THE LETTERS OF ST PAUL
Communication between "Evangelizers" and "Churches"
St Paul's surviving writings (13 in all; some were lost), constitute a small corpus of nine letters addressed to particular churches, one private letter (to Philemon), and three letters to Timothy and Titus, known as the 'pastoral letters'. (We don't include here the letter to Hebrews, which is not Paul's).
Apart from Acts, the letters of St Paul to the churches he had founded or with which he was familiar are the other main source for our knowledge of his apostolic work and of course, for the Apostle himself. These letters also make up for the compressed text of Acts and thus help us to understand what is missing about his journeys. Written to his followers at virtually the same time as events with which they deal, some of them are the earliest works of the New Testament.
Acts and the letters seem to be independent of each other, even though the letters were in existence when Acts was written.
St Paul seems to have regarded himself as responsible, in addition to the churches he established, for 'all the churches' he knew (2 Cor 11:28) and corresponded with them. He may have also visited most of them once or more. This was a period during which, except for the military postal service, people had to rely on other people going in the direction of their letters to correspond with others. In the social and commercial world of the first century there seems to have been no shortage of such people. The famous "Roman roads" and the "Roman peace" helped to maintain this correspondence web.
St Paul wrote (dictated) his letters in Koine or common language, the Hellenistic Greek of his day. This was the international language needed by any man in public life or one traveling or writing.
However, St Paul's Greek was not as distinguished as that of St Luke, the author of Acts and in accordance with the practice of the time professional scribes were invited to help.
St Paul's words that there was 'a letter allegedly from us' (2 Thes 2:2) in circulation shows that even his letters were forged.
This is the reason that as he mentioned (2 Thes 3:17) he signed his letters by his 'own hand'. His drawing attention to the extra large script (Gal 6:11) to show the authenticity of his letter, was mistakenly interpreted as his having bad eyesight.
When Paul writes to the Christian community of a certain place, he calls them "the Church which is iníK and often it is all the missionary team, Paul and his companions, who sign it.
"This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
It is written to the church in Thessalonica"
(2 Thessalonians 1:1)
At the time, they were doing Evangelization work in Corinth and they wrote to the Church of Thessalonica, their previous stop.
To be noted that Paul expects the letter to be read to the whole community (may be during a liturgical celebration)
"I command you in the name of the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters." (1 Thessalonians 5: 27)
To make sure they understand his intention, Paul often addresses his letter in this way:
"This letter is from Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our dear brother Timothy.We are writing to God's church in Corinth and to all the Christians throughout Greece." (2 Corinthians 1:1)
Paul means that the letter should be read to all the Christians in the region.
Furthermore, Paul wants that, "after you have read this letter, pass it on to the church at Laodicea so they can read it, too. And you should read the letter I wrote to them." (Colossians 4:16)
Finally Paul's plan is clear: through his letters, he wants to create a real communication web between himself and the Churches, between Churches,and between his missionary team.
"The churches here in the province of Asia greet you heartily in the Lord, along with Aquila and Priscilla and all the others who gather in their home for church meetings." (1 Corinthians 16: 19)
Together with the letters, at the same time there is a continuous communication by word of mouth. People carry news (good news and bad news) from one Church to another.
While Paul and his missionary team are Evangelizing Ephesus, someone coming from Corinth informs Paul of the divisions that are taking place among the Christians there.
"Some members of Chloe's household have told me about your arguments, dear brothers and sisters." (1 Corinthians 1: 11)
We can feel how excited Paul must have been while dictating the letter:
"Some of you are saying, 'I am a follower of Paul.' Others are saying, 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Peter'.
Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. I don't remember baptizing anyone else.) (1 Corinthians 1: 12-16)
This communication continues even when Paul is in prison (in Rome or other places)
"If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon. Then when he comes back, he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon."
(Philippians 2: 19,23-24)
The communication with his missionary team friends is at times very intimate and full of memories of their missionary journeys
"You know what I teach, Timothy, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra--but the Lord delivered me from all of it. Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3: 10,11-12)
Feeling his death near, Paul, still in prison, writes to Timothy, whom Paul considers "his son" (Phil.2:22).
"As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. Please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers." (2 Timothy 4: 6,9-13)
The letters, the missionary journeys, the visitations by individual Christians, who for various reasons happen to pass by various communities, become a concrete help and a very visible expression of that communion of brothers and sisters that Jesus wants His Church to be.