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.)

Galatians 3-6

On their First Missionary Journey, Paul and Barnabas established churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, towns located in the Roman province of Galatia, in central Asia Minor. Paul probably had these churches in mind when he wrote Galatians.

Timothy, Eunice, and Lois were from Lystra. It is not absolutely clear if Paul and Barnabas met them on the First Missionary Journey, but this is likely. It is possibly from them that Paul learned Judaizers were negatively influencing those early churches.

Assuming Galatians is the first of Paul’s letters, then Galatians 3 becomes his first written foray into a topic that will become a major theme for him: the righteous live by faith, not by following the Laws of Moses. Moving forward, he concludes that those who believe in Christ are adopted children of God. He also makes a statement that will resound through the centuries: among those who believe in Christ, there is to be no distinction due to ethnicity, gender, or any other human-based distinction. Christians are to be completely unified.

In Galatians 4, Paul lays out his case that those who follow Christ have freedom, and those who don’t are enslaved. In this passage, Paul uses a word that may sound strange to modern ears, “zealous.” In modern use, it tends to means enthusiastic and diligent, but Paul intended it to mean entirely devoted and very passionate. The first use of the word in the Bible is when Phinehas was so devoted to God that he drove a spear through a Jewish man and into a Midianite woman who were committing adultery. As a zealous person himself, Paul notes the importance of being zealous…for the right things.

Chapters 5 and 6 contain some of the most important teachings about the Holy Spirit that are in the New Testament, as well as some of the most important teachings about living as a Christian. In one of the most recognized phrases of his teachings, Paul describes actions and consequences in a few simple words: “You reap what you sow.”


Primary Scriptures:
Galations 3-6
Story Summary:
Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia
Roman Empire; Galatia
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; approximate time of the writing of Galatians.