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.)

Romans 9-16

Some of the New Testament’s most challenging verses to understand are found in Romans. Romans 9:10-26 address Paul’s thoughts on why God makes some of the choices He makes. This glimpse of God’s thoughts provides Christians with some of their most important information about God’s will, mercy, and justice.

Paul continues teaching on these subjects as he talks about the people of Israel and how that tradition affects the ability of the Gentiles to be saved. Verses such as Romans 11:29 continue to give us a glimpse into God’s mind.

Since all Scripture is God-breathed, it is a bit presumptuous to rate some Scriptures above others. But it is fair to say Romans 12 rates alongside 1 Corinthians 13 as two of the most influential chapters in Paul’s letters. Thinking of Romans 12 as a very meaty, theological sandwich, these are the two “bread” verses: “I beg you by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service,” and “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In modern times, there is nothing quite as contentious as politics. If everybody paid attention to Romans 13:1-6, there would be a lot less rancor and despair.

Sometimes it is tempting to judge non-Christians by the same standards as Christians. However, Romans 14 is a good example of Paul’s instructions about the ways Christians should treat each other, where he gives a very high but compassionate standard. Wanting everyone to understand the seriousness of the matter, he adds in Romans 14:12-13, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another anymore.”

While Romans is a book of instruction to Christians about behavior and belief, it’s always important to remember that a primary purpose of all Christians is to glorify God, as Paul so eloquently states in Romans 15:6.

Primary Scriptures:
Romans 9-16
Story Summary:
Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome
Roman Empire; Italy; Rome
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 53 Start of Third Missionary Journey AD 57 Paul writes Romans while in Corinth