Tracing the Growth of Paul

Can Paul's growth be seen in his letters?

Openings arranged by date of writing

I have used several sources to order the probable date of writing of Paul's epistles and pastoral letters.
*First is F.F.Bruce, The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? ©1984 (first publ. 1943).
**Second is Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Guide to the Bible, ©1974.
***Third is The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy editors, ©1973.
****Finally Nelson's KJV Study Bible.

1 & 2 Thessalonians [year *50; **50-51; ***50-51; ****51]

1 Thessalonians 1:1: Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ
2 Thessalonians 1:1: Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Galatians [year *48; **55 or 56; ***c.55; ****54-55 but poss. 49]

Galatians 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia

1 & 2 Corinthians [year *54-6; **54-56; ***52-56; ****55]

1 Corinthians 1:1: Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother
2 Corinthians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia

Romans [year *57; **55; ***54-58; ****56-58]

Romans 1:1: Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God

Philipians [year *c.60; **c.61-62; ***61-63? probably earlier; ****c.60]

Philipians 1:1: Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons

Colossians [year *c.60; **c.61; ****60-61]

Colossians 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse

Philemon [year *c.60; **c.55; ****60-63]

Philemon 1:1: Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer, And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house

Ephesians [year *c.60; **61] circular letter

Ephesians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus

1 Timothy and Titus [year *63-65; **c.64-66; ***w/Colossians; ****62-66]

1 Timothy 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith
Titus 1:1-4: Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; To Titus, mine own son after the common faith

2 Timothy [year *63-65; **c.67-68; ****67]

2 Timothy 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dearly beloved son

Hebrews [year **c.67-69; ***/****fm a student of Paul? before 70]

There is no customary greeting at the beginning of Hebrews. This and other stylistic differences causes several scholars to doubt that the book is written by Paul, but rather by one of his students. Eusebius and others assume the difference to be caused by having originally been composed in Hebrew and later translated by someone other than Paul.

I would have to say it was written by a student of Paul. The argument that the epistle was written in Hebrew falters on the fact that the biblical quotations are taken from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The epistle contains none of the formalities of Pauline witting, the customary opening, the butter-up, the body and the closing. These objections are not insurmountable. This letter continually uses the example of Christ as the great high priest. This is not Paul's approach. Paul is a Pharisee, born and bred, and trained in the most prominent school of the Pharisees, that of Gamaliel. “Gamaliel holds a reputation in the Mishnah for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism: ‘Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time’.” (Wikipedia). All of Paul's examples stem from his understanding of the Law, not the priesthood. It is difficult to see Paul making such a drastic shift for this one letter.

Hebrews 6:20: Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

And finally, the author identifies himself as a second generation believer. Paul, on the other hand, firmly states that he was trained by Christ himself.

Hebrews 2:3: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.

I would suggest that the writer was someone very close to Paul, possibly writing at Paul's direction or very shortly following Paul's beheading, since the teaching is ‘Pauline’. Given the Hebrew church's lively suspicion of Paul, it is understandable that he might want to retire to the background. Apparently those in the west largely believed the author to be someone other than Paul, while those in Palestine believed the author to be Paul. This would be explainable by the culture. The Hebrew culture is looking for where the thought comes from, whereas the Greek culture is more concerned with who actually penned the work. I believe Origen's comment says it best:

In the epistle entitled To the Hebrews the diction does not exhibit the characteristic roughness of speech or phraseology admitted by the Apostle himself, the construction of the sentences is closer to Greek usage, as anyone capable of recognizing differences of style would agree. On the other hand the matter of the epistle is wonderful and quite equal to the Apostle's acknowledged writings: the truth of this would be admitted by anyone who has read the Apostle carefully... If I were asked my personal opinion, I would say that the matter is the Apostle's but the phraseology and construction are those of someone who remembered the Apostle's teaching and wrote his own interpretation of what his master had said. So if any church regards the epistle as Paul's, it should be commended for so doing, for the primitive Church had every justification for handing it down as his. Who wrote the epistle is known to God alone: the accounts that have reached us suggest that it was either Clement, who became Bishop of Rome, or Luke, who wrote the gospel and the Acts. (Origen, Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, quoted by Eusebius in his History of the Church), page 266.


*All Bible quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise indicate

Wm W Wells – Fall 2003

©2003 Wm W Wells. May be copied freely without alteration.