Pauline epistles

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The term Pauline epistles refers to the thirteen or fourteen letters in the New Testament of the Christian Bible traditionally believed to have been written by the apostle Paul. The authorship of some of these letters ("epistles") has been called into question by more recent scholarship; these works are marked '(*)' in the list below. The theology of the Pauline epistles is in relative harmony, and those who doubt that some of the epistles are genuine works of Paul sometimes suggest they were written by some of his disciples.

In the order they appear in the new testament, the Pauline epistles are:

All of the epistles except the epistle to the Hebrews cite Paul as the author. The epistle to the Hebrews is something of a special case, being anonymous. Although other authors have been suggested, the vocabulary and theology are quite in harmony with the rest of the Pauline works. Some classifications do not include Hebrews as a Pauline epistle, listing it instead with the general epistles.


Religious classification of the epistles

The signed Pauline epistles may be classified into two sections: Paul's letters to new Christian churches of the first century (Romans through Second Thessalonians), and Paul's letters to individuals (First Timothy through Philemon). The former are named after the city or region the receiving church or churches were based in; the latter are named after the individual to whom the epistle was addressed. When more than one epistle was addressed to the same recipient, they are distinguished with "first" and "second," or else with Roman or Arabic numerals (e.g. II Timothy).

Paul's letters to churches are concerned with particular aspects of church doctrine Paul felt to be important to the recipient congregation. In most cases these letters were addressed to churches Paul had founded himself, and he wrote his letters to supply teachings he had not been able to give in person, or to correct misunderstandings of his doctrine. In some cases he answered specific questions put to him by letter or messenger. One prominent teaching in many of Paul's letters to churches is the problem of Judaizing teachers; much controversy existed in the early churches as to how much if any of the religion of the Old Testament should be maintained in Christianity. In many cases such teachers arrived shortly after Paul's departure from a city where he had founded a church and began teaching the church to observe Old Testament religious laws that Paul did not believe were necessary for Christians, particularly Gentile Christians. While most of the letters to churches are concerned with a variety of topics, this is one common issue that many of them address.

Paul's letters to individuals are sometimes called the Pastoral epistles as most of them are addressed to young preachers and are concerned with the shepherding of the church. Timothy and Titus were two of Paul's fellow missionaries; the letters Paul wrote to them give advice and commandments for Christian preachers and for the appointing of bishops and deacons. The letter to Philemon is the most personal of all Paul's letters, being addressed to the owner of a runaway slave whom Paul had converted.

The Pauline epistles are also noteworthy for the personal relationships they mention. Paul greets many individuals by name, often giving details about the value of these friendships and the encouragement they gave him.

Academic classification of the Epistles

The epistles may also be arranged by the nature of their content

  • Those primarily introducing theology and doctrine
  • Those predominantly addressing the issue of the use of jewish practices
  • Those acting as personal intercession
  • Those primarily addressing heresy
  • Those primarily correcting readings of other epistles
  • Those addressing the nature of the church (known as the Pastorals)

It should be noted that the letters to Timothy and to Titus bear a remarkable similarity, as does Ephesians to Colossians. This may reflect a practise of mass-mailing, or the desire to re-address issues in earlier letters by repeating them, but expanding on the ideas.

Authenticity of the epistles

Main article Authorship of the Pauline epistles.

Several of the letters are thought by a majority of scholars to be pseudepigraphal, that is, not actually written by Paul of Tarsus. Details of the arguments regarding this issue are addressed more specifically in the articles about each epistle.

The 7 letters considered genuine by most scholars (at the time of writing), and doubted by almost none:

The letters thought by the majority of modern scholars (and computer analysis) to be pseudepigrapha are:

The letters on which modern scholars are about evenly divided are:

The letter that nearly all modern scholars agree was not written by Paul is:

For full details, see Authorship of the Pauline epistles.

Non-canonical Pauline Epistles

Several non-canonical epistles exist claiming or having been claimed to have been written by Paul. Most, if not all, scholars reject their authenticity. They include

Texts also exist which, whilst not strictly epistles, nethertheless claim to have been written by (or about) Paul. These include

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