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What You Might Not Know about Paul’s Letters

Categories New Testament

Paul's Letters

Almost anyone who has read the Bible has read the Apostle Paul. Here are four things you might not know about Paul’s letters:

1. Paul’s letters were long.

The average private letter in the Greco-Roman world was 90 words long, and the average literary letter was 200 words long. Typically, a letter would fit on one papyrus sheet—or roughly the size of a piece of paper in a modern notebook. By comparison, Paul’s letters average around 1,300 words. Paul’s shortest letter (to Philemon) is 335 words long, and his longest letter (to the Romans) is 7,114 words long.

2. Some of Paul’s letters were for private audiences.

Although many of Paul’s letters were written for communal audiences, a few of his letters were written only to individuals:

Because these letters are written to provide counsel to leaders in the church, they are usually referred to as the Pastoral Epistles.

3. Paul didn’t write his own letters.

Since it was difficult to write on papyrus, authors usually dictated their letters to a scribe. Sometimes authors left oral instructions, a rough draft, or notes for the scribe to follow. Other times, the author dictated directly.

We don’t know Paul’s process, but it was typical for Paul to sign a letter to prove its authenticity:

  • 1 Corinthians 16:21: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.”
  • Galatians 6:11: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!”
  • Colossians 4:18: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:17: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.”
  • Philemon 19: “I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand.”

4. Paul’s letters follow a predictable structure.

Ancient letters opened with a greeting, which included the name of the sender and of the recipient. The main body of the letter followed, and finally the farewell and sometimes a signature. Many times the farewell included greetings from others besides the author and further good wishes.

Paul closes several of his letters with a section containing ethical instructions.

Ready to learn more about Paul’s letters?

To get a complete introduction to Paul’s letters, take a look at Unit 10 in the New Testament Survey course, taught by Robert Gundry.

You will learn:

  • The style, contents, and techniques used in the writing of ancient letters
  • How Paul’s letters compare with other letters of his time
  • Why Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is crucial in the history of Christianity
  • The addresses, dates, occasions, purposes, and contents of Paul’s letters

Gundry has taught this course to thousands of students over the past forty years. This is a rare chance to learn about the Bible from a seasoned scholar and an expert teacher.

Even better, get $20 off for a limited time. Use coupon code GUNDRY when you enroll to get the discount. Don’t wait!

Enroll Now

P.S. Stay in the loop

Later this year, you’ll also be able to enroll in a course on Paul’s letters taught by Bruce W. Longenecker. To make sure you don’t miss the announcement, sign up to get updates.

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Mounce Archive 24 - God and Jesus Bill Mounce is traveling this month and is taking a break from his weekly column on biblical Greek until April. Meanwhil...
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