The apostle Paul was the most prolific writer in the Bible with thirteen epistles under his belt. These he wrote within an eighteen-year period while he was on his missionary journeys. The first nine epistles were addressed to various churches in Greece and in Asia Minor. While the last three were pastoral in nature and were addressed to church leaders Titus and Timothy. Paul’s personal letter to a Christian convert named Philemon contained the apostle’s request for his escaped servant to be reinstated in his master’s household.
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The following epistles are listed in the order by which the letters were written (dates are only approximate):
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Written around AD 49 or in AD 55, this was possibly one of the earliest letters of Paul to have survived into the 21st century. Paul started off with a short greeting to the churches of Galatia and wasted no time in addressing the issue of legalism. Certain teachings reached the people of Galatia. These teachings required them to follow Jewish customs even though Paul had previously taught that they had been redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ and not by following the law. Paul countered these teachings with an assertion that Christ had set them free from the yoke of the Jewish law and they need not take up the burden of following Jewish customs to be redeemed. He also encouraged them to be cautious against false teachers and to let the Holy Spirit guide their lives.
This letter was written by Paul to the church in the Greek city of Thessalonica shortly after its foundation. He opened it with a short greeting to the members of the church and some words of appreciation for their unwavering faith and their good example. He encouraged them to continue living a life that pleased God, continue to love each other, live a quiet life, work hard, and encourage each other. The last few verses of 1 Thessalonians contained Paul’s practical encouragement to the members of the church in Thessalonica.
Paul’s second letter showed the depth of his admiration for the faith of the members of the church in Thessalonica and their love for each other. He was aware of the hardships they suffered and in the letter, he encouraged them to trust in God to deliver them from persecution. He also admonished them to test those who claimed that they knew the exact moment of the Lord’s second coming. Paul assured them that Christ would return, but no one really knew when and where it would be. He ended the letter with a request for prayers, an exhortation for them to work hard, and not to waste their time with idleness.
1 Corinthians was one of Paul’s longest letters, and he used it to address a variety of subjects, which ranged from church matters to personal issues.
The personal issues included:
* Instructions to refrain from lawsuits against Christians and to reconcile disputes within the church
* Instructions to refrain from sexual sins
* Marriage matters
* Spiritual gifts
* Love as the greatest
Church matters that included:
* The conflicts between members
* Spiritual pride
* The consumption of food previously sacrificed to idols
* Instructions on orderly public worship and how to conduct the Lord’s supper
* Tongues and prophecies
* The resurrection of Christ, those who died, and the body
Just like Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the second letter is also remarkable because of its length. In the first few chapters of this letter, Paul reminded the Corinthians that God is the source of all comfort and encouraged them to rely on Him during moments of weakness and conflicts. Two chapters (8 and 9) were dedicated to the Macedonian churches’ generosity to the Christians in Jerusalem and a personal call for the Corinthians to match their generosity. Paul wrote the last chapters to defend his authority as an apostle of Christ, cautioned the Corinthians against false prophets, and reminded them of his many trials while he served as an apostle. He later added to these with exhortations on how to live harmoniously and to “greet each other with Christian love.”
Paul’s epistle to the Romans is considered to be his longest and most organized among the letters he wrote to various churches. He was in Corinth when he wrote the letter and was making plans to sail to Rome and see the new converts in the city. In this epistle, Paul poured the full force of his intellect and his rabbinical education in his explanation of God’s relationship to man. The letter to the Romans was a back to basics kind of epistle wherein Paul explained that all have sinned and everyone deserved to be punished for violating God’s laws.
God, however, provided a way for a man to be redeemed from the yoke of the law and the punishment for the sins committed through the death of Jesus Christ. According to Paul, sin’s power was broken when Christ was crucified, and man was no longer bound with the law after his sacrifice. He also assured them that God’s salvation and mercy were available to anyone, whether the person was an Israelite or a Gentile. The last few chapters were peppered with exhortations on how to live properly, as well as a promise to visit them very soon.
The letter to the church in Ephesus was written during one of the lowest points in Paul’s life as it was penned during his imprisonment in Rome. However, it was unique as its intended audience was not only the members of the church in Ephesus but also to churches in other areas in Asia Minor. It was dispatched to Ephesus through his co-worker Tychicus, along with the letters to the Colossians and to Philemon.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was divided into two parts: the first three chapters addressed doctrinal issues while the rest dealt with the practical matters. He opened the epistle with God’s plan to redeem his creation through Jesus Christ and that those who believed in Jesus were made alive in him. From the fourth chapter onward, Paul taught the believers how to live as ‘children of light’ which were practical recommendations on how people should behave toward their spouses, children, employers, and fellow Christians.
The short epistle to the church in the Greek city of Philippi was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Despite his circumstances, the letter brimmed with joy, contentment, and encouragement. It began with Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer, and the next few verses glowed with his confidence in Christ in spite of the uncertainty of his situation and his future. The second chapter contained a commendation of Timothy and Epaphroditus. While the third chapter echoed his earlier teachings against legalism. He ended his letter to the church in Philippi with words of encouragement and an appreciation of the Philippians’ financial gifts to him when he was in need.
The letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians were divided into their doctrinal parts and their practical parts. Just like in the letter to the Ephesians, he opened the letter to the Colossians with thanksgiving and prayer. He then cut immediately to the heart of the matter and addressed the gradual mix of pagan teachings and philosophies with Christian beliefs. Just like in other epistles, he had to address the issue of legalism and reiterated that Christ had died to set them free. He ended the epistle with reminders on how to live properly and how to deal with other people.
Written and dispatched at the same time as the epistles of Colossians and Ephesians, Philemon was one of Paul’s personal letters which included those he sent to Titus and Timothy. Paul met and converted a servant named Onesimus to Christianity after he escaped from his master Philemon who was a member of the church in Colosse. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with a letter asking him to forgive his servant, take him back, and consider him as a brother in Christ.
Paul’s last letters were mostly personal but no less brilliant than their predecessors. Titus, the recipient of this letter, was one of Paul’s assistants whom he trusted to lead a church in the island of Crete. The letter contained his instructions to Titus on how to properly lead a church and reminded him to promote the right teachings. He encouraged Titus to remind the members of the church to submit to the authorities and to refrain from quarrelling with or slandering each other.
Timothy was a leader in the church in Ephesus, and Paul’s letter to his young protégé was written before the apostle’s final imprisonment in Rome. Paul knew the pressures the young church leader went through, so the letter was full of instructions on church matters, such as Timothy’s responsibilities to the converts, church leaders, and worship. Paul also repeatedly cautioned Timothy against false teachers in his first letter.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy contained a sense of urgency. It was obvious from the start that the apostle was suffering in prison. It was penned before his execution in Rome around 66 or 67 AD, which made this letter more poignant. He knew that his end was near, and the letter contained additional teachings to the man he treated as his own son and an urgent request for Timothy to come as quickly as he could. Although Luke was with him, it was at this time in his life that Paul felt the acute sense of being alone. However, he assured the recipient that he did not feel any grudge against his friends who had abandoned him.
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* Keathley, J. Hampton, III. “4. The Pauline Epistles.” Bible.org. Accessed November 2, 2016. https://bible.org/seriespage/4-pauline-epistles.
** Stamps, Donald C., and J. Wesley. Adams, eds. The Full Life Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1992.
*** Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996.