A more extensive timeline can be read here.
- Paul was born in the first century of the common era (CE).
- Jesus is crucified in 30 CE.
- Paul received his call around the year 33 CE.
- Paul died in Rome in 64 CE under the Roman Emperor Nero.
- The Jewish Revolt took place from 66 to 70 CE with the temple being destroyed in 70.
- The Gospel of Mark was written during the revolt, as early as 68 CE, with some scholars dating it to after the fall of the temple.
Paul: What we know
For this study we will not use the book of Acts to try and understand Paul. The author of Luke/Acts has an agenda and writes to fulfill that agenda. Acts is not a great historical source.
Paul gives us biographical information:
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NRSV)
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Galatians 1:11-24 (NRSV)
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
Philippians 3:2-11 (NRSV)
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— 4 even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Letters are situational. Paul is responding to certain situations in certain communities. He is not writing a systematic theology. We do not have the other half of the conversations that took place through the letters.
Letter writing is important to development of community. 24 of the 27 books of the New Testament are letters.
The Roman roads created an incredible infrastructure for travel during Paul’s time. Letters could be exchanged in two to three weeks.
13 letters bear Paul’s name.
We know he wrote seven:
- Romans (56-57 CE, written from Corinth)
- Galatians (50-55 CE, written to multiple “churches”)
- Philippians (Paul visit Philippi around 50 CE, letter follower sometime later)
- 1 Thessalonians (43-50 CE, earliest letter we have from Paul, maybe of the church)
- Philemon (55 CE, written from prison)
- 1 Corinthians (53-55 CE, written from Ephesus - see 16:8)
- 2 Corinthians (evidence of several letters in this correspondence)
Six are disputed.
50/50 split among scholars:
- Colossians (If Paul - written around 55 CE, if not Paul - 65-75 CE)
- 2 Thessalonians
Letters Paul did not write (but bear his name):
- The Pastorals
We know Paul did not write these because of differences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and ideas.
Important before we begin:
When we read Paul’s letters, we need to ask ourselves:
“Did Paul say that?” - or “Do we want Paul to say that?”
- When reading Paul’s letters (or any book), pay attention to feelings as you read.
- Write these feelings down.
- Include questions about clarity or things that do not resonate with you.
- Read the whole letter in one sitting - two or three times if you can. This helps to encounter the flow of the letter
Translations of Romans: