« ÎnapoiContinuă »
Timothy) very near the close of his life, approaching 68 A.D.
In the interval were produced two other groups of epistles those designed to vindicate Paul's apostolic authority, and preserve the Gospel from the inroads of Judaism, viz. 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (written during his third missionary journey, about 5758 A.D.), and the Epistles of the Imprisonment, viz. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians, written from Rome about 62-63 A.D.
The most of them were probably collected and in more or less general use in the Church within a short time after the apostle's death, as we may infer from the traces of them to be found in the writings of Clement of Rome (95 A.D.), Ignatius (died 110-115 A.D.), and Polycarp (wrote 110-115 A.D., died 155-156 a.d.).
In our New Testament the Pauline epistles are arranged according to their length and importance, but there is an obvious advantage in studying them in their chronological order, as it enables us to trace the progressive development of the apostle's theology and the growth of his literary style, as well as to realise the circumstances out of which the epistles successively arose.
It is a circumstance worth noting as an explanation in some measure of the occasional abruptness and irregularity of the apostle's style (and perhaps of its vivacity), that his letters were usually written by an amanuensis to dictation,—the salutation only being written with his own hand, as a token of genuineness.1
3. The undisputed Epistles of St. Paul.—1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians have the distinction of being almost universally admitted to be genuine writings of Paul.
1 Cf. Rom. xvi. 22; 1 Cor. xvi. 21 and Col. iv. 18; Gal. vi. 11; 2 Thess. iii. 17; Philemon, ver. 19.
This admission is a most important one from an evidential point of view, as these epistles form a valuable historical link between the earliest preaching of the apostles and the composition of our four Gospels. They contain a great many references to detailed matters of fact mentioned in the Gospels, and prove that the story of Christ's death and resurrection, as told in the four Gospels, was the chief theme of Paul's preaching (1 Cor. xv. 1-8; xi. 23-28).
With regard to our Lord's resurrection in particular, they prove that event to have been generally believed in by the Church in St. Paul's time, and to have been from the first the basis of the apostle's preaching (1 Cor. xv. 1-20). They also imply the exercise of supernatural powers by the apostle himself, as a fact generally admitted and not likely to be called in question even by those who were opposed to him (2 Cor. xii. 11-13), and they show the existence in the Church of spiritual gifts on a large scale and with many well-defined variations, that were commonly regarded as the result of supernatural influence (1 Cor. xii.-xiv.).
We are thus in a great measure independent of the four Gospels for our knowledge of the original truths and principles of Christianity; and we have in the epistles a practical refutation of the mythical theories which would attribute the supernatural elements in our Gospels to the gradual growth of legend in the Church.
The evidence derived from the epistles is all the more valuable because it is indirect, the letters having manifestly been written without any such object in view. It has to be noted too that they are addressed to several independent communities far removed from one another. One of these communities (the Church in Rome) had received its Christianity from another source than the apostle, while in the two others (Corinth and Galatia)
there were opponents to criticise his statements, as well as friends to sympathise with him. In these circumstances falsehood or error with reference to important matters of fact was extremely improbable. To this we may add that the letters are evidently the productions of a man whose sincerity is as great as his intellectual acuteness and sobriety of judgment, and who, from his early association with the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem, was in a position to know all that could be said against the alleged facts of Christianity.
Altogether, it is not too much to say that a study of these epistles leads inevitably to the conclusion that Paul's gospel had the same historical groundwork as the gospel preached at the present day-that groundwork consisting of the same essential and well-attested facts regarding Christ's life and teaching as we find recorded in the four Gospels.
4. St. Paul's previous History.-Regarding the pre vious life of the author, the following brief statement may suffice. Paul (originally called Saul) was born within a few years after our Lord's nativity, in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia, a famous seat of classical learning. His father, though a Roman citizen, was of Hebrew descent, and brought up his son in the strictest observance of the Jewish law. Trained at Jerusalem under the renowned Pharisaic teacher Gamaliel, Saul became thoroughly versed in Rabbinical literature, and was equally distinguished for his learning and his zeal. He was among the earliest and fiercest persecutors of the Christians, whom he regarded as apostates from the religion of their fathers; and it was while he was on his way to Damascus in the execution of a warrant from the high priest that he was suddenly converted (34-37 A.D.) by the direct interposition of the Risen Christ. From Him he received a special commission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles,
and in His service he continued with unflinching courage and devotion, in spite of calumny and persecution, to the last hour of his life. After about eight years, spent partly in retirement, partly in preaching in Syria and Cilicia, he joined (about 44 A.D.) his old friend Barnabas, a liberal-minded evangelist or "apostle," at Antioch, which was soon to become the great centre of missionary enterprise for the early Church. In company with Barnabas, Paul made his first missionary journey (about 48 A.D.), through Cyprus and part of Asia Minor, and attended the Council at Jerusalem (about 50 A.Dd.), to advocate the cause of the Gentile converts in their struggle against the bigotry of their Jewish brethren. In the following year he started on his second and more extensive missionary tour, in the course of which, under the divine guidance, he crossed over to Europe, founding a number of Churches there, among others that of Thessalonica. He reached Corinth in 52 A.D., from which, as we shall presently see, he wrote the first of his epistles that have been preserved to us, namely 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
1 AND 2 THESSALONIANS
"C THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE
1. Authorship.-There is ample external evidence to prove that this epistle was acknowledged to be a genuine writing of St. Paul in the second quarter of the second century, while expressions apparently borrowed from it are to be found in writings of a still earlier date.
Those critics, headed by Baur, who have called its genuineness in question have done so on internal grounds, alleging against it both its likeness and its unlikeness to the other epistles of Paul. But its unlikeness is satisfactorily accounted for by the comparatively early date of its composition, and the very exceptional nature of the occasion on which it was written; while its likeness is largely due to the habit of repetition which is a marked characteristic of the apostle, and, in particular, to the germination, at this early period, of ideas more fully developed in his subsequent writings. Moreover, the resemblance between this and other writings of St. Paul is often so subtle and minute-depending on the play of personal feeling and affection for his converts,1 or on
1 Cf. ii. 17-20, iii. 6-10, and Rom. i. 13, 2 Cor. i. 16, xiii. 1.