Paul's letters

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A total of 13 epistles of the New Testament (NT), which Paul of Tarsus name as the author, are called Pauline letters , Pauline letters or Corpus Paulinum . Seven of them are considered authentic : 1st Thessalonians , 1st and 2nd Corinthians , Galatians , Romans , Philippians and Philemon .

They are the oldest surviving writings of early Christianity , written between 48 and 61 AD (see also the list of papyri of the New Testament ). In the case of Colossians , Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians, it is disputed whether they were written by Paul or by some of his disciples. The three pastoral letters are mostly considered to be the works of a student of Paul.

Paul wrote his letters in the Koine , the Hellenistic Greek of his time. All Pauline letters are addressed to the churches he founded or to individual members of theirs. They proclaim Jesus Christ in relation to internal church conflicts at that time, especially between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians . They represent and preserve Pauline theology and are the main sources of biographical information about Paul. As an integral part of the Bible canon , they have enduring importance in Christianity .


author letter Abbreviation time and place
Paul 1. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians 1Thess ~ 50 in Corinth;
possibly before 48
Paul 1. Paul's letter to the Corinthians 1 Cor Spring 54 or 55 in Ephesus
Paul 2. Paul's letter to the Corinthians 2Cor Fall 55 or 56 in Macedonia
Paul Epistle of Paul to the Galatians Gal ~ 55 in Ephesus or Macedonia
Paul Epistle of Paul to the Romans Rom Spring 56 in Corinth
Paul Epistle of Paul to the Philippians Phil ~ 60 in Rome;
possibly earlier in Ephesus or Caesarea Maritima
Paul Epistle of Paul to Philemon Phlm ~ 61 in Rome;
possibly earlier in Ephesus or Caesarea Maritima
a student of Paul
(possibly Timothy)
Epistle of Paul to the Colossians Col ~ 70 in Asia Minor
a student of Paul Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians Eph ~ 80–90 in Asia Minor
a student of Paul 2. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians 2Thess 95–100 in Asia Minor or Macedonia;
possibly 50–51 in Corinth
a student of Paul 1. Paul's letter to Timothy
2. Paul's letter to Timothy
Paul's letter to Titus
~ 100 in Ephesus


While the Old Church also regarded the Epistle to the Hebrews , which did not name an author, as Pauline and therefore included it in the Corpus Paulinum , the historical-critical NT research from around 1800 questioned the authorship of Paul for every single one of the letters. From this a relative research consensus grew as to which of them actually come from Paul and which do not. The authenticity of seven Pauline letters is undisputed today and is assumed in NT introductions , especially because Paul himself refers to previous letters and students in them. Later letters can be clearly distinguished from the older Paul’s letters in terms of language and content, and can be traced back to Paul’s students who followed up on his theology and preserved his tradition.

The authorship of the letters Eph, Col and 2 Thess. On the other hand, it is largely undisputed that the three pastoral letters come from a student of Paul due to differences in style and content. These pseudepigraphs are called "deuteropaulines" . Researchers who already include Eph, Kol and 2 Thess then call the later pastoral letters "Tritopaulinen" or "Tritopaulinisch".

Individual New Testament scholars disputed the Pauline authorship for all Pauline letters in the course of the research. In doing so, they relied primarily on information from the Acts of the Apostles of Luke (Acts), which they declared to be older and more reliable. The English deist Edward Evanson denied the authenticity of the letter to the Romans in 1792. In 1850, the German philosopher Bruno Bauer denied the authenticity of all Pauline letters, including Romans, Galans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, which the Tuebingen school then considered to be Pauline. He was followed in 1878 by some Dutch New Testament scholars whose theses were later referred to as the Dutch Radical Criticism . As early as 1904, William Wrede rejected her thesis that no letter from Paul is authentic, as a “serious aberration of criticism”. This thesis no longer has any meaning in Paul’s research.

Creation dates

The 1 Thess  EU is the oldest preserved early Christian text. It may have been written 20 to 30 years before the Gospel of Mark , the oldest of the four canonical gospels . Because of the names in the first verse, which also mentions Acts 18.5  EU , it is usually dated to the year 50 in Corinth. Others date the letter to the early 1940s before the apostolic council (48) because it gives no indication of it; or the council is dated after Paul's first visit to Corinth.

