Pauline epistles

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Paul in the Bible
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Pauline literature (Authorship)
Romans1 Corinthians2 CorinthiansGalatians
1 Thessalonians2 Thessalonians1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Related literature
Lost epistles • Apocalypse of Paul
Coptic Apocalypse of Paul • Acts of Paul
Paul and Thecla • Peter and Paul • Prayer of Paul
See also
Paul the Apostle • Apostles in the New Testament
Pauline Christianity

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. These letters were written to churches that Paul had established in Europe and Asia Minor. They were written to exhort the believers in their faith, or frequently to solve problems that had arisen in the church communities. 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.


The authorship of some of the epistles is in dispute. 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).[1] Paul's authorship of the three other epistles in his name (2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians) is widely debated based on word choice and letter structure.[1] According to some scholars, Paul wrote the letters in question with the help of a secretary, or amanuensis (scribe),[2] 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 sixteenth 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, unlike the others, the epistle does not indicate that Paul is the author.[3]

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,[4] and a few minuscules (175, 325, 336, and 1424) place the Pauline epistles at the end of the New Testament.

Beginning of the Greek manuscript by Huldrych Zwingli of the Pauline epistles, written in 1517, preserved in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich

In all of these epistles, except the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author and writer claims to be Paul. The contested letters may have been written using Paul's name, as was common practice in the ancient world.[5]

Seven letters (with consensus dates)[6] considered genuine by most scholars:

The three letters on which scholars are about evenly divided:[1] If these letters are pseudepigraphal, then the consensus dates are probably incorrect.

The letters thought to be pseudepigraphic by many scholars (traditional dating given):[1] 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,[7] neither most of Christianity nor modern scholarship concur.[1][8]


In the order they appear in the New Testament, the Pauline epistles are:

Name Addressees Greek Latin Abbreviations
Full Min.
Romans Church at Rome Πρὸς Ῥωμαίους Epistola ad Romanos Rom Ro
1 Corinthians Church at Corinth Πρὸς Κορινθίους Αʹ Epistola I ad Corinthios 1 Cor 1C
2 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
1 Thessalonians Church at Thessalonica Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς Αʹ Epistola I ad Thessalonicenses 1 Thess 1Th
2 Thessalonians Church at Thessalonica Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς Βʹ Epistola II ad Thessalonicenses 2 Thess 2Th
1 Timothy Saint Timothy Πρὸς Τιμόθεον Αʹ Epistola I ad Timotheum 1 Tim 1T
2 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.[9]

Chronological order of Paul's letters[10]
Date Name Location of authorship
c. 48 Galatians Antioch (uncertain)
c. 49–51 1 Thessalonians Corinth
c. 49–51 2 Thessalonians Corinth
c. 53–55 1 Corinthians Ephesus
c. 55–56 2 Corinthians Macedonia
c. 57 Romans Corinth
c. 62 Ephesians Rome
c. 62 Philippians Rome
c. 62 Colossians Rome
c. 62 Philemon Rome
c. 62–64 1 Timothy Macedonia
c. 62–64 Titus Nicopolis
c. 64–67 2 Timothy Rome

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 fourth 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.[9]

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).[11]
  • 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,[12] or Paul's previous Corinthian letter,[13] possibly referenced in 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,[13] referenced at Colossians 4:16

Pseudepigraphic epistles

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 second century C.E.[14][15]
  • Epistle to the Alexandrians, an alleged epistle written by Paul to the Church of Alexandria. It is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment (second century C.E.), which denounces it as a spurious work forged by Marcion of Sinope. Its text has been lost and nothing is known about its content.[16]
  • Non-Pauline Epistle to the Laodiceans versions:
    • The Marcionite Epistle to the Laodiceans. The Muratorian fragment (second century C.E.) 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.[16]
    • 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.[16]
  • 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 fourth century C.E.[17]

Collected epistles

David Trobisch finds it likely that Paul first collected his letters for publication himself.[9] 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.[18] 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.[9]


It would be hard to overestimate the significance of Paul's letters in the development of Christian thought and doctrines. The undisputed letters are considered the most important sources since they contain what is widely agreed to be Paul's own statements about his life and thoughts. Theologian Mark Powell writes that Paul directed these seven letters to specific occasions at particular churches. As an example, if the Corinthian church had not experienced problems concerning its celebration of the Lord's Supper,[19] today it would not be known that Paul even believed in that observance or had any opinions about it one way or the other. Powell comments that there may be other matters in the early church that have since gone unnoticed simply because no crises arose that prompted Paul to comment on them.[20]

In Paul's writings, he provides the first written account of what it is to be a Christian and thus a description of Christian spirituality. His letters have been characterized as being the most influential books of the New Testament after the Gospels of Matthew and John.[21]

