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.)

First Corinthians 8-16

In the second half of First Corinthians, Paul goes into detail about how a unified church and its members should behave. The Corinthians’ bad behavior provided a backdrop for Paul’s teachings that would be very valuable for churches of all time. We must have humility and remember that reading this letter is a bit like listening to one side of a phone conversation: Paul may be addressing questions and situations we do not fully understand.

For instance, Paul starts 1 Corinthians 8 by addressing food sacrificed to idols. While few people face this situation today, the self-sacrificing, self-disciplined principles Paul lays out are invaluable to modern Christians who live in a self-centered, I-want-my-way society. Paul goes on to show how he personally uses those same principles, the principles that help give Christians freedom and liberty.

Much of Paul’s instructions about spiritual gifts, behavior in worship gatherings, communion, and orderly worship are found nowhere else in the Bible, so modern Christians benefit by the Corinthians’ need for detailed instruction. On the other hand, passages such as 1 Corinthians 11, 12 and 14 are some of the most challenging in the Bible when applying them to modern life.

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well-known passages in the Bible. Paul moves from the intricacies of right behavior to the overwhelming, sublime power of love. Throughout his letters, Paul stresses the importance of faith. The early church was motivated by hope. Yet Paul writes, “and these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Paul addresses the subject of resurrection in chapter 15, another subject treated in more detail in this letter than anywhere else in the Bible. Paul’s conclusion: since Jesus has victory over death, we should praise and thank God.

Primary Scriptures:
First Corinthians 8-16
Story Summary:
Paul’s first New Testament letter to the church in Corinth
Roman Empire; Greece, Corinth
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 56 Paul writes 1 Corinthians