Because of the location in 1 Cor 16.8  EU and the reference to travel plans around Easter in 1 Cor 16.5–8 EU, 1 Cor is dated  to the spring before Paul's departure from Ephesus (54 or 55). 2 Corinthians was written six to 18 months later because of the travel advice: Because of a conflict with a member of the congregation, Paul had rushed back to Ephesus from his first visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 2: 3–11). The resulting (not received) “letter of tears” was brought to Corinth by Titus and then returned to Paul in Macedonia ( 2 Cor 7 : 5–9  EU ). In between there was a turn of the year (2 Cor 8:10). Since the well-known Macedonian calendar of Paul put the beginning of the year in autumn, 2 Corinthians could have originated in late autumn 55. If the Roman calendar was meant, the 2 Cor was written in autumn 56.

The Gal was often classified as the oldest epistle of Paul until the early 20th century. Today it is dated later because of its close proximity to the Romans. It is disputed whether it was written before 2 Corinthians in Ephesus or afterwards on Paul's journey to Macedonia (Acts 20: 2). According to Gal. 2:10, the collection ordered by Paul for the early church in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16: 1) also took place in Galatia and was not a point of contention in the conflict with the Galatian congregations. Since Paul emphasizes here that he has fully fulfilled the collection agreement mentioned in 2 Corinthians, most New Testament scholars date the Gal to late autumn 55 today.

Paul wrote the Romans in the house of Gaius in Corinth before he left for Jerusalem to hand over the collections (spring 56). This emerges from his information: He wanted to win the community in Rome that he had not founded as supporters of his planned mission to Spain (Rom 15.23f.) And beforehand bring the donations from Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem (Rom.15.28f.). He sends greetings to the congregation from his host Gaius (Rom. 16:23), mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:14 as a member of the Corinthian congregation he baptized.

Phil arose in a lengthy detention situation ( Phil 1.7  EU ), which Paul did not prevent from missionary work (1.12-17). He expected the death penalty or acquittal, which he was hoping for (1.19–25), and expected the judgment to come soon, in order to then visit the Philippine congregation (2.23f.). Many New Testament scholars take Ephesus as the place of this imprisonment, some Caesarea Maritima . Newer scholars mostly advocate Rome because Phil 1:13 is a Praetorian guard , 4,22 an imperial slave, Acts 28,30f. EU mentions a mild two-year imprisonment in Rome, but not a long imprisonment in Ephesus. In addition, Phil does not mention the collection for Jerusalem, probably because it was over. Linguistic evidence confirms that Phil arose after the Romans. The desire to visit Philippi does not necessarily contradict the planned trip to Spain, since Paul also changed travel plans after other letters due to adverse circumstances and the wish to visit the addressees is part of the formal scheme of his letters. In Rome, the Phil cannot have originated before the year 60. The Phlm was also created in a mild detention situation and in the presence of the same co-workers of Paul (verses 1, 9, 10, 13, 23f.). Many exegetes date him with Phil to Ephesus, some to Caesarea . What speaks for Rome is that Paul calls himself “presbyter”, not an apostle, only in the Phlm (verse 9), probably because he did not found the Roman community.

The Kol does not name a place of composition, but mentions the cities of Colossae (1,2), Laodicea (2,1) and Hierapolis (4,13). This letter was probably written in southern Asia Minor, possibly in Ephesus, the probable seat of the Pauline School. The author knew the Paul collaborator Tychicus (Col 4,7; Acts 20,4) and the church planter Epaphras (Col 1,7; 4,12). He continued Paul's fight against the falsification of his teaching. His letter is therefore considered to be the oldest of the Deuteropaulins.

The Eph does not name a place of composition either. The recipient's residence “in Ephesus” is missing in early manuscripts and is therefore considered to be secondary. What is certain is that the author used the Kol as a template and, like this, addressed the churches in Asia Minor, including Ephesus. Because his letter to Ignatius (around 95) was known, it is dated to 80–95.

