Paul the man
What should be written, in a brief introduction such as this,
about a man like Paul? He was, quite simply, the greatest man ever to follow the
Lord Jesus Christ -- a man whose heart throbbed always with love for God and
love for his brethren, despite their failures, despite even their sins against
him. He was a man who truly "filled up", or completed, that which was lacking in
the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24); for he surely took up the cross and
followed his Saviour, even unto death. With no pride or arrogance, but in simple
truth, he was able to say of himself that he had been: "In labours more
abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of
the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with
rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have
been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of
robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils
in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among
false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and
thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are
without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (2Co
Originally "Saul" (which may sig "appointed by God), he
changed his name to Paul -- or perhaps adopted his Greek name more regularly --
a name sig "small, or little". He was a man small in stature (2Co 10:1,10), and
perhaps he had become "small" in his own eyes (1Co 15:9; 2Ti 1:15). At any rate,
it was a Gentile name for an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:9).
Paul was "a chosen vessel", to bear the gospel of Christ
before the Gentiles (Acts 9:17). He was learned in all the Law and the prophets,
having been taught by the famous Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was a member of the
Sanhedrin. But more importantly, he was directly instructed by Christ (Gal
1:12). No man ever carried out a commission better. It goes almost without
saying, therefore, that his writings are fully inspired by God (2Ti
The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) were
Paul's last recorded writings, written after the first imprisonment at Rome
(Acts 28:30). Although some (mostly modern) writers would contend otherwise, the
general consensus of expositors and historians (which seems more likely) is that
Paul lived and worked some years after the captivity related in the last chapter
of Acts. Early Christian testimony informs us that Paul's appeal to Caesar (Acts
25:11) had a successful conclusion, and that after his first imprisonment he was
released in approximately 63 AD. After this he appears to have spent a couple of
years of freedom before he was again arrested and condemned. In these last
several years he wrote, first of all, 1 Timothy and Titus -- which have much in
common. (That Paul was at liberty when he wrote to Titus is substantiated by Tit
3:12.) At the very last, Paul wrote 2 Timothy from prison, in his second
confinement, fully expecting to die soon afterward (2Ti 4:6).
With a very few exceptions, Paul's letters were written to
meet immediate situations. They were not dispassionate treatises written in the
peace and silence of a well-stocked study. There was some threatening situation
in Corinth, or Galatia, or Thessalonica, and he wrote a letter to meet it. Or
there were dearly beloved "sons" in the faith, like Timothy and Titus, whose
hands needed strengthening in difficult positions -- and, again, Paul took time
out of an unbelievably busy life to meet the need.
But we must not think that a composition is of no consequence
to us because it was written to address an immediate situation which has long
since ceased to exist. Indeed, it is just because the frail flesh we all bear
does not change that God still speaks to us today through the letters of Paul.
In these little letters, a great and good and truly humble man still "lives" and
pours out his heart and mind in love to us, his beloved children in the
First, as to an overview: Paul's fourteen letters seem to fall
into five groups:
There are several different types of Pauline letters: fourteen
letters in all. Nine were written to seven ecclesias (if Galatians be reckoned
as an ecclesia) -- there being two each to Corinth and Thessalonica. Just as
Jesus Christ in the Apocalypse sent messages to seven ecclesias, so did Paul.
(Seven is the Scriptural number of completion and perfection, suggesting that
Paul's ecclesial letters contain the complete gospel and perfect instruction for
all ecclesias.) Some of the nine ecclesial letters were written to answer
special questions (as the two to Corinth); some to oppose special false
doctrines (as that to the Galatians); and others to upbuild and strengthen
- The earliest, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and possibly Galatians), were written
on his second missionary journey when he first went to Europe.
- Romans and 1
and 2 Corinthians were written during his third journey, when he spent most of
his time in Ephesus. (This was at the time of the troubles in Corinth, when
Titus was sent there: 2Co 8:16,23; 12:18.)
- Ephesians, Colossians,
Philippians, Philemon, and Hebrews were written near the end of his first
imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30), when he was expecting soon to be released, as
he indicated in several of them.
- Titus and 1 Timothy were written in the
period after his release, when he was back working in the same area of Greece,
Asia Minor, and Macedonia again.
- Finally, 2 Timothy was written, right at
the end of his life, from prison again in Rome.
From a different aspect, these nine ecclesial letters may be
divided into three basic groups:
4 doctrinal: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.
3 practical: Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.
2 concerning Christ's return: 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
Paul's five other letters were also written for several
purposes. They consist of one thoroughly personal letter (Philemon); one general
letter, to Hebrew Christians with dangerous leanings toward Judaism (Hebrews);
and three letters to individuals (Timothy and Titus) who were leaders of