Several years following the death of Jesus of Nazareth (30 c.e.), a young Jewish scholar, from the town of Tarsus in what is now Turkey, experienced a dramatic transformation on the road to Damascus. A persecutor of the fledgling Christian movement, Paul had a vision in which Jesus appeared to him and called him to become his apostle to the Gentiles. As part of his missionary journeys across the northern Mediterranean region, Paul was a prolific letter writer, offering direction, support, encouragement, and correction to his network of congregations.
There are several ways to approach the letters. The most common way is to speak in terms of canon. By the late second century, Paul’s letters were accepted into the New Testament and given authoritative status for the life and faith of the Church. Thirteen letters are ascribed with the name of Paul. Many are named for residents of cities where congregations were located: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians. One is the name of a region: Galatians. Several are names of individuals: Philemon, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus.
In the canon, the organizing principle is not chronological. Rather, the letters are arranged according to length. Paul’s importance led composers of the King James Bible to attribute to Paul also the anonymous letter to the Hebrews, a conclusion rarely accepted today. The canonical approach also recognized the possibility that Paul wrote other letters including two other letters to the Corinthians (1 Corithians 5:9, 2 Corinthians 2:4) and one to Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). These letters, and possibly others, were assumed to have been lost. Other letters attributed to...
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