The dating of 2 Thess is more controversial. Anyone who classifies it as the work of Paul or one of his collaborators then dates it, like 1 Thess. Others point out, however, that 2 Thess clearly contradicts the imminent expectation of the second coming of Jesus Christ in 1 Thess and uses many expressions missing there. A theological reflection of the fading near expectation can otherwise only be found in the 2nd Letter of Peter (2 Petr 3: 1–13), which was written around 100. Therefore, the 2 Thess is usually also dated to the end of the first century. Asia Minor or Macedonia is assumed to be the place of origin.


In the NT, the Pauline letters form a separate literary genre that had no direct model in Judaism . As was customary at the time, Paul dictated them to a knowledgeable scribe ( Rom 16:22  EU ). He mainly used papyrus , soot-containing ink and a sharpened reed for writing. Paul wrote the closing words himself ( Gal 6.11–18  EU ; 1 Cor 16.21  EU ; Philm 19) or his disciples (2 Thes 3.17; Col 4.18). The finished letter was rolled or folded. Addressees, senders and often the destination were written on the outside. A network of private messengers, men and women, brought the finished letters to the congregations. The messengers were confidants from their own ranks who were able to give the addressees additional verbal explanations (Rom. 16: 1f.). Copies of the letters circulated in the churches, many of which have survived.

The external address has not been preserved for any of these manuscripts. However, the inner prescript repeats the names and titles of the senders, the addressees and their place of residence or region. Six authentic Pauline letters name the names of other senders; the Gal collectively calls "all brothers with me". The addressees are always collectives, usually with the expression ekklesia (literally “called out”; community, church). Only in Romans does Paul write as the sole sender "to all who are in Rome" because he did not found this church himself. This information is followed by the input greeting to the recipient "Grace to you and peace ...", similar to the ancient salutatio . However, according to all of Paul's letters, this blessing does not come from the human sender, but “... from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Only in the Gal did Paul deviate from this greeting in view of the apostate situation there.

The Pauline letters are much longer than normal antique private letters, have a well-considered structure and were intended for public reading in early Christian worship. They contain a variety of literary art forms which the author specifically used as a means of theological argument and which show his rhetorical education. Their purpose of preserving and deepening a personal relationship between author and addressee connects them to ordinary friendship and family letters. Her combination of didactic, ethical and autobiographical content connects her with contemporary philosophical letters. That is why the Pauline letters are classified formally and in terms of content as a specifically early Christian form of literature.

Occasions and purposes

The Pauline letters primarily proclaim the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and, unlike the Gospels, contain only a few details about the earthly life of Jesus. They are expanded private letters to certain local Christian churches that Paul and / or his co-workers had previously founded, and to individuals in such churches. The other NT letters were not addressed to specific congregations and are therefore called "Catholic" (general) letters.

It was only after many years of missionary activity that Paul began to use letters as a means of church leadership. In doing so, he responded to certain conflicts that had arisen in his communities in order to resolve them. His letters are therefore situational occasional letters. The Philemon letter is addressed to an individual, but treats the problem to be solved (the treatment of a slave) not as a private matter, but binding for all fellow Christians. The letter to the Romans is addressed to a local congregation and is prompted by a certain situation (collection), but should be sent to other congregations from the outset and also addresses them through their members. He summarizes the basic lines of Paul's theology in the form of a tract and is therefore considered an early example of early Christian journalism.

Paul often quotes older early Christian traditions in his letters and emphasizes their importance for the common Christian faith (e.g. in 1 Cor 11:23; 15: 3). His letters mention 40 different employees, some as co-senders. Some of them probably wrote parts of the authentic Pauline letters and later letters under his name. This Paulus school was the sponsor of the Paulus mission. Unlike the first generation of Christians, they did not do missionary work by wandering from place to place, but stayed in one place until an independent congregation was established there. The seat of the Paulus School was probably the local church in Ephesus, where Paul stayed for a long time and wrote some of his letters. They reflect excerpts from the communication process between him and his communities.


