Posted by: aboutalbion | May 9, 2013

Was Paul of Tarsus a letter writer … ?

I ask this question because I think the time has come for those people (who want to take the position that Paul of Tarsus was a letter writer) to argue the case – rather than just hop on to the assumption that has come down the ‘Christian centuries’ that Paul was a letter writer. 

As I see it, a significant issue to be explored is the fact that an early ‘in-house’ ‘history’ of Christianity – the text known as ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ – does not mention Paul as a letter writer.  So I am curious to ask, ‘Why not?’. 

An apparent witness to Paul of Tarsus being a letter writer is the sentence in the text known as “2 Peter”.  At 3:15, the text is, “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this [the end of the world and the second coming of Christ] as he does in all his letters.  There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and the unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures”. 

I note that this subject matter [the end of the world and the second coming of Christ] does not feature prominently in all the letters which are sometimes attributed to Paul.  So I infer that the author of “2 Peter” was not ‘close’ to Paul, and not a contemporary of Paul.  Hence, my provisional conclusion is that this text is a witness to a tradition that links Paul with a collection of letters and believes Paul to be their author. 

I think we can all agree that the texts traditionally attributed to Paul contain “some things in them hard to understand”.  But it seems to me that there are at least two possible lines of enquiry from this point of agreement. 

In the first, there is the assumption of a great single mind at work in the writing of the Pauline letters.  Study of the letters then leads to suggestions about ‘Paul’s theology’. 

In the second, the assumption is made that, although the Pauline letters have the form of letters, the Pauline letters as they have been copied and used across many centuries might not, in fact, be letters. 

I make these notes after reading a review of a book that I expect to engage with when I have a little more time to examine (as an amateur historian) papyrus 46.  Patrick Gray’s 2012 book seems to be an example of a circular argument.  He assumes that the Pauline letters are letters, and then concludes at the end of his study that they are Paul’s letters.

[Gray, Patrick (2012) Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.]


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