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Pauline Epistles Sanfridson, Martin


The Pauline epistles refer to the seven authentic Pauline letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Even though 13 letters in the New Testament are attributed to Paul these seven are widely regarded to have Paul as their author (in addition to the seven authentic letters, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus are attributed to Paul). The Pauline epistles, written approx. 50–62 CE, cover an array of topics, from grand theological/philosophical questions to concrete, on-the-ground issues that arose in the Christ groups. It is important to note that even though later Christianity has based much of its theology in Paul’s letters (for example, Martin Luther’s famous “justification by faith” comes from Romans 1:17), the letters are incidental and written to specific assemblies at a specific point in time. For example, Paul only mentions the celebration of the "Lord's supper" in 1 Corinthians 11 because the Christ followers in Corinth celebrated the ritual in a faulty manner, according to the apostle. A further point about the Pauline epistles is that many (if not all) of them are primarily addressed to gentile Christ followers and that the topics Paul covers in his letters mainly concern gentiles in-Christ and how they should live. Both during his own time and after his death, Paul left a significant mark on the growing Jesus movement, and later the established church. This can be seen in a number of ways. First, the five letters that are not regarded by scholars as authentic (i.e., Paul did not write them even though they are attributed to him) show the importance in having Paul as the (claimed) author to a text in the early Jesus movement. Second, 2 Peter 3:15–16 explicitly mentions Paul and how his writings can be hard to understand. Third, as Paul’s letters make up a considerable part of the New Testament (especially if one counts all 13 letters that are attributed to him), his texts were viewed as important documents by the early Jesus movement when it started to form its canon and decided which texts were foundational for the life of the emerging church. The Pauline epistles have been read, studied, and influential since they were first written, and they continue to be so today. Gaining a deeper understanding of this letter collection helps us better understand the origins of what today is Christianity, Jewish Christian relations in the first century CE, and the ideas that exists in one of the most influential textual corpora in the modern West.

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