The Pauline letters were collected from the beginning. Around the year 150, Markion put together ten Pauline letters, including the seven authentic ones, that he had collected for the first time in a list called "Apostolos". The list that has not been preserved is deduced from Tertullian's remarks (Adv. Marc. 5,2-21) against Marcion. Around the year 200 another collection of Pauline letters was put together to form a codex (book), which has been preserved. It is referred to as Papyrus 46 or with the Sigel 46 . The collection begins with Romans and contains seven other letters.

The impetus for this was provided by the theological truth claim contained therein ( 1 Thess 1.5  EU ; 1 Cor 2.4  EU ; Rom 1.16  EU and more often). They should be read out ( 1 Thess 5.27  EU ; Rom 16, 16  EU ) and passed on ( Gal 1.2  EU ; 2 Cor 1.1  EU ) so that the recipients could see them ( Gal 6.11  EU ). Accordingly they were exchanged in the churches (Col 4.16). Opponents also praised their powers of persuasion ( 2 Cor 10.10  EU ). A warning was given against counterfeit specimens ( 2 Thess 2.2  EU ; 2 Thess 3.17  EU ); that requires a collection. The author of 2 Petr 3,15f  EU knew one because he expresses himself on the content of the Pauline letters as a whole. These notes in the NT show the high esteem in which the letters of Paul were held in early Christianity. Because of their concentrated theological and ethical content and rhetorical power, they were given supraregional importance even during Paul's lifetime, regardless of their contextual relevance, and retained this after his death.

His co-workers and students tried to update and preserve his theology with self-written letters under his name. For them, the collection of the original Pauline letters was crucial. The authors of the Col, the Eph, and the three pastoral letters referred to up to six authentic Pauline letters. From 95 onwards, non-canonical writings ( First Letter to Clement , Letter to Ignatius , Polycarp of Smyrna ) prove the existence of various large collections of Pauline letters. Around the year 200, all 13 Pauline letters, along with the four Gospels and Acts, belonged to the upcoming NT for Irenaeus of Lyon .

Because the letter to the Hebrews was believed to be a letter from Paul, it was included. This Corpus Paulinum was initially summarized in a separate manuscript volume, as was the Corpus Apostolicum (Acts and Catholic letters ) and the Gospels . These three collective writings were preliminary stages for the canonization of the NT and formed its basis.

Marcion Bible

After the scientific discussion, which was still open, Marcion is said to have compiled the inventory of circulating Christian texts and merged them into a Marcionite "Bible". As the first canon of the Bible , it is said to have contained ten Pauline letters (Gal, 1Cor, 2Cor, Röm, 1Thess, 2Thess, Kol, Phil, Phlm, Heb) as well as a "purified" Gospel according to Luke , the "Marcionite Gospel".

Paul’s letters not received

1 Cor 5,9  EU , 2 Cor 2,4  EU , 2 Cor 10,10  EU and Col 4,16  EU mention various other Pauline letters. These have not been preserved and nothing else is known about their content. Some exegetes identify them with text passages from the well-known Pauline letters, so consider these parts to be added later. It is assumed that the “letter oftears” mentioned in 2 Cor. 2, 4 is contained in 2 Cor. 1, 3–2.11  EU , the “letters” (plural) mentioned in 2 Cor. 10, 10 are contained in 2 Cor. 10–13 . Others, however, point out that the respective bodies deal with different conflicts and opponents. Such theses of division or composition have so far not been accepted due to a lack of historical analogies, but they are discussed further.

Apocryphal writings of Paul

The Muratori canon mentions two letters of Paul which are expressly designated as forgeries: the letter to the Laodiceans and a letter from Paul to the Alexandrians , of which only the name is known. In some manuscripts of the Vulgate there is a Laodicean letter written in Latin. For example, there is a copy in the Book of Armagh , which is also marked as a forgery in a warning. It is disputed whether this is identical with the letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in the Muratori canon, whether it is a different script with the same name, or whether it is related to it. Among the Nag Hammadi scriptures there is the prayer of the Apostle Paul , but it uses Gnostic terms and clearly cannot be traced back to Paul. The third letter to the Corinthians is also a pseudepigraphy. There is a fictitious correspondence between Seneca and Paul from the fourth century , which neither of them wrote. The Acts of Paul are an apocryphal book of Acts from the 2nd century, which comes from Asia Minor.