Paul's letters reveal a remarkable human being: dedicated, compassionate, emotional, sometimes harsh and angry, clever and quick-witted, supple in argumentation, and above all possessing a soaring, passionate commitment to God, Jesus Christ, and his own mission. Fortunately, after his death one of his followers collected some of the letters, edited them very slightly, and published them. They constitute one of history's most remarkable personal contributions to religious thought and practice.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Felix Just, "Deutero-Pauline Letters," Catholic Resources. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  2. E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. (Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004, ISBN 978-0830827886).
  3. 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."
  4. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1987, ISBN 01982618020), 295–96. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  5. 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."
  6. Robert Wall, New Interpreter's Bible Vol. X (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1426739125), 373.
  7. Sergei Arhipov (ed.), The Apostol (New Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1996, ISBN 1878997491), 408.
  8. Paul Ellingworth, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co., 1993, ISBN 978-0802824202), 3.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 David Trobisch, Paul's Letter Collection (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1994, ISBN 978-0800625979), 1-27. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  10. T. Desmond Alexander, Kenneth Laing Harris, and John D. Currid (eds.), ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008, ISBN 978-1433502415), 1806–1807. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  11. (DigiVatLib), Manuscript –," Digital Vatican Library. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  12. Paul Richardson, "Lost Books of the Bible?" Full Gospel of Christ Fellowship. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Apologetics Press, Are There Lost Books of the Bible?, Reason & Revelation 23(12)(December 1, 2003). Retrieved January 29, 2024.
  14. James H. Charlesworth and Lee Martin McDonald, Sacra Scriptura: How "Non-Canonical" Texts Functioned in Early Judaism and Early Christianity (London, U.K.: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014, ISBN 978-0567296689). Retrieved January 14, 20234.
  15. Hermann Olshausen, Biblical Commentary on St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Edinburgh, U.K.: T. & T. Clark, 1851). Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Bart Ehrman, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0199928033), 452–458.
  17. "Letters of Paul and Seneca,". Early Christian Writings. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  18. Steve Reece, Paul's Large Letters: Pauline Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions (London, U.K.: T&T Clark, 2018, ISBN 978-0567682659).
  19. 1 Corinthians 11:17–34.
  20. Mark Allan Powell, Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey (Ada, MI: Baker, 2009, ISBN 978-0801028687), 234.
  21. E. P. Sanders, "Saint Paul, the Apostle," Encyclopædia Britannica, December 27, 2019. Retrieved January 28, 2024. "Paul [...] only occasionally had the opportunity to revisit his churches. He tried to keep up his converts' spirit, answer their questions, and resolve their problems by letter and by sending one or more of his assistants, especially Timothy and Titus.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Alexander, T. Desmond, Kenneth Laing Harris, and John D. Currid (eds.). ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. ISBN 978-1433502415
  • Arhipov, Sergei (ed.). The Apostol. New Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1996. ISBN 1878997491
  • Charlesworth, James H., and Lee Martin McDonald. Sacra Scriptura: How "Non-Canonical" Texts Functioned in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. London, U.K.: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-0567296689
  • Ehrman, Bart. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0199928033
  • Ellingworth, Paul. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co., 1993. ISBN 978-0802824202
  • Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1987. ISBN 01982618020
  • Olshausen, Hermann. Biblical Commentary on St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Edinburgh, U.K.: T. & T. Clark, 1851. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  • Powell, Mark Allan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey. Ada, MI: Baker, 2009. ISBN 978-0801028687
  • Reece, Steve. Paul's Large Letters: Pauline Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. London, U.K.: T&T Clark, 2018. ISBN 978-0567682659
  • Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004. ISBN 978-0830827886
  • Trobisch, David. Paul's Letter Collection.. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1994. ISBN 978-0800625979
  • Wall, Robert. New Interpreter's Bible Vol. X. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1426739125

Further reading

  • Cousar, Charles B. The Letters of Paul Interpreting Biblical Texts Series. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996. ISBN 978-0687008520
  • Deissmann, G. Adolf. Bible Studies, translated by Alexander Grieve. Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1988 (original 1901). ISBN 9780943575087
  • Doty, William G. Letters in Primitive Christianity, Guides to Biblical Scholarship. New Testament. edited by Dan O. Via, Jr. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988 (original 1973). ISBN 978-0800601706
  • Kim, Yung Suk. A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters. Eugene, Or: Cascade Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1498212991
  • Longenecker, Richard N. "Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles," in New Dimensions in New Testament Study. edited by Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974. ISBN 978-0835949651
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0814658451
  • Richards, E. Randolph. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul. Tübingen, DE: Mohr, 1991, ISBN 978-3161574566
  • Stowers, Stanley K. Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity Library of Early Christianity. Volume 8. edited by Wayne A. Meeks. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1989. ISBN 978-0664250157

External links

All links retrieved January 27, 2024.


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