Paul falls off the radar screen, on which we have been tracking
him; but he left behind a rich legacy, which we shall consider,
first, in terms of his authentic letters which have survived, in
whole or in part. They are given here, as found in the New
Testament, in approximately their order
1 Thessalonians. See Founding Missions
(4), for details.
1 Corinthians (Letter L). See Ephesian Headquarters (2),
Galatians. See Ephesian
Headquarters (4), for details.
Philippians. See Ephesian Headquarters (5),
Philemon. See Ephesian Headquarters (5),
2 Corinthians 10 – 13 (Letter H). See Ephesian Headquarters (6),
2 Corinthians 1 – 9 (Letter R). See Closing Months (1),
Romans. See Closing Months (3),
by Later Paulinists
There is also an important place in our discussion for that
part of Paul’s legacy which, like a well-invested
trust, continued to grow, well into the next century and beyond.
This growth was not quite what Paul might have contemplated. Even
before his letters began to be collected and circulated throughout
the Christian world, the process of imitation began; and if
imitation is the highest form of flattery, Paul would have felt
We live in an age when copyrights are jealously guarded. We prize
our intellectual property. Hence we may be offended by the thought
that in the ancient world authors often circulated letters and other
writings in the name of a great figure, contemporary or long
departed. Pseudonymous writers soon began to enlarge the Pauline
legacy with epistles attributed to him—not surprising, considering
his importance as apostle, martyr, church-founder without parallel,
impressive intellect (even if not always understood), and effective
advocate for the world mission of the church. They did this for
purposes which seemed legitimate enough: to update the apostle’s
teaching, or to address new issues or problems faced by a growing
and developing church.
One of the persistent problems faced by Paul and other New
Testament writers was the end-of-time delay, as months
lengthened into years, and years into decades, and still Christ had
not appeared on clouds of glory. Some like Paul and the author of
John’s Gospel dealt with the problem by bringing end-of-time
expectation into present-time spirituality. Others like the
author of Matthew’s Gospel (click on Heightening), the author of 2 Peter, and the author
of 2 Thessalonians preferred to reinforce strictly future end-of-time
In the case of 2 Thessalonians we have a letter which on the
one hand is something of a knock-off of 1 Thessalonians, which
it resembles in details of vocabulary and structure. But on the
other hand it addresses a church, many of whose members had died
before the end-of-time events announced so graphically in
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: the Lord himself descending from
heaven with the archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet.
With the passage of time, and the death of Paul and of many other
Christians, it had become evident that not even Paul would be among those caught up in the clouds to meet
the Lord in the air.
The author solves the problem with this explanation of the delay:
the end will not come before the man of lawlessness is revealed; but
this lawless one cannot be revealed because he is being restrained.
The following end-of-time scenario results: When the
restraining power (not clearly identified) is out of the way, then
the man of lawlessness will be revealed, who in turn will be slain
by the Lord Jesus with the breath of his mouth and destroyed by his
appearing and his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). Thus the
author explains the delay and keeps end-of-time
expectations alive. At the same time he provides a degree of
the reader will be able to know when the end is near.
Not only does this scenario contradict what Paul wrote in
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; there is also a contradiction between
what the two letters claim was Paul’s teaching at the founding
visit. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:2, his readers already
knew that there would be no warning of the end; it would come as a
thief in the night. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:5, they had
already been told that there would be plenty of warning; the end
would be preceded by the man of lawlessness, his revelation and his
destruction. For a fuller discussion, click on The
Authenticity of 2 Thessalonians.
At the end of 2 Thessalonians the pseudonymous author
attempts to authenticate the letter with Paul’s hand written
greeting and signature, which is “the mark in every letter of
mine” (2 Thessalonians 3:17), even though several of Paul’s
certainly authentic letters (1 Thessalonians,
2 Corinthians, Philippians and Romans) contain no such
signature. That this author was not the first to attempt a writing
in the name of Paul is shown by his warning not to be disturbed “by
letter, as though from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
Colossians and Ephesians
As post-Pauline Christianity was seeking to meet competing world
views, with their speculations and rituals, the pseudonymous author
of Colossians defends the Pauline tradition. The writer sets
forth an eloquent and exalted view of Christ (Colossians 1:15-20),
with references to
The author views Paul’s sufferings (and martyrdom,
retrospectively) as completing “what is lacking in Christ’s
afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (1:24).
If the author’s language and style are not quite what Paul’s
were, this letter is nevertheless a noble and thoughtful work.
Ephesians incorporates significant portions of Colossians,
and presents a kind of compendium of Paul’s thought. The
pseudonymous author rehearses some of Paul’s favorite themes, such
as human sinfulness and the gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). The
emphasis upon the unity in Christ of gentile and Jew (2:11-22) gives
an ecumenical tone to the work, at a time (perhaps 80-95 A.D.) when
Jews were expelling Christians from synagogues, and Christian
writers were comparing Pharisees to white-washed tombs (Matthew 23:27). In the opening address (Ephesians
1:1) some Greek
manuscripts include the words, “To the saints who are in Ephesus
and are faithful,” while other
manuscripts have only, “to the saints who are also faithful;” from
this fact we may conclude that this was originally a circular letter
addressed perhaps to a group of churches in the province of Asia,
with one copy addressed to Ephesus.
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus
Often called “the pastoral letters,” these pseudonymous
writings represent a stage in the development of the church (perhaps
100 A.D. or later) when it was becoming institutionalized, when
faith meant correct doctrine, and when the apostle was a distant
memory, a kind of “stained glass” Paul.