Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)

Upside Down World

Most modern Christians probably think the people of the Roman Empire were thrilled to have Christianity come to them. After all, the Gospel means “good news.” That was true for many people, but for many others the Gospel was bad news. Jesus aptly described what Christianity would do when He said, “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace on earth; I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, the daughter against her mother, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And, a man’s foes shall be those in his own household.”

Throughout virtually all the Empire, the historical purpose of religion and gods was to provide protection and prosperity. In the time of Jesus, emperor worship had become more common; the emperor became the religious entity to provide that protection and prosperity. Christianity completely up-ended the way people behaved and believed, encouraging Christians to act against the social norms, which often had an effect on family stability, community behavior, and economic circumstances.

Acts 19 is the beginning of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey. He arrived in Ephesus, baptized twelve new believers, taught about Jesus in the synagogue for three months, and taught for two years in the hall of Tyrannus. The results were astounding. Everyone in the province of Asia heard the Gospel, extraordinary miracles were done through Paul, and many people were converted to Christianity.

The effects of Paul’s teachings were so extraordinary that a vast number of people quit worshiping the main local god, dramatically affecting the local economy as incomes dropped for workers who supported the local temple and served the worshipers. On an economic basis, the coming of Christianity was not good news to them and their families; it was horrible news. Keep that point of view in mind as you read the letters Paul wrote.

Demetrius the Silversmith
Primary Scriptures:
Acts 17:1-8, 19
Story Summary:
Paul’s stay in Thessalonica and Ephesus; the effects of Christianity
Roman Empire; Galatia, Macedonia, Greece
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey AD 50-67 Time period of when Paul wrote his letters in the New Testament