Paul – The Letters

Letter Writing in Paul’s World

Letters make up a large portion of the New Testament. We often refer to them as epistles – which originates from the ancient word meaning “to send news”. Sending letters during Paul’s lifetime could be an arduous experience, there was no publicly available postal service, and so the sender was required to find a trusted courier to carry the message for them. This was a significant responsibility, as the person in question had to ensure the message reached its destination safely, and without any tampering. Couriers would also sometimes be required to add some word of mouth details about the author, or to answer questions about the content. Much of a letter’s success or failure rested on the diligence and ability of the one designated to carry it. These important roles meant that couriers for important messages would ideally be someone already known and trusted by both the recipient and the sender – though this was not always the case. As you read through Paul’s letters, see if you can spot any references to his chosen couriers.

Bridging the time-gap

As we explore their meaning in the modern world, we must not ignore or separate them from their ancient context. The more we can discover about the original circumstances and purposes behind their authorship, the better we can comprehend the full depths of truth they contain. The letters in our Bible were written for a variety of reasons, but it is important to know that they were not ordinary, everyday correspondence. Each is a rhetorical and literary work, carefully designed and constructed to convey a specific message or messages to its recipients. Some are written personally to individuals (though often with the intention of the message being passed on), others are in response to specific incidents or crises within the believers of an area, or as a general missive to be circulated widely. We hope that the introductory talks and other resources available as part of this plan will help you to understand more about this incredible part of God’s word. And remember, these principles apply not only to Paul’s letters, but those from other New Testament authors such as James, John and Peter. In fact, seeking to understand cultural and historical context a bit better is a brilliant step towards a deeper and richer understanding of the Bible as a whole.

Reading Paul’s Letters Today

Paul’s letters contain lasting truths that remain essential for our faith and understanding of God today. In them he discusses key themes such as the meaning of salvation, the nature of God’s forgiveness, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and much, much, much more. Read alongside the remarkable events of God’s work in Paul’s life, we find someone wholeheartedly committed to communicating the whole Gospel of Jesus to a world that desperately needs to hear it. Through his writings, the Holy Spirit can and does speak to us just as powerfully today as He did in the time of Paul’s life. We hope that the many letters spread across the various seasons of our reading plan will help all of us to know, love and follow God more deeply.

More Resources

Paul – The Mission

A life of Mission One of the most notable elements of Paul’s life are the three “Missionary Journeys” he embarked upon. These are recorded in Acts chapters 13-20, and provide an incredible account of the earliest formation of the Church across the ancient Roman world. The call upon Paul was to take the Gospel out ... Read more

Paul – The Man

His Life and Times Paul was born to Jewish parents in Tarsus, located in what is now South-East Turkey. The city was an important part of the Roman Empire, serving as the ancient equivalent to our major university city. Being born in Tarsus gave Paul notable advantages, making him a Roman Citizen, a status that ... Read more