  • Daniel Kosch, Sabine Bieberstein: Paul and the beginnings of the church: New Testament part 2. Theological publishing house, Zurich 2012, ISBN 3290200817 .
  • Arthur J. Dewey, Roy W. Hoover, Lane C. McGaughy, Daryl D. Schmidt: The Authentic Letters of Paul: A New Reading of Paul's Rhetoric and Meaning: the Scholars Version. Polebridge Press, 2010, ISBN 1598150197 .
  • Udo Schnelle : The Pauline letters. In: Introduction to the New Testament. 7th edition, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8252-1830-0 , pp. 31–167.
  • Alfred Suhl: The letters of Paul. An introduction. Catholic Biblical Work, 2007, ISBN 3460030542 .
  • Hans Conzelmann , Andreas Lindemann: Workbook for the New Testament. 14th edition, UTB, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 978-3-8252-0052-7 .
  • Rainer Riesner : The early days of the apostle Paul. Studies on chronology, missionary strategy and theology ( WUNT , vol. 71). Mohr, Tübingen 1994, zugl .: Habil.-Schr., Tübingen 1990/91, ISBN 978-3-1614-5828-6 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. all information according to Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, pp. 58–166
  2. ^ Benjamin Schliesser: Corpus Paulinum. Diagram [1]
  3. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 46f.
  4. ^ David Meade: Pseudonymity and Canon: An Investigation into the Relationship of Authorship and Authority in Jewish and Earliest Christian Tradition. WUNT 39, Mohr, Tübingen 1986, ISBN 978-3-16145-044-0 , p. 118.
  5. Emmanuel L. Rehfeld: Relational ontology in Paul: The ontic effectiveness of Christ-relatedness in the thinking of the Gentile apostle. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 3161520122 , p. 4, fn. 11
  6. Michael Wolter : The Letter to the Romans: Part 1: Rom 1–8. Evangelical-Catholic Commentary on the New Testament. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2014, ISBN 3788728833 , p. 24 .
  7. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 59 and fn. 89
  8. ^ Fritz W. Röcker: Belial and Katechon: An investigation on 2Thess 2,1-12 and 1Thess 4,13-5,11. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2009, ISBN 3161499239 , p. 260, fn. 14
  9. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 71
  10. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 90
  11. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 107 f.
  12. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 124.
  13. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, pp. 146–148.
  14. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 159.
  15. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 304.
  16. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 319 and fn. 95
  17. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, p. 333.
  18. ^ Stefan Schreiber: Letters in the New Testament. In: Martin Ebner, Stefan Schreiber (eds.): Introduction to the New Testament. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 2007, ISBN 3170188755 , pp. 250-252
  19. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament. 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, pp. 51-53.
  20. Udo Schnelle : Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, pp. 48–50.
  21. Gerd Theißen : The New Testament. 3rd edition, Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-47992-8 , p. 12
  22. Gerd Theißen: The New Testament. Munich 2006, pp. 40–56
  23. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, pp. 44–47.
  24. ^ Benjamin Schliesser: Corpus Paulinum., October 2017
  25. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament. 3rd edition, Göttingen 1999, pp. 363-369
  26. Ulrich Schmid : Marcion and his Apostolos: Reconstruction and historical classification of the Marcionite edition of St. Paul. De Gruyter, Berlin 1995, ISBN 978-3-11-014695-0 , pp. 243-245.
  27. Dieter Singer (ed.): The second letter to the Corinthians. Literary figure - historical situation - theological argument. Festschrift for the 70th birthday of Dietrich-Alex Koch . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-647-53533-3 , p. 152
  28. Udo Schnelle: Paulus: Living and Thinking. 2nd edition, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2014, ISBN 3110301571 , p. 189 f.
  29. Peter Stuhlmacher : Biblical Theology of the New Testament 1: Foundation. From Jesus to Paul. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2005, p. 223
  30. Martin Ebner , Stefan Schreiber (Ed.): Introduction to the New Testament. Stuttgart 2007, p. 258
  31. ^ Karl August Credner : To the history of the canon , Halle 1847, p. 88.