The Apostle Paul was one of the first missionaries of Christianity, taking the gospel of Christ all over Asia, and to parts of Africa and Europe. During his travels, he started and assisted at a number of churches. Because he could not be at all of the churches at the same time, he communicated with them through letters. This allowed him to address issues he heard about even though he was unable to be present.
Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 13 are known to be letters from Paul to the churches at which he ministered. There is one more with disputed authorship that may well have also been written by Paul. He used his letters to teach and admonish, as well as to support and encourage. Most of the letters are named by the church or person to whom it is written, as “Paul’s Epistle to” but shortened to the name of the recipient.
These appear in the Bible in the following order: Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. These are followed by Hebrews, which is the contested book that may have been one of Paul’s epistles, but it does not specifically state such.
Several of these letters were written with assistance; probably dictated by Paul to someone who wrote it down. Paul mentioned in at least one of the letters that he had difficulty seeing, which is probably why he had someone else do the writing for some letters. There are some scholars who think that these letters were written by those writers who only used Paul’s name, but the letters were more likely composed by Paul and transcribed by his helper.
Paul wrote more letters than are preserved in the Bible, based on comments within his letters that refer to other letters. These include other letters to the church at Corinth, another letter to the Ephesian church, and the letter to the Laodicean church that he recommended to the Colossians to read.
Paul was a religious man his entire life. His father was a Pharisee and he learned from some of the most notable rabbis in the area where he lived. He was an adult when Jesus came on the scene and Paul – then known as Saul – was of the belief that Jesus’s teachings were not valid, because he believed that He was not God. He was zealous in his attempt to wipe out the followers of Jesus because he believed that they were wrong and blasphemous. This even extended to the actual murder by stoning of one of Christ’s followers, the man named Stephen who is often considered the first martyr for Christ.
Despite his religious background, he was a Roman citizen and well acquainted with the culture of the Greeks. This well-rounded knowledge and experience made Paul qualified in a unique way to minister to a variety of people, including Jews and Gentiles.
He met Jesus on the road to Damascus in a way he never expected and discovered the truth from God’s own words. He threw all his zeal into serving the true God, despite the difficulties brought on by the persecution he participated in prior to his conversion. However, it was such a complete turnaround that it surely required some adjustment. This may have been why he spent some time in Damascus before visiting Jerusalem, and also why he spent around ten years back at home before beginning his missionary journeys.
Each of the missives Paul sent to churches had its own emphasis.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is one that is going to a church that he did not establish. He had desired to visit the Christians there, but had not made the trip yet. He wrote the letter firstly to apprise the church of his impending visit. He also included a clear message of the gospel so they could understand it and how it would affect every part of life. He also answered some “frequently asked questions” for the Roman people.
Romans clearly explains salvation, God’s power, God’s righteousness, and the fact that God’s justification is available to both Jews and Gentiles.
The Corinthian church had a variety of serious problems plaguing their congregation. The church was located in a city with much sin, including idolatry and immorality, plus materialism as many sought wealth. The city of Corinth was well known to be divided into two distinct classes – the nobles and the servants (which included prostitutes and slaves).
Paul wrote this letter to straighten out some misconceptions and correct some errors that had crept into the church. He offered God’s wisdom to the people there so they could have the truth to live by.
While the Corinthian church had made some changes after the previous letters and visits, there were still some issues that needed attention. This included some false teachers that had come into the church claiming to be apostles. They opposed Paul and his message.
In this letter, Paul offered praise for the church’s response, reminded them of their responsibilities, and supported his authority as an apostle of God. He used this letter to exhort and encourage the Christians there and offer aid in determining which people they should listen to and how to determine whether someone’s teachings are valid or not.
This letter was written to more than one church; it was to several churches in the region of Galatia. It is focused on being justified by faith and refusing legalism. Paul defended his position as an apostle of Christ and explains that grace saves, but does not give Christians the right to sin.
Paul was a prisoner when he wrote this letter. It is considered by some to be meant as something of a general letter to be passed around to various churches, and some of those believe it to be the Laodicaean letter to which Paul referred, though there is not support for that in the letter itself.
Its main message is to teach believers some of the basic doctrines of Christianity, including the method of salvation, the person of Christ, the will of God, and the walk of the believer.
This letter to the church at Philippi was written from prison. Philippi was a location in Macedonia, the region to which Paul was called through a vision. The main idea of the missive is to encourage the believers to be joyful. He let them know that he was planning to return to them soon.
Though Paul had not actually visited the church in Colosse, he knew of the church through Epaphras who lived there. He may have been the founder, as well. Paul listened to what Epaphras told him and wrote to the church to address some error that was happening there: most notably an undue emphasis on the Mosaic Law and worshipping angels. He reinforced Christ’s supremacy throughout.
Written to the church in Thessalonica, this letter offered approval of their faith and encouragement to continue doing what they had been.
He continued this encouragement in the second letter and reminded them to trust in God despite persecution and look toward Christ’s return.
Titus was one of Paul’s fellow preachers who led a church on Crete. Paul offered Titus instruction on leading a church and encouraged Titus to teach his church members proper behavior both civilly and within the church.
Another personal letter, this letter to Philemon, a member of the Colossian church, who had been the master to a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had come to Christ and Paul sent the letter with him. The letter included admonishment to Philemon to forgive his escaped servant and treat him as a brother.
Hebrews is contested; many scholars believe it was written by someone other than Paul. However, regardless who wrote it, its contents are excellent. He was speaking about God and His power, the teachings of Jesus, the sovereignty of God and the oneness with Jesus and the humanity of Jesus, as well. He talks about faith and the faithful and shows the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ.