefully study these issues and seek biblical answers so we might come to conclusions based on our study of the facts of Scripture. But the point is simply this: regardless of the type of church government, within certain limits, of course, if God’s Word is being consistently and accurately proclaimed with prayerful dependence on the Lord, and if the people take it to heart, a church will be alive, in vital touch with Christ, and effective for the